Sovereign Grace Ministries And Evangelism

September 22, 2010 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Every once in awhile, someone will post a comment or write me an email that accuses us here at SGM Survivors of getting in the way of evangelism.

They’ll usually say something like this:

Kris, what if a non-Christian being evangelized by someone at a Sovereign Grace church finds this site?  Won’t that keep the person from finding Christ?  Aren’t you harming the cause of Christianity by talking about SGM’s issues?

These questions have both given me pause and caused me to chuckle.  Yes, of course I’d be concerned if this site could get in the way of evangelism.  But on the other hand, when SGMers say things like, “This blog could keep a non-Christian from getting saved,” such statements reveal quite a non-Reformed view of the salvation process.  After all, ever since C.J. Mahaney and his boys at SGM Corporate Headquarters decided about a dozen years ago to move their organization away from Arminianism and towards Calvinism, the prevailing wisdom taught to SGMers is that God is sovereign over the evangelism process, and that ultimately, nothing we might do can thwart His will.  In other words, SGM’s official position is supposed to be that we don’t choose Christ, He chooses us.  And obviously, no blog is going to get in Jesus’ way.

Yet SGMers exhibit a lot of angst that would belie what they really believe about this…and about the importance of their church organization in the evangelism process.

Still, I do believe that these folks raise legitimate questions.  Yesterday, a new commenter – “Mike” – joined us by posting the following:

Let me start by saying that I have not been “saved” but I am looking for something, who knows what that is. A very good friend of mine has patiently asked if I would like to attend church with him for about three years and I finally accepted a month ago. I have experienced no judgement or condemnation. The message I have heard is that acts alone will never make “good enough” for god. The pastor is a regular guy, I took him up on an offer to get coffee this week and he didnt flinch at my filthy mouth or cigarrette smoking. He shared what happened to him, and I shared what happened to me. I’ve never been big on church, and I googled sovereign grace just to read up on it and came across this. Just isn’t what I’ve seen. I had a freakin horrible experiance with the episcapalian church, but then again people have failed me again and again. Thats why I’m tryin to find god.

Ah.  What to say?

I have to confess that my first thought upon reading Mike’s comment was that it could be yet another hoax written by some enterprising SGMer trying to make people feel like telling the truth about their bad SGM experiences is somehow going to tarnish Jesus’ reputation.  After all, the vast majority of growth within SGM churches does NOT come from new converts to Christianity.  When new members are added to your “local” Sovereign Grace congregation, they almost always will have been Christians for years, and will be coming to SGM after leaving other churches.  With the exception, perhaps, of SGM churches that heavily emphasize their college ministries, it’s unusual for the newcomer to SGM to be a newcomer to the Christian faith. 

But even though “Mike’s” situation isn’t a common one within SGM, I think it’s important for us to address his concerns – as well as the concerns of SGMers who worry that warning others about the past and potential abuses of the Sovereign Grace organization could turn people off on Christianity altogether.

So, people, what do you have to say to Mike?

O Pastors College, Where Art Thou?

August 29, 2010 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Has anyone heard any sort of “official” word for what has happened to Sovereign Grace Ministries’ (so-called) Pastors College? 

By all accounts, there is not a regular incoming class this year.  The entire enterprise has been dramatically curtailed.  Only a handful of men from some international churches are being educated through what remains of the program.

The semi-demise of Sovereign Grace Ministries’ Pastors College raises all sorts of questions, one of which is what they’ll be doing with that real estate they’ve accumulated – the townhomes the organization purchased to house Pastors College students and their families.

It’s all rather intriguing.  And puzzling.  You folks out there close to the Pastors College, what have you heard?  Has anyone been given an explanation for what happened to one of SGM’s most celebrated programs?

What Puzzles Me…

August 24, 2010 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

I wrote this originally as a comment on the previous post, but I actually think it might be worthy of more discussion than it would generate buried in the comments.  So here we go…

From the very beginning of this site, an ongoing theme in the feedback I’ve received from SGM defenders has been that if a person is unhappy with SGM, he ought to get in touch with his SGM pastor and seek reconciliation by sharing his grievance.  Such a theme contains many assumptions, of course. A few of these assumptions (there are no doubt more) are:

  1. That the unhappy SGMer has never before attempted to do this prior to “going public” with his negative opinion about SGM;
  2. That SGM pastors who misbehave most likely don’t intend to hurt anyone and consequently never engage in any of their bad behaviors deliberately – in other words, they’re typically clueless innocents in these situations, innocents who need to be informed that their actions have hurt anyone;
  3. That if SGM pastors were just clued in to what they’ve done wrong and whom they’ve hurt, they’d do everything they could reasonably do to make things right and restore the relationship;
  4. That if something goes wrong with an individual’s relationship with SGM, it is that individual’s responsibility to initiate fixing things. In other words, SGM pastors and the organization itself cannot and should not be expected to concern themselves with any of the situations out there that did not end well, unless the wronged party initiates contact;
  5. That SGM pastors and former SGMers (at least those who are still believers) have essentially the same goal (to serve God) and therefore will have the same priorities when it comes to making peace and restoring broken relationships; and
  6. That Christians can never speak out against an organization if it purports to be Christian and a majority of people within the organization haven’t had negative experiences with the organization and believe the organization to be A-OK.

Like I said, this is not an exhaustive list of assumptions that SGM defenders appear to hold when they are confronted with criticisms about SGM – or evidence of outright pastoral wrongdoings. There are other assumptions.  But these are the main ones. 

And I don’t think that many of these assumptions are accurate.

For one thing, I’m stymied by the belief that the onus is always on the wronged party to initiate and keep pursuing the process of making things right.  I was reading over at SGM Refuge for a bit last night, and I saw Jim’s farewell post, in which he updated his readers about his own reconciliation with his pastors.  While it’s wonderful that Jim was able to get an apology and extend forgiveness and see some sort of resolution to his personal situation, I have to say that the whole process sounded like pulling teeth.  I mean, even though Jim had been totally “out” with his identity, his phone number, and a clear recounting of his grievances for way more than a year, it took the efforts of an SGM pastor outside that specific situation to “bring everyone to the table” and get the ball rolling.  Like, what on earth was wrong with the actual guys involved, that they wouldn’t have initiated a conversation just as soon as Jim had “gone public” with his story?  Why did it take some other pastor to (it sounds like) “force their hand” to do the right thing?

How likely is it that SGM pastors are really so oblivious and clueless and outright dumb that they cannot – ON THEIR OWN – think back over the years and recall various members with whom they’ve had conflict and who have left on less-than-happy terms, and then initiate the reconciliation process themselves?  Does becoming a Sovereign Grace pastor mean that these guys begin to suffer memory failure?  Really?  Do they also lose their ability to read?  Because, at least at Covenant Life Church (where a LOT of the bad stories of authoritarian abuse have taken place), extensive files are maintained on church members, files in which all of these bad situations are documented.  SGM pastors don’t need “anonymous bloggers” to write to them and give them detailed information about the identities of those they’ve hurt – a good many of these guys can simply stroll down to the filing cabinet and pull a few files to refresh their memories…if indeed their memories are really that dulled by their involvement with SGM’s ministry.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that the very assumptions SGMers hold about the “peacemaking” process reveal a level of strangeness about SGM’s view of the role of pastor versus the role of member.  It’s like within SGM, pastors are these uppity-up kings, rulers who cannot be expected to keep track of the fallout of their kingly behavior…who instead need the lowly minions to approach them (with great fear and trepidation) to seek to regain their favor…

And then, when that process actually occurs (as it did in Jim’s case), it seems to me like it’s always very narrow in scope, very individualized, very situation-specific.  Pastors do apologize.  They do issue statements about their wrongdoings, their sins in certain situations.  But I have yet to hear anything publicly stated about what it is about the training these leaders receive – and what they’re taught about their authority – that is at the root of what they’ve done wrong.

I have yet to hear anyone within the SGM organization publicly address the very obvious GENERAL PRINCIPLES that would have to be at work in order to have produced so many situations that have played out in the exact same way.

Instead, if SGM ever does address problems, it’s ALWAYS on the individual, situation-specific level.  It’s ALWAYS about private reconciliation with specific people.

(It’s always on the pastors’ terms, too, or so it seems.  In these situations of attempted reconciliation, it feels like the pastors get to control the process.)

I think this is my biggest irritation with this whole thing – that SGMers refuse to see the forest and keep harping on the trees.  The idea that SGM’s problems can be solved by apologizing to individuals is false.  Maybe SGM’s image can be spruced up by making things right with specific people.  Maybe those specific people can reach a better place with such efforts (and I’m not minimizing how great it is for individuals to get personal apologies from their pastors – that’s at least a step in the right direction, of course).

But the very assumption that it is the lowly SGM minion’s responsibility to approach their SGM king to get the reconciliation ball rolling is just a symptom of the root problem within SGM.  And until the organization deals with this in a general way, all their chatter about “if we just knew who you people were, we could start to fix things, we can’t deal with anonymous bloggers, we will reach out to anyone who reaches out to us” is mere spin control, and just about protecting SGM’s image, and SGM-the-organization.