The Dirty Little Secret About Church Membership Covenants

By | December 20, 2017

Today I will once again highlight what, in my opinion, is abuse of church members by heavy-handed authoritarian members of the professional clergy class. Specifically, I am referring to a segment of the professional clergy  who consider themselves to be evangelicals and endorse, support and spread the 9 Marks “gospel.”

9Marx is apparently a highly successful parachurch organization which is sustained by syphoning money from local churches via frequent fundraising emails to individual evangelical Christians. This appears just a bit ironic considering 9Marx supposedly exists to strengthen local churches!  Their stated goal is “to equip leaders in implementing and reproducing biblical truths in their local churches,”which is carried out principally through establishing formal church membership in a local church, typically characterized by requiring individual members to sign a church “covenant.”




Numerous articles have highlighted how these church covenants are primarily used to manipulate members into conforming to a pastor’s vision for “his” church and effectively protect the over-zealous, heavy-handed pastors from lawsuits. (See for example an article published by the Warrtburg Watch titled “Church Membership Covenants – Legal Contracts That Are Not Biblical!”



There is a very good blog called The Sapulpa Messenger (Watching Them and Warning You) which has numerous articles warning people of an attempted take-over of a local  Baptist church by a typical pastor who holds to the 9Marx “gospel.”  I have reproduced  a section of the latest blog below. I encourage you to click on the link above and read the entire article.



Sovereign Grace Churches, a denomination I was formerly a member of, recently held a conference for their pastors. C.J. Mahaney, the de-facto leader of the denomination, is close friends with Mark Dever, the leader of the 9Marx organization. Mahaney has been successful in implementing the 9Marx “gospel” in his denomination.


Mickey Connolly held a panel discussion at the recent Pastors Conference where he let slip that the dirty little secret of signed church membership covenants is to protect the professional clergyman who runs the church/corporation.  (Perhaps Connolly didn’t think the unwashed masses in the pews would bother to listen to his discussion; he is most likely correct. Unfortunately for him and his corrupt denomination there are people such as me who make a habit of exposing these wolves.)



Listen to this short audio clip, which I have also transcribed below.



“If you don’t have a church discipline statement that people sign off on at membership time you’re in big trouble; and get one if you don’t have it because it will help you (the pastor), it will serve you (the pastor), and it will protect you (the pastor).”
-Mickey Connolly


Listen to this gem by Connolly. Funny, but I have searched the Bible and have yet to find any passages dealing with conversion to the church, conversion to giving, conversion of my wallet, etc. It sounds like Connolly is quoting another speaker; this simply points out the fact that there are at least two “quacks” in positions of leadership in Sovereign Grace Churches. Seriously folks, is this the type of individual you want in a leadership position?



“There’s many conversions in the Christian life. There’s conversion to Christ but then there’s conversion to the church, there’s conversion to giving, conversion of your wallet, there’s a conversion of serving, so how do you all keep those things before people, and particularly maybe that person in the church that yeah, they’re showing up faithfully on Sundays, but they don’t give, they’re not serving, how do you deal with that?”
-Mickey Connolly


Next we get to hear from Dave York. He was part of the three man panel discussion which was facilitated by Mickey Connolly. Of course they all advocate having members sign a church covenant/contract. Another unbiblical concept! Sola scriptura is not one of the solas these supposedly Reformed men hold to. York tells the story of a potential member who had an issue with signing a contract. I call him an intelligent man. York implies that anyone who objects to signing a membership contract is a troublemaker. Such was the case with this individual because they had to excommunicate him later.


I was offended by the way York handled this man’s objection, but all the pastors in attendance got a good laugh from his response. Apparently they all agree with York. In my opinion this is just another sign of a sick denomination.



“We only ask for one signature and that’s just for the Membership Covenant; has all those things stated in the Membership Covenant. We have had people say “I’m not signing this.” I remember one particular individual saying: “Why do I gotta sign – this is a legal document,” kind of got wigged out about it.


We just said “you don’t need to sign, you don’t need to sign, but you won’t be a member.” (Laughter)


So he said “well that’s a challenge,” so then he signed it and we had to remove him later. The statement you (Mickey Connolly) made about making sure you have church discipline statements for a guys protection…”


”You’re sunk if you don’t.” (Mickey Conolly)


Dave York, Senior pastor, Covenant LIfe Fellowship, Roseburg, OR


Unfortunately, Mickey Connolly personifies the type of individual who is promoted in the Sovereign Grace corporation. He has successfully  ingratiated himself to C.J. Mahaney by repeatedly demonstrating his willingness to be C.J. Mahaney’s lackey. Brent Detwiler wrote an article which does a good job of revealing Connolly’s character titled  “Ten Common Cult-Like Characteristics Evident in Mickey Connolly’s Leadership.”


Below is one paragraph from the article. I believe it’s safe to say Mahaney hates Detwiler for exposing Mahaney and his fellow Sovereign Grace leaders who conspired to cover up the sexual abuse of children. C.J. Mahaney had Detwiler removed from his church by deceitful chicanery. Connolly played a key role in this. Here is what Connolly said about Detwiler as he worked to excommunicate him:


Mickey Connolly
Excommunication Meeting
November 13, 2011

“So what I am asking you to do as a church is to avoid him [Brent Detwiler] as he engages in this behavior: gossip, slander, scoffing, mocking…. Having nothing more to do with him, or avoiding him, would include not discussing these things with him personally, reading any of his materials on blogs or Facebook.  If that means you have to defriend him to avoid the temptation, do that, or following the story on anti-Sovereign Grace Ministries blogs…. So I want to be clear!  Not discussing this with him personally.  Not reading any of his materials on blogs or Facebook or following the story on the anti-Sovereign Grace Ministries blogs…. If you can’t trust your pastors, you need to leave.  You need to go…. If you cannot trust your pastors, if you cannot obey your pastors and what we are asking you to do biblically then you need to find another church because we cannot function without your trust.  You can’t follow pastors you don’t trust.  You can’t honor pastors that you are willing to have slandered.  And that you’re willing to go and seek out slander about.  You can’t do that.”


Perhaps this sheds some light on why Connolly stresses the importance of having church members sign covenants to protect themselves.  Allow me to make my position clear – given the choice between signing a membership contract or not becoming a member, I choose the latter. Frankly, I would not even attend a church where the professional clergy require you to sign such a document.


To end this I leave you with some pertinent quotes from one of my favorite books on the subject of abusive churches:


“In abusive discipleships, sin is expanded to mean almost anything that the leaders don’t like (e.g., challenging leader’s actions, not obeying leaders’ advice, disagreeing with leaders, questioning leaders, or openly criticizing leaders). The most common non-Biblical idea that is planted in members’ minds by abusive groups is that they are rebellious, hard-hearted, or prideful when they decide not to follow the group’s rules.”


“If we are taught to trust totally and are discouraged from criticizing leaders openly, then we lose the ability to think critically. That is why it is unhealthy to stray from Scripture and teach trusting our leaders. If our leaders don’t want us to be critical of their actions when they are doing something wrong, then we shouldn’t follow these leaders. They are supposed to be servants, not dictators. Leaders need to have humility in order to be able to accept honest criticism.”


“In abusive discipleships, we repeatedly see two things considered extremely important: (1) control of criticism and negative feedback; and (2) teaching people to obey even when they don’t feel right about it because “the discipler knows best.”


…”Oh,” you may say, “but I don’t see that in my group.” Maybe that is because you and the others just go with the flow and therefore haven’t provoked your leaders into asserting their authority. Perhaps the people who might question the leadership have already been forced out or suppressed. For these reasons, you may not see this control. Test your program. Challenge your leaders when you don’t agree with something they are telling you to do. Observe how you are treated. Express some negative comments (not gossip, but something you know is true), and observe what happens. In a group that doesn’t reign in negative comments, good leaders will permit questioning and allow others to hear of the concerns. They will sit down and calmly discuss issues without making a big deal out of them. Leaders of groups that want power will label almost any challenge to their authority as questioning or causing dissension or division. They may say they have to “discern the motive or heart” of the individual before they will allow questioning to continue. They really believe they can judge your heart.”


…Abusive disciples often say, “I’m not telling anyone how they are to think. I don’t control anybody. They make up their own minds.” There is an element of truth in this statement, but ask yourself: “Who is defining what constitutes doubts or what kind of doubts are deemed sinful? Who is avoiding certain negative questions? Who sometimes refuses to meet with someone who has challenging questions? Who is labeling members as prideful, factious, or divisive, for voicing healthy criticisms of leaders? Who is asking people to leave when they don’t agree with the leaders? Who is judging the heart of the person who questions leadership?”


Who? The abusive disciples, of course.


-Twisted Scriptures: Breaking Free from Churches that Abuse by Mary Alice Chrnalogar, page 12, 57-59, 61

13 thoughts on “The Dirty Little Secret About Church Membership Covenants

  1. David

    A question about church membership:
    I am dealing with my own issues involving a 9Marx church. I chose not to become a member when new rules were announced to the music ministry that “membership required” in order to serve was being implemented. So I no longer serve at that church, and have taken up asking a lot of questions. This came after a previous participant in music noticed some major doctrinal inconsistencies were being preached, and took the church to small claims court.
    I discovered the church’s connection to 9Marks. It had never previously been discussed, other than the book “9 Marks of a a Healthy Church” being given out by the pastors. No mention of the affiliation and the church’s agreement that’s listed on the website.
    I’ve done a lot of reading and research about the whole situation. I’ve read numerous blogs, like this and TWW, and have read the pages about “Informed Consent”. Here’s my question:
    If the people who signed a membership agreement with the church were never informed about 9Marks and the church’s connection to it, is the agreement even valid?

    1. A. Amos Love


      Sorry for you…
      You had to endure this horror show…
      Finding out your fellowship was 9Marks affiliated.
      “that “membership required” in order to serve…”
      And, “I no longer serve at that church…”

      Glad for you…
      You found out your fellowship was 9Marks affiliated.
      You did NOT sign their “Church Membership Contract.”
      And, “have taken up asking a lot of questions.”

      You ask a reasonable question.

      “Here’s my question:
      If the people who **signed**
      **a membership agreement with the church**
      were never informed about 9Marks
      and the church’s connection to it,
      **is the agreement even valid?”**

      I’m-a-thinkn, the way you asked the question…
      You already know the answer. 🙂

      Your answer will probably agree with your answer to these questions.

      In the Bible, did any of **His Disciples** ever…
      Sign a “Church Membership Contract.”

      In the Bible, did any of **His Disciples** ever…
      Become Paid, Professional Pastors, in Pulpits?
      Preaching, to people, in Pews?
      Weak after Weak?

      In the Bible, did any of **His Disciples** ever…
      Take the “Title” pastor? Or shepherd? Or leader? Or reverend?

      YUP – I also, “have taken up asking a lot of questions.”

      Jer 50:6
      “My people” hath been “lost sheep:”
      **THEIR shepherds**
      have caused them to *go astray,*

      1 Pet 2:25
      For ye were as *sheep going astray;*
      BUT are now returned to
      the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

      {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  2. April

    My deconstruction and eventually leaving evangelicalism started with being pressured to sign a memebership covenant. I probably would’ve gone along with it except that this one in particular seem to be extremely authoritarian and there were all these crazy hoops you have to jump through you had four different assignments as homework and a class you had to attend and then you had to get up in front of the church and present the gospel and tell your testimony, and they used language about submitting to the elders and being under their authority once you were a member. I had gone there for years but they were a small church plant so they didn’t have membership initially, but once this got started I couldn’t help but be alarmed at the language, this site has been edited since I left but it’s all pretty much still in place scroll down and you’ll see second nature membership and all the requirements to become a member. It’s crazy.

      1. Slimmy

        Seriously, the “Homework” is nothing. People read 10x that amount on a daily scroll through social media.

        Honestly, calling people out in the church is fine… but this site reminds of something backed by an old grumpy man throwing a preschool temper tantrum. Just glance at the archives, everything is pointing out problem with no solutions. This is what you call a pot stirrer, not a builder. If you want balanced critics, this is not the place to read it.

        1. 2samuel127 Post author

          Thanks for your well researched comment Slimy. Now I suggest you go tell Mark Dever what a great job you did of putting me in my place.

        2. JLC

          Actually, many people have said that this blog was partially responsible for their decision to leave or avoid Dever’s Churches. That seems like at least a partial solution to 9Marks’ Churches’ problems.

          Given the lack of critical thinking skills reflected in your comment, I can believe that “the homework” at your Church isn’t very challenging.

          Have a nice day, Mr. Slimmy.

          Janna L. Chan (blog team member)

    1. JLC

      Thanks, April. Your experience does sound overwhelming. There appears to be no Biblical or historical basis for the type of coercive membership contract you describe, and such documents are almost always abused by elders and Pastors, in my view. I’m glad you left your Church when you did.

      Thanks again for your comment. Janna L.Chan (blog team member)

    2. 2samuel127 Post author

      Thanks for the comments April. I looked at the links you provided and thoroughly checked out “the fields” church’s website. Under the “Partnerships” tab I found this:

      We also have certain affiliations with link minded organizations whom we have benefited greatly from. These organizations provide amazing gospel centered resources for the church here and abroad.
      The Gospel Coalition
      9 Marks

      I readily admit I am biased against these two parachurch organizations, I will not rehash all the reasons for my bias here, but suffice it to say that any church who is affiliated with the two groups listed above would not be a church I would attend.

      I have talked and written at length about church membership and church contracts. I have read and listened to Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman (and many of their disciples) discuss at length their reasoning to support their beliefs but I must say they do not convince me. The two groups above claim to be big advocates for biblical exigesis, but when it comes to church membership and church contracts I believe they are practicing biblical eisigesis, a practice they say they abhor. Here is a simple definition of the two words:

      “Exegesis is used to denote an approach to interpreting Bible passages utilizing critical analysis. It is the thorough investigation of Biblical text, within their various contexts, to discover their original meaning. The word itself comes from a Greek word delineating ‘to lead out of.’ It is the opposite of Eisegesis, which is to ‘read into’ a particular text.”

      If you look at most church contracts they are, at their most basic points, simply recitations of biblical commands. I think “the fields” contracts is one of the poorer documents I have seen. Here are a few examples:

      “Multiplying ourselves in the faithful who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2)

      “Living on mission being sent into the world like Christ (John 17:18, 20:21, Matthew 13:38)”

      Consistently meeting with an MGroup to Celebrate wins, Share losses, and Apply the Gospel to our lives (Romans 12:15, Galatians 6:1-2)

      Living life on mission by becoming all things to all people, that we might save some (Matthew 22:39, Mark 2:15-17, Acts 2:42-47, 1 Corinthians 9:22, Romans 12:13)”

      I could say much about these quotes, but I will just make a few comments. It’s very popular among the “hip” Christians of our day to use the term “on mission.” But what do they mean by this term? I suspect they are thinking along the lines of David Platt who promotes a “Radical” lifestyle, that is, Christians need to be serving Christ in a dangerous foreign country or else they really aren’t wholely devoted to Christ. IMO they are promoting a hyper Christianity that is unrealistic and unbiblical. Christian vocation is something rarely discussed in our day, but it would be good to read Luther on this.

      “According to Luther’s understanding of human vocation, God carries out his creating work by summoning us to action through the gifts and needs of our neighbor to a life of constant activity and work. “Just look at your tools – at your needle or thimble, your beer barrel, your goods, your scales or yardstick or measure”; they are all crying out to you, “Friend, use me in your relations with your neighbor just as you want your neighbor to use his property in his relations to you.” After all, this is the reason for which God has given us the gifts of creation, to be used in service to others.”
      The Genius of Luther’s Theology

      Robert Kolb and Charles P. Arand
      Pages 55-56

      “Sometimes we are pulled away from our callings by our own good intentions or those of other people. Os Guinness quotes the English writer Dorothy L. Sayers, famed for her mystery stories, her literary scholarship, and her Christian apologetics. Once she became famous, she would often be asked by clergymen to give talks, to appear at church functions, and to play the role of the Christian celebrity. This kind of thing, she believed, took her away from her real vocation, which was writing. “How dare they talk about Christian vocation,” she complained, “when at the same time they try to take me away from my vocation, which is to be a craftsman with words, to waste my time doing something for which I have no vocation and no talent, merely because I have a name.”

      We indeed have a calling to serve in our local churches, but it must be emphasized that our so-called “secular” vocations are actually “holy offices” where we are to serve our neighbors and live out our faith. “If you do your household chores,” Luther told the servant girls, “that is better than the holiness and austere life of all the monks.”

      Churches should not demand so much “church work” from their members that it takes away too much time from their primary vocations.”
      “God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of LIfe”
      by Gene Edward Veith Jr.
      page 106-107

      “This means that vocation is played out not just in extraordinary acts – the great things we will do for the Lord, the great success we envision in our careers someday – but in the realm of the ordinary. Whatever we face in the often humdrum present – washing the dishes, buying groceries, going to work, driving the kids somewhere, hanging out with our friends – this is the realm into which we have been called and in which our faith bears fruit in love. We are to love our neighbors – that is, the people who are actually around us, as opposed to the abstract humanity of the theorists. These neighbors constitute the relationships that we are in right now, and our vocation is for God to serve them through us.”
      “God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of LIfe”
      by Gene Edward Veith Jr.
      page 47

      Jesus said “If you love me, obey my commandments.” Shouldn’t that suffice as a membership contract? Why does the senior pastor insist on crafting a document filled with his favorite commandments which necessarily leaves out other commandments which are just as important to obey, and then as a prerequisite to joining his club, make you sign the document, signifying you agree with his interpretation of what are the most important commandments to be obeyed?

      I could say much more, but will leave it at that.

      I follow Jesus. His words are precious to me. Not mans.

  3. Thersites

    To make it easier for us, 9Marks posts affiliated churches on their web site. A couple that are long time friends made a recent decision to leave their dysfunctional church and I discovered the church they thought of trying out was 9Marks. I was able to advised them about 9Marks and suggested they do their own research.

    At some point when enough people know, 9Marks will probably “go dark” and no longer post their affiliations or undergo a name change. This would represent a win but there will always be more wolves to fend off.

    1. 2samuel127 Post author

      Good points Bill. I believe you did the right thing in advising your friends to do some research on 9Marx.

      One thing I have already noticed is pastors desiring to change their churches into a 9Marx type church are not submitting their churches name to the 9Marx website, so just because your church is not on the official website does not mean it is 9Marx-free. Churchgoers would be well advised to pay close attention to the early warning signs. If your pastor is a younger man freshly graduated from SBTS (Southern Seminary) or Southeastern ( ) or Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary ( ) he is most likely a neo-calvinist 9Marx disciple. I would also pay attention to what books he is recommending and if he pushes T4G or 9Marx conferences.

      Prior to moving to Dubai I attended a smaller Baptist church in a small town south of Phoenix. While I was in Dubai the pastor I knew moved on and was replaced by a young man fresh from seminary. Shortly thereafter he brought in an assistant pastor. While the pastor was neo-calvinist he was low key about it. The new assistant, according to reports I received, was a rabid 9Marxist, newly graduated from SBTS. It only took about a year for the church to be destroyed. Attendance went from about 120 to 25. The two pastors moved on leaving the few remaining members to pick up the pieces.

  4. A. Amos Love

    Hi Todd

    Boy oh boy. Am I upset with you now…

    There I was, minding my own business…
    Enjoying a good cup of coffee at Barnes and Nobles…

    Nd, yuse gots ta go Nd talk bout…
    “Church Membership Covenants” – AAARRRGGGHHH… 🙁
    Nd,”the 9 Marks “gospel.” – AAARRRGGGHHH… 🙁

    I used to enjoy spending time on the 9 Marks blog…
    Turning over a few tables of those false money changers…
    Challenging, “church leadership, church membership, church discipline.”
    ALL terms that are NOT “Biblical” terms. Terms NOT found in the Bible.

    Till they removed, blanked out, the whole comment section… Cowards… 🙁

    I am glad to see you are still playing “Whack-a-Mole” with 9 Marks…
    When ever you see their ugly head sticking up…

    Keep chipping away…
    One grain of sand at a time…
    And before you know it…
    That gigantic boulder will be “Blowin in the wind.”
    One grain of sand at a time…

    Here a little there a little…

    Isa 28:13 KJV
    But the word of the LORD was unto them
    precept upon precept, precept upon precept;
    line upon line, line upon line;
    here a little, and there a little;
    that they might go, and FALL Backward,
    and be BROKEN, and SNARED, and TAKEN.

    v 14 Wherefore hear the word of the LORD,
    ye scornful (9 Marks) men,
    that rule this people which is in Jerusalem.

    v 15 Because ye have said,
    We have made a covenant with death,
    and with hell are we at agreement;
    when the overflowing scourge shall pass through,
    it shall not come unto us:
    for we have made lies our refuge,
    (“church leadership,” “church membership,” “church discipline.”)
    and under falsehood have we hid ourselves:
    (And under “Church Membership Covenants” have we hid ourselves)

    v 16 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD,
    Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation
    a stone,
    a tried stone,
    a precious corner stone,
    a sure foundation:
    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}
    he that believeth shall not make haste.

    v 17 Judgment also will I lay to the line,
    and righteousness to the plummet:
    and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies,
    (“church leadership,” “church membership,” “church discipline.”)
    and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.

    v 18 And your covenant with death shall be disannulled,
    and your agreement with hell shall not stand;
    when the overflowing scourge shall pass through,
    then ye shall be trodden down by it.

    When you believe the lie you start to die…

    1. 2samuel127 Post author

      So nice to hear from you again A.Amos! Sorry I ruined your day. Merry Christmas to you and yours.


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