October 14, 2011 by
Since we opened registration for the Group Reconciliation Assistance, a number of people have written both SGM and AOR with related questions and suggestions. These have been helpful.
One good suggestion that SGM received several times was to allow the churches more time to circulate the information about GRA, so we wrote to our pastors about that earlier in the week and have extended the deadline to October 26. That gives churches two additional Sundays to work in this announcement or otherwise circulate the news as they see fit.
AOR has received a lot of correspondence as well, especially related to the seminar requirement and some misconceptions about their confidentiality requirements. To clarify and update everyone on the process AOR is using, Ted asked if we would post this letter on the Plant and Build blog. The original is also available as a PDF.
October 13, 2011
TO: Members and former members of Sovereign Grace Ministries
FROM: Ted Kober, President
Greetings to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.
I write this memo for four purposes:
- To provide some background information on the Group Reconciliation process and
reflect on initial feedback we have received so far regarding the process.
- To answer questions regarding confidentiality in this process.
- To adjust the teaching requirement in response to the feedback.
- To confess my part in contributing to confusion and hurt among people invited to
Background and Reflections on Initial Feedback
At the request of the Board of Directors of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM), Ambassadors of Reconciliation (AoR) began meeting in July with the SGM Board and a few other people to learn about the reconciliation needs of SGM. As a result, AoR produced a report in August recommending different approaches that SGM could take in order to address their current needs for reconciliation and adjudication.
One of those recommendations included Group Reconciliation Assistance. This is a process we have developed over many years to assist organizations that are struggling with conflict. It incorporates five elements:
- Teaching biblical peacemaking
- Interviewing individuals and leadership groups for gathering information and coaching people to take steps toward reconciliation
- Mediating a few key parties (if willing) and identifying others who may desire mediation assistance (often from other providers)
- Evaluation of documents, interview information and other material received
- Reporting observations and making recommendations
Many organizations that suffer from conflict share common characteristics, and yet each one is unique in strengths, weaknesses, polity, beliefs, and culture. While the process we use works well in many settings, there are times we adjust the process to better serve the unique needs of the people in that organization.
As we are receiving inquiries and responses to the invitations for people to participate in this process, we have received a number of different messages that set this case apart from others. These responses have included both criticisms and encouragements.
Two areas receiving a number of criticisms include issues regarding confidentiality and the teaching requirement.
- Individuals have been sensitive to the application of “confidentiality” and its application in the various parts of this process. While people in previous cases have asked about confidentiality, this intense focus on it has been unique from other organizations we have served.
- Speculation on our motives, inaccurate information, and misinterpretation of our standard procedures have been shared broadly regarding what AoR is requiring regarding confidentiality. For example, an inaccurate claim has been made that if people talked to someone from AoR they cannot talk to anyone else about these issues again. This false impression appears to have increased anxiety for some regarding this process.
- There appears be confusion of what should remain confidential from a biblical and legal perspective and what should be more transparent (as opposed to inappropriate secrecy).
- There appears to be significant distrust of leadership from those who believe that they have been hurt as a result of how "confidential" or "secret" information has been handled.
- Teaching requirement1
- While in past cases, a few people grumbled about the training requirement initially,2 we have not experienced such an intensity of strong negative reaction from so many as we have in this situation.
- Some have pointed out to us that they have received lots of training in biblical peacemaking and either don’t want more or don’t need more.
- One person indicated that he felt this was belittling to him because he has been involved in past teaching on this topic.
- Some people indicated that they felt this requirement was burdensome and unnecessary.
- A few messages compared their situation to one who has been abused, indicating that such a requirement was another way to inflict pain on someone who was already victimized.
- Others have referred to the teaching as “jumping through hoops.”
While we have received these and other criticisms of the process, we have also noted some unusual encouragements:
- People have thanked us over and again for our willingness to serve SGM, more than we have experienced in other cases. This appears to be one of the positive reflections of the culture.
- People have expressed their personal encouragement and indicated that they are praying for us, more so than we usually experience. This has been true even of many who have criticized the process.
- Some people have already demonstrated a teachable spirit. This does not mean that each one always agrees with everything that we say, but rather that they are open and have actively sought counsel.
While it is early to draw final conclusions from this initial feedback, our initial observations include the following:
- Initial responses reveal that there are strong positions ranging from strong loyalty and support of leadership to strong opposition of leadership.
- Strong emotional responses from the various positions sometimes result in communications that do not reflect godly behavior.
- It is apparent to us that something significant has impacted a number of people over time and their views of such things as confidentiality, transparency, and secrecy. This seems to have resulted in increasing sensitivity to these topics.
- While support for leadership is present, there is also an obvious mistrust of leadership past and current, including those serving SGM and some of its churches.
- We at AoR failed to anticipate the intensity of the concern regarding confidentiality and the requirement for the teaching component.
Whenever a part of the reconciliation process becomes a major focus, it may indicate some repeated patterns or themes of behavior that have made that area such a hot button. However, there are usually a number of factors that contribute to such an emotional response, and one must use caution about making quick conclusions regarding those factors.
As we continue our process, we will be seeking to learn more about why these issues have brought about such intense reactions.
Questions on Confidentiality
What are expectations for confidentiality in the Group Reconciliation Assistance Process?
For Phase 1 (Seminar and personal interviews)
Individuals requesting interviews will not be asked to sign a confidentiality agreement. However, AoR's reconciliation team members will hold identifying information confidential.
As will be explained at the end of the seminar and in our feedback forms, the general substance, but not identifying details, of information collected by the Ambassador team will be shared with SGM in a report. An individual may provide his/her name and contact information on AoR’s feedback form, which will be helpful if the AoR Team has questions or if the individual requests a coaching interview, but individual names will not be shared with SGM leadership.
Contact information will also be useful if someone indicates on the form a desire for reconciliation assistance. Should a person give permission for this situation, his/her contact information may be forwarded to SGM only as it relates to follow-up in reconciliation assistance.
For Phase 2 (Personal coaching, mediation, and oral report to SGM)
Following Phase 1, a few key individuals will be invited to participate in additional coaching and possibly mediation. No one can or will be coerced to participate in any coaching or mediation. All parties and mediators involved must agree to mediation in order for it to occur. AoR does not know if its reconciliation team members will be involved in any mediations, since no one can be required to participate in this voluntary process. Because it is a voluntary process, a party may withdraw from mediation at any time.
Moreover, AoR will not be conducting all the mediations requested by individuals in Phase 1, but rather identifying those who wish assistance through mediation. Some of those requesting assistance may utilize other mediation services or SGM people who have received training.
Those who may be invited to participate in mediation led by an AoR reconciler will be given the opportunity to review and discuss with the mediators the Rules of Procedure3 including those that define the application and limits of confidentiality. Anyone considering such an opportunity will have the privilege of declining mediation if the rules or procedure or limits of confidentiality are not acceptable. Note that the rules provide that parties in a mediation have the right to agree in writing on what will not be kept confidential.
Adjusting the Teaching Requirement
At AoR, we were taken by surprise by the negative reaction from a number of people regarding the teaching requirement. Initially, with support from the SGM Board, we made provisions for both a live teaching event and a recorded teaching event available on the SGM web site. Based on what we were told that many had already been exposed to biblical peacemaking, we decided to reduce the total teaching time and focus on material that went deeper than basic peacemaking. Nevertheless, these plans failed to meet the expectations of many we hoped to serve.
In response to the feedback we have received, we have decided not to make the teaching component a requirement prior to receiving feedback or meeting with people. We do not want the teaching requirement to become a roadblock for people participating.
Nevertheless, we encourage people to either attend the live training or watch the training on the web. We believe that doing so before providing feedback to us will be beneficial to everyone.
We will continue the rest of the process as planned. We will conduct on-site interviews in Gaithersburg November 8-10 following the live presentation of the teaching. After the presentation has been made available on the SGM web site, we will receive requests for telephone appointments for the following two weeks. Then, we will set up as many appointments as we can for the following weeks.
AoR proposed the Group Reconciliation Process that the SGM Board accepted. I take responsibility for designing and recommending the process.
Although I had some preliminary information that could have informed me prior to our proposal, I confess that I failed to anticipate the sensitivity to confidentiality. Thus, I failed to provide better information on explaining confidentiality in our initial proposal.
I acknowledge that the requirement for attending the teaching portion contributed to confusion and hurt for people. I failed to provide a better explanation for the process in the initial proposal or in a follow-up description. My hope is that the change in our process will open the door for more to participate.
Thanks to everyone who has provided feedback so far. I ask for patience as we continue through this process. Obviously, there is much that we at AoR need to learn about SGM before we can make recommendations, and that will likely take some months. We pray that through our teaching and coaching we can also share some things with you that you will find helpful for personal healing as well as corporate change that will be God-pleasing. But, in spite of our good intentions, we are likely to disappoint people in various ways, for we are imperfect people. As we work through these challenges together, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3 NIV).
These are difficult times for SGM leaders and members, current and former. Attempting to address these issues will continue to be a challenging work for anyone involved. I encourage all of us to use caution and patience as we respond throughout this process. While God does not desire for us to ignore important issues, he does call us to respond to them in godly ways. He also calls us to trust him and seek his guidance in all that we do.
May Christ’s love have its way with all of us, as Paul writes: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 ESV).
Finally, I remind you that your hope should not be in AoR, what SGM leaders do or not do, how other key people respond to what lies ahead, or what results might occur. Our hope is found only in our Savior, Jesus Christ. In him we not only have forgiveness of sins and the assurance for eternal life, but we have his promises to be with us always, even to the close of the age.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 ESV).
1 AoR’s Group Reconciliation Assistance process typically requires that people attend a full-day seminar on biblical peacemaking before meeting with one of our reconciling team members. Because the SGM Board indicated that many throughout SGM have had exposure to teaching on peacemaking, AoR proposed a half-day seminar on the topic Getting to the Heart of Conflict, a study on deeper topics of idolatry, its relationship to conflict, and healing through confession, repentance and forgiveness. Our plan was to focus on our confession to God and hearing his forgiveness proclaimed to us personally through a brother or sister in Christ, based on promises found in Scripture. The reasons for the teaching is to help prepare people to give us their feedback in light of scriptural teaching, and to help prepare people to receive brief coaching on how to apply that teaching. Past experience has shown that those who attend the teaching benefit more from the personal interviews because they better understand how to approach the matter in a godly manner and are more ready to receive coaching. Interviews with those who do not attend the teaching tend to be less satisfactory for the participant as well as AoR’s ability to gather information. The purpose of the interview is not simply for gathering information but also for helping each person take one step toward reconciliation or personal healing. In past experience, the teaching has served people and their organizations well. (Back)
2 Often the most ardent supporters of requiring the teaching as part of the process were those who initially grumbled about it. Moreover, a number of people from past cases reported that they found the teaching helpful for dealing with other relationships in their lives (e.g., family, work, and community) and encouraged us to keep this as an essential part of the process. (Back)
3 The Rules of Procedure utilized by Certified Christian ConciliatorsTM can be found at http://www.peacemaker.net/site/c.nuIWL7MOJtE/b.5378801/k.D71A/Rules_of_Procedure.htm. Rule 16 explains the biblical and legal reasons for the rules on confidentiality and the limits and exceptions to confidentiality. (Back)
October 13, 2011 by
Below is an update from the Board about the status of our adjudication process.
On August 24, Ambassadors of Reconciliation (AOR) sent the SGM board their Consultation Report, which recommended that we proceed in three areas:
- Adjudication of Brent Detwiler's allegations against C.J. Mahaney
- Group Reconciliation with others who have offenses
- A follow-up consultation with AOR staff to review their assessment of and recommendations for SGM (which we will publish online)
To implement the first step, we asked AOR if they could recommend a trained facilitator who could help us write procedures for and facilitate a fair and unbiased adjudication process, and they highly recommended Bryce Thomas. Bryce has practiced law for 37 years as a trial attorney with extensive experience with arbitrations. He has been involved in over 100 arbitrations, either as a sole arbitrator or with a panel of arbitrators, in both the secular and Christian arenas. In addition, he has been involved in Christian peacemaking since the mid 1990s and is certified by Peacemaker Ministries as a conflict coach, mediator, and arbitrator since 1999. Based on AOR’s recommendation and because of Bryce’s credentials, we asked him to facilitate the adjudication process. As facilitator, Bryce helped the board create and write an adjudication process (PDF), which he described as “comparable with the procedure used by Peacemaker Ministries and by the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.”
On October 3 Bryce sent the adjudication proposal to Brent Detwiler and C.J. Mahaney, giving them both five business days to ask questions and accept or decline. C.J. replied to Bryce on October 5 and agreed to participate in the adjudication; however, on October 11 Brent informed Bryce that he would not participate.
As you'll see if you read the adjudication procedure (part 12), this means that the next step for the Board is to consult independently with both Bryce and AOR about what prudent next steps we can take toward resolution of this issue. We'll also be asking some SGM pastors for their perspective. We welcome your thoughts and need your prayers.
The Sovereign Grace Ministries Board
October 7, 2011 by
Over the past few months we’ve received many responses to our request for input about Sovereign Grace Ministries, and we’ve learned much from your comments. Thank you for that. I can say with complete certainty that my perspective of this situation is the better for it. We also spent a portion of our recent board retreat discussing your feedback as we prayerfully evaluated what God is saying to Sovereign Grace Ministries.
I’d like to make another request of you now. This one requires even more on your part than the first. Let me explain.
As I detailed last week, on November 8 we begin the next phase of our listening process with the help of Ambassadors of Reconciliation (AOR). In brief, we are inviting anyone who desires to see change in SGM to serve us in the following way:
- Attend or listen to AOR's November 8 seminar about conflict resolution (I’ll be there learning with everyone else),
- Provide written, confidential feedback on SGM for AOR to collect and assess, and
- In some cases, participate in a follow-up interview with AOR staff
When that’s done, AOR is going to provide us with an assessment of where there are unhelpful patterns, unresolved conflicts, and other issues to address in our family of churches. (We’ll share their written report on this blog.) And they’ll help us take appropriate action in response—whether evaluating policy, pursuing reconciliation, or otherwise. We are also working hard to bring in men who used to pastor in SGM churches so that we can hear their analysis and learn from mistakes we have made. We think this will be a significant opportunity to work through past problems that have been insufficiently addressed. And it will be immensely beneficial to the future health of our churches and we are eager, very eager, to learn and grow from it.
Let me quickly say: I realize this could hit some as unworkable—“I need to do what?” We are sensitive to that and we realize this requires something from those who want to provide us their feedback. However, our hope is that this process will enable us to hear from as many people as possible, learning from—and when necessary, seeking reconciliation with—all that we can.
So here is my request: if you’re a part of Sovereign Grace Ministries’ short history and you have a perspective you think we need to hear, please prayerfully consider participating. We are doing a number of things to assess SGM right now: praying, studying God’s word, seeking advice from leaders in other movements, and reviewing our history. But we also want to listen to the people in our churches, and that means we need your help. Please come and be part of the solution.
If you can participate in Gaithersburg, you can register now. For everyone else, we'll provide seminar audio and request for telephone interviews around November 10.
Update on October 17
“Getting to the Heart of Conflict” seminar no longer required
After receiving feedback from a number of people, Ambassadors of Reconciliation has decided not to make the teaching component a requirement prior to receiving feedback or meeting with people. Those who request interviews with AOR are still encouraged to attend the live seminar or listen to a recording of it, but are not required to. For more information, including clarifications about confidentiality, see this letter from AOR president Ted Kober.
October 1, 2011 by
As I mentioned last week, we have been preparing for a process called Group Reconciliation Assistance, led by Ambassadors of Reconciliation (AOR).
We’re about to start this—and it’s an opportunity for you to get involved. I’ll share more details about that in a few minutes, but first I want to explain what Group Reconciliation Assistance is and why we’ve engaged AOR to lead us through it.
Group Reconciliation Assistance is a type of mediation designed to help organizations address leadership challenges, biblical obligations toward those who have grievances or offenses, long-term cultural norms, and community relations. It also provides group training in peacemaking and individual coaching opportunities. All of this incorporates the ministry of reconciliation given us in Jesus Christ.
The process for Group Reconciliation Assistance incorporates four phases. In phase 1, AOR teaches biblical peacemaking, coaches individuals, and gathers information from documents, interviews, and forms. During phase 2, AOR studies the information received, identifies a few key parties to offer reconciliation assistance (coaching and mediation), conducts mediations, and provides an oral report to SGM. Phase 3 is the preparation and delivery of a written report on what has been learned and recommendations. Phase 4 incorporates a follow-up visit from AOR and continued peacemaking by SGM peacemakers. The entire process will likely take six months or more.
We want to make every effort to be reconciled with others and equip our churches for peacemaking. We also see this process as an opportunity to strengthen relationships and learn ways to improve our structure and methods so that this family of churches can serve our Lord better. If we can glorify God, serve others, and grow to be more like Christ through this process, it will be more than worth it. We believe this is one of the most valuable investments we can make in the future of Sovereign Grace churches.
The board has several specific goals for Group Reconciliation Assistance:
- We want AOR to educate all SGM leaders, and as many members as possible, on biblical principles for peacemaking.
- We want AOR to help Sovereign Grace leaders identify where we have sinned against others so that we can pursue personal reconciliation.
- We want AOR to help us identify key weaknesses and strengths in SGM’s cultural norms, polity, and structure.
- We want AOR to hear directly from as many Sovereign Grace leaders and members as possible.
- We want AOR to provide coaching that will help us and others pursue reconciliation where it's needed.
And for all this to happen, we need you.
How to get involved
If you or your spouse are or have been a leader or member in a Sovereign Grace church, you’re invited to participate.
The first phase of Group Reconciliation Assistance will be held concurrently with our Pastors Conference in Gaithersburg, Maryland, November 8–10. At the conference two things will happen:
1. Teaching. On Tuesday, November 8, from 12:30 to 5:00pm, AOR will teach a seminar titled “Getting to the Heart of Conflict.” They believe this session will help us grow in how we process and resolve conflicts, in our local churches and beyond. Registration for this seminar is free and open to everyone. This seminar is required for anyone who wants to be considered for a second aspect of Group Reconciliation Assistance: a private interview with AOR staff.
2. Interviews. AOR is offering private interviews with as many people as possible in Gaithersburg, November 8–10.
These interviews are intended to provide a confidential way for people to express their grievances and offenses, and learn how to respond to past and current situations in a God-pleasing manner. They’re also intended to help AOR gather information in order to assess Sovereign Grace Ministries’ strengths and weaknesses. AOR has asked to hear both from those with concerns and grievances, and from those with commendation and encouragement for SGM.
The invitation to request an interview includes pastors' wives and other women. We recognize that women are an important part of the SGM family, but sometimes they may feel left out. One of the AOR Team members will be a woman whose husband is a pastor. She will be available to meet with women to hear their concerns or joys and provide coaching and encouragement. Married women may attend an interview together with their husband, or they may request a separate interview. If a woman (single or married) prefers to be interviewed by the female on AOR’s team of trained conciliators, they can note that on the registration form. We are hopeful that this will provide an opportunity for women to be heard and receive care in a special way.
It’s possible that AOR will receive more interview requests than they can accommodate. If that happens, they will give priority scheduling to those they believe will best help them accomplish the goals of reconciliation and assessing SGM.
So as a summary, here’s what this phase of Group Reconciliation Assistance involves:
- October 1–14: SGM and AOR receive interview requests and notify participants prior to the conference if they are selected for an interview
- November 8, 12:30–5:00pm: AOR presents “Getting to the Heart of Conflict” in Gaithersburg, Maryland
- November 8–10: AOR conducts onsite interviews concurrent with the Sovereign Grace Pastors Conference
Who should participate?
Anyone interested in getting training for conflict resolution and reconciliation is welcome to participate in the seminar.
Because this seminar is also part of a process by which AOR will gather information on SGM from members and pastors, we also encourage anyone to participate who feels they have important input about SGM’s strengths and weaknesses, regardless of whether or not reconciliation is needed or desired. After the seminar, attendees will be invited to fill out homework that provides feedback for AOR about SGM. They want to hear both from those with concerns and from those with commendation for SGM, so please come if you any input that will help AOR understand and counsel us.
What to do
Use the sign-up form to register for the “Getting to the Heart of Conflict” seminar and, if desired, request an interview with AOR. If a woman desires to meet with the female coach, she can indicate that in the form. Interview requests must be made by October 14 so that AOR has time to prioritize and schedule the interviews.
If you have questions about any of this, please email Andrew (firstname.lastname@example.org).
What happens after November 10
This three-day period is only phase 1 of Group Reconciliation Assistance. After the interviews conclude on November 10, here’s how AOR will proceed:
Phase 2 will begin with AOR reviewing the information collected from documents, forms filled out by participants, and individual interviews. They may share some initial observations with SGM at this point but will provide a more detailed report at the end of phase 2.
Based on their review, AOR will identify a few people they believe are key to the reconciliation process and provide mediation assistance for them, if they’re willing and able to participate. While they can’t provide it for everyone, AOR expects that a number of people could benefit from mediation assistance. This would involve further coaching in resolving conflicts and encouraging reconciliation through confession and forgiveness.
Within one or two months of the Pastors Conference, AOR will conduct the additional coaching appointments and provide mediation assistance for those that are willing.
After the additional coaching and mediations have taken place, AOR will present an oral report to the SGM Board providing some of its initial observations. AOR will discuss possible recommendations with the Board as part of its preparations for the written report.
In phase 3, AOR will prepare and deliver a written report to the SGM Board. The written report will incorporate a summary of what the AOR Team learns from the information they receive including documents, forms you fill out, individual interviews, and results from mediation. They’ll evaluate and analyze trends and specific examples, then report the general substance (but not specific details) of this information. The written reports will describe the process employed, identify strengths and weaknesses of SGM, describe some of the major conflicts and contributing factors, and provide short-term and long-term recommendations.
In addition, the report will help SGM identify people who could form a peacemaking team. Part of AOR’s vision is to identify and equip naturally gifted reconcilers within SGM who can continue to purse reconciliation between individuals after AOR’s Reconciliation Team is gone and help SGM develop a culture of peacemaking over time. AOR will try to identify people who could serve on this team and recommend them to SGM for further training.
In phase 4, AOR will make a follow-up visit to SGM approximately 90 days after their written report. Follow-up is important because it creates a sense of accountability and gives SGM a chance to review its progress. This on-site visit from AOR will include two days for evaluation and follow-up assistance.
As AOR has pointed out to us, "it usually takes an organization many months or years to develop cultural norms in response to conflicts and crises, and it usually takes weeks, months, or years for an organization to work through its long-term conflicts."
We’re keenly aware that what we’re doing now is only one step in a process. But we’re also keenly aware that God has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and is reconciling his people to each other as well. If you’d like to participate in Group Reconciliation Assistance, we would love to hear from you. And whether or not you participate personally, please pray with us that God’s grace and peace continue to multiply in Sovereign Grace churches.
Update on October 3
Is there a way for me to participate if I can’t attend the seminar?
Yes. This concern came up pretty early in the planning for Group Reconciliation Assistance, so here is what we worked out the following with AOR. For those who want to participate but can’t attend, there will be an alternative option after the Pastors Conference concludes. We will record and publish on this blog the “Getting to the Heart of Conflict” seminar. Those who listen to the seminar online will have an opportunity to complete feedback forms regarding SGM and send them to AOR for inclusion in their review of SGM (similar to the forms that seminar attendees will fill out). People may also indicate in those forms if they desire a phone interview. If a large number of people make this request, AOR will select a sample from them for phone interviews.
Because the interviews are not just for receiving information but also for coaching, AOR prefers to meet in person as much as possible—so we (SGM and AOR) do hope that many people will attend the in-person event and interviews. At the same time, the second option is designed to give others a meaningful way to participate, receive helpful teaching, and provide input for AOR’s review.
Update on October 17
“Getting to the Heart of Conflict” seminar no longer required
After receiving feedback from a number of people, Ambassadors of Reconciliation has decided not to make the teaching component a requirement prior to receiving feedback or meeting with people. Those who request interviews with AOR are still encouraged to attend the live seminar or listen to a recording of it, but are not required to. For more information, including clarifications about confidentiality, see this letter from AOR president Ted Kober.
September 19, 2011 by
Hi folks. The board took a four-day retreat last week and finished on Friday afternoon. We returned home tired but filled with hope about what God is teaching us and the progress we are seeing. Here are some highlights:
- We spent time reviewing some of the feedback sent to us from the pastors and people in Sovereign Grace Ministries as well as from outside this ministry. We are very grateful for those who have cared enough to convey their experiences and concerns. And we are encouraged that even in these challenging times, there are hopeful signs and many evidences of God’s grace. Please continue to pray that we will better understand where we need to change. And keep the feedback coming!
- We spent a good portion of Wednesday with the pastoral team of Covenant Life Church. The SGM board arranged this meeting because we wanted to discuss various matters of importance and to better understand the unique challenges this season is creating for the members of Covenant Life. We love these men and look forward to connecting again.
- We spent three sessions working on two things: the adjudication process for C.J. (including matters like panel selection and proposed issues for adjudication), and the group reconciliation process that Ambassadors of Reconciliation (AOR) is leading us through. Ted Kober, president of AOR, is leading our group reconciliation process and joined us to discuss plans for it. We’ll announce details about that by the end of this month. I have to tell you: our faith is growing for what God will accomplish in us and for us through this.
Just one last thing: please pray for the board. These guys, who already shoulder significant responsibility in local churches, stepped forward in this dizzying season to accept the burden of interim leadership for Sovereign Grace. Every time we meet like this Pete Greasley flies over from the UK, Craig from Dallas, Rick from Minnesota, Aron from Orlando… well, you get the point. These guys give it all because they love the pastors and people of Sovereign Grace Ministries. They believe our best days are ahead of us. And you know what? I do too. That’s why it’s a privilege to be serving the churches we love.
August 28, 2011 by
This week I sat down in Sovereign Grace’s recording studio to make a video answering some of the pressing questions that pastors and members of our churches have asked over the last two months. They’re good questions that merit more detailed answers, so a video seemed like the best approach. As always, please keep the feedback, questions, and prayers coming.
August 25, 2011 by
Yesterday we received the consultation report from Ambassadors of Reconciliation. It includes three areas where they and others will be involved in helping us:
- Adjudication of allegations against C.J. Mahaney
- Group reconciliation with others who have offenses
- Follow-up consultation and recommendations
We plan on following their recommendations in full. The document is very thorough so for the most part I’ll leave you to review it and ask any clarifying questions.
There is one part, however, that merits some introduction. In our initial communication about this process, we said we would use a panel of outside evaluators to review allegations against C.J., which at the time we were presuming would come from AOR. In this we were following the external counsel we were receiving as we began our discussions with AOR. As you’ll see them explain in their proposal, they disagree with that approach. In their assessment, it is the board’s responsibility to do the evaluation. At the same time, they are sensitive to the perceived conflict of interest at play if the board comprised the review panel. To achieve a compromise, they have proposed that a five-person panel—four SGM pastors and one board member—hears and adjudicates the allegations against C.J.
You may note that this is different from what we originally envisioned and requested from AOR. But after hearing their arguments we believe their counsel is sound and we plan on following it. I realize that this constitutes a change from our initial expectations, but I hope you can see in their recommendation a genuine attempt to address potential conflict of interest concerns that we raised with them. They were extremely careful and deliberate about getting to know the details of this situation before issuing their proposal, and I believe they’ve served us very well with this compromise and the rest of the proposal too.
I will keep you posted as we take significant steps in the adjudication and group reconciliation process. Thanks as always for your prayers, input, and support for us as we move ahead with this evaluation.
August 19, 2011 by
Hi everyone. Earlier this week I returned from a trip to the Dominican Republic where I had the privilege of joining C.J. and Jeff in teaching at Por Su Causa, a conference attended by 5000+ people from all over Latin America. It was very encouraging to spend time with these brothers and sisters, but it didn’t leave much time to blog. So this post will be a short one.
We continue to appreciate all of our readers asking good clarifying questions as we walk out this evaluation process. Two recurring themes in questions we’ve heard recently have to do with the purpose of C.J.’s leave from his SGM leadership roles and the reason we formed a preliminary evaluation panel. We’ve updated the evaluation overview page to help clarify both of those issues.
Please continue to ask questions as they occur to you—it’s very helpful to know what’s on your mind!
August 5, 2011 by
On Tuesday I posted the preliminary panel’s evaluation of C.J. Mahaney’s qualification for ministry. I’m grateful that these men would take time to help us answer that important question and honestly list their related concerns. Please read their report if you haven’t already. In sum, they agreed with the board’s initial judgment that C.J. is qualified for the ministry of the Gospel, noting that C.J. had confessed his sins and that what he confessed did not “constitute public scandal.”
I know that some readers have questions about what that means (what authority does the panel have, how does it relate to the rest of our evaluation, why was it helpful for us, and so forth), and I will explain below how we’re attempting to clarify that. I’d also like to discuss some of the panel’s critiques, which I believe were insightful and accurate, and tell you how we’re responding.
1. We need a formal process for handling allegations against leaders. Though it wasn’t their main point, the panel noted a concern that “this process was made worse…by a lack of an established disciplinary process…” Our own study of 1 Timothy 5:19-21 confirms this; Paul there affirms due process for leaders and, by implication, the right of church members to bring complaints. Referring to this text at a meeting for our pastors last year, Jeff Purswell stressed that a church’s polity should provide a clear avenue by which such allegations are evaluated. Sadly, we failed to have such a policy in place for SGM (nor have we assisted the churches associated with SGM in establishing a local policy along these lines). As a result our movement has been ill-equipped to handle allegations against leaders. C.J. is the most recent example, but not the only one. Over the years some other pastors have had to walk through an unclear and inconsistent evaluation in response to allegations, and that’s caused confusion and pain. This lack of process and the resulting lack of care for leaders is something we need to address. That’s why the board has begun to work on a formal policy for SGM and potentially our churches, the first draft of which we reviewed today in our meeting. This is a priority for us.
Another aspect of this is highlighted by the panel’s remark that “…it is highly unusual for a pastor to step aside prior to the institution and completion of a proper church judicial process.” We didn’t even have “a proper church judicial process” when this started, but nevertheless we had a responsibility to ensure that we not lead others into a rush to judgment (Proverbs 18:13) by how we evaluate allegations. Jeff, Josh, and I (the old board) all thought that C.J.’s leave would “walk the high road” because it removed his potential influence over the evaluation process and allowed him to engage more fully with the evaluation. But it seems to have delivered the exact opposite message: the leave was interpreted by many as a public rebuke of C.J., a pronouncement of “guilty until proven innocent.” There is no way to undo the effects of that decision now, and we remain supportive of C.J.’s desire to devote appropriate attention to the evaluation process, but we want to do a better job of positioning and caring for men going forward. Besides reviewing allegations, are there other meaningful ways that men, including C.J., can contribute to ministry during an evaluation process? I’m discussing that with the board, and will share our progress as we make it.
2. We need to improve communication if we want to rebuild trust. The panel listed “a lack of communication” among their concerns for SGM, and this resonates with input we’re receiving through some of our pastors as well. This is a broad concern but examples are not hard to identify. By not communicating adequately about policy changes (e.g., polity) in the past, we made room for suspicion that we’re deliberately masking or concealing our intentions. By not communicating specifics in our plans, we created room for suspicion that we don’t intend to follow through on commitments. By not communicating more openly about our mistakes, we created room for suspicion that our goal is to maintain a good image. And there are some times when we try to communicate and just fail in the attempt, getting the wrong message across in the process.
I think we have made measurable progress in this area recently, but the work isn’t done. We need to be clear and open about our commitments, the progress we’re making, and failures along the way. We can’t make that right overnight, but as a step in that direction we’re creating a webpage that lists the status of C.J.’s evaluation and other commitments we’re making as part of the process. You’ll be able to see an outline of our plans and how we’re doing on following through with them. I hope that makes this process more accessible, transparent, and (over time) trusted for the churches we serve. We will publish that page next week, and I invite you to give feedback on its clarity and thoroughness when it goes online.
Thank you for continuing to engage with us as we walk out this difficult process. I covet your prayers for our family of churches, for the integrity of our evaluation of C.J., and for the board’s ability to lead capably through the changes that we need to make. We want to come out of this knowing and conforming to the Word of God better, and we’re grateful for your partnership as we pursue that end.
August 2, 2011 by
Two weeks ago we formed a preliminary panel to help us evaluate C.J. Mahaney’s fitness for ministry. We invited several men to participate who had basic doctrinal agreement with Sovereign Grace Ministries, biblical/theological expertise, pastoral experience, and perspectives from a variety of evangelical traditions. Kevin DeYoung, Carl Trueman, and Ray Ortlund accepted.
We’re grateful for the time these men invested in sending us their perspective, counsel, and critique. Theirs is only a preliminary evaluation in this process, but they gave us many good things to consider. More on that later—for now, you can read their statement below.
July 27, 2011
To the Sovereign Grace Board,
As members of the outside panel asked to investigate the charges against C.J. Mahaney, we have worked through the documents you sent and prayerfully considered them—this includes the various documents compiled by Brent Detwiler and a number of confessions, apologies, and statements from C.J. Mahaney. We are not acting as a formal court of the church, or as the representatives of any party within Sovereign Grace Ministries. Our responsibility, as we understand it, is to offer non-binding advice on the narrow question as to whether C.J. Mahaney is presently fit for ministry based on those sins to which he has already confessed. Our remarks should be seen in that light. In short, we are not offering a full-blown assessment of the 600 pages of documents, or the history of Sovereign Grace, or what is best for C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace moving forward, or on any of the other currently disputed matters relative to C.J. Mahaney, Sovereign Grace, and her constituent churches.
Further, our judgment is not intended, and should not be read, as either an endorsement, or a criticism, of any aspect of Sovereign Grace’s church life. To varying degrees, the three of us have wondered at times whether this present controversy was made worse by well-meaning but unwise leadership structures, by the lack of an established disciplinary process, by a lack of communication, and by an over-emphasis on introspection and confession. We were not asked to render judgment on these matters, nor are we in a position to do so. But in our minds it is hard not to look at the task before us without noting the possibility that these broader factors may have played a role in this crisis.
Having said all that, here is our conclusion: We do not believe C.J. Mahaney’s confessed sins have disqualified him from Christian ministry. Or to put it positively, from all that we have seen, heard, and read, we believe C.J. Mahaney is, at this moment in time and based on those sins which he has acknowledged, still fit to be a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ and a pastor to others.
Now let us explain.
In assessing C.J. Mahaney’s fitness for ministry, we asked the following questions:
- Is there unconfessed sin? No doubt we all have unconfessed sin, but God does not ask us to find every idol buried under every layer of our subconscious. He asks us to address what we see and what others show us. No one can question that C.J. Mahaney has specifically confessed his sins, both publicly and privately. Therefore this is not a Matthew 18 situation requiring formal discipline. The brother has been won over.
- Is there scandalous sin? None of the sins to which he has confessed constitutes public scandal; nor does he confess anything that is not the everyday experience of a Christian in a fallen world. The most serious charge in the documents is that, over a decade ago, C.J. Mahaney, in an effort to do what he thought would protect Sovereign Grace, threatened to break a promise, an act which appears in context to have been an attempt at coercion. This serious sin looks to us like an unfortunate lack of judgment, rather than a protracted pattern of behavior. It was clearly wrong, but C.J. Mahaney never acted upon it and has since apologized.
- Is there a pattern of being untrustworthy? It may look that way to some, but this is a paper trail of 15 years. Few, if any, could withstand this kind of public scrutiny and emerge without blemish or without being reminded of something that they should not have done and of which they are now rightly ashamed. Of course, we want to see C.J. Mahaney take what he has confessed and show progress; but, to repeat, that to which he has confessed does not require suspension from the ministry.
- Is C.J. Mahaney “above reproach”? The term does not entail complete likeability or the absence of public accusations. If it did, Jesus could not have been a preacher; neither could Paul (or Luther or Calvin or just about anyone else). The question is whether there are disqualifying sins impeding C.J. Mahaney’s ministry of the gospel. We do not see a pattern of egregious sins which would dishonor the Lord Jesus Christ should C.J. Mahaney continue to minister. We believe his Christian walk, though flawed (as is the case with all Christians), is still a model for others to follow.
We are aware that numerous other instances of sin have been alleged against C.J. Mahaney. We have not been asked to look at the evidence for these but would comment that it is highly unusual for a pastor to step aside prior to the institution and completion of a proper church judicial process. To reiterate: nothing to which he has confessed would appear to us to require his stepping aside in advance of such a process.
While we affirm that C.J. Mahaney has not disqualified himself from ministry, we also encourage Sovereign Grace Ministries to address the broader issues to which we alluded at the start as a means of avoiding the current kind of situation in the future.
Our prayers are with Sovereign Grace Ministries, the board, the pastors, the churches, and the brothers and sisters worshiping our risen Savior all over the country and the world. We are thankful for Sovereign Grace Ministries and fully expect that they will be stronger in the long run because of these present trials. May the Father of mercies and God of all comfort be with everyone involved.
Ray Ortlund Jr.
Concluding Personal Remarks
I am the Senior Pastor at University Reformed Church, an RCA congregation in East Lansing, Michigan. The public controversy surrounding C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace has been difficult for many, including myself. I have great affection for Sovereign Grace. I have spoken at various Sovereign Grace events and meet regularly with a local Sovereign Grace pastor in my area. In addition, over the past couple years I have gotten to know various leaders in Sovereign Grace. Joshua Harris is a very good friend. So is C.J. Mahaney. We have had Curtis Allen speak and rap at our church. I have also met with men like Bob Kauflin, Jeff Purswell, Dave Harvey, Grant Layman, and some of the pastors at Covenant Life when I preached there at Joshua Harris’ invitation in the fall of 2010. Honestly, I have experienced nothing but warm, gospel-centered relationships with everyone I have met from Sovereign Grace. Even those I have talked to at conferences have seemed like exemplary Christians—the kind of brothers and sisters I would love to have in my church. All that to say, as much as an outsider can, I know and love Sovereign Grace. In serving on this panel I have tried to be as objective as possible, knowing that some of my friends may see things differently. My conclusions are mine, and, as far as I know my heart, are not owing to any previous connection with anyone in Sovereign Grace. I agreed to serve on this panel in hopes that our small contribution might help provide insight and direction to a family of churches that I care for deeply.
I am Lead Pastor of Immanuel Church, an Acts 29 church in Nashville. I have had two brief conversations with C.J. Mahaney in the past, as I recall, with a few short emails along the way. I preached once at Covenant Life Church at Josh Harris’s invitation, and I will preach there in August, God willing, at the worship conference at Bob Kauflin’s request. Having read the statements written by C.J. Mahaney and the other documents sent to this panel by SGM, I have been personally helped. If C.J. Mahaney were my pastor and my family’s pastor, I expect we would be greatly blessed by the Lord. Now may He grant His peace to everyone involved in this difficulty. “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
I am an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Westminster Theological Seminary, PA. Neither body has a formal relationship with Sovereign Grace Ministries. While I sit with C.J. Mahaney on the Board of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, I have never attended a Council meeting, nor interacted with him on Alliance business. I have met him three times, once briefly at a group breakfast at the Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting in 2005, once for a brief lunch in 2006 and then when teaching a course for the Pastor’s College in 2007. I have also been interviewed by him for his blog. I will be giving a seminar at T4G next year, but that was at the request of Mark Dever. Beyond that, and the fact that I have appreciated the writings of C.J. Mahaney and others in SGM, I have no personal connection with him and no vested interest in, or extensive knowledge of, the work of SGM.