This story should send shockwaves through the SBC, particularly to those pastors at large to mega sized churches that operate with very little accountability and openness and transparency to their members - like Mac Brunson. I will not go into specific commentary in this article on what I believe these lessons are; I first want to just share information with the FBC Jax members to read to become more familiar with the chain of events that led to Sutton's inability to continue to lead his church. The story involves questions of financial accountability, pastor's salary, getting answers to financial questions, church discipline against those seeking the answers, and expelling of church members seeking those answers. Sutton won a few battles, but he lost the ultimate war - and so did his church. Sutton was not caught in open sin, had very high morals and integrity - but the manner in which information was shared or not shared, and how he treated those with legitimate questions and concerns, ultimately led to most everyone at the church agreeing his ability to lead the church was seriously eroded.
What makes his relatively sudden departure from Two Rivers so remarkable is that just two years ago Sutton was almost elected as president of the SBC! He was the conservative-resurrgence crowd favorite to win the presidency in 2006 (after serving two terms as SBC vice president), but was defeated by Frank Page of South Carolina. Sutton was very popular at his church, and enjoyed a 22 year tenure as pastor, and was incredibly well-connected to the leaders of the SBC many of whom he pastored - now he is out of a job, the church is straddled with paying him a huge severance, and their church must now start the rebuilding process after a very public, ugly church fight.
Later this week I will post what I think the lessons are from Two Rivers that need to be gleaned by Mac Brunson, our lay leaders, and the FBC Jax congregation at large. But for now I hope that my readers will do some research to see just what happened at this church, and think about the application of this mess to our own church's situation.
Watchdog's Blog from May on Two Rivers - this was made just after the "recalcintrants" were kicked out of the church by Sutton.
TwoRiversInfo.org - the website of the "recalcitrants" who demanded financial accountability at Two Rivers. You will see here the questions the church members had over the church's handling of finances.
Baptist Press Article on the Early Retirement - contains interesting quotes from Sutton's letter to his congregation about the vote and his recognition that he must leave for the church's own good.
Florida Baptist Witness October 2007 Article About Church Vote to Affirm Sutton - this shows just how far and fast Sutton fell from grace.
Part 2....specific lessons from this story for FBC Jax...later in the week. Some questions to consider: In hindsight, do you think Jerry Sutton would handle things differently when first questioned about church finances? If he had it to do over again, would Jerry Sutton still seek the ouster of these church members? Did removal of the "recalcitrants" free the church to move forward? Who or what was the problem at Two Rivers - was it troublesome, meddling church members wanting questions answered, or was it the church leadership's failure to respond appropriately to the questions?