Sovereign Grace’s Evolving Polity

For some time, Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) has had “Apostles.” Now however, things have changed and the apostolic team is now the much more mundane “regional leadership team.” This post has the details. It seems like most movements that begin with a charismatic, non-institutional flux end up with a tight structure and with their own institutions. The move away from using the term apostle is a move in the right direction. Now, why aren’t they honest enough to drop the “family of churches” for the dreaded “denomination”?

Looking at the situation a bit further, notice that SGM has four men on their overarching “Leadership Team”, see here. This team is above the regional leadership team and its eight men. It’s funny as someone who believes in the episcopacy to watch these groups bump around until they find something roughly equivalent to episcopal ministry. C.J. and the Leadership Team are Archbishops, while the regional leadership team are bishops of their regions.

I find the very existence of the group alongside the seemingly similar-in-belief Acts 29 and the Grace Network to be a bit puzzling. Is there no degree of catholicity possible, even amongst churches with identical beliefs? Do atmospherics count for that much? Does John 17 figure at all in our theology these days?

And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. (John 17:11 ESV)

12 thoughts on “Sovereign Grace’s Evolving Polity”

  1. Steve, I have read those blogs a bit in the past. I have searched them for what the big problem is, and I haven’t found it. I have problems with SGM, but they are based on other reasons, not open abuses of people. Can you boil the problems down for me?

  2. Well thought out and well stated.

    Churches are inherently fragile, and it can take very little to destroy what took a lifetime of sacrifice to build. I can see why someone would be reluctant to join with someone else who has similar structure and doctrine, even identical structure and doctine, if they are not sure of their leadership style.

    Just my not-authoritative opinion.

  3. I’m sure that is part of it Mindi and I can understand it. At the same time, Jesus express desire is for unity, and I think we should look for it and work at it wherever possible. If it can’t be achieved even with groups who are almost identical on paper, I think something is wrong.

  4. Joel Martin said:

    “I have read those blogs a bit in the past. I have searched them for what the big problem is, and I haven’t found it. I have problems with SGM, but they are based on other reasons, not open abuses of people. Can you boil the problems down for me?”

    I am not sure what you are asking. Are you wanting specific examples of abuse of people or my thoughts on why there are problems in SGM?

    With regard to problems I will give a few of my thoughts.

    For one, some describe SGM hierarchy as that of a “submissive pyramid” where people move up the chain of command based on how submissive and obedient they are to those above them. This isn’t necessarily obedience to God but to those above them.

    Sadly the more one moves up the hierarchy the the less they are accountable to anyone. CJ Mahaney doesn’t appear to be accountable to anyone. Some even call him the “pope.”

    SGM may say they are “elder lead.” Within SGM the office of “elder” and “pastor” mean the same thing. The only “elders” SGM has are pastors.

    Thus SGM’s “elder lead” isn’t what one normally thinks of in most churches. In most churches you have a group of lay elders that are elders. These elders provide some type of check and balance of the paid pastor(s).

    Thus SGM isn’t a typical “elder lead” group.

    One problem with paid pastors/elder is that their livelihood to support their families comes from SGM. If they question then they risk their livelihood. This dynamic inherently makes it easier to overlook and not question. When someone is a lay elder they get their livelihood from another source. With that being the case, they don’t risk their means of supporting their family if they question etc.

    I hope this gives you some ideas.

  5. Thanks Steve, I was looking for what you see as the big problems, not specific examples of people.

    I don’t like SGM theologically, due to a number of things, including their view of sacraments, liturgy, a broader understanding of the Reformed concept of culture, a lack of catholicity, etc. On the level of atmospherics, I don’t like how guys ape the mannerisms and preaching style of CJ. However, I find their churches to be outstanding at generating friendly, active, helpful Christians in the pews.

    I agree with you that their form of church government should be more accountable, I am convinced of episcopacy with some form of local accountability via a vestry or some type of multiple clergy, not a pastor as Moses kind of thing. With that said, I think what you say about submission, obedience and lack of questioning due to deriving their livelihood from the church could be said of just about any church. Pastors are people too, they want a check and probably a retirement at some point. This produces a degree of conformity in *every* group, Lutheran, Presbyterian, you name it. And if someone doesn’t agree with his church in a lot of areas, it might be time to move on. Churches cannot function if the leadership are not on the same page on core issues.

    I know that this can produce problems and that there are leadership models that can be abused. But I am an Anglican, and believe in bishops, archbishops, and some form of top-down authority. But I believe it should be balanced with church courts, canon law, and church councils. Since SGM and places like it are brand new, making it up on the fly, and not particularly catholic (small c), they are subject to lots of problems, lack of transparency, lack of balance and a failure to learn from the wisdom of the Church accumulated down through the centuries. In my perfect world, SGM wouldn’t exist, but that doesn’t mean I think they are abusive. I don’t see requiring things of leaders as abusive, but maybe I’m not understanding what you are saying.

    1. There certainly is a lot of imitation of C.J. Mahaney within SGM including other pastors shaving their heads to match Mahaney’s bald head etc. Some of the other pastors even sound like Mahaney. I don’t this type of imitation happens in many groups.

      It certainly is a culture of conformity similar to Japanese culture. Questioning what leaders or those above you is sadly portrayed as either “gossip” or “slander.” Members get reluctant to then question.

      Teaching on what is “gossip” or “slander” is also used to keep a lot of members in the dark about questionable actions of SGM Leaders. Sharing or discussing questionable actions of leaders is taught to be wrong. This has produced a culture of members who don’t question and just about blindly accept what their leaders do and say.

      Members that don’t adhere to this “code” are “asked” to leave and thus maintaining this type of culture.

      There is a significant amount of nepotism in the group. Mahaney has two brother in laws that are pastors. His daughters'(3) husbands are either pastors or on staff. There are other families within SGM with similar situations. I am sure many of these family members are in the positions they are in due to being family vs. being the most qualified.

      I am also sure that SGM’s “submissive pyramid” has resulted in a number of less qualified leaders throughout the organization.

      I am not sure you understood my point about the checks and balances that group of lay elders (have outside jobs) can have with a paid pastor. This is how many Baptist Churches are set up.

      C.J. Mahaney many times talks about how “imperfect” leaders are including himself and likes to talk about “indwelling sin” and like to quote the verse in Jeremiah about the heart being “sick.” He even likes to say he is the “worst sinner” he knows.

      Despite Mahaney saying all of this, he allows himself to be the sole leader of the group with little accountability etc. Thus Mahaney says one thing but his actions and position as an unaccountable leader contradicts what he says.

      I have a few more thoughts I will share later.

  6. I don’t have any basis to judge whether what you are saying is true or false, and I’m really not interested in it. I’m not part of SGM and never have been. We have friends who are in Mike Bullmore’s church and we also have had some interaction with a SGM pastor at an old church that we went to, but that’s about it. As I’ve said, I disagree with them theologically and think they have some serious issues, but I’m not talking about character things, because I don’t know, and it’s not in my world, so I don’t care.

    “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble” (Proverbs 21:23 ESV). I suggest we move on.

  7. Steve, in light of this week’s events, you were clearly right. I apologize for doubting you. I had inklings if what was going on, but no idea of the depth of it.

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