December 26, 2012 by
A Gathering of SGM Pastors for Polity Conversation
Fifty Sovereign Grace pastors from the northeast region gathered eariler this month for a discussion of the polity proposal recently presented by the Polity Committee. This was the first of four such meetings scheduled for northeast region SGM pastors.
Organized by Mark Prater, and fueled by a panel of four SGM Board and Polity Committee members (Ian McConnell, Ken Mellinger, Jared Mellinger, and Paul Buckley), this four and a half hour conversation was a significant step in the pursuit of clarity and unity.
It was an extraordinary gathering of committed godly men who love the gospel of Christ, the Word of Christ, and the Bride of Christ. I have been in ministry for 30-plus years but cannot recall ever sharing a moment of more profitable interaction between not-always-agreeing pastors. It was a sacred moment of humble, holy, and helpful conversation.
There were clear points of openly expressed disagreement between the men present, with an exchange of those disagreements without tension or rancor or discord. Views were voiced with manifest respect for each other, and with careful attention to the concerns being expressed. This is why I’d term the conversation humble. I can’t read hearts but I can hear tone and words. The tone and the words of all the men who spoke were marked by humble grace. The result was a real sense that gaps had been closed, love had been enhanced, unity had been strengthened.
The conversation included many voices all calling for a polity that is biblical and missional and relational all at once. In other words, these pastors were concerned that SGM polity reflects the values that God has. That is just another way of saying: these men want our polity to be sanctified by God’s Word, bathed in God’s love, committed to God’s purposes, all for God’s glory. It was, in this light, a holy conversation; a sacred moment in which consecrated goals were expressed in a godly way.
The 270 minute conversation was filled with meaningful ideas, careful nuances, clarifying questions, specific suggestions, and unifying conclusions. In other words—the conversation was extremely helpful. The members of the Polity Committee and Board that were present surely left the occasion with concrete help in their ongoing work. I believe that all the men who attended were helped by explanations given and ideas exchanged. The moment bore fruit.
Two Take Homes for Me
If I could be indulged a little bit of more personal and subjective commentary on the event, I would say that I carried two take-homes out the door with me:
- The people behind the polity will determine the effectiveness of the polity, and
- The future has arrived.
The People Behind the Polity Will Determine the Effectiveness of the Polity
A number of guys voiced concern about whether the future of SGM will be as relationally tight and missionally vibrant as it has been in the past. The consensus was that it all depends upon the people behind the polity. Polity documents are only paper and ink and words and letters. They are by definition policy and procedure heavy. What they do not, and cannot offer is the face or relationship or leadership of those who will fill the various roles for which they call.
Brothers: SGM will strengthen its relational bonds and answer its missional calling only if men rise up at every level to pursue these with heart and zeal; with a passion to reach the lost in the context of ever-deepening relational bonds of love. The polity paper can only map a guide and create a structure. It is SGM people who will determine whether or not we are led with wisdom, relate in love, and reach the world with grace. Polity is necessary but not effectual. Polity does not do ministry, build relationship, or plant and build churches. People do. The fundamental question is—should this polity be ratified—will we as the pastors of SGM rise to the challenge involved at every level and in every sphere of our partnership together? This is sobering and exciting: the effectiveness of this polity will rest upon God’s grace functioning through our ownership and application of its content!
The Future Has Arrived
One final thought before I sign off: the future has arrived. This type of event is groundbreaking in the history of Sovereign Grace Ministries—and I hope and believe it will be duplicated time and again in the decades to come. I say this because in this meeting we saw an example of the very relationship-rich procedure to which the polity proposal calls us.
Fifty men who are friends and brothers gathered to discuss SGM theology, methodology, and mission. Dozens of pastors pooled ideas, interacted with opposing points of view, came to clearer understanding, drew on each other’s wisdom and experience—and went away better men, better pastors, and better leaders as a result.
This is the future to which the Polity Proposal calls us; one in which local pastors, Regional Assemblies, and Councils of Elders all have a meaningful voice in shaping what SGM believes, molding who SGM is and becomes, and determining how SGM lives out its mission. It’s a future in which men who love the Word and Bride of Christ will have to—and will get to—make an even more sacrificial commitment both to have something to say and to say it—because it matters for the future of a whole family of churches.
Based on this one conversation alone, I, for one, believe there is every reason to think that the future is here, and it is bright. And God-enabling me, I’m going to hang around long enough to enjoy it.
Tim Shorey serves as the Church Planting and Care Assistant for Sovereign Grace Ministries. He has been in full-time pastoral ministry since 1982, and was a founding pastor of Trinity Fellowship Church. Tim received his formal training for ministry at Northeastern Bible College, formerly of Essex Fells, NJ. He and his wife, Gayline, were married in 1978. They have six children and nine grandchildren.