"...When He [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." Matt 9:36

"Do not rob the poor, because he is poor... for the Lord will take up their case and plunder those who plunder them." Proverbs 22:22-23

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sutton Ousted at Two Rivers: Lessons for Brunson and FBC Jax - Part 1

One of the most shocking stories thus far in 2008 in the SBC is the rapid demise of Dr. Jerry Sutton at Two-Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. This past Sunday, the church overwhelming approved an "early retirement" package valued at $314,000 to move beyond the fiasco that unfolded at that church over the past few years.

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?

11 comments:

Robert L. Peeples said...

Watchdog,

Everyone knows that you and the FBC members who support your side will not file a lawsuit against the pastor. That's just not going to happen. You won't even claim identity to your blog, so why would you expose yourself and file a lawsuit...you wouldn't. So my question is this: What will you do to further your cause of better accountability and transparency? I ask because the blog has done nothing. So what is plan B?

If there are lessons to be learned from Two Rivers that are applicable to FBC Jax, there has to be a learning process. Do you think this blog has influenced that at all? If so, how?

"And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
John 8:32

After starting my research of which the Watchdog requested us all to do, I found this verse at the top of the TwoRiversInfo.org webpage. The ideas of truth and freedom are found all over their website and seem to be tied together. It's really why they started the website to begin with. They wanted us to know their side of the story, the truth rather than what has been fed to everyone through the media and the pastor as they claim. But were they thinking about this verse when they filed the lawsuit against Pastor Sutton? Did they think a lawsuit would bring them the truth and freedom they were searching for because it seems that it brought the exact opposite. Had they not filed a lawsuit and instead left the church to begin with, they would not have been removed from the membership and they would not have had to pay the outrageous legal fees. They simply could have left the church if they were not happy with the leadership.

That's all for now.

RM said...

Those people at Two Rivers could have cared less about the "truth." They were a bunch of old geezers that didn't like change and a more contemporary style (does that remind you of someone else?). The end result was that they got themselves booted out of the church with absolutely no voice whatsoever.

In my opinion, they got exactly what they deserved.

Two Rivers is a good strong church and will make it just fine through this difficult time. Jerry shepherded them well for 22 years and it will show as they rebound quickly. Just watch and see...

FBC Jax Watchdog said...

RM - and you're a pastor?

I gather you don't know those people, yet are passing judgement on their motives and worship styles.

Goes to show how you harping on the anonymity issue is just a red herring. These people DID come forward with their names and their concerns, yet now YOU from Texas label them as "old geezers" who got what they deserve.

And if you're referring to me or others as being against change, you don't know what what you're talking about sir, because I am NOT against change at our church. Yes some have posted here about PD, but that is not the main beef of this blog.

Your comment RM proves that pastors like you and Mac just don't get it. They want to call for the congregation to swallow all the change in the world, but they themselves don't want to change their old practices of church governance of keeping financial details from the people of the church who really want to know.

FBC Jax Watchdog said...

The truth RM is you don't know those people. Reading them in the newspaper is NOT the way to understand what they believe as a group, but better to go to their website which you apparently don't want to do. They had legitimate gripes. They wanted to see financial records. Sorry you can't deal with the truth. You apparently have a contempt for parisihoners who dare to ask "God's Man" questions about finances.

Also RM, the purpose of my blog post here is to not discuss motives of the "recalcitrants" at Two Rivers, their motives and the legitimacy of their concerns. That's water under the bridge; their out, so is Sutton.

Now the relevant question for YOU and for Brunson and other pastors is: what can be learned. Should Sutton have handled things differently? Should he just have opened the books for these people without them resorting to a lawsuit? Did he win the battles but lost the war? Those are the relevant questions. But pastors like you will probably still want to heap stones on the sheep who dared to demand the answers to legitimate questions. How disgraceful.

I say Sutton got what HE deserved. And I wouldn't be surprised if the 77 sheep are welcomed back into the fold.

Robert L. Peeples said...

You are a funny man Watchdog.
RM doesn't know these people....I suppose you do?? I guess all recalcitrants are alike, I suppose.

After further reading, I think the lesson that can be learned here is that in every church you will have sheep that will refuse to shed the wool and be guided through the pastures. Instead, some will want to leap off cliffs and file lawsuits while doing so.

RM, do not pay the Watchdog or the TwoRivers nuts any attention. You are not disgraceful as the Watchdog says you are.
You keep preaching and pastoring according to God's will for you and the church and everything will be fine.

Keep it up my brother!

RM said...

I probably spent more time than you have on their website--but the sad thing is that I have met people just like them for years and years. They are nothing new. The unique thing is that the Two Rivers family had enough sense to expel them before they completely destroyed the church. I doubt seriously if they will be welcomed back into the fold.

I do enjoy reading about how you have the insight to lump all pastors together. I am beginning to think that you actually do fit the profile on that website that you condemned so heartily. I would imagine nearly everything he said about you is true. You see the unique thing is that we pastors all know how to recognize certain personality traits in members just like you think you do among pastors.

Since I know you want to keep you unbiased attention completely focused on Mac, I'll bid you farewell. I actually thought you had some creedance to some of your complaints but I'm beginning to see that your blog is nothing more than a very unhappy and disgruntled church member wanting to get attention and cause trouble.

Hopefully the Lord will be more gracious to you and your motives than your church family--that is, if they actually knew who you were.

FBC Jax Watchdog said...

Robert - put your thinking cap on please. Of course I don't know these people. I don't know them well enough to call them "old geezers", or to assume their motives for wanting to see financial records, or to arrogantly proclaim like RM that these people "got what they deserved". What arrogance from a pastor, a so called "man of God" that he would from afar pass judgement on these church members who wanted to see financial records of their church.

But you and RM posting your thoughts here is instructive. RMs comments are an example of pastors who have nothing but contempt for people who demand accountability and demand answers to questions about finances...and yours are an example of a layperson who will also pass judgement on these same people and wish that they leave the church. Also the hypocrisy of RM and others saying that we'll never get answers to questions at FBC Jax while staying anonymous is now so evident. These people were NOT anonymous, still got no answers, were kicked out of the church...and now RM calls them "old geezers". So its really not about the anonymity that bothers RM, its the fact that they demand answers. Maybe Two Rivers is hitting a little close to home for RM, maybe he himself is dealing with rascals in his congregation daring to hold him accountable.

Your last statement about "legal fees" shows just how immature you are Robert. As though any of this has anything to do with legal fees. Yep, if only those idiots had thought about the legal fees they would have incurred, this would have never happened.

And pastors reading RM's final post, I hope he doesn't represent the typical pastor. Looking at the Two Rivers fiasco he heaps the blame all on the inquiring church members. The blame for what has happened goes to Sutton primarily. It was his handling of questions from his church members that created the mess. If there were no financial shenanigans, he should have opened the books. If there were, he should have opened the books and apologized and made restitution. I'm glad you are not posting further RM, because your final comment shows you are a sorry example of a pastor who has contempt for the sheep - especially those rascals who non-anonymously demand answers to questions.

Anonymous said...

Sutton at Bellevue Baptist 8 10 2008

Anonymous said...

Frankly...I think much of the problem lies within the SBC itself. Pushing to Take " Southern " out of the name. Going on about the possibility of having the next president be black.

Pastors making huge salaries and getting severance packages like corporate executives. Sunday school teachers seeking the ministry because they think the pay is better than their job and allow them to vent their egos as well.

Folks it's about faith and that God will provide. It's not about having a high salary and benefits package where you will be afraid to lose your job or feel haughty.

I don't think any Pastor should make six figures in most American cities. They shouldn't take land deals, live in million dollar homes or drive sixty thousand dollar cars.

sickOfMiniPopes said...

I attended Two Rivers in 2001/2002. Long story, short. I saw the signs of a pastor who cared about his position over being a true "servant leader".

I went to him for help. Another lay member had falsely accused me of writing an anonymous letter.

I met with the man one on one. He continued to say I wrote the letter, even after I said I had not.

I went to the church leadership and Sutton for help.
They told me I was a trouble making and was "stirring up trouble".

I cited Matt 18. I said I had met with the man one-on-one, and he continued to believe (and tell others) I had written the letter. I asked to meet with 2-3 mature men of the church with the accusing member.

No help.

I went and got a polygraph test. I walked up to "Brother Jerry" at the end of a service and handed it to him.
I told him I didn't write the anonymous letter, and he did nothing to help me.
He pointed his finger at me.
Continued to call me the trouble maker and that "I should have dropped it a long time ago".

That was my last Sunday there. Circa 2002.

I was NOT surprised to see this unaccountable/narcissist behavior end the way it did.

I had nothing to do with it. I moved away from Nashville a few months after my last meeting with Brother Jerry.

Keep telling the truth "watchdog"....and people who think "because preaches a good sermon, they must have integrity"...you're sadly mistaken.

Rev 2, Church of Ephesus had sound doctrine. But the Lord rebuked them.

Without love, you are nothing. 1 Cor 13.

The surprising part for me isn't the narcissist pastors. Its the people who look the other way because somebody can preach a decent sermon.

It's sick.

I just left a church because of its blatant nepotism. I asked why the pastor (who had been let go) ... why he had been let go. I was told I was a trouble maker.


Rinse and Repeat.

The other power this mini popes have is the false power the congregation gives them.

Stop teaching and admiring the Jesus who overturns the tables in the temple.......and then sit in silence as your pastor puts a world into place where he is unaccountable to anyone.

You think people would learn. But they don't. They worship their pastor and "he can do no wrong".
No, if you think he can do no wrong, you're ignoring God's Word. (1 John 1 ).

dan said...

Full disclosure, I am an associate pastor in a "not even close to the size of a megachurch" church. sickofminipopes, you may be sincere, but if I knew you I probably would have a hard time trusting you. Please be honest: you may be a troublemaker, and there may or may not be anything wrong with that.
Watchdog, it's easy to hide behind a moniker and throw your version of imprecatory psalms at people who seem to give your mortal enemies the benefit of the doubt. I'm beginning to think that how Christians are handling weblogs may be similar to how Margaret Sanger handled eugenics.