Meet our Regional Leader: Mickey Connolly

One of the benefits of being a part of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) is that we are not alone.  We have the benefit of others caring for us as a church, encouraging us toward the gospel mission, and holding us accountable to biblical doctrine.  There are many ways that we, as a church, connect to SGM, but one of the primary was is through our Mid-South Region.  Mickey Connolly is our Regional Leader and below you will find a post that SGM recently did about him.

Meet Our Regional Leaders

What local church do you pastor?

Crossway Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

How long have you been a pastor?

I’ve been a pastor for 29 years. I was a P.E. major in college and got saved later in life, when I was 28. I had an immediate desire for full-time Christian ministry, but I was raised Catholic and attended a Catholic church, so I had do idea what that would look like. At age 31, I began attending what is now Solid Rock Church in Riverdale, Maryland. I quickly became a small group leader and was identified as a candidate for pastoral ministry. I started as a full-time pastor in 1984.

How long have you been a part of Sovereign Grace?

26 years. Solid Rock Church was adopted into Sovereign Grace in 1987.

Which churches are in your region?

What is your vision for your region?

I want to support, encourage, and care for the elderships in our region as they lead their local churches. I also want to provide contexts where we can meet together to build relationally and to learn from one another. The elders in the region want to do some type of yearly conference (men, women, family, youth, etc.), and I will coordinate those. Finally, I want to provide a “face” for Sovereign Grace in the local churches in the region and help the members connect to the larger vision of Sovereign Grace.

What are the pastors in your region excited about?

I think our guys are most excited about doing conferences and getting times to meet together. Last October, Cornerstone Church in Knoxville held a men’s conference and invited all the regional churches. Almost all the churches in the region sent some men.

The best thing about Sovereign Grace churches is just knowing that you are not alone but have a “band of brothers” who truly care about you and want to serve you in whatever ways they can.

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Jesus, Friend of Sinners

You’ve probably heard the phrase before.  Jesus is a friend of sinners.  We even sing songs that include this as part of the lyrics.  However, we must remember that originally, this was no compliment.

In Jesus day, when he was called a “friend of sinners,” it would be like saying that he is a friend of drunks, whores, and thugs.  He is a friend to “those people” who make religious people’s palms sweat and double check to make sure their wallet is still in place.  Lest, we think we are better than “those people” let’s remember that Jesus called sinners, not the righteous to repentance (Luke 5:32).  He came for the hopeless, the needy, the spiritually poor, and the failures.  He came for those who realize that this world sold them a dream that it didn’t deliver.  He came for those who are drowning and just beginning to realize it.  He came for sinners like you and me.

Jesus didn’t just come though.  He came and lived a perfectly sinless life and then died on the cross to pay for our sin.  He credited both his death and his perfect life back to us.  He got the punishment, we get the rescue.  He gave us his “A” and he took our “F.”   Now that’s a friend!  And these analogies fall short of the reality what this God-man did.

Jesus, friend of sinners.  Yes, even if that phrase started as a insult it is indeed a compliment and for those of us who know we’re sinners, it’s so good to be called His friend!

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7 Shared Values of SGM Churches: #7 A Family of Interdependent Churches

Recently I asked pastors in Sovereign Grace to write about the core values that shape our family of churches and how those values get lived out in their local church. These men have done a great job of explaining our reformed soteriologygospel-centered doctrine and preachingcontinuationist pneumatologycomplementarian leadershipelder-governed and -led churches, and national and international outreach and church planting. However, it is our last value that binds all of these together and makes them work among our family of churches. We are a family of interdependent churches united in fellowship, mission and governance. Let me explain a bit about what each of these phrases mean.

We Are a Family of Interdependent Churches

Since the ratification of our new polity and book of church order, I’ve been asked several times if Sovereign Grace is a “denomination” now. Well, in one sense I guess we are, but I’m not a big fan of that term. Not because it’s a wrong term, but because it sounds so formal and doesn’t capture the reality that we have always sought and will continue to seek to build our family of churches relationally.

We are truly a “family of churches.” We know one another, encourage one another, care for one another, and pray for one another. We share meals together, stay in one another’s homes, attend conferences together, and visit other Sovereign Grace churches. It is this “relational” value that will make our new polity and book of church order work. Without it we will simply be a denomination with all of its formalities, and not a family of churches shaped by our seven values and united in a common mission to make the gospel known.

And it’s our mission to make Jesus known that heightens our need to depend on one another, to be a family of “interdependent churches.” Like the churches we read about in the New Testament who joined together to build and plant churches, we likewise need each other to fulfill the Great Commission Christ has given us.

United In Fellowship

We are a family of churches who not only build relationally but are a family of churches who share Christ together. The main thing that unites us isn’t our friendships, but Jesus. When the members of our churches are together, there is conversation filled with laughter and joy. But more than that, it’s conversation about the grace of Christ at work in their lives.

In about a week, the pastors in Sovereign Grace are gathering in Orlando for our annual Pastors Conference. Meals will be shared. Laughter will abound. Encouragement will be shared. They will pray for one another. But most importantly, a fellowship that bears one another’s burdens and honors Christ will mark their conversations. Why? Because it’s always been a part of our DNA, and I pray it always will be. You see, biblical fellowship not only deepens our relationships, it strengthens them for mission.

United In Mission

Not only are we united in friendship and fellowship, we are also united in our mission. We are a family of churches who help one another fulfill the Great Commission of going and making disciples of all nations. Together we sacrificially send pastors and members of our churches, who are dear friends, to other cities to form church planting teams. We sacrificially give our money so those teams can be supported financially. It’s this sacrificial mindset of sending our best people and giving generously that has always marked our family of churches and I pray by God’s grace it always will.

Let me illustrate this sacrificial mindset with a story. Grace Community Church in Souderton, Pennsylvania, led by Jeremy Bell, recently sent Emmanuel Suarez and about 15–20 members of their church to plant a church in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Mission accomplished, right? Not quite. There’s more. Just three months prior, Grace Community sent Ed O’Mara, a dearly loved pastor, and a handful of folks (including their worship leader and Jeremy’s administrative assistant), to replant New Covenant Church in Arnold, MD. Why would Jeremy and Grace Community Church make these deep sacrifices? Because Jeremy and his church share our love for the gospel and have a heartfelt desire to make Jesus known.

United in Governance

Finally, we are a family of churches united in governance. I know, I know, governance is a stiff word. Like “denomination,” governance sounds formal and stodgy. It conjures up thoughts of structures, policies, and procedures. It certainly doesn’t sound relational, and it makes you wonder if it will hinder our mission.

What we’re learning, however, is that governance holds the potential to strengthen our relationships and propel our mission forward. Our new governance (polity) calls for our family of churches to be organized into geographic regions. Each region forms a Regional Assembly of Elders, which simply means that every ordained elder in those regional churches is a part of the Regional Assembly. Our governance will actually strengthen our union of churches and serve our mission.

Like every other family, we don’t always get along. We will inevitably have conflicts. When a local church, or a local church eldership, can’t resolve conflict, it can turn to its Regional Assembly of Elders where, with the help of the Regional Leader, a committee of elders will serve them.

So what about governance propelling mission? This may sound crazy, but I think our regionally-oriented governance will actually help Sovereign Grace be more effective in mission. Under our new polity, church plants within a region are approved by the Regional Assembly of Elders. Who knows better where to plant churches than the elders of a given region? And because of the geographic proximity, the members of our churches will know better the church planters and members of church planting teams who are planting churches, and therefore everyone will feel more a part of the mission that we share together!

Sovereign Grace is a family of interdependent churches who rely on each other. As we move forward together, I have great hope that we will continue to help one another to go and make disciples of all nations for the glory of Jesus Christ!


Mark Prater

Mark Prater is the executive director of Sovereign Grace, leading us in our mission to plant and build churches with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Mark has served as an elder at Covenant Fellowship Church since 2002. In 1996, he led a church-planting team to Pittsburgh in order to begin Providence Church. Mark has also served as the director for the Sovereign Grace Church Planting Group and regional representative overseeing the Northeast region of churches in the United States.

– See more at: http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/blogs/sgm/post/Mark-Prater-A-Family-of-Interdependent-Churches.aspx#sthash.ntnW28DF.dpuf

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7 Shared Values of SGM Churches: #6 National and International Outreach and Church Planting

The Church in Europe

For more than a thousand years, Europe was the hot bed of Christianity. It was European missionaries who sailed the seven seas to tell the world about Jesus. John Owen, George Whitefield, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon are a few names among many in a catalogue of European Christians who have affected our world with the gospel.

Sadly, today “Reformation Europe” has flat-lined. “Christian” Europe has fewer evangelical believers than any other continent. Millions have turned their backs on God, and our part of the globe has plunged into deep spiritual darkness, moral confusion, and cultural secularization. The decline of faith in Europe has left Christianity here on the brink of extinction. Ancient church buildings are empty and in disrepair. Biblical truth is a forgotten relic from a bygone era.

The Purpose of God

Yet, as John 1:1–4 confidently reminds us, Jesus is “the light [that] shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Throughout the Scriptures, God has revealed his purpose to have a people for himself, to whom he will reveal his grace and glory and through whom he will display his grace and glory to the world.

According to the books of Acts and Ephesians, the church is God’s primary mission vehicle to reach the world, and church planting is the primary means by which the gospel will go forth globally.

It was true historically. It is still true today.

A Family of Churches Planting Together

As a small local church in Bristol, England, we are so pleased to be part of a family of churches where each local congregation is committed to the Great Commission (cf. Matt 28:16–20), and has come together with a common vision that transcends our own walls, city boundaries, and national borders.

Our own church, Grace Church, exists today because of the unmerited, sovereign grace of God, but also because of this shared value, having been planted eleven years ago through the equipping, training, support and care that comes through our partnership together. We’ve received so much grace over those years, and a major channel of that grace has been through the faithfulness to the great commission of our brothers and sisters in Sovereign Grace churches, linking arms together in gospel partnership. So thank you!

Looking to the future, we pray with hope, longing for God to raise up church planters and establish new churches so that there might be a powerful gospel reformation in Europe, North America, and across the globe.

The Value of Partnership

We believe that partnership allows us to punch above our weight, because we are stronger as churches together than we are apart. Therefore, we want to join with you to push back the darkness of our world by planting and establishing new churches: local, loving, living communities of believers, committed to Christ, committed to each other, and committed to the mission given to us by Jesus.

Together let us proclaim the good news of the gospel to people from every tribe, language, and nation, and pray to see the lives of countless people transformed by the power of Jesus, through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God.


Nathan Smith

Nathan Smith is the lead pastor of Grace Church (Bristol, England). He is a 2001 graduate of the Pastors College and completed an 18-month church-planting internship at Christchurch (Newport, Wales) prior to leading the church-planting team to establish Grace Church in September of 2002. As the lead pastor, Nathan is primarily responsible for preaching and teaching, leadership development, and the evangelistic outreach of the church. Nathan married Clare in 2000, and they have triplet sons, two little girls, and a newborn son.

– See more at: http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/blogs/sgm/post/Nathan-Smith-National-and-International-Outreach-and-Church-Planting.aspx#sthash.ZEl4uq88.dpuf

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7 Shared Values of SGM Churches: #5 Elder-Governed and Led Churches

Sovereign Grace churches share a common value of being “elder-led,” or “pastor-led” in our form of church government. What this means for us as we live this out at Cross of Grace Church is that pastors have the primary responsibility to care for the spiritual health of God’s people.

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God…” (1 Peter 5:1–2)

Peter commands elders or pastors to “shepherd” the flock of God. Just as a shepherd cares for his sheep, God has called pastors to shepherd and care for God’s people, the church.

Pastors Lead

Elders are commanded to “exercise oversight” (1 Peter 5:2). This means to lead, and leading means they are to see a destination, set a course, help others get there. As believers, we have a destination in this life – and that is maturity in Christ.

When we are rooted in him, mature in the faith, we will be able to withstand temptation, and help others to grow in the faith as well. A pastor is to lead in this, by humbly leading his own home first, then leading the congregation in growth and maturity in the gospel.

Pastors Feed

Before Jesus ascended, he took Peter aside and said, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17). Shepherds have the responsibility to provide food for the sheep.

The familiar passage of Psalm 23 reminds us that Christ—the Good Shepherd—is the one who “makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” God cares about our spiritual nourishment. And he’s called pastors to prepare and serve God’s word to his sheep.

Pastors Equip

Ephesians 4:12 tells pastors to “…equip the saints for the work of ministry”. Pastors are not to be the only agents of ministry. Pastors are to equip believers to minister to each other by being trained in Scripture, and taught how to apply the gospel to their own lives and to each other.

Pastors Protect

Part of a shepherd’s responsibility is to protect sheep from wolves. As elders, we are called not only to provide sound doctrine, but also to guard against and warn against false doctrine and those teaching false doctrine. Pastors or elders are to hold fast to the biblical standards of godliness, in word, in doctrine and in action.

Pastors Serve

Jesus came “not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). Therefore, Christ-like leadership functions best in serving. Jesus cares for His sheep by appointing under-shepherds to serve and care for his flock.

Our prayer as pastors is that we will joyfully serve Christ and his church by loving and caring for His flock, teaching the gospel faithfully, and by always pointing fellow disciples to Jesus.

And as a pastor-led church, we long for the day “…when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:4) May pastors and the congregations they serve hold to that glorious promise.

At Cross of Grace Church, pastors lead through a plurality of elders, with three pastors sharing the responsibilities of praying for, leading, and ministering the Word to God’s people. As pastors, we are aware that we, too, are sheep of the Great Shepherd, who not only give care to the church, but also receive care from the church.

For more on this topic, listen to a message Scott preached on being elder-led as part of a sermon series on values at Cross of Grace Church.


Scott Crook

Scott Crook serves as Lead Pastor at Cross of Grace Church. He is a graduate of Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, and received his Masters from Crown College. For 20 years, Scott has taught the word of God is some capacity—serving as an educator in a Christian school and in pastoring the local church. A native of Georgia, Scott and his wife, Angela, moved to Minnesota in April of 2003. They have one daughter.

 

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7 Shared Values of SGM Churches: #4 Complementarian Leadership in the Home and Church

We live in a culture that tells us there should be “sameness” in every area of life. Most recently, this argument has been made in redefining marriage to be the same for homosexuals and heterosexuals. “Sameness” is a trump card of our age. No one wants to be on the losing side and seen as a bigot, chauvinist, or jerk. But what happens if a fight for “sameness” is actually a fight against the Creator? That is exactly the battle we have in our culture when it comes to manhood and womanhood. The Bible says that men and women are equal in worth and value, but we aren’t the same.

Roles in the Home and Church

One of the shared values of Sovereign Grace churches is “complementarian leadership in the home and church.” The Bible affirms the equality and value of the two genders but also lays out a wonderful plan of having different roles (Genesis 1–2). These roles are not for the purpose of elevating men or squashing women, but actually help men to be “humble, servant leaders” and women to be “intelligent, joyful helpers” in the home and in the church.

In the home, men are to follow Christ who laid down his life for his bride (Ephesians 5:25) and thus lay their lives down for their bride. Women are to follow Christ by following the husband God has given them.

In the church, men are to lead as under-shepherds of the Chief Shepherd and be a “one-woman man” (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:6).

You may have heard the teaching on complementarianism before, and you may even be convinced that it is taught in the Bible. (Sovereign Grace affirms the Danvers Statement of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.)

But how does this value function, and why is it so important in the local church and in our family of churches? Here are two reasons:

The Gospel

Biblical manhood and womanhood points us clearly to the gospel (Ephesians 5:22–33) in a world that is baffled by spouses treating each other with grace. I’ve interacted with many people who disagree with complementarianism, but after we dialogue, they usually say, “The idea of a servant-hearted husband loving his wife and laying down his life for her does not sound hard to submit to.” They then object with, “…but I don’t know any men who live this way.” I always say, “I actually have a church full of people who display this.” Manhood and womanhood is like a violin. When you see it skillfully (biblically) done, it is beautiful and inspiring, but when one resists the biblical roles, there is much screeching and wincing in the home and church.

The Authority of Scripture

Complementarianism also points us to the fact that Scripture, not our culture, is our authority. Just recently, I met with a couple who was new to our church. In our meeting, the wife asked, “Why are there no female pastors at this church?” I opened my Bible and showed her the passages that talk about women not exercising authority over a man (1 Timothy 2:12) and men being elders (1 Tim. 3:1–7). She said, “I’ve always wondered about those passages, and we always glossed over them at my previous church.” Our authority as a family of churches is God’s Word, and that is why we take complementary roles seriously.

A Story of Complementarianism Lived Out

This beautiful duet of manhood and womanhood is harmonized each week in our homes and as our church, Sovereign Grace Church of the Lowcountry, gathers. In homes like John and April Moffatt’s, a growing desire for complementarian roles is blooming. (This story is shared with John and April’s permission.) John is learning to initiate toward his bride like Christ did the church. April is learning to trust John’s leadership, much like our church grows in trusting Christ each step of the way. The Moffatts were not believers when they married 17 years ago, and they have said, “the odds were stacked against us.” When discussing how the biblical roles revolutionized their marriage in a recent testimony, John and April said, “John’s default is to not lead and April defaults to taking over. We will probably struggle with this to some degree our whole marriage. The important thing is that we understand our tendencies and catch ourselves when it starts to happen…God has taught us that when we realign our lives and roles with his plan, our marriage will bless us and will glorify God.”

Biblical manhood and womanhood is ultimately about that: glorifying God. It is a display of the gospel to a watching world. This is why it is one of the seven shared values of Sovereign Grace churches.

Mike preached a message on this topic from Genesis 2:18–25. Also see Kevin DeYoung’s message on “God’s Design” from the 2013 Sovereign Grace Transfer Conference.


 

Mike is the senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of the Lowcountry outside of Charleston, South Carolina. Prior to planting this church, Mike served as a pastor at CrossWay Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is a graduate of our Pastors College and of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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7 Shared Values of SGM Churches: #3 Continuationist Pneumatology

The spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians

Paul paints a picture for us in 1 Corinthians 12–14 of what continuationist pneumatology might look like in the New Testament church. The passage is not primarily designed to explain individual gifts of the Spirit, but rather to place their usage in the context of the larger picture of local church worship. Continuationist pneumatology is about more than our corporate worship; it carries implications for how we live life with others, and that includes our times together as a local church.

Today’s church culture tends to highlight the theatrical. The music, drama and preaching all seem to be directed at an audience. The goal seems to be a good experience, including moving, engaging entertainment.

As someone recently said to me after visiting a church, “I felt more like I was at a good Christian concert than a time of worship.” I don’t know how conscious church leaders are of this, but the reality of it is undeniable. Today’s churches are competing for the affections and attention of a culture characterized by fast-moving images and slick technology. It’s not that God’s active presence can’t intersect with “cool”—but what Paul is encouraging is something mysterious and clearly supernatural.

Engagement with God

When contemplating the importance of maintaining our “charismatic distinctives,” it’s tempting to focus on what makes us unique as a network of churches. We all know that engaging with God is not unique to Sovereign Grace churches. In reformed circles, recognizing that utilization of all the spiritual gifts in the church today is not a secondary issue, but gets at the very mission of the church and how we live out our calling, may be. How we engage the world, deal with the enemy, minister in a broken world, and effectively engage God in worship needs an infusion of the utterly awesome activity of God.

At the heart of Spirit-filled worship is the desire to cultivate corporate interaction with God “for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:4). Paul states that the diversity of spiritual gifts are given by God “who empowers them all in everyone.” Whether these expressions of God’s activity are utilized in the corporate worship, in the dynamic of biblical fellowship in our small groups, or in sharing the gospel in the marketplace, they are designed to bring healthy engagement with God. Spiritual gifts are not God bestowing to his people something external to himself. They are God himself in us working his sovereign and gracious purposes through us. Sam Storms calls the charismatic gifts of the Spirit “God going public.”

Experiencing and welcoming the presence of the Spirit

Most of us have experienced it at one time or another. A prophetic word discreetly whispers to shamed secrets a woman has never disclosed, and as tears falls she’s reminded that a holy God knows, accepts and loves her. A message in tongues peeks the interest of a man who has never heard this before, and the interpretation draws his heart to a powerful God who has everything under control (including his wife’s cancer). An impression that someone is battling guilt over unconfessed sin results in a teen confessing her sexual compromise to her parents. An exhausted and discouraged former youth leader shuffles into a meeting and receives personal ministry that addresses struggles the person praying for him could never have known without the Spirit’s prompting. These stirring stories are real life examples I have been privileged to witness in our new church plant by the moving of the Holy Spirit who knows, sees, and loves all.

The Holy Spirit moves in our churches and changes lives primarily through His powerfully efficacious word. Yet as reformed “charismatics,” we have both the awesome privilege and responsibility to robustly welcome rather than politely endure the mysterious yet life-changing and active presence of the Spirit of God in our churches.


 

Benny Phillips and his wife, Sheree, grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. After leading a youth ministry called Saturday Night Alive, Benny founded Fairfax Covenant Church. After serving there for 20 years, the Phillips family moved to Orlando in 2000 where Benny served on the pastoral team at Metro Life Church in Casselberry. In late 2011, Benny and a team of people from Metro Life started Redeemer Church of Lake Nona. Benny and Sheree have been married for 39 years and have seven children and eleven grandchildren.

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