The pastors of Sovereign Grace ratified a new polity and Book of Church Order in April 2013. The new polity called for our family of churches to be organized into geographic regions. Each region forms a Regional Assembly of Elders, which simply means that every ordained elder in those regional churches is a part of the Regional Assembly. The Regional Assembly of Elders in each region then chose and affirmed, by majority vote, a man who serves as the Regional Leader. The Regional Leaders were chosen and affirmed by the Fall of last year.
Because these Regional Leaders play key roles in leading their respective regions, I wanted you to meet each of them. Therefore, over the next several weeks, we are going to introduce them to you through a blog series entitled, “Get To Know Your Regional Leader.” But before you meet each of these men, I thought it would be good to explain how our regions are divided geographically, briefly introduce each Regional Leader, and tell you a little more about what they do.
Presently we have 6 geographic regions: Northeast, Mid-South, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest and the West. Because we are still developing the global aspect of our polity, our churches outside of the U.S. and Canada aren’t included in this initial regional alignment. You can see the alignment in the map below. (CLICK HERE TO SEE AN ENLARGED VERSION OF THE MAP)
Our Regional Leaders
Each of our 6 Regional Leaders is an experienced pastor and leader, whose gifting for broader leadership has been recognized by the elders in their respective regions. Many of these men not only lead their regions, but also lead their local churches as the Sr. Pastor. Let me briefly introduce them to you.
Northeast Region:Tim Shorey, pastor at Covenant Fellowship Church in Glen Mills, PA.
Mid-South Region:Mickey Connolly, Sr. Pastor of CrossWay Community Church, Charlotte, NC.
Southeast Region:Aron Osborne, Sr. Pastor of Metro Life Church, Orlando, FL
Midwest Region:Rick Gamache, Sr. Pastor of Sovereign Grace Church, Minneapolis, MN
Southwest Region:Billy Raies, Sr. Pastor of Sovereign Grace Church, Midland, TX
West Region:Steve Shank, pastor at Sovereign Grace Church, Gilbert, AZ
What Our Regional Leaders Do
Each Regional Leader provides leadership for the churches in their region so that each of the churches and their elderships receive the care and counsel they need. He also helps the regional churches work together in planting churches and participating in gospel mission. In addition, he serves as the Moderator for the Regional Assembly of Elders, ensuring that they fulfill their defined responsibilities. Each Regional Leader serves a 4 year term with no limit on the number of terms he may serve.
I look forward to you meeting each of our Regional Leaders in the weeks to come. In the meantime, would you pray for each of these men? Pray that the Spirit would empower their gift of leadership and ask God to give them wisdom as they lead their respective regions. May their labors be used to strengthen our churches and advance the gospel for the glory of Christ alone.
June 26, 2013 by
Several members of the Polity Committee met this week in Louisville, Kentucky, with Ted Kober from Ambassadors of Reconciliation. It was a fruitful time of brainstorming how we can put together training and procedures that will assist our elders in walking out our new Rules of Discipline in the Book of Church Order.
In particular, Ted brought a wealth of wisdom from nearly 20 years of experience serving multiple denominations. He has great expertise in helping to implement procedures in a way that is faithful to a group’s theology and governing documents.
This work will help to ensure that we not only have biblical and judicious Rules of Discipline in place, but also that our pastors are well equipped to employ them in a way that serves people and glorifies God. It was particularly faith-building to see how the Book of Church Order will be an ongoing means of blessing and help to our pastors and churches.
Matthew Wassink is a 2009 graduate of the Pastors College and served as an associate pastor at Sovereign Grace Church (Bloomington, MN) before moving to Kansas in 2011 to be the senior pastor of Providence Community Church. Matthew and his wife, Hannah, have two children.
June 8, 2013 by
Categories: Audio messages | Polity
Sovereign Grace Ministries is a family of churches.
Yes, our new polity has ushered in denominational structures. And yes, we are a network intent on planting churches. But there’s something more to our ecclesiastical union. The churches of Sovereign Grace possess shared traits that give us a family resemblance. These shared traits are the shared values we celebrate in relationship with one another. Church to church. Pastor to pastor. Member to member.
At the inaugural Council of Elders, Craig Cabaniss addressed these shared values of Sovereign Grace churches by citing page 50 from the Sovereign Grace Book of Church Order, which states:
All the elders of the joining church commit themselves to promote the shared values of the Sovereign Grace churches, including
- Reformed soteriology
- Gospel-centered doctrine and preaching
- Continuationist pneumatology
- Complementarian leadership in the home and church
- Elder-governed and -led churches
- National and international outreach and church planting
- A family of interdependent churches united in fellowship, mission, and governance
These seven shared values Craig said, “make up the DNA of our family of churches.” And they serve in three primary ways for the future of SGM.
- Our seven shared values provide clarity.
- Our seven shared values provide a basis for unity.
- Our seven shared values provide opportunity for a healthy diversity.
Clarity, unity, and diversity. By God’s grace and through his Spirit, these shared values can draw Sovereign Grace churches further together amid the storm we have been weathering. We believe these are biblical values that make for healthy, enduring churches that glorify Jesus.
Grateful for our past, we now have this opportunity to join together in the present as we follow God in the mission that lies in our future.
You can listen to the entirety of Craig’s message here.
April 13, 2013 by
We are pleased to announce that the Sovereign Grace Proposed Polity and Book of Church Order was ratified yesterday.
Thank you for your partnership in prayer at this significant time in the history of our ecclesiastical union.
The details of the vote were shared with Sovereign Grace Senior Pastors earlier today. We pass on that correspondence to help inform your continued prayers for us.
Good Morning Guys,
Yesterday members of the Provisional Council of Elders were involved in an historic day for our family of churches by participating in the polity ratification vote. I’m eager to send you the results of yesterday’s vote:
- 67 churches participated in the vote.
- 62 churches voted “yes” to affirm the polity.
- 5 churches voted “no” to not affirm the polity.
According to our Book of Church Order, the polity needed a simple majority (51%) to be ratified. Based on the ballots cast yesterday, the new Sovereign Grace Polity and Book of Church Order was ratified with 92.5% of the vote!! This morning, let’s give God thanks for providing clarity through the voting process for the results of the vote communicate an overwhelming support of our new Polity and Book of Church Order. Let’s look to the future with faith in God that as we implement our new polity. He will give us grace to be even more effective in planting and building churches with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Next week you will be receiving a “Letter of Intent.” The signing of the letter indicates that your church intends to be a part of our ecclesiastical union (Sovereign Grace Churches). The initial deadline to sign the Letter of Intent is May 3rd. You may sign the Letter of Intent anytime after May 3rd but you won’t be able to participate in or have a vote on the Regional Assembly of Elders or have a vote on the national Council of Elders until you sign the letter. In the days to come we will also be sending you specific steps for how our new polity will be implemented.
Thank you for praying for the polity ratification vote. God has been good to answer your prayers. Now let us pray with faith for our future asking God to glorify His great name through our new ecclesiastical union.
Thanking God with you,
After sending this, Mark desired to add that 6 churches refrained from the vote for various reasons. We thank you for your continued prayers for the work ahead implementing our new polity.
"Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!" Psalm 115:1
April 12, 2013 by
Today is no ordinary day in Sovereign Grace.
For our small family of churches passionate about advancing the Great Commission through church planting, it is a historic day. At least, we feel that way. Here’s why:
Over three years ago the Sovereign Grace Leadership Team began a process in reevaluating the polity of our ministry. This led to much study, dialogue, presentations, debate, drafts, and revisions of a proposed polity and Book of Church Order we hope will serve the churches of Sovereign Grace for decades to come.
Pastors and members alike engaged in searching the Scriptures to reevaluate historically held convictions related to church government. This was a healthy process allowing us to engage in respectful debate from God’s Word. The result of this multi-year process was the proposed polity presented February 25th this year.
Today, the churches of Sovereign Grace vote on this polity. A simple majority carries us into an ecclesiastical union that contains denominational structures with a unifying Book of Church Order. As Phil Sasser (Chairman of the Polity Committee) wrote, “We have no illusion that that [this] represents a perfect polity, but we believe it gives us the needed structure and guidelines to begin a new chapter in Sovereign Grace’s history…we anticipate that the Council of Elders will continue to make changes and refinements for years to come.”
We owe much to the Leadership Team, Board of Directors, Polity Committee, Sovereign Grace pastors and members for bringing us to this day of voting upon a proposed polity.
As we’ve given special attention to praying for the unity of our churches these past 10 days, we appeal for your fervent prayers especially today. We are confident that whatever the outcome God is working for our good and his glory, even in the challenges we face. We are assured that God is on his throne doing all that he pleases and that he is the one building his church.
Thanks for your participation and your prayers.
Mark is the acting director responsible for church planting and church care for Sovereign Grace Ministries. Mark has served as an elder at Covenant Fellowship Church since 2002. In 1996, he led a church-planting team to Pittsburgh in order to begin Providence Church. Mark has also served as the director for the Sovereign Grace Ministries Church Planting Group and regional representative overseeing the Northeast region of churches in the United States. He and Jill have three married daughters and a growing number of grandchildren.
March 13, 2013 by
Daniel Baker, a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church (Apex, NC) posted some tips and suggestions on reading the new polity proposal, available here. If you'd like to read the proposal but find the lengthy document overwhelming, Daniel's ideas may be helpful to you.
You might be wondering if you have the fortitude to wade through another document that passes the 100-page mark. If that’s you, here are some things to know about the new polity and which parts of it (if any) you should read.
- There is a “Brief Explanation of Major Revisions to the Book of Church Order since November 2012” on page 7 that is well done.
- The basic structure in the revised polity is unchanged from the first proposal. That is, it’s still basically a presbyterian church government in the sense that elders from local churches in a given region work together to accomplish things like church planting, ordination, and accountability. Our churches are connected, and the most felt connection will be at the regional level.
- The polity committee decided that there was not sufficient agreement on enough issues to require subscribing to the new polity without any exceptions. So, they decided to recommend elders/churches submit to the basic structure in the new polity even if they did not agree with some of the reasoning or exegesis behind it. This isn’t true for the Statement of Faith. Elders must hold to the Statement of Faith without condition or exception.
- The Governing Board is now significantly changed. One change is that it is called the Executive Committee. This reflects the fact that it doesn’t “govern” anything but instead is responsible to manage the Leadership Team. If that’s confusing, go to page 41 in the document to see a comparison of the old board and the new Executive Committee.
- The new document has added several helpful sections to make it more understandable and useful. In the “Introduction to the Second Edition,” Phil wrote a helpful history of SGM to provide overall context. Three “defenses” were included from different perspectives: “A Defense of the Proposal from a Congregational Perspective” (Paul Buckley), “A Defense of the Proposal from a Presbyterian Perspective” (Matthew Wassink), and “A Defense of the Proposal from an Apostolic-Presbyterian Perspective” (Nathan Sasser). These are useful and help highlight different strengths of the new polity. All of these are included in the “Preface” of the document.
- You might also be interested in reading the “Partnership Agreement” (page 89). This is what elders will actually be signing if and when they join Sovereign Grace Ministries.
- Last, the proposal recommends a name change for the movement to better capture the essence of the new polity. A serious suggestion was “Sovereign Grace Churches United.” A less serious suggestion was “League of Ordinary Churches.” An even less serious suggestion was “Motley Church.” Phil was trying to recapture some of the glory of 80s music with this reference (see page 6 for this…enlightening section).
* This post originally appeared on the Sovereign Grace Church blog.
Daniel Baker serves as one of Sovereign Grace Church’s pastors. His areas of responsibility include overseeing corporate worship and family life, home school support, and college and singles. He has a B.A. in Music from Kenyon College and an M.A. from Ashland Theological Seminary. Daniel has been a member of Sovereign Grace Church since he and his wife Anne moved to North Carolina in 1998. He has been on staff since 2000, after having attended the Sovereign Grace Ministries’ Pastors College. He and Anne have five children.
February 25, 2013 by
Categories: Board updates | Polity
The following letter and attachments went out to the Sovereign Grace pastors today from Phil Sasser on behalf of the Polity Committee and the SGM Board of Directors.
You are receiving two documents.
- The first is a “clean” copy of the Revised Polity Proposal, which includes the Book of Church Order along with accompanying prefatory material.
- The second document is a marked up version showing all of the additions, deletions, or changes made to the original Polity Proposal. The second document will be difficult to read. We included it so that you could see the editing process and what was changed and how exactly it differs from the original. Disregard all the different colored fonts in the marked up copy. They’re related to the various layers of the editing process.
Again, the Polity Committee and the SGM Board of Directors would like to thank you all for your feedback on the original proposal. Interacting with your questions and comments greatly served us in this process and resulted in many changes you will see in this new version. Our interaction with so many of you was an invaluable experience. Thank you.
The SGM Board has scheduled the ratification vote on the Revised Proposal for Friday, April 12, 2013. As we communicated in our last update, the date of the ratification vote was moved back in order to allow a longer period of time for examination. The ratification vote will be held in a manner consistent with the Polity Proposal. I.e., it will be voted on by a “provisional” Council of Elders. That means that every SG church eldership must delegate one of their number to represent them in the vote. Mark Prater will oversee the ratification vote process, so you will need to send the name of your representative to Mark (email@example.com) no later than April 5th. We anticipate that the vote will be by some kind of electronic communication. Once all the votes are in we will let you know the result and post it on the SG website.
Should the polity be ratified, the next important date in the process is the church’s declaration of participation in SG, that is by Friday, May 3, 2013. We are foregoing the signing of the more formal SG Partnership Agreement pending a legal review of the document. Instead, we are asking that participating churches sign a more informal “letter of intent.” A copy of this is included in the proposal. Mark Prater will communicate further details on the polity implementation process.
In the midst of challenging times, we are nevertheless hopeful, even excited, about the future of our family of churches. We are buoyed by the knowledge that Christ is building his church and that none of his purposes will fail. May God grant us his grace to ever proclaim his glorious gospel and to live lives worthy of such a gospel.
On behalf of the Polity Committee and the SGM Board of Directors,
SGM Polity Proposal Final
SGM BCO Marked Up
February 15, 2013 by
Categories: Board updates | Polity
The Chairman of the Polity Committee, Phil Sasser, wrote the following letter to update the Sovereign Grace pastors on the work of the Polity Committee. We pass this letter on for your information and continued support through prayer.
The SG Board of Directors met this week to consider the Polity Committee’s recommended revision of the Polity Proposal and to make its own edits of the document before it is sent out to you for consideration and ratification. I’m pleased to announce that the Board was able to complete its task. We are very excited about the Revised Polity Proposal and we hope that you all are too. The Revised Polity Proposal will have incorporated many of the changes that our pastors have recommended, and we are grateful for your input.
We had hoped to get the Revised Polity Proposal in your hands today. Now it looks like it will be next Friday (Feb. 22nd) before we can get it finished. The reason for the delay is threefold:
- First, the sheer number of edits that we made in light of feedback we’ve received over that past 90 days, especially with many of them coming during the last week of January.
- Second, I've had some illness in the last month that has slowed me down considerably during the final editing process.
- Third, we wanted to make sure that the final draft was as clean (typos, etc.) as possible before we sent it out. Thank you for your understanding.
Another change that the SGM Board made was to move the date of the Ratification Vote back to April 12, 2013. The Board thought that only giving 30 days to process the Revised Polity might not be enough time. So we’ve decided to push the date back another couple of weeks in order to give each elder and eldership more time.
That, in turn, will push back the date for churches to declare for participation in the initial SG Regional formation if the Proposal is ratified. The new date is now May 1st, although churches could do it as soon as the results of the Ratification Vote are announced. On a related note, the declaration by the churches to participate in the initial Regional formation will be made by signing a “letter of intent” and not by signing the more formal Partnership Agreement. This is because we need a thorough legal review of any formal agreement to insure that no church has liability exposure for anything that occurs outside of the local church.
We will include a cover letter with the Revised Polity Proposal spelling out all of the particulars of the Ratification Vote process, but we wanted to get these date changes out to you as soon as possible.
If you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On behalf of the SGM Board of Directors, its Polity Committee, and the SGM Leadership Team,
February 11, 2013 by
Categories: Articles | Polity
Does a church need other churches?
How a pastor answers that question will define his pastoral leadership. If his answer is, "no, there is no real need for other churches, simply an option of partnership when "helpful" then his connections to other churches will wax and wane over the decades, influenced greatly by the present cost or benefit of each partnership.
I would answer that yes, churches need other churches, at least if they desire to prosper over the generations. Here are a few reasons why.
Churches need other churches because:
1. New testament churches existed in partnership with one another.
Corinth and Thessalonica owed their existence to the sacrifice and obedience of Antioch. Jerusalem needed the financial provision of the Gentile churches. Galatia needed the reassuring direction of the Jerusalem counsel. Countless churches benefited from the support the Philippians sent to Paul. Christians and churches are made to be dependent. To say we do not need partnership is to say we don't need what the New Testament churches needed.
2. Churches need the wisdom of the wider body of Christ.
All children of the reformation will affirm Sola Sciptura, and the priesthood of all believers, but of course they did not discover those doctrines for themselves, but because they have been handed down, defended, and articulated by other churches. For a congregation to assume that its pastors, both in the present and future, are immune to all doctrinal seduction is extremely unwise and sooner or later will lead to the downfall of the church. For pastors to assume this of themselves is to be wise in their own eyes. In my own view this motivates toward a certain established structure of partnership since the pastor who is currently dabbling in doctrinal disintegration is unlikely to pursue, at that moment, the evaluation and critique of other leaders. Previously established structures provide speed bumps and guardrails when we are slumbering at the wheel.
3. Churches are called to serve other churches in mission.
People born of the Spirit are called to give their lives away to others. As crucial as local service is, there can be a kind of mutual benefit to servanthood within a local church. But when a church serves another church, either in establishing a church plant or in contributing to their mission, love as joyful sacrifice is practiced and the mission of the universal Church is advanced. We grow more and accomplish more together than apart.
4. Churches need counsel and encouragement in local crisis.
Faithful pastors will certainly prepare for local conflict by teaching about godly speech, forgiveness, suffering, patience, faith, and love, but no amount of teaching can eliminate the possibility of some seasons of strife or trial in the future. Wolves, after all, will rise up from among us. The culture will always denounce Biblical principles. The flesh wages war against the Spirit. Even the best of spiritual shepherds will feel weak and vulnerable in any of these moments. Churches in crisis need more than the generic comfort of acquaintances; they need friends who are not ashamed of them, who are willing to sacrifice time and resources to help. A word of encouragement, timely counsel, a public commendation, a financial gift, solidarity in the face of persecution: these are life lines to a church that otherwise would be left to flounder in storms alone.
Partnership with imperfect churches means imperfect partnership. Friendship toward imperfect friends means sacrifice. Just the place for a church like ours. Does a church need other churches? Every true church will be sustained ultimately by the Lord, His Word, and His Spirit, but the Lord works through the partnership of faithful but imperfect churches to uphold his Church, to conquer the gates of hell, and to proclaim the gospel of grace.
* This post originally appeared on Jon Payne's blog, To See The Glory.
Jon Payne has been on staff at Sovereign Grace Church of Gilbert, Arizona since 2005. He graduated the Sovereign Grace Pastors College in 2005. Jon currently lives in Gilbert with his wife Lory and their 3 children. They are preparing to church plant in Austin, Texas later this year.
January 21, 2013 by
The Chairman of the Polity Committee, Phil Sasser, wrote the following letter to update the Sovereign Grace pastors on the work of the Polity Committee. We pass this letter on for your information and continued support through prayer.
Since it has been a while since we last gave an update on the Sovereign Grace (SG) polity matters, we thought it would be wise to do so now and to go over the polity timeline again.
As you all know, October 31st of last year began a 90-day period of examination and feedback on the Polity Proposal.The Polity Committee has been quite engaged since then with many of you by one means or another: email, phone, Facebook page, or face to face in regional polity gatherings. And it has been great. On behalf of the Polity Committee and Board, I would like to express our gratitude to all of you who have communicated to us your thoughts about polity and the proposal. It is not surprising to me, but still very encouraging to see and hear SG pastors participating in such rich fellowship and theological discourse. Such discourse is, perhaps, long overdue. While the examination period is not over, we have begun the process of revising the Polity Proposal. The Polity Committee met Wednesday and Thursday of this last week in order to consider which parts ought to be changed based upon feedback. The revisions are not written in complete detail here and they have not yet been reviewed and approved by the Board. But the Committee thought it might be helpful to you if I communicated some of the changes we are now advocating. They include:
- The removal of the strong (“God-given”) authority language in the General Principles section.
- Being clearer and more circumspect on the cooperation between local church elderships and the Regional Assemblies of Elders on ordination. While the RAE performs a vital and essential function in screening candidates, the authority to ordain and install elders rests with the local eldership.
- A provision was added to the effect that the RAE must demonstrate just cause to reject a candidate who has been previously vetted by his local church and has passed the required ordination examinations. Just cause must consist of either heterodoxy (deviation from the SG Statement of Faith) or scandalous moral disqualification from office.
- The Partnership Agreement has been revised so that an elder need not agree with every doctrinal statement in the Book of Church Order (BCO). An Elder must simply commit to abide by the actual rules of the BCO.
- Full subscription to the Statement of Faith will be required. However, an elder with exceptions to the Statement of Faith may still subscribe as long as he reports those exceptions to his Regional Assembly of Elders. It is up to the discretion of the Regional Assembly to judge the seriousness of those exceptions. Down the road, this will be more relevant as the Statement of Faith becomes (hopefully) more developed.
- A 2-year period of grace during which existing SG churches may join without fulfilling any church adoptions requirements and may leave SG without cause and without censure.
- The removal of any mandated financial giving for the first 2 years. After that 5% will be mandated, but this is subject to the amendment of the Council of Elders. It is hoped that churches will continue to give generously as they are able, but there will be no mandated giving for these first two years.
- Renaming the Governing Board the “Executive Committee”. When we began polity deliberations last summer, we unwisely retained the title of Governing Board. This has caused some misunderstanding since the (now) Executive Committee is so different from a governing board: its only function is to oversee the Leadership Team. The Executive Committee is an extension of the Council of Elders (CE) and derives whatever authority it does have from the CE.
- After the Executive Committee has approved a yearly budget, the Council of Elders must affirm it.
- The Council of Elders will meet annually instead of every two years.
- The elections for the members of the Executive Committee will be accelerated. Four Committee positions will be up for election this year, and the remaining five will be up for re-election next year.
- Bi-vocational elders will be described in more favorable and approving language.
- After the 2-year period of grace, only churches separating from SG within five years of having been planted shall be required to repay their church plant grant, and that at a prorated rate. Actually, the Board had already changed that, but I failed to pick up that change in the final edits in October.
- The Nominating Committee will consist of five Regional Leaders (rather than three), one Leadership Team member, and one Executive Committee member). The members of the Nominating Committee shall serve three-year terms.
- A change of name. How does Union of Sovereign Grace Churches sound? If you don’t like that, please send us your suggestions.
There are more revisions to be made, but this contains some of the most important. When the revisions are completed and approved by the Board, we will get them out as quickly as we can.
At this point, the polity timeline is as follows:
- January 31st ends the formal 90-day period of examination and feedback.
- February 10th the Polity Committee submits its recommended revisions for Board approval.
- February 15th (or thereabouts) the Board will send out the Revised Polity Proposal to all of the SG elders.
- Soon after that we will send out a final survey on your thoughts about the Revised Proposal.
- March 15th (or thereabouts) a provisional Council of Elders will vote on the ratification of the Polity. We’ll give you more details of how that vote will take place. We are not envisioning a convention, but rather a written or electronic ballot. If the Polity fails to garner a majority, the existing polity remains in tact until the Board gives further direction.
- If the Polity is approved, then those elderships wishing to participate and be involved in the formation of the initial Regional Assemblies of Elders will sign the partnership agreement. In order to prepare for all that will need to take place before the fall and the first Council of Elders meeting, we will need to know by April 15th, which churches are participating.
Thanks again for your excellent feedback on the Polity Proposal. I know that this is all very new to Sovereign Grace. Given the historical weakness in some of our structures and policies (in particular, the lack of formal structures that foster good theological discussion and debate), as well as the turmoil of the past couple years, there may be some who remain doubtful that significant change will take place. I understand that, I really do. But I remain hopeful in God that significant polity reform will happen and that He will lead us forward to greener pastures.
On behalf of the Polity Committee,
Once again, thank you for your continued prayers for the Polity Committee, the Sovereign Grace Board, and our family of churches. We are most grateful!