Sarah Berger, wife of Grace Chapel founder Steve Berger, speaks during a contentious service Sunday morning, Aug. 29, 2021, at Grace Chapel in Franklin, Tennessee. August 30, 2021
(RNS) — Services at an influential Nashville-area megachurch were disrupted Sunday (Aug. 29) after the wife of the church’s founding pastor stood up and accused his successor of conspiring against him.
During a 9:00 a.m. service at Grace Chapel in Franklin, Tennessee, just south of Nashville, pastor Rob Rogers apologized to the congregation for an ongoing conflict with the Rev. Steve Berger, Grace Chapel’s founder.
Berger, who nearly three decades ago founded the church — whose members include Tennessee Governor Bill Lee — stepped down as lead pastor at the church in January in order to start a discipleship program for influencers in Washington, D.C.
But according to Rogers on Sunday, the transition between pastors had not gone well, and news of the conflict between the two men had spread through the church in recent weeks.
Rogers said that during the transition, he had “pushed too hard and fast,” leading to conflict between himself and Berger. “Offenses have been taken, wounding has happened on both sides and there’s been a level of skepticism toward one another in this process that is neither right nor good.”
That conflict led both Rogers and Mark Bright, executive pastor at Grace, to offer to resign.
The apology from Rogers was repeatedly interrupted by outbursts from the congregation — including one church member who called for a prayer of repentance. After that prayer, Sarah Berger got hold of a microphone, walked on stage and began berating Rogers, who she said had not repented “for sinning against my husband.”
“It has been made manifestly evident that there’s been an endeavor to cancel the founding pastor of Grace Chapel,” she said.
Berger accused Rogers and Bright of labeling her husband as a “Christian extremist” and said the couple would be leaving the church, where Steve Berger had assumed an advisory role as “founding pastor” after naming Rogers as his successor.
Pastor Rob Rogers speaks Sunday morning, Aug. 29. 2021, at Grace Chapel in Franklin, Tennessee. Video screengrab
Steve Berger caused controversy following the Jan. 6 insurrection, blaming antifa activists for storming the Capitol. Berger, who had been in Washington that day to attend a pro-Trump rally, later apologized for those remarks during a Facebook video.
He also denounced the attack in the Capitol.
“The events that happened at the Capitol were tragic, deadly, and unpatriotic,” he said. “I condemn these actions unequivocally. Sadly, they are all too reflective of the vitriol within too many people.”
Berger stepped down as lead pastor at Grace Chapel soon afterward. He and other leaders said the transition had been in the works for several years.
Sunday’s online broadcast to the service was cut during Sarah Berger’s remarks. After the outburst, a late morning service at the church was abruptly canceled.
“The elders of Grace Chapel firmly rebuke the outburst and resulting manner that erupted during our service,” the church’s elders said in a statement posted on social media Sunday night. “We are deeply disappointed in the way various individuals conducted themselves towards Pastor Rob, his family, our current leadership, and the elder board.”
“As elders, we deeply regret allowing this disruption to go forward.”
Several high-profile churches have seen private disputes go public recently, often involving the successor of a well-known pastor. McLean Bible Church faces a lawsuit over a vote for elders from members unhappy with pastor David Platt, who succeeded long-time former pastor Lon Solomon. At Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis, the successor to influential pastor John Piper resigned over the summer after ongoing internal conflicts in the church and a school Piper founded.
Before the disruption, several elders spoke to the church, detailing some of the conflict between Rogers and Bright. They also announced that Rogers had been reinstated as pastor of the church, despite his earlier resignation.
During his apology, Rogers, who had been endorsed as the new pastor by Berger, said he regretted that the transition between the two had been difficult. He said that Berger had long been a spiritual mentor and said the two were committed to reconciliation.
Steve Berger confirmed Monday (Aug. 30) that he and his wife had cut ties with Grace Chapel in a social media announcement. He said the couple would keep praying for the church and said he back his wife’s statements.
“I stand by my wife, Sarah, who bravely shared a fraction of the truths around the treatment our family has received at the lands of the current leadership team.”
In their statement, the church’s elders reiterated their support for Rogers and asked church members to pray for both Rogers and Berger.
“We pray for a hedge of protection around this highly emotional and volatile situation that involves people we dearly love,” they said. “We have a huge opportunity to come back stronger than ever and not allow Satan to get a foothold that causes division and offense among our congregation.”