*This is a guest post from my husband and I thought it was worth posting. I am very proud of him for breaking away from SGM, and for being able to so clearly see the things that have really damaged a lot of people. I certainly married well, and I love him very much!*
I have spent my entire life in a huge church in the Sovereign Grace Ministries sphere. I’ve personally interacted with almost all of the SGM celebrities at some point in my life. I have personally had over a dozen peers leave SGM for either personal reasons/disagreements or for life changes. Every one of those who have left have been shut out and forgotten about after leaving. Their “friends” discuss rumors and speculation about them “walking away from God” as the motivation behind leaving our SGM church. I grew accustomed to this early on in the youth ministry and didn’t even flinch. I never thought twice about it. I was left with the impression that our church was the BEST church and in CJ’s words “The dearest place on earth.”
I was deceived. I do not blame anyone for this but myself. I want to emphasis that it was I who allowed myself to be deceived. There were several categories that I have fallen under a dangerous philosophy on;
1) When people leave the SGM sphere, they are no longer worthy of acknowledgement. They are ignored publicly, they are judged, and their “friends” openly slander them justifying their words with “We’re burdened by their decision.”
2) Small groups are small churches. The leaders of your small group have the authority of pastors, and the purpose of small groups is to discuss conflicts, sin, and accountability.
3) Humility is present when your words reflect a “humble heart”, control over emotions, and the ability to deflect compliments or encouragement.
The above are all “ideas” or philosophies that are heavily present within the congregation of my church. I say congregation because that’s the majority of the church, and as your peers, there is an overwhelming amount of peer pressure in SGM churches or even ex SGM churches. All in the name of “staying in God’s will”.
This past summer my wife and I left our SGM church. It took me a while. Over two decades in SGM and then leaving. Not as easy as I thought. In the last 3 months of our membership at our church, all of the above things shot up like rockets in our lives and we were overwhelmed by the pain that people under these ideas have caused us and others. Let me walk through each one.;
1) The mindset in issue one is horrible. It’s selfish, arrogant, self righteous, and cult like. I’ve seen it happen to close friends and even to whole families. They leave, whether because of a disagreement or because of a job in a new state, and they’re erased from everyone’s lives. No one will talk to them, and if they see them in public (i’m not making this up) they will refuse to acknowledge their presence. This happened to my wife a week ago. Someone we’ve known for years walked up to the friend my wife was talking with and said hello to the friend and wouldn’t even look at my wife. This is wrong. The greatest strength of the church is community. Just because you don’t go to the same church as someone else or because they disagree with your doctrine, does not give them any right to ignore you publicly We are called to love and peace and community, not to what could be called persecution. Because of the above mindset, I believe that SGM has a very elitist mindset that is extremely contradictory to the whole message of Jesus and the Bible. It amazes me that members will pride themselves about their outreach groups yet turn around and refuse fellowship and friendship with members of other churches or ex-members of their church. This is very troubling to me. It’s hard enough trying to meet new people or couples in our old church, even though it had over 4000 members. Unless you were part of their Care group, or their clique, you’d either get the “let’s do it” then silence, or you’d never hear from them when you contacted them to get together. This has baffled me since the youth ministry. This is a big reason why we are backing away from large churches and SGM altogether. The elitist mindset is harmful to the community and very hypocritical of the whole idea of what a church is as presented by scripture in the New Testament.
2) I’ve never understood small groups in SGM. Why are there “leaders” when really it’s supposed to be a time set aside for fellowship and Bible study? Instead, it’s a time to share sin, often discourage each other because of your sin, go through marriage books by guys with scary mustaches, and even spend hours discussing a quote from Piper or Mahaney. There’s also this idea that care means pointing out your sin, and then telling you what to do. Questions are asked to “bring sin to the surface” and if you get emotional, you are flat out accused of being in the wrong and having a sinful heart. If you in any way question someone’s rebuke, you are rebuked for being prideful and are “counselled” to pray about what humility looks like. Care in care groups, with the exception of a few I’ve only heard of (I’ve only experienced what I am describing), is about rooting out sin, making judgments on each others’ hearts, and refusing to listen to the person you’re caring for. If you don’t agree, you’ll hear the rebuke over and over again until you say “I’m sorry, I was wrong, you are right.” This is wrong. My wife came from small churches and she immediately explained the problem. No other “normal church” has pastor established “bible studies” that only specific members can attend based on where your pastor places you. Other churches have open Bible studies that do not discriminate based on season of life or preference for peers. The other problem with the setup of small groups in SGM is the strange misunderstanding on the whole idea of how we should care for one another in Scripture. The Bible nowhere says when we meet we should root out sin, hunt down pride, and rebuke sin on a regular basis. In fact, the New Testament encourages frequent encouragement, sharing scripture in love, seeking peace, and caring by carrying burdens and being understanding. When I read Paul’s letters and the Gospels, I’m at a loss as to where this grave misapplication of a few verses (2 Samuel 12, Matthew 18:15-17, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, and Titus 2:15). Do I think there are times to rebuke? Sure! We’re told that in scripture. But our fellowship should never be known by frequent rebuke and reproof.
3) Finally the one thing everyone can understand coming out of SGM; the humility philosophy. In scripture, humility is all about your heart. In SGM, and churches who have been associated with SGM, Humility is your highest calling in life. To my peers, humility is present when you say words like “I’m saying this with humility” or “I want to be a true friend and be humble by sharing this.” I’ve also been to countless care groups, birthday parties, and events where you’re asked “to bring an encouragement” to share during about an hour long awkward period where everyone puffs up someone else. “You’re so humble” or “You’re so Godly”. This is the most contradictory practice I have ever experienced. It’s actually comical. If you respond to anyone asking a question with any kind of emotion, even if you have been abused, hurt, or scared, you’re not being humble. If you’re not being humble you can’t get married. If you share a viewpoint that’s not in line with your care groups, you’re not being humble. If you have an opinion that is not popular, you are not being humble. From what I can gather, if you are submissive to everyone, conforming, quiet, have low self esteem, and use the right lingo you are humble and things will go well with you. You’re can’t know your own heart, you can’t know yourself better than others, and you can’t disagree because that’s not being humble. After all these years at an SGM church, I don’t want to be humble. I’d rather stand up for my convictions, my faith in God and scripture, and be willing to say “I think you are wrong” than have this false face of humility. Humility is about the heart. Many people like to use the verse about “out of the abundance of your heart, the mouth speaks” to trap anyone who said something that’s not humble enough. I hate that. That makes me mad. It’s irritating. It’s not helpful. Right now, I have no clue what humility is because I’ve been sucked into the weird SGM humility face idea that it’s all about outward stuff.
These are basically my three biggest beefs with SGM churches. I know I am not alone. I’m so relieved to be out of that mess. I hope that my thoughts can give encouragement to others who feel the same way but have been shut down. Speak the truth.
With that in mind, and without further ado,