Believe The Best?

January 24, 2009 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

I initially wrote part of this as a comment in the previous article, but I’ve expanded it and now throw it out there to our broader audience.  What do YOU think?

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The people who get so mad at me for my “slander” and “gossip” here and who write comments full of passion in defense of their pastors…they’ve expressed anger over the way that any of their defenses get written off as just the rantings of “Kool-Aid drinkers.”

What they don’t understand is, while there are NO DOUBT wonderful things about their pastors, and while there are NO DOUBT two sides to every story, it is simply NOT NORMAL to so passionately feel the need to point these facts out as one’s FIRST response to reading a story like Noel’s.

That whole “believe the best” thing, when an SGM outsider sees it in operation, looks a lot more like a first grader sticking his fingers in his ears and shouting, “La la la la la” so he doesn’t have to hear what someone is trying to tell him, than it does the response of someone who is still in possession of all his thinking faculties.

The NORMAL, RATIONAL response, especially to a story like Noel’s – and don’t get me wrong, many SGM defenders HAVE responded in this way – is to be genuinely concerned that it could be true…and to immediately begin to search out the truth.

(And, by the way?  An HONEST “search for the truth” involves a whole lot MORE than merely going to one’s SGM pastors and asking them about it.  Truly, this makes no sense!  First of all, if your leaders have been trained in the “believe the best” teaching – which they HAVE – then what sort of response do you think you’re going to get from them?  If they’re leaders within SGM, they will have already proven themselves thoroughly loyal and thoroughly supportive of the “party line,” anyway.  They have a VESTED INTEREST in “believing the best” now.  What do you THINK they’re going to tell you?

Moreover, it’s downright ludicrous to me that anyone would assume that someone purported to have behaved badly years ago and then successfully swept this situation under the rug for a decade would suddenly be willing to be completely open and honest about it with some random questioner ten years later. 

Think about that.  How stupid is it to believe that you can just walk up to one of Noel’s former pastors and go, “Hey, did you sympathize with the abuser more than the abused?” and believe that they’re going to respond with, “Why yes, as a matter of fact, we did, and we are so sorry”?

What in the world is logical about assuming that you’re going to get a straight answer out of someone about a situation where he purportedly was NOT straight to begin with?

All those emails I’ve been getting from people who went to their SGM pastors and are now reporting so confidently back to me with those pastors’ responses?  I don’t know how to break this to you gently, so I’ll just spit it out:  what those pastors tell you is NO MORE CREDIBLE than what Noel herself has shared.  In fact, what Noel shared is a lot more verifiable than what any pastor will tell you.  After all, she’s got lots of outside people, people with no vested interest in the situation, people like her family doctor and police investigators, who know very well when they were informed and who informed them.)

So, all of this is to say, when SGM defenders’ first response is to defend their pastors and cast doubt on the stories told here on this site, I can understand it, because that appears to be how they’ve been trained to respond, through all the teachings on the importance of always “believing the best” of their leaders.

But nonetheless, it REALLY DOES make these folks look like the proverbial “Kool-Aid drinker.”

Here’s a little something for the SGM defenders to ask themselves, which will point out something interesting about the teaching of “believe the best” as it supposedly operates within SGM:

Do your leaders extend this grace to YOU?

If you are called in and questioned about something – if one of your leaders deems it necessary to “bring you an observation” – and you offer up an answer in your own defense, do they take you at your word and “believe the best” about YOU?

I’m willing to bet not!

Now, hang with me here and open your minds just a tiny little crack.

Ask yourselves, WHY does this “believe the best” thing only flow one way? Why is it that when a member is spoken of negatively, the pastor’s first reaction is typically to believe the negative thing about the member and assume that the member will have exhibited the most sinful behavior possible in the situation?

Yet…if a PASTOR is spoken of negatively, the member is supposed to automatically “believe the best”?

Where’s the logic in any of this?  How can this be supported from Scripture?

Would anyone care to weigh in here?

Public Secrets?

January 21, 2009 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

As an outsider looking in, something I find really hard to understand is the way that Sovereign Grace Ministries makes personnel changes, especially with respect to its churches’ senior pastors.

Apparently, most of these changes come as a great surprise to a lot of the people involved. There are stories of congregations where at least half the people were shocked to learn they were getting a new pastor.

The other half, though?  Well, what’s also interesting is how some of this information does get around.

Take the Colorado Springs church plant, for instance.  Aside from the fact that there are MANY solid, Bible-believing, Gospel-proclaiming churches in the moderately-sized city of Colorado Springs, Colorado, SGM had been planning a church plant there, so that Colorado Springs could FINALLY have one “good church” that was “truly Reformed.”

I’m sure that thousands of Colorado Springs Christians – many of whom are employed by the nationally known Christian ministries headquartered there – breathed a huge sigh of relief and rejoiced greatly that there was finally going to be a “good Reformed church” in their area.

But alas, it looks like plans have changed.  All those people selling their homes and quitting jobs and leaving friends and family in Arizona so that they could go out and evangelize the great unreached mission field of Colorado Springs are learning that they’ll be staying put.

Word on the street is that the pastor who was to be in charge of this church plant will instead be moving to another city in Colorado to take over an existing Sovereign Grace church.

Supposedly, this information is a “big secret,” so big that a good many of the people affected by the news aren’t even supposed to know about it for another month or more.

Yet…how is it that LOTS of people already do know about it, to the point where word has leaked out and more than a few folks have emailed me to share the news?

If SGM’s main decision makers have already figured out where they’re going to place their men and how they’re going to be “repositioning” these guys, why not just announce it openly, and SIMULTANEOUSLY, to all those who would be affected by these decisions?

Why the need for secrecy?  Why the stealth?  Why the delays?

Especially when these moves obviously are NOT so secret or stealthy.

I really don’t get it.

If you’re one of the people whose lives are being affected by these “secret” stealthy decisions, you really ought to be asking some questions right about now.  If you’re a member of the Denver congregation, how do you feel about having absolutely no input into the decision of whether your current pastor stays or goes?  How do you feel about the way these decisions appear to be made?  How about the “surprise” element?

If you’re one of the leaders involved in these closed-door meetings, where the fate of these men was decided, I just have to ask you WHY?  Why keep an entire congregation in the dark about a huge change coming down the pike, when a bunch of random folks in another location already know about it? 

I know you guys have redefined the word “gossip” to mean any and all sharing of information that you don’t want people to be discussing.  But is it really “gossip” to want to know if one’s senior pastor will soon be swapped out for another guy?  Is it somehow wrong to be concerned about who will be leading one’s “local” church?  Wouldn’t it demonstrate, actually, a strange lack of concern if people did NOT desire to know about these things?

And if this news IS “gossip,” then how is it that you’re passing it on to some folks, but not to others?

There’s been a lot of discussion lately on this blog about what Sovereign Grace Ministries needs to change.  A lot of folks have been saying for a long time that SGM needs to change their entire paradigm of church government.  Many of the stories of abuse shared here would never have happened if the average Sovereign Grace Member had a real VOICE in what goes on at his or her SGM church…or if the church leadership had been more OPEN and HONEST with their people.

And while the seemingly random and out-of-left-field repositioning of pastors couldn’t exactly be defined as “abusive,” there is still something unnecessarily CONTROLLING about it, that merely reinforces the perception that the only people with any say at all over what happens at your “local” church are those guys sitting in some conference room in Gaithersburg.

These Walls Have Ears?

January 18, 2009 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

A few days ago, I was accused of being a “conspiracy theorist.”  I thought that was pretty funny, because I get all kinds of crazy email in which people will often suggest the most outlandish things.  Typically, I don’t take the more sensational suggestions seriously.

So…no “conspiracy theories” over here.  At least, not usually.

Something that came up awhile back – something that, because I am NOT a “conspiracy theorist,” I wrote off as just the overly suspicious musings of someone who’d been badly hurt by his Sovereign Grace Ministries church – was the notion that SGM pastors record the conversations that they have with their parishioners, and that some meeting rooms and/or church offices within some SGM facilities actually have recording devices built into them.

Now, initially, like I said, I thought this was utterly crazy.  While I definitely believe that SGM leaders would do well to ask themselves some hard questions – questions about their church polity, and about their views on things like the mental health profession, and about whether or not they’ve truly given up the practice of “shepherding,” for instance – I have a really difficult time believing that SGM pastors are making audio recordings of their conversations.

And yet…

Well, recently, the subject came up again in the “comments” thread from the previous post.  And then someone sent me a snippet of an email that had been received from someone (a person who, I believe, is currently on SGM’s payroll) who reported positively “knowing” that some of the things shared here on this site were inaccurate, because he’d had access to the “transcripts of conversations” between the SGM member and his/her SGM pastors, and the SGM member sharing his/her story on this blog had relayed false information, based upon a comparison with the “transcript” to which this SGM staff person had access.

So now I’m really curious.  Would anyone like to share what they know about SGM’s views on record keeping?  Could the “transcript” that the SGM staff person referenced in his email possibly refer merely to the copious notes taken and kept on all SGM members?  If so, do the members get to sign off on the accuracy of these notes before they are placed in the members’ files?

Or do some of the walls in some SGM facilities really do have ears?

It gets curiouser and curiouser, as they say…