Documenting How the Sponsoring Church Violates Local Church Autonomy

Local churches are to be independent and autonomous. The elders of one church cannot and must not oversee some other congregation or flock. So Peter writes“Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers” ( 1 Peter 5:2). Brother Vick says he agrees on this point, saying in our debate: “One eldership cannot oversee two congregations” (Ben Vick, Second Affirmative, paragraph 7).

Yet this is exactly what the sponsoring church arrangement does! When a church sends money to the sponsoring church they are relinquishing their autonomy in that work, in that area, with that money. The sponsoring church makes the decisions concerning that work, not the sending churches. The sponsoring church controls or oversees the work. In truth, it has to be that way. Someone has to make the decisions for the group. The sponsoring church controls and oversees the joint work of many congregations, making the decisions for everyone in clear and express violation of 1 Peter 5.

Thus in the debate I repeatedly pressed brother Vick on this point, asking repeatedly “if sponsoring churches can oversee part of another church’s work, could they oversee all of it?”

Brother Vick tried to evade this dire consequence by saying “In reality, a sponsoring congregation (that is, in particular, the eldership of a congregation) oversees the funds of a mission work or a foreign evangelist. It cannot in actuality oversee the work or the man if either is not among them” (Vick, Second Affirmative, paragraph 8).

This is clearly untrue. Sponsoring churches claim to oversee the work done, and I pointed this out in my reply to Vick. “Why then do ads and reports from sponsoring churches announce they are overseeing the work? Brother Vick knows better! If he or our readers don’t, will be glad to send anyone documentation (examples of such ads)” (Roberts, Second Negative, paragraph 4).

Reproduced below are some of those ads. It would be interesting to hear brother Vick’s comments now! Click on any of the “thumbnail” pictures to open a much larger, easier-to-read picture.

Campaign America - January 1992

Image of Campaign America document. (56kb)

Note that the advertising for this national television show specifically says the ministry is “overseen by the elders of the Hillsboro Church of Christ.” Note as well they have decided on the format of the television program (talk show style), the length of the program and other details. They have decided who will be the national coordinator, Bill Johnson. This is clearly the work of the Hillsboro church. They are controlling it, directing it and overseeing it. If a church sends money to Hillsboro for this program they are relinquishing their control of that money to Hillsboro aren’t they? Hillsboro would then be overseeing (part) of another congregation’s evangelistic work in direct and explicit violation of 1 Peter 5.

Southern Hills church of Christ

Image of Southern Hills Letter. (76kb)

What an ironic twist! The Southern Hills church announces their TV program entitled “Let’s Do it Christ’s Way” - yet Christ’s way does not include setting up giant sponsoring churches that receive funds from little churches. Read the letter and you will see that Southern Hills totally controls this work, with no apology for so doing. The program is even referred to as “our [Southern Hills’] program” and Southern Hills has made the decision to move it to another station and time block. Despite the fact that this is Southern Hill’s work they still want congregations to “make a financial commitment” and even include a pledge form! It is Southern Hill’s program but other churches should send to it? How can that possibly jive with 1 Peter 5?


Image of Ghana West Africa Fund document. (35kb)

Here is a work that drills water wells in Africa. The report says “A MINISTRY OF THE TRAVERSE CITY CHURCH OF CHRIST.” It is not a ministry of many churches, though many are solicited to fund it. It is the ministry of the Traverse City church of Christ. Where is the Bible authority for a congregation to come under the direction of the Traverse City church’s elders as they do their work? While not the main point of this article, we might also ask where the authority is for churches to spend money on drilling water wells? Truly, those who drink of Traverse City’s wells will “thirst again” because they still need “living water” (John 4:13-14). I wonder if brother Vick would endorse Traverse City’s “benevolism?” I’m sure Rubel Shelly would!

One Nation Under God Program

Image of Campaign America document. (79kb)
Image of Campaign America document. (69kb)

Here is another work that solicited money from every church of Christ in America, yet flatly stated the program was overseen by the elders of one congregation. The elders at the Sycamore church of Christ made every decision, including cost cutting decisions as seen in this newsletter from Sycamore. Sycamore announces the program is “overseen by the elders of the Sycamore church of Christ” and that they “accept[ed] oversight of the program.” This is a wonderful example of the sponsoring church concept gone “whole hog.” Sycamore becomes brethren’s Rome - just send in your money and they will oversee everything, decide everything, and do everything. How can such be right?

Congregations Assume Oversight of an Entire Congregation

Image of document announcing Tennessee oversight of Kentucky church. (103kb)
Image of document announcing transfer of property from Nigerian church to a church in Texas. (51kb)

While brother Vick and others want to evade the implications of the sponsoring church concept others clearly understand what it means, and they want more of it. If a little church can send some of its money to a big church for that big church to oversee and work with, then the little church could send all of its money and be completely overseen by the big church. If not, why not? Brother Vick repeatedly refused to answer this in the debate, but this is not something to be discussed simply in the theoretical realm. The ads below speak for themselves. They announce, for example, that a church in Kentucky will be overseen by a church in Tennessee, or how a church in Nigeria signed over their property to a church in Texas. This is not “kind of” like Roman Catholicism - it is Roman Catholicism!

Image of document announcing oversight of Garza St. church by Sunset Heights. (59kb)

More illustrations could be cited. Everywhere brethren want to do “big” works despite the New Testament’s teachings on the autonomy. Let’s be clear: if the Lord had wanted congregations to be harnessed together under one church that would direct and do the work He certainly could have instructed us in doing that, how to select the head church, how it should handle the money and more. The fact that the New Testament says not one word of such arrangement should speak volumes to disciples today shouldn’t it? The mess that is Roman Catholicism ought to say something too! We don’t have to run the experiment ourselves to learn where the centralization of money and power ultimately leads. Why do brethren want to abandon simple New Testament Christianity and duplicate the failure of Roman Catholicism? Brother Vick may try to dodge all of this with “sponsoring churches don’t oversee the work” but we all know better. Let us put aside this unscriptural practice and go back to simply doing the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way.