“Normal,” And SGM…

November 19, 2009 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Yesterday, a reader (“The Missus”) took me to task for saying that “normal” Christianity is different from the Christianity practiced by most people who are members of Sovereign Grace Ministries churches.  Her comment got me to thinking – maybe it’d be interesting to list the ways that SGMers’ practice of the Christian faith is different from that of other churches. These are just the first “oddities” or “abnormalities” that popped into my head. They are listed in no order of importance.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:  please note, I am NOT saying that these things in and of themselves are necessarily WRONG.  They’re just odd.   Of course, when you put a bunch of oddities together, it does make for a picture that raises a lot of questions.

So here we go.  Again – in no particular order:


  1. “Normal” Christians do not view the planting of more of their own denomination’s churches as “missions.”
  2. Consequently, “normal” Christians would think it quite odd to be asked to take a career setback or lose money on real estate or uproot their families in order to participate in such a church plant, particularly if said church plant were in a location that was already saturated with good Bible-believing, gospel-proclaiming churches.
  3. “Normal” Christians are more focused on Jesus than they are on their church organization.
  4. “Normal” Christians refer to Jesus primarily as “Jesus” and not as “The Savior.”  Listen to any sound file of any SGM pastor, and you will typically hear very little mention of Jesus by His name.  Instead, you will hear Him referred to primarily by one of His roles.  (Again – this isn’t necessarily WRONG…but I believe it has a lot of implications.)
  5. “Normal” Christians do not claim to be “Reformed” while at the same time believe that there are modern-day “apostles.”
  6. “Normal” Christians would not accept it if their church leaders decided to change longstanding leaders’ titles to something more politically correct without some sort of explanation to (or better yet, some sort of input from) the people.  (And yes, I’m referring to the term “apostle,” which SGM has apparently decided is not Reformed Big Dog-friendly enough.  Or something.  Maybe CJ realized that God does not actually speak directly to him these days?  I don’t know.  But those guys at the top aren’t “apostles” any more.  Go figure.)
  7. In “normal” Christianity, it would be really odd to be able to travel across the country, attend another church from your denomination, and know that you will be doing everything in basically the exact same way that you would in your home church, even down to the strange little “intermission” between the worship time and the sermon.
  8. Oops.  In “normal” Christianity, when the pastor gets up to talk on a Sunday morning, what he says is typically called a “sermon.”  In SGM, that word is deliberately avoided, so that what the pastor says is called a “teaching.” Or “message,” if someone is slipping a little in his SGMese.
  9. Likewise, in “normal” Christianity, when a congregation shows up at church on Sunday, that is called a “service,” as in “church service.”  In SGM, it is called a “meeting.”  More to the point – it’s called a “mee-Ting,” with a peculiar accent given to the “t,” so as to sound precisely like the way that CJ pronounces the word.  Sometimes this Sunday time is also referred to as a “gathering.”  But almost never a “church service.”
  10. Along those same lines, in “normal” Christianity, it is typical for your pastor to speak like all the other pastors that live in the region where he was born and raised.  In SGM, however, no matter where you attend your SGM church, you can bet that your pastor will sound exactly like CJ Mahaney in his accent and enunciation, no matter where he might have been born and raised.  Likewise, your pastor will mimic CJ’s presentation style, with strange rushes of words tumbling out, followed by cackling at his own jokes, followed by frequent unpredictable dramatic pauses.
  11. In “normal” Christianity, the phrase “governed by a plurality of elders” typically means that a church makes major decisions through “elders” – men who in some way are representatives of the rest of the congregation.  The implication is typically that these men are selected through some sort of voting or nomination process.  In SGM Christianity, this phrase actually means “governed by paid staff pastors or other men who were privately selected by the paid staff pastors.”
  12. In “normal” Christianity, commonly accepted Christian terms (see “elder” above, in #11) are not redefined to mean something else in order to cloud outsiders’ perceptions of what is really going on.
  13. In “normal” Christianity, people are not afraid to express their honest opinions of what their pastors do.  Sometimes what they think will be positive. Sometimes it won’t be. But there’s no fear of recrimination for expression of one’s honest thoughts and opinions.
  14. In “normal” Christianity, one will – just like Jesus Himself did – have people who are closer to one, more intimate with one, and then others who are not so close, not so intimate.  In “normal” Christianity, the intimate friends are the ones with the freedom to offer one correction or to “make observations” about things that one might need to work on or change.  It is NOT normal, in “normal” Christianity, for one to strip oneself emotionally and spiritually naked around any and all other church members, just because they’re members of the same church.  It is NOT normal, in “normal Christianity,” to approach someone not in your intimate circle and offer that person “observations” or correction.
  15. In “normal” Christianity, being “Charismatic” is defined as actively teaching and actively and openly pursuing the more “dramatic” gifts of the Spirit, such as speaking in tongues.  In SGM Christianity, however, “Charismatic” seems to mean whatever SGM has decided won’t offend the Reformed Big Dogs.  In SGM, speaking in tongues, for example, is not actively taught against, of course, but it is also no longer taught as something to be pursued or practiced openly.
  16. In “normal” Christianity, people do not automatically read whatever their leaders are reading.  In fact, people typically won’t know what their leaders are reading and really won’t care.
  17. And that brings up another thing.  In “normal” Christianity, one would not feel odd to openly cart around a “non-approved” book in front of one’s leaders…because in “normal” Christianity, there is no such thing as an UNAPPROVED book!
  18. In “normal” Christianity, church leaders have a basic faith in the Holy Spirit’s working in their members’ lives and therefore don’t feel the need to micro-manage what their members read and think.
  19. In “normal” Christianity, members think for themselves.  They do not automatically look to their pastors for the final word on an issue.
  20. In “normal” Christianity, humility is seen and not heard.
  21. In “normal” Christianity, small-group Bible studies are encouraged, rather than tightly controlled or outright discouraged.
  22. In “normal” Christianity, the “serving” part of one’s Christian life may or may not have to do specifically with one’s church.  In SGM Christianity, “serving” is nearly ALWAYS about how one helps out in one’s church.
  23. In “normal” Christianity, singing songs like Friend of God would not be considered “theoligically incorrect” (and therefore not permitted).
  24. In “normal” Christianity, people are not so automatically defensive about their particular denominational leaders and practices.
  25. In “normal” Christianity, one is not discouraged by one’s church leaders from moving to a town not serviced by a church from one’s denomination family of churches.
  26. In “normal” Christianity, an organization that functions precisely like a denomination wouldn’t be so crazed about avoiding the term “denomination.”
  27. In “normal” Christianity, pastors are not taught to distrust the mental health profession.  In “normal” Christianity, church members are not taught that their pastors are supposed to function as their only source of “reliable” counsel no matter what the problem might be.  In “normal” Christianity, a pastor wouldn’t dream of trying to help a church member manage his or her psychiatric medications, such as anti-depressants.  In “normal” Christianity, there is not an automatic bias against such medications. 
  28. In “normal” Christianity, pastors will typically obtain undergraduate degrees and then go on to spend years in seminary.  In SGM Christianity, pastors receive 9 months of training at SGM’s so-called Pastors College.  No undergraduate degree is required.  Theoretically, it’s possible for a man – particularly if he is the son of someone in SGM leadership – to end up a Sovereign Grace pastor with no education other than a homeschool diploma and those 9 months of Pastors College.  Then he could be unleashed to “watch over your soul,” weighing in on your personal problems – large or small – and even perhaps helping you to manage your use of psychiatric prescription drugs like anti-depressants.
  29. In “normal” Christianity, a man would not train men to be the primary watchdogs of their daughters’ modesty.  Instead, such detailed and potentially embarrassing teachings would be given to women by a woman, so that mothers could help their daughters in this department.  In “normal” Christianity, men would not so eagerly blame a woman’s female form for his lust issues.  “Normal” men do not consider seatbelts or purse straps to be particularly kinky or lust-inducing.
  30. In “normal” Christianity, one is not asked, as a condition for church membership, to sign away one’s right to expect confidentiality in pastoral counseling situations.  As stated before, in “normal” Christianity, one’s pastors are not one’s ONLY source of counseling in the first place, as is the case in SGM.  But to add insult to injury, in SGM, not only are members taught that non-church-approved counseling is suspect – members are also then made to understand that their pastors are free to share whatever they wish with anyone whom they deem to be “part of the problem or part of the solution.”  This is NOT normal in “normal” Christianity.
  31. In “normal” Christianity, a church’s history would not be revised to make it seem like one of the denomination family of churches’ founders had never existed.
  32. Along those same lines, in “normal” Christianity, the departure of such a key founder would be addressed and explained openly and fully – and not vaguely – so that no mystery would linger for over a decade.
  33. In “normal” Christianity, if one ponders leaving one’s church, one’s first reaction is not FEAR.
  34. Similarly, in “normal” Christianity, if one decides that one needs to leave one’s church, one does NOT need an “exit strategy” in order to avoid being talked about, disciplined, black-listed, or otherwise made to feel bad.
  35. In “normal” Christianity, pastors would never consider attempting to make church discipline extend beyond the doors of their own churches.  “Normal” pastors would not expect other churches to abide by their recommendations and refuse communion or membership to their former members.  “Normal” pastors would never consider phoning a former member’s new pastor to tattle on the former member.  In “normal” Christianity, such a move would be considered gossip.
  36. In “normal” Christianity, one would not be placed under such binding and frightening church discipline for non-provable “sins of the heart” like pride.  Rather, in “normal” Christianity, church discipline is reserved for clear and documentable sins such as ongoing adultery.
  37. In “normal” Christianity, one is free to explain why one left one’s church without being accused of gossip or slander.
  38. And in “normal” Christianity, one does not fear losing all one’s lifelong friendships simply because one has chosen to attend another church.
  39. In “normal” Christianity, there is not a set of unspoken rules that govern what is REALLY considered acceptable (and necessary, if one has dreams of someday being in leadership).
  40. In “normal” Christianity, a single verse of scripture read at the beginning of a teaching, followed by 45 minutes of a pastor’s thoughts on that particular verse, is NOT considered “expository” preaching.
  41. In “normal” Christianity, members can hold leaders accountable to the congregations they serve.
  42. In “normal” Christianity, even denominational presidents are held accountable…and by people who don’t work FOR THEM.
  43. In “normal” Christianity, complaints about church structure and church polity are not handled as “Matthew 18” issues.  Objections to a church’s governance decisions and governance structure are not always turned into private personal grievances.  The focus in “normal” churches is first and foremost on fixing the structural problem, rather than on silencing those calling attention to the structural problem.
  44. In “normal” Christianity, children of a certain age – usually 8 or older – are welcomed to participate in the sacraments.  “Normal” churches do not deny such children baptism.  “Normal” churches do not require extensive (yet nonetheless arbitrary) “proof” of the “genuineness” of a young person’s salvation in order to permit the young person to be baptized.  In “normal” churches, kids’ normal childish mistakes and missteps (and yes, even kids’ SINS) are not seen as “proof” that these kids are NOT believers.  In “normal” churches, children are allowed to believe they are still saved, even if they may not demonstrate all the “measurable” Christian character and attributes that their elders would like to see from them.
  45. In “normal” Christianity, members do not fuse their continuing participation in a particular church with the perseverance of their Christianity.
     Here are some random reader contributions: 
  46. In “normal” Christianity, a man and woman who are not married to each other can still talk to one another without it being an affair.
  47. In “normal” Christianity, abuse victims are shown compassion and care…not abandonment and disgrace while perpetrators are celebrated and protected.
  48. In “normal” Christianity, deceitful, dishonest pastors are dealt with biblically, not covered and protected.
  49. In “normal” Christianity, caring pastors clear the “busy” schedules to care for those they have offended….as opposed to the classic SGM….wait till next month when we can fit you in mentality…..maybe.
  50. In “normal” Christianity, blogging is not the only way for members’ concerns and questions to be addressed.

I’m thinking this list could go on for far longer, but in this post, at least, we’ll stop at FIFTY ways that SGM deviates from “normal” Christianity.  If you can think of others, feel free to submit them in comments below.