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