April 30, 2012 by
As I noted in a post a few weeks ago, we have seated a sub-committee of pastors to begin the process of developing a comprehensive polity for Sovereign Grace Ministries and our member churches. This word, “polity,” has been kicked around a lot in our circles recently, sometimes without definition.
“Polity” is simply the stated rules of how an organization governs itself. For our ministry, we want our polity to grow out of a robust doctrine of the church but also to be useful and practical, creating mutual understandings of how we work together in those areas where Scripture is silent or lacking in detail.
The Board appointed seven men to the committee; you can find their names in the document linked below that was sent to all our pastors last week. You’ll also find in this document a description of the process the committee will engage and some parameters for their proposal, including some initial questions for them to address. One interesting part of the process is the Committee’s invitation to all Sovereign Grace pastors to present position papers to the Committee for their consideration before they write their proposal for the Board.
Please pray for the men on the committee and for their work. We in Sovereign Grace have enormous agreement on so much, but this is one area of our life together that must be defined. Please pray that what results from their work will further our unity as a family of churches as together we endeavor to plant and build churches together by the grace of God.
Download the Letter to SGM Pastors Concerning Polity
April 19, 2012 by
From the Board:
At our recent retreat, the Sovereign Grace Ministries Board decided to relocate the Pastors College and our Gaithersburg office to Louisville, Kentucky. The move will take place in 2012. Given the significance of the decision, we wanted to communicate with you directly about how we reached this decision and share some of its implications.
Around 2008, our country’s economic downturn began to place a strain on SGM’s ability to do ministry in several key areas. Supporters (including Sovereign Grace churches) were broadly affected by the recession, and giving declined for several years as a result. In response, the Leadership Team made extensive cuts to staffing and other costs, while still trying to preserve the ability to fund church planters, train pastors, and serve our international partners. But there was a limit to how far cutting could go before church planting and other activity central to our mission had to be scaled back.
One program that faced particular challenges was the Pastors College. Even though the Leadership Team has been proactive about keeping costs as low as possible, the extremely high cost of living for the DC area set the base cost fairly high. This had several effects on our mission:
- Small churches could only afford to train a pastor every several years, limiting their ability to expand or pursue church planting
- Although Jeff Purswell wanted to explore a two-year curriculum, doing so would be prohibitively expensive because the main cost of attending (housing) would more than double (10 months to 22)
- Prospective church-planters from outside SGM, many already carrying debt from seminary, faced an enormous hurdle to attend the Pastors College without a sponsoring church
More can be said about this, but we hope that is sufficient background to illustrate why, for several years now, the Leadership Team has been considering relocation for the Pastors College and the rest of SGM. In short, our mission is to serve Sovereign Grace churches, and being located in the DC area was placing limitations on our ability to do so. The economic downturn raised the profile of that issue, and the idea of relocating is only further validated by the needs we now see to expand on—not lessen—church care, training pastors, and pursuing mission.
We don't want to give the impression that a move was a done deal even before the events of July 2011—it wasn't. However, this conversation long preceded these events and, for the reasons given above, it has been an increasingly strong likelihood for several years. Over the past few months, our staff has explored various locations for a potential move, including visits, demographic studies, many conversations, and much prayer. They shared this information with the new Board when it was established, thus confronting us with this question: if we were starting SGM tomorrow, what would be the main factors for determining location and where would those factors lead us?
Here are the main factors that led us, after much discussion, to approve this relocation generally, and to choose Louisville in particular:
- The cost of living index is much lower there, such that we anticipate up to 40% reduction in the cost for a student to attend the Pastors College
- The proximity to Southern Seminary allows us to upgrade our academic offerings, including opportunities for collaboration and potential transfer credit toward a Masters degree
- The lower cost of living also allows us to further reduce administrative overhead (although ours is already lower than the standard for non-profits), especially in the areas of office space (including the Pastors College) and staff compensation
- The more central location will make it easier for pastors to audit classes or attend preaching practica (Louisville is within a day’s drive for two-thirds of the U.S. population)
- Basing Sovereign Grace Music out of Louisville places Bob Kauflin’s team much closer to Nashville, where they can both learn from and help influence other spheres of Christian music development
There are three questions that we anticipate you’ll have immediately.
First, don’t we want the Pastors College to be near a Sovereign Grace church?
The answer is yes. However, another recent development will remedy this. The Leadership Team has wanted to plant a church in Louisville near the seminary for several years, and after speaking at a college event there in February 2011 C.J. began to consider leading the plant himself. He made this desire known to us when we were seated as a Board, and we approved the plant this month. Although this was by no means determinative for the Pastors College, this does mean that students will have the opportunity to participate in a church plant led by C.J. This will both facilitate CJ.’s ongoing influence in the college, as well as provide students a smaller church experience that will more resemble their ultimate ministry context.
Second, won’t it be difficult to replicate the benefits of having Covenant Life Church as a host church?
We do not want to give the impression that this decision was a no-brainer—it certainly was not. SGM’s setup with CLC has provided numerous benefits over the past 15 years. From host families and adopting care groups to event volunteers and its members’ hospitality, CLC has made a tremendous investment in the Pastors College since its inception. So, of course, this cannot all be replicated. And we want to thank the pastoral team of CLC and its members for these many years of faithful service and the fruit they have borne—the Pastors College would not be where it is without them. However, we believe that in the long run the Pastors College program will be enhanced, and all SGM churches will be better served, by this relocation and the benefits it offers.
Third, how will this affect the Pastors College calendar?
Although this relocation will require a transition period, we want to minimize any disruption to Sovereign Grace churches’ training needs. Therefore, we plan to host a new Pastors College class beginning in January 2013. The year will be slightly abbreviated, running January-August, with some parts of the curriculum delivered through other venues (e.g., small group settings). The following year’s class will commence in September, 2013, putting us back on a normal schedule.
As noted above, we are excited about opportunities this will afford us to collaborate with Southern Seminary, which will only enhance our program and facilitate further training for our students and pastors. The Leadership Team will communicate more details in coming weeks.
Please join us in praying for all those participating in this relocation. Despite the many adjustments this will entail, we are trusting God and hopeful that this move will position us for greater service to our churches as together we proclaim the gospel and plant churches for the glory of God.
Grateful for your partnership in the gospel,
John Loftness, Chairman
on behalf of the Board
April 17, 2012 by
Ambassadors of Reconciliation recently finished the report that documents their findings after a nine-month study of Sovereign Grace Ministries. Their report, as well as a response from C.J. Mahaney and our Board of Directors, is below.
Download the Group Reconciliation Report
April 14, 2012 by
The Sovereign Grace Ministries Board of Directors met this past week in Louisville, Kentucky. Many, many thanks to all of you who have prayed, both for us personally and for collective wisdom in addressing the tasks before us. We wanted you to get an update on decisions we’ve made and what you can expect to hear from us in the near future.
We met with Ted Kober of Ambassadors of Reconciliation and discussed his final report after eight months of study of our ministry practices. We appreciate the thorough and careful work of this independent ministry committed to gospel-informed reconciliation. We should have the report up on our web site in the next few days.
We spent extensive time thinking through a process for developing governance principles and practices for SGM and our partner churches. We are in the process of appointing a committee to serve the Board by proposing a future governance structure and partnership agreements. We have not yet finalized each appointee to the committee. Names and a description of the process should come to you from the committee in the next few weeks.
We also nominated, discussed, and approved officers for the Board. John Loftness will serve as Chairman and Paul Buckley as Vice-Chairman. Tommy Hill, though he is not a Board member, will continue his service as Secretary and Treasurer.
This Board’s role will be different than the role adopted by the interim Board over the past year. Our responsibilities are to appoint, evaluate, and advise members of the leadership team. The Board is also responsible for the evaluation and approval of an annual budget, review of bylaws and practices related to legal obligations, and oversight of the ministry to insure fidelity to our doctrinal and partnership agreements. We are not responsible for day-to-day leadership and management of the ministry. Typically we will meet three times per year. Any work done outside of these meetings will usually be done by subcommittees of the Board. How the Board is selected and its role and terms of service will be reviewed by our polity committee and stated in the polity we adopt when the committee finishes its work and the Board, in partnership with our pastors, produces a final document.
The leadership team will provide leadership to the ministry, propose future plans and a budget for Board review, and implement these plans. For the immediate future, C.J. Mahaney will serve as President, Dave Harvey will lead church planting and church care, Jeff Purswell will serve as Dean of the Pastors College, and Tommy Hill as Director of Finance and Administration.
Numbers of you have inquired about conflict between the Covenant Life Church pastors and the SGM Board and President. Since this past July, C.J. and the interim Board have sought to engage the CLC pastors to better understand their actions and public statements and to explore our differences. Earlier this year, Ted Kober proposed a meeting between three members of the Board and three CLC pastors led by a neutral third party facilitator. The CLC pastors expressed a willingness to meet but said that they wanted to wait until after the AOR report was made public. Since the report will soon be released, we expect a meeting in the near future.
All of these things reflect forward progress for our family of churches, and so we left Louisville encouraged. As we consider the work of God through 90 partner churches, our Pastors College, our church planting efforts, our music and song writing, and many other collective ministry efforts, we see overwhelming evidence of God at work to bring his gospel message to the world and demonstrate the effects of his gospel in our many, varied church communities. We’ve also been heartened by the many expressions of appreciation we have heard from leaders outside of our ministry for the works of grace in our midst. We are working as we wait for the Lord to fulfill his promises to us. And we are grateful for all of you who have partnered with us in this great gospel mission.
On behalf of the Board,
March 23, 2012 by
The new Sovereign Grace Ministries Board of Directors met this Wednesday. We devoted most of our time to getting an update and overview of the state of SGM and established two immediate priorities for the coming year.
First, we decided to create a polity committee to consist of two members of the Board, two members of the Leadership Team (including C.J. Mahaney, who will chair the committee), and at least three Sovereign Grace pastors not on the Board. This committee will pick up the work that has already been done on polity and develop it to give better definition to the ministry, to how SGM as a ministry relates to pastors and their churches, and to policies and procedures for making decisions and selecting leaders. We are tasking this committee to solicit a broad range of views within SGM regarding how we are governed and how we define our connections between churches and the ministry. Once the committee’s work is done, they will submit it to the Board for review, amendment, and approval. The resulting governance and our partnership agreements will then be presented to Sovereign Grace pastors for their review. We decided, at least for the present, not to set a deadline for the committee’s work to be completed but do want this to be a top priority for our development as a ministry.
Second, we expect to receive the Ambassadors of Reconciliation report in the coming two weeks. We plan to begin discussing the report on a retreat in Louisville April 9 & 10 and then to make plans for responding.
This Board will operate differently from the interim Board. We will not involve ourselves in day-to-day ministry decisions and communication. Our priorities are appointment and evaluation of the Leadership Team, broad evaluation and strategy for the ministry, advising the Leadership Team on key concerns, and providing accountability to the Leadership Team regarding doctrine, finances, and governance. Our primary interactions, therefore, will be with Leadership Team members and others who can inform us about the ministry and counsel us regarding decisions.
It is customary to end messages like this asking for prayer, but this request is more than customary. This new Board is aware of the significant responsibilities we carry for the future of SGM. Please pray for us and more importantly, please pray for this family of local churches and your own local church so that we can—individually and connected together—plant and build local churches that proclaim the gospel and bring praise to our Lord.
March 19, 2012 by
Below is an announcement from the interim Board.
This week a new Board of Directors will be installed to replace the interim Board that has led Sovereign Grace Ministries since July 2011. The interim Board’s purpose was largely restricted to overseeing the adjudication of charges brought by a former leader—a process that we completed in January 2012—as well as initiating a broad review of SGM. This new Board will serve by providing ongoing governance of the ministry.
The membership of the new Board reflects certain structural changes that had been underway from 2010 but were postponed with the installment of the interim Board. These changes are primarily designed to increase the Board’s accountability and the participation of Sovereign Grace pastors while maintaining fidelity to our bylaws. Most notably, a majority of members of the new Board are pastors in Sovereign Grace churches rather than full- or part-time staff of SGM. They also meet other criteria: each has more than five years of pastoral experience; is endorsed by his local team for his character, gifts, and ability to work well in plurality; has a proven ability to reason biblically in various circumstances; has strategic and problem-solving gifts; and is committed to our mission to plant and care for churches.
You can read more about the new Board members, listed below, at the end of this post.
- Ron Boomsma
Sovereign Grace Church of Pasadena
- Paul Buckley
King of Grace Church
- Craig Cabaniss
- Mickey Connolly
CrossWay Community Church
- John Loftness
Solid Rock Church
- Ian McConnell
Grace Bible Church
- Ken Mellinger
Living Hope Church
- Al Pino
Palm Vista Community Church
Miami Lakes, FL
- Phil Sasser
Sovereign Grace Church
Each of these men was nominated by the interim Board, approved for service by their local pastoral teams, and then affirmed through a feedback process open to all ordained pastors of Sovereign Grace churches. The interim Board also gave careful consideration to comments pastors sent to us about the process and the timing of the process chosen by the Board. We concluded that implementing changes in our governance, including the process for choosing SGM leaders, should be the responsibility of this new Board.
The new Board begins its work this week. A top priority will be addressing changes in SGM’s governance, which will include participation from a broad spectrum of Sovereign Grace pastors.
Please pray for these men, the ministry, and our future. God has blessed Sovereign Grace churches and used SGM to do much good in our short 30-year history. Our hope and prayer is that God will use this new Board to lead us into a future of even greater fruitfulness as we seek to plant and build local churches through the gospel to the glory and praise of God.
Ron Boomsma moved from the Midwest to California in 1990 to work at The U.S. Center of World Missions, which reflected Ron’s heart to see people reached with the gospel. He became a member of Sovereign Grace Church of Pasadena in 1991 and joined the leadership team in 1997, eventually becoming senior pastor in 1999. In keeping with Ron's heart to reach people with the gospel, Sovereign Grace Church of Pasadena has planted churches in San Diego, Kansas City, and Orange County. He is currently pursuing ongoing education at Fuller Theological Seminary.
Paul Buckley has a PhD in material science and an M.S. in material engineering from Johns Hopkins University. He has served in pastoral ministry for eleven years. For the last ten years he has served as the founding pastor of King of Grace Church in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Being in the Boston area Paul has had opportunity to teach at Gordon Conwell Seminary and serve as a pastoral mentor for M.Div. students.
Craig Cabaniss has a B.A. In Religion from Baylor University and an M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary. He has served in pastoral ministry in SGM for 22 years. He has planted churches in San Diego, California, and Frisco, Texas where he currently serves as the lead pastor. He serves as an SGM regional leader with the churches in Texas. He has taught a Systematic Theology course in the Pastors College since 2004.
Mickey Connolly has served in pastoral ministry for 26 years and has a B.S. from the University of Maryland. He served as senior pastor at Solid Rock Church in Riverdale, Maryland, from 1989-96 and then moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, to serve CrossWay Community Church. Since 2002 he has served as senior pastor. Mickey serves SGM as their regional representative in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky. In addition he has taught various courses at the Pastors College since its inception in 1999.
John Loftness received a B.A. from Houghton College in 1978 and has studied extensively at the Masters degree level at Fuller Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary. He began his career as a pastor in 1981 when he joined the staff at Covenant Life Church. Over the years has served in a variety of roles in local churches and in SGM, primarily as a pastor. From 1990-2007 he served exclusively at Covenant Life. In 2007, John left Covenant Life to become the senior pastor of Solid Rock Church in Riverdale, Maryland.
Ian McConnell has an M.A. in pastoral theology from Bob Jones Seminary and has twelve years of pastoral ministry experience. Ian replanted Grace Bible Church in northeast Philadelphia in 2005 where he continues to serve as lead pastor.
Ken Mellinger has been a part of SGM since its inception and has 20 years of pastoral ministry experience. He has served as senior pastor of Living Hope Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania since 1993.
Al Pino has an M.A. in theology from Reformed Theological Seminary and has served in pastoral ministry for the past 27 years. For the last 15 years he has served as the founding pastor of Palm Vista Church in Miami Lakes, Florida. He had been approved for a PCA church plant in Miami but was then introduced to SGM through Larry Malament in 1994. Al also serves SGM in the Caribbean, currently working in Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
Phil Sasser has more than 30 years experience in pastoral ministry. He also has a B.S. from Ohio State University and has completed graduate work at Ashland Theological Seminary. Before joining SGM, Phil served as an elder in an independent charismatic church in Ohio from 1976-89. Since 1994 he has served on the pastoral team of Sovereign Grace Church in Apex, North Carolina, where he became senior pastor 2001. Phil has taught apologetics at the Pastors College since 1999 and will teach a course on Christian ethics this coming year.
January 25, 2012 by
From the Board of Directors:
In July 2011, Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) installed an interim Board of Directors. Our primary task was to determine C.J. Mahaney’s fitness to serve SGM as President in light of accusations made against him by a former SGM leader, Brent Detwiler. To accomplish this, we sought to apply the teaching of 1 Timothy 5:19-21 regarding the examination of an elder. As described in our October 28 blog post, we created three panels to review Brent’s allegations and report their findings to us, after which we would determine if C.J. was to continue in his role as President.
After examining the reports of these three review panels, we find nothing in them that would disqualify C.J. from his role as President, nor do they in any way call into question his fitness for gospel ministry. Therefore the Board has decided unanimously to return C.J. to the office of President, effective immediately.
These reports confirm the experience of many people over many years under the ministry of C.J. Mahaney. C.J. is a man and a minister of fundamental integrity who has endeavored to serve SGM with faithfulness and humility since its inception. As with all ministers of the gospel, C.J. is not infallible, and this fact is not lost on him. And so we also affirm that throughout this process of evaluation, C.J. has made genuine confession to the appropriate parties and has demonstrated a desire to grow in areas of weakness. C.J. has demonstrated a commendable trust in the grace and sovereignty of God throughout this entire process.
To put our decision in context, shortly before the interim Board began its work, C.J. took a voluntary leave of absence to avoid even the appearance of influencing his evaluation. To further protect the integrity of the process, the interim Board sought the counsel and affirmation of an outside conciliation ministry, Ambassadors of Reconciliation (AOR).
With C.J. on leave and AOR involved, the review process took the following form: We commissioned three outside ministers to review Brent’s documents in light of C.J.’s confessions and render their judgment on his fitness to serve in ministry. In light of their evaluation, they found him to be completely fit to serve. We then commissioned three panels—each consisting of three SGM pastors—to evaluate C.J.’s involvement in the three central events of Brent’s allegations. The panels had complete autonomy to interview any witness and review any evidence. They conducted their reviews and prepared their reports without any outside influence, save for the oversight of an independent facilitator who was responsible to certify the process. As readers will see in the reports, the panels had broad license to issue any individual or organizational recommendations they deemed appropriate in light of their findings. They did an exceptional job with their unenviable assignment and we’re grateful to them for the many hours they invested in this process.
This has been a trying season for our family of churches and for C.J. and his family in particular. The recommendations made by the panels delineate some of the weaknesses we see in our ministry, and we expect to learn even more when the separate AOR-led Group Reconciliation process is completed this spring. Our hope and prayer is that all of us evaluate these matters humbly, apply the forgiveness that comes through the gospel appropriately, and relate to one another about these matters graciously as we work together to reform what needs reforming, reaffirm the goodness of God in our midst, and continue to plant and build local churches with our chief aim the glory of God through the gospel.
The rest of this announcement, including the panel reports, are available as a PDF.
December 21, 2011 by
Over the last few months, we've been taking a lot of inward looks. What's going on in Sovereign Grace Churches? What issues do we need to address and how can we do that?
Those have been good questions to ask, but I want to close the year and approach Christmas not ignoring a Robert M'Cheyne quote that has served me well over the years: "For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ." And while I don't have ten points to make here, I do have "two looks" at Christ that may be timely.
First, it is impossible when reviewing SGM's past to miss the fact that, despite our weaknesses and individual sins, we are nevertheless part of the very Church for which Christ died. We have been (and remain) far from perfect, and when viewed rightly that illuminates and elevates not us but the forbearing love of Jesus. As Charles Spurgeon said, “I believe in the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen Him; and I am sure he chose me before I was born, or else he never would have chosen me afterwards.” We are the objects of Christ's love not only despite our lack of righteousness, but in spite of our many shortcomings. Or as Paul wrote, "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly....God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6,8).
Second, as a result of this season in our ministry I am also compelled to see Jesus' strength working despite our weakness. Even while reviewing our flaws, there are many reminders in our past (and present) that Christ is bearing fruit in and through our churches. Our rich history of church planting, fellowship among pastors, enjoyment of gospel-centered ministry, and many other blessings are all because of Jesus' faithfulness. Again, Paul presents this paradigm vividly: "God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord'" (1 Corinthians 1:28-31). Indeed it is the Lord, not us, in whom we boast (and hope) when looking at all the evidence of God’s grace in our churches.
None of this nullifies the work that lies ahead of us, but it does give us the right perspective in approaching it. Because of the gospel, God loves us. Because of the gospel, God is at work among and through us. Because of the gospel, we have reason to press on in the hard work--our hope and labor are not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).
In a few days, we will celebrate Jesus' incarnation--the miracle of his coming to be among us, to live a perfect life, to die on our behalf, and to be raised to bring us new life. It should be a sweet Christmas for us. Seldom have we been more aware of our need for The Savior and the new life he gives. And so too, seldom is the celebration of his birth more meaningful. So may this year's Christmas be merry for us all. We have a great Savior.
P.S. This will be the last post on the blog until January.
December 2, 2011 by
This week Bryce Thomas and the review panels completed the testimony phase of the evaluation for the allegations that Brent Detwiler brought against C.J. I know that this process is important to everyone who cares about C.J. and what happens in and with Sovereign Grace Ministries. Now the three review panels will begin deliberating on the information before them so that they can deliver reports on their findings later in December.
I’d like to invite you to pray with me about this. Here are the things that I’m praying for:
- Pray for clarity to emerge from all the materials (Brent’s documents, testimony from this week, etc.) that are now being sorted through.
- Pray for Bryce Thomas, the independent facilitator who has already served so well this past week. His job continues as he guides the committees of men who haven’t done this before to handle their tasks in a consistent and God-glorifying way.
- Pray for the three committees—men who have accepted a sobering responsibility to address the charges that have been brought against C.J. Pray for "wisdom from above" (James 3:17) in their conversations and deliberations over the next couple of weeks.
- Pray for all who have taken time to participate through their testimony. We are so grateful that many accepted the invitation to come and provide their perspective.
- Pray for CJ and his family, who are humbly cooperating with this extensive review of his actions and decisions. C.J. wants to see what God has for him in this. He has patiently prepared to appear before all three panels and remains eager to hear their findings.
And, if you have some time when you’re done with that, pray for me. There is a lot going on that needs my attention, but I want most of all to live out the passage preached at our local church last week from 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
November 30, 2011 by
If you're interested in requesting an interview with Ambassadors of Reconciliation as part of their evaluation of Sovereign Grace Ministries, today is the last day to do so. Use the online feedback form to submit your request by midnight, or send your request directly to email@example.com.
For more information on this process, see Dave Harvey's original announcement.