CJ Mahaney’s Address at SGM Pastor’s Conference 2011

The following are CJ Mahaney’s address at the “family meeting” during the SGM Pastor’s Conference held in Nov 2011.   SGM has chosen not to release the audio or transcript of the session. However, since it was made publicly, incurs no financial impact to SGM and also represents vital information to SGM church members, we have tried to have this unofficial transcript available here.

What follows is CJ’s comments as faithfully transcribed as possible –

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Over the last 4 months so many of you have communicated your support to Carolyn and I and we are so very grateful.

I have been looking forward to this moment when I could address you. I have spent much time over the last 4 months studying 2 Cor. … Paul is uniquely personal in 2Cor, uniquely heart revealing and heart appealing. He says to the Corinthians “my heart is wide open to you” he expresses this care in this unique way it is the only time he does this…soon after this statement Paul says this to them “make room in your heart for us” You bear no resemblance to the Corinthians…But I think there is relevance in his communication. I want to …my heart and I want to appeal to you to make room in your heart for me.

Here is the state of my heart. I am sad, I am hopeful, and I am eager to return to the privilege to serve you. Those would be 3 categories. I am sad. I reflect on what you have experienced during this season, the time you have invested because of all that has taken place, the challenges you have encountered over the past 4 months, how this has adversely affected your church. I locate myself in the midst of that and find my way to where I bear responsibility for that, I am so sad. My heart aches and breaks because I want to serve you. I don’t want to create work for you. So I pray that my sorrow and sadness is evident to you. I want to open my heart to you. I feel like it has been 4 months of mourning for the people I love the most.

But I am also hopeful because God is sovereign and He is wise and He is good and He has good purposes for SG and His good purposes cannot and will not be frustrated ultimately.

Deficiencies can be and will be addressed. Never has there been an interim board that we should be more grateful for or appreciative of. These men and their wives have given countless hours of sacrifice. We have been served heroically by these men and their wives. I am so grateful for Dave assuming this leadership role which he did not desire, did not volunteer for, and all the men participating on this interim board because they love the Savior and they love us so let them be the object of our appropriate gratitude for the countless ways they have served us during this season. I have hope because these are humble men, men of integrity, looking to lead us wisely as we walk forward. So I am very sad and I am also very hopeful. That is a little of my heart.

I want to appeal to you to make room in your heart for me. Many of you -this appeal isn’t necessary. From the beginning you have indicated that there has been no adjustment in your heart toward us. The room that was there prior is still there. And some of you seem to have added room in your heart. I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding. So many of you, this appeal isn’t necessary. Given the size of SG, given the diversity of questions, it is quite possible, it is understandable that for some there might be less room in your heart today for me. There may be little room , or maybe no room and if so, I understand. My appeal would simply be that I hope and I pray that what I say and in the future will allow you to make some room in your heart for me

Here is some of what I have learned during this season of reflection. I hope this provides some clarity where there has been confusion. I am not trying to persuade you. . I am just providing you with my perspective for your consideration.

I will address you from 2 categories: personal reflections and reflections on SG and my leadership of SG.

The leave of absence began in July. It was voluntary, it wasn’t imposed on me, it wasn’t disciplinary. It was a decision I made for a few different reasons. In light of the public distribution of Brent’s docs…here is what I wanted to do. I wanted to protect the office of the president of SGM I wanted to protect the integrity of SGM, protect you and your church, I wanted to protect the integrity of the adjudication that was about to go forward. I wanted to take time to evaluate my heart and my ministry in relation to the leadership to SG. After the Leave of Absence was announced I was informed by numerous leaders outside of SG that this decision was decidedly unwise, that it would be perceived as an admission of guilt or some form of discipline, though neither would be true. And in retrospect I do think this was an unwise decision on my part with unintended consequences and the board agrees with me on this. This leave of absence rendered me unable to communicate my perspective or defend me from all manner of false accusations. But the leave did provide me with opportunity for reflection and unhurried evaluation and I am grateful. I have had so much interaction with individuals and received so much helpful and wise council inside and outside SG. I have learned much, I know God better, I love Him more, trust Him more, by His grace I am a wiser leader. So I am grateful for this unwise decision.

Next my transition to CHBC. After the public statement about the leave, I decided with the support of the board to attend CHBC during my leave of absence. I am very aware this decision has left you with a number of questions and I understand why.

Prior to the leave we had decided that Mark Dever would pay a strategic role in providing me with care and counsel …so his involvement was decided prior to the decision to attend CHBC. After my public confession and statement it quickly became evident that for me to remain in CLC in this season would be untenable for a few reasons: there was hostility from a number in the church toward me after the release of Brent’s documents and I had disagreements with the approach that was adopted by the CLC pastors concerning these documents and in relation to my confession an approach that they thought best served the church.

So I didn’t see how I could remain in the church because I didn’t want to be a distraction, a disruption in the church, and I certainly didn’t want to be divisive to the church, because I love this church, I helped found this church, I gave 27 years of my life to this church. I wouldn’t want to do anything to harm this church. So I thought it would serve the church, serve the pastors that I wouldn’t be drawn in by the church to anything controversial by having to reveal any of my differences or concerns. I was desirous of serving the church.

I realize this doesn’t fit the expected practice relative to a church that preceded this decision …I know that, and I understand the questions but this was a situation where I believed and still do

…believe that the Word agrees that remaining in CLC would not have served this church or have served the pastors of this church. I did consider becoming part of Solid Rock Church but I didn’t want to be a distraction to that church either, didn’t want to draw that church unnecessarily into this controversy. I am at this time a walking controversy and I did not want to distract another church, to disrupt any church or to be divisive in a local church.

Finally I made this decision as a husband. My wife has an unusually strong constitution but I needed to protect her from the assaults that we were both the objects of. I am a husband before I am a president. When it was announced that I would be attending CHBC it was suggested that i was fleeing accountability and my response is as follows. I was not under any formal church discipline. Actually I was pursuing accountability. I was taking a leave of absence that I thought was a statement of accountability. I continue to participate in my small group with Bob and Jeff and Gary and continue to receive their care and council, encouragement, correction. I was running into, not away from, 2 separate panels and I was placing myself under the care and council of Mark Dever for the purpose of adding even more accountability. Mark is a true friend. We have a history of relationship. He is an excellent pastor and the man does not flatter.

one final reason -I needed help, I needed pastoral care I needed the benefits of worship and preaching where I wouldn’t be distracted, where I wasn’t viewed suspiciously, where I didn’t have to be concerned about anyone approaching me before the meeting or after with questions or accusations. I needed to sit and listen to sermons that could speak to my needy soul. Mark is a dear friend to SG and I will never forget their kindness to us.

I don’t consider myself an exception at all. I do think these were exceptional circumstances.

Next, reflection on personal sins. At the beginning of the week of absence I have acknowledged -like all of you I have examined my heart -would be a practice for me -self examination in some form has been a practice for me my entire Christian life. Perhaps for some it appears this self examination particularly as it relates to Brent’s docs began in July with the leave of absence. but actually this began just after I received Brent’s first docs which would be more than a year prior to July. When he sent the first docs I immediately sent it to those I serve with. I began to consider the contents of his documents and invited the observations and evaluations of those I serve with and through this process I was able to identify with the help of friends and the eyes of others, my wife at my side providing her insight as well, and I was able to identify more clearly certain incidences of sin, habits of sin, most of which I had previously acknowledged years before but I was engaging them again. By God’s grace I was engaging them in a more perceptive way and I hope more thoroughly.

So over a period of a year I crafted and sent to Brent 2 written confessions as a means of humbling myself and in hopes of being reconciled with him. I want to make clear that my written confessions to Brent were sincere, I was convicted of those sins. I did grieve and still do over the effects of my sin and I communicated that to Brent as well as to other men that were affected by my sin. I still want to communicate that to anyone and everyone that has been affected by my sin. It is a part of what informs my sadness.

However it does appear that some assumed or concluded that I agree with Brent’s narrative, his accusations and interpretations and judgments of my motives and this simply wouldn’t be true and it never has been true. Brent’s docs construct a narrative that I disagree with. That narrative portrays my sins as scandalous, calculated and deceptive, and uncommonly intentionally hypocritical, and pervasively so, and this is false. Yes, sadly I am a sinner and throughout my Christian life I have never viewed myself otherwise, and I think I have acknowledged this however inadequately throughout my Christian life but I don’t believe my sins are uncommon or scandalous or disqualifying. I have never believed that since the day the first doc arrived.

So I was grateful for the findings and rulings of the first panel in this regard and their agreement with that assessment. I look forward to the review panel, the second panel’s findings and rulings regarding this matter as well. I wish those panels started today.

I think I made a significant error in how I related to Brent’s docs. I viewed his docs as a means of personal sanctification and I related to him as if this is a matter of personal offense. All of one of my friends and counselors urged me to view his docs this way. So I pursued personal reconciliation, I appealed repeatedly for mediation, I held out hope that Brent and I could be reconciled, and sadly to date that has proved to be a false hope.

I should have realized that Brent was making accusations and making charges, he was calling into question my fitness for ministry. This was 1 Tim 5  not Mt 5. So this whole matter should have been turned over to the SGM board early on for formal adjudication. But this was a new experience for me, and this was a new experience for us and one we weren’t prepared for.

I think it might also be helpful to say something about the confession statement to Covenant Life and to you via a letter. Those confessions were sincere. I do, like you, take my sins seriously. I see them in light of the holiness of God. I need a Savior and I am so grateful that the Father has provided a Savior for my innumerable sins. But after making this confession I have received much helpful critique from a number of leaders about my confession and I have concluded that I did not serve you well with this confession. My confession has been misunderstood, misinterpreted, and exploited. My confession should have been more precise. It was my desire through my confession to humble myself, to take responsibility for my sin, to set an example, to protect SG.

Instead, my communication in some ways create speculation that left me vulnerable to interpretation, that left me vulnerable to exploitation. I left the wrong impression of my sin. In that confession I was trying to convey that I take my sins seriously but I regret that my language conveyed that my sins were unusually serious. I do not think that I have never thought that. I didn’t distinguish my sins from Brent’s accusations, judgments, narrative and I should have.

One member of the first panel said this to me -quote: “I respect CJ how seriously you take the respectable sins but you left the impression that you did something scandalous. But nothing you confessed reached the level of public scandal requiring a public confession. Your sins are routine and common. That is not to minimize my sin. But it did help me to see the wrong impressions I left and I regret that.

Another member of the panel said this: “I think you made a genuine effort to be humble. You overstate the level of offense and you confuse those outside of SG. ” I happen to think that is an accurate critique. I didn’t just confuse those outside SG, I confused those inside SG as well. I over stated. I think I did that as well the year before at this Pastors’ Conference. My apology in relation to the polity process. A number of you came in afterwards and said in effect, you overstated that. I think you were right. I think this panel has an accurate assessment.

Finally, in relation to my confession, I wish I had defended myself. I think I briefly, at the outset, possibly at the conclusion, referenced my disagreements with Brent’s narratives and accusations. But I wrongly concluded that it wouldn’t be humble of me to defend myself. I am now convinced that this really reveals an ignorance of, a misunderstanding, a wrong application of humility. I had no category for an appropriate defense against criticisms and accusations, especially public ones. I think not having a category didn’t serve me

“I have no category for an appropriate defense against criticisms and accusations, especially public ones and I think not having that category didn’t serve me, didn’t serve SG, didn’t serve this process.  Actually as I look back and reflect, though I was new to this process and evaluation,  I wish I hadn’t  made that confession statement at that time  and what I should have done is postpone any confession statement  until both panels had ruled.  It made my confession statement  all the more (?).  Not doing that left me  vulnerable to critics and I don’t think it served you.  Those are just a few personal reflections that I hope are helpful.

Now reflections on SG, reflections on my leadership of SG.  Prior to this leave of absence I had become convinced, with the help of others, that I am not gifted to manage a movement.  I lack the necessary organizational skills, I am not good at establishing policy and procedures and processes that set an appropriate expectation for how we serve together.

My gift of leadership is more strategic than it is tactical, it is more theological than it is practical.  And given the growth we have experienced even in the last 10 years we need practical leadership here, and appropriate structures and procedures.  It  is critical for SG, not optional and where change has been required in SG a process is necessary and here I would perceive definite other weaknesses  in my leadership.  I can introduce change quickly, I can assume when I have  introduced quickly everyone understands it.

I can change quickly.  I can tell you it is frightening how quickly I can change, it is disconcerting how quickly I can change. I can change quickly, I can make major decisions quickly.  This doesn’t always serve a movement where process is necessary.  Certain change is required, explanations, and more explanations, discussion, debate, and more explanation and persuasion.  At times my leadership has helped create confusion.  If you add to this our history of not communicating wisely – another area I want to take responsibility for, not communicating wisely and well, especially when you have made some significant changes.

There are additional deficiencies with their consequences.  As I reflect I realize that I so often am not even aware of the effect of my statements.  I can be musing while interacting with guys, or musing in the context of a message, yet I am unaware that guys are assuming that I am setting direction and it doesn’t serve.     Or I am peering in the future and sharing my musings and not considering how to communicate that so that they are introduced wisely, so that there is a process of explanation and consideration, so there is a procedure and plan.  Too often I have not done that.   So at one point I am just musing about transferring the gospel to the next generation of pastors and I can leave all of my friends my age assuming that their season of effective, fruitful service is quickly coming to an end.  I don’t want to leave that impression.  But I realize that I can leave that impression and let me just say to all of the older guys here, and not just because of the economy,  you have many years of service left and SG needs you more than ever.  That is not a criticism of the younger guys.  Thank God for our younger guys.  You bring us great joy.   This movement isn’t ready for you to have a transfer of leadership at this point in time and I am sure you don’t desire that particularly with the number of wise older men in this room who want to serve you till their dying breath and with the grace of God.

As it relates to my leadership over the past four months, as I have reflected in particular over the last 8 years of my life, I think I ended up serving in the areas that I am not gifted to serve to the detriment in the areas where I am gifted to serve, and have been the most fruitful over the years.  The first among these would be preaching.  For the last 3 years there has been a rising course of voices of friends inside SG and outside SG who have spoken to me, met with me personally, and communicated the same concern:  Why aren’t you preaching?  We are perplexed.  Why aren’t you leading a church?  What are you doing?  I have a friend, a leader outside of SG that took me out to breakfast in the context of a conference, and in complete seriousness said, this breakfast informs a rebuke.  I said what is the concern?  Took the entirety of breakfast, I took 2 pages of notes and he just said you need to get back in the pulpit and you need to die in the pulpit and you need to lead from the pulpit.  And he was quite forceful to impress on me what he felt like would be a form of disobedience if I didn’t because he said  God has  created a [indiscernible/inaudible]  how can you not perceive this?  Why are you not doing something about this?

I think he is right.  I think I have neglected my call to preach.  I think I have accepted a role that is more managerial and quite obviously I am not a manager.  And I also think I am a pastor.  That is what I think I am.  I’m a pastor.  And over the last 8 years I have become detached from serving a particular local church.  I hope that changes soon.  It is my intention to change that soon.  So during this season of reflection I have just benefited significantly from objective evaluation of my gifting from men inside of SG as well as outside of SG and I think I stand before you with more clarity on where I am called and gifted to serve and where I am decidedly not called and gifted to serve.  Hopefully that will make me more gifted to serve.

And as I have looked at SG and  myself, evaluated  my leadership but SG more (?)   I am aware that there are a number of areas to be addressed.  Dave is going to communicate areas that need to be addressed.  I just want to give you three.

Before I do, this practice of evaluation is the norm in SG.  If you are new to SG, areas of deficiency aren’t unusual.  You won’t be growing out of areas of deficiencies in our lifetime.  So it is not abnormal for us to evaluate ourselves.  I think it is abnormal this time.  There is a loud voice from critics and the prevalence of slander that tends to intrude upon this evaluation, to distort this evaluation.  The process of evaluation is one we are committed to and have been historically and will be  in the future and actually even bringing these few areas to your attention I have to qualify what I say.  I don’t believe these are systemic and I am not attempting to evaluate all of SG.  I don’t assume my preferences  in(?)  that it applies to all of SG.  And I don’t agree with our critics who evaluate SG this way.  I show concern for anyone, beginning with myself that make statements about SG that are categorical in nature.

But just a couple of areas.  First the doctrine of sin.  I am deeply grateful for how the doctrine of sin serves the Christian.  I am grateful for how it has served us in many ways.  The doctrine of sin must be handled with great care and I don’t think we have always understood it properly and I bear some responsibility for this deficiency.  Many years ago as I began to teach more about sin and sanctification I did not at that time anticipate all the potential pitfalls in the understanding and applying the doctrine of sin, especially as the amount of churches increased over the years.  Oh my, I regret not foreseeing this.  I regret not preparing us for this.  I think I also assumed that our emphasis on the gospel would sufficiently protect us.  Not necessarily so. ”

So as I have reflected over the last 4 months, I think this has been a 6 year process, in relation to the doctrine of sin I think there are a few areas where we have been affected by a misapplication of the doctrine of sin. First area is fellowship. This has been a strength in SG. I pray it remains a strength. At times the doctrine of sin has had too much of a prominent place in our practice of fellowship. Very careful here, so no misunderstanding. The practice and experience of fellowship is much much much broader than the application of the doctrine of sin. And our practice of fellowship must not be reduced to identifying sin or rehearsing sin or endlessly exploring the potential idols of our heart. Our practice of fellowship should primarily be a means of preaching and applying the gospel to each other. It should be a means of identifying evidences of grace in each other. The category of what it should be could be expanded. But it is all too easy for our practice of fellowship to become a preoccupation with sin, primarily about sin rather than a fresh proclamation and application of the gospel to our lives. I regret these misunderstandings and misapplications where they have occurred. I wish I would have anticipated them. I think it was about 6 years ago I began to perceive these deficiencies. I’ve looked back through notes where I was ok I was attempting to address it but ok it was just a point in a message. I asked David Powlison to come to our Pastors’ Conference and preach a message on introspection. So that was all by design. That was simply the single message, had the privilege to teach the pastor care class at pastors’ college last 3 years and this has certainly been a section, but I should have done more. And the second area in this regard is the area of correction. At times the doctrine of sin has been unhelpfully applied in relation to others instead of towards ourselves. So individuals have been corrected and pressed to acknowledge sins that others perceived, sins of the heart and when there isn’t immediate agreement with that correction and assessment then the category of pride can be introduced. The person appears to be unteachable then that is in sin, particularly if everyone else in the group is in agreement with each other about your sin. There is a wonderful quote, I think over the years it has been misunderstood and misapplied. This is from J.I. Packer’s work on the Puritans, Quest for Godliness, “Our best works are shot through with sin and contain something that needs to be forgiven.” The purpose of this quote is to humble us and to provoke us to guard our hearts. I don’t think this is a mandate for us to suspect the hearts of others or to pursue the sins of others or to correct others. I regret not perceiving this misunderstanding and misapplication. I regret not more effectively guarding  misapplication. There is more I wish I would have done. The second would be pastoral evaluation. This is another area that I think my leadership has been inadequate. More could have been done, more should have been done, more will be done. SG needs to provide our pastors with guidance, the content of a process where objective evaluation of pastors so that pastoral evaluations are theologically informed, objectively done, uniformly done, not arbitrary, not suddenly announced. A pastor shouldn’t be blindsided by an evaluation. And this is particularly critical when there are concerns about the pastor’s character or gifting. The content of this evaluation should be theologically informed, predetermined as well as the timing of this evaluation. I’m aware I’m aware I’m very aware that there are pastors that feel that they have been inappropriately evaluated, even mistreated by SG. Listen, I don’t believe this is systemic from my experience and I have pursued a number of these situations. Here’s what I have decided. Each situation is very different. Very different. We certainly do want to give attention to it. We are giving attention to it. In some ways I spent almost 2 years trying to give attention to it. And we are thankful for AoR and they are serving us even this morning .

One more thing before I finish. Once we have a pastor in place in SG we want to do all we can to keep that pastor in place. We do not want our pastors fearing that in some way that we are looking for a reason to disqualify them. We want to do all we can if at all possible for our pastors to have lengthy, fruitful service. Finally, polity. you are aware of this involved in the process, it will continue. It is not something that should be done quickly , different ways. … 2 years this process. It has been the tireless work of Jeff and Dave, thanks for your patience and participation. I think we are making progress. It is going to take much longer to make the kind of progress we need to make. We should not be surprised about that. I had a leader say to me just the other day “the fact that you guys don’t have all of your polity clarified and formalized is not a sin. You are a very young movement. ” So that is encouraging, gave me hope. One aspect of polity that I do regret not having in place and that would be the appropriate handling of grievances in conflict resolution. We have not had grievance procedures in place for pastors or church members so no doubt there are instances where former pastors or church members would have been greatly served by these procedures. I am sorry that. I am sorry for the effects of that. The board is addressing that. Obviously receiving the value of AoR concerning that become a consistent part of SG church and SG procedures as well. It needs to, we want to, it will become .. so that’s not exhaustive. It won’t surprise you that I have lots more to say. I am not going to say it today. I have lots more to say. I have never been this quiet for this long in my entire life. I was going to say it is killing me, but it is sanctifying. Finally, it would not be good leadership on my part for me to leave you preoccupied with areas of deficiency. It would not be good godly leadership. Do we have problems. Yes we do. But listen. Problems we are facing., confronting, experiencing. These things do not define us, and they do not define our churches. SG is a gospel preaching movement. And by God’s grace SG will continue to be a gospel preaching movement. One thing I would like to say and stress. We must not let our critics define us, or redefine us. I think the days ahead are going to require all the content of Dave’s excellent message. I think the days ahead are going to require more discernment as it relates to the identification of slander and the influence of slander in our churches. I think the days ahead are going to require courage on the part of pastors and when necessary publicly identify those who are divisive . I think the days ahead are not only going to require , I think they are going to require courage. I think in some ways in SG we have more humility than courage. And we are going to need more courage. Humble courage. It doesn’t mean we don’t learn from critique, we do. But there is a difference between learning from critique and allowing critics to define you. We are capitulating to slander in the name of humility. So we are going to continue to evaluate ourselves. But it would not please God if we minimize the evidences of grace in our midst, that have been present and pronounced for so many years. This is not spin. This is not hype. This is not some form of SG self promotion. This is simply and humbly and accurately an acknowledgment of the mercy of God in and to SGM.

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Larry Tomczak’s Letter on SGM

The following is a letter from Larry & Doris Tomczak on their experience w SGM and commentary on issues related to SGM

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As you read of our time with Sovereign Grace Ministries, we are sharing some
traumatic experiences, yet endeavoring to do so accurately and redemptively. I want to say at the outset that I am not blameless, but I at times yielded to a spirit of fear when told I “lacked discernment” and was at times cowardly when I should have addressed unrighteous behavior. Where we participated in any unredemptive treatment of God’s people, we ask for your forgiveness. Over the years Doris and I have met with numerous people to ask forgiveness and people have been most gracious to us. Feel free to contact us if you feel a need to revisit any past experiences. Thank you in advance for your mercy and love. Let us unite in prayer that what we communicate will help many, bring healing and glorify our Lord Jesus Christ.

“But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones. So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”Gen. 50:19-21

“Encountering departures and desertions from our ministries—we must see them as tutors—revealing our real motives and deficiencies in our methodology. These are tests from God. They will reveal our hearts.” -Dave Harvey, SGM Leader

Note: This quote appeared on the cover page of a paper I submitted to SGM leaders one year after our 1997 departure, “An Appeal for Repentance, Reconciliation and Closure.”

Five issues were highlighted at that time:
1) Pride, Sectarianism and Elitism
2) Self-righteousness and Judgmentalism
3) Blackmail and Intimidation
4) Lack of Integrity and Deceitfulness
5) Abuse of Spiritual Authority.

The paper cited the names of 61 former leaders who experienced
mistreatment (the list is currently over 100) and included an appeal for a forum where “individuals with outstanding offenses and unresolved issues could be addressed…these issues will not simply fade away but will continue lingering for years until dealt with redemptively and honestly.” I received no response from any team leaders to the paper or appeal for adjudication. Date of submission: December 1998.

“The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of
them; the sins of others trail behind them.” (I Tim.5:24)

Next year I will celebrate God’s faithfulness in my 40th year of full-time Christian ministry. At this juncture I sensed it would be helpful to tell the story of a painful turning point in my life and ministry.

Recently, I wrote a “Statement of Reconciliation” with CJ Mahaney, attempting to be as gracious and discrete as possible regarding specifics. But as more details surfaced on the Internet it became apparent that God wanted everything in the light. Our experience is not an isolated case. It is probably one of the most egregious and ignominious examples of deceit and abusive behavior surfacing in SGM at this time. But it did not create the crisis. Instead, it revealed how root issues have been ignored and left unaddressed for too long. May we all proceed in humility and mercy, mindful of Prov. 28:13, “He who conceals his sin will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes his sin will obtain mercy.”

After 24 years of service in the DC area with the “Take and Give Ministry” (TAG), cofounding Covenant Life Church in our home and then serving in leadership in Fairfax Covenant Church, I with my family departed disappointedly, yet hopefully, for better things in Atlanta in 1996. We knew for a number of years that I was being marginalized in Sovereign Grace Ministries (formerly People of Destiny International) and when differences
with Reformed doctrine began surfacing, the tension only increased.

At a youth rally in Atlanta, one of our teen-age sons responded along with other youth to an appeal for living genuine Christian lives. That night at home he voluntarily shared with me areas of waywardness and his desire to change, but the door was now open to confront me for “failures at home” and “character deficiencies.” “Apostolic Team” leaders forbade me to be present for a later meeting with my son where he was told to “share all your sins” with the vow of their “confidentiality” (which was later broken).

Subsequently, the team said it “lost confidence in my leadership,” and agreed to a “leave of absence,” sending out a “letter of confession” written by me, then undergoing several revisions affirming SGM leadership and inserting material with which I was uncomfortable but required to include. At the church meeting announcing the shift, I was told to nod in agreement for the congregation to observe.

The agreed upon 6-12 month period was short-circuited when we experienced a
pattern of spiritual abuse, deceit, harshness and hypocrisy (including premeditated blackmail, communicated and reaffirmed on numerous occasions and subsequently left to silence and hang over us for over a decade). The entire apostolic team and the new senior pastor and his staff participated in this. We also were told to consider uprooting to Virginia Beach or Phoenix, which we said we could not do because we did not sense this to be God’s will for our family. Criteria established for returning to my former role as senior pastor made that outcome an impossibility unless I embraced the Reformed doctrinal tenets (although people nationwide were deliberately misled with information to the contrary).

My wife and I finally left PDI when things finally reached the “untenable” point. It became for us a matter of conscience. Disingenuous public statements and letters sent nationwide misrepresented what actually happened and I was publically slandered at Covenant Life Church, called a “liar” (with guests and non-believers present) as the leader declared, “I’d rather be dead than do what Larry Tomczak is doing!” Local leaders were affirmed leading to an almost unanimous standing ovation. My reputation built upon 25
years in ministry, was debased nationally and abroad. My “Seven Reasons for Departing PDI” were not conveyed and for 13 years this perception remained in the public domain, separating our family from many relatives, friends and leaders in the Body of Christ. It also resulted in serious financial repercussions for us as a family of six.

For over a decade we tried to bring CJ and the apostolic team to account for the injustice, even enlisting nationally known leaders in the effort, but to no avail. Finally, in November of 2010 he consented. Years of confrontation by SGM leaders and CLC pastors along with the turmoil and defections of people in the network of churches brought CJ to the realization he needed to repent of longstanding sins, some of which were committed in our unfortunate departure. CJ later made a public confession of some of his transgressions
at Covenant Life Church and announced a “leave of absence.” Many believe his confession was a start but was incomplete and minimized the severity of the issues. We were invited to the November SGM Pastors Conference and Covenant Life Church to speak on reconciliation, but the invitation was rescinded. At the conference CJ shared he regretted having taken the leave of absence.

CJ’s example, problems surfacing in churches affiliated with SGM, and Internet disclosures from a former apostolic team member were catalytic in some SGM leaders beginning to come forward to repent and rectify matters with our family. One former team member had already done so years previously, after experiencing abusive treatment leading to his departure. An independent advisory panel, Ambassadors of Reconciliation, has been
retained to engage in a discovery process to help facilitate reconciliation with former members and leaders who believe they have been spiritually abused. The panel is also collecting information to assist with reforms needed in SGM as well as assist in determining CJ Mahaney’s future status.
May the Lord guide us all as we redemptively deal with past transgressions and find His grace manifested in this time of reconciliation, reform and discipline for Sovereign Grace Ministries. The changes are not cosmetic but substantive to effectively eradicate systemic issues and transform a leadership culture that has drifted from Biblical norms. Two of the
churches in Revelation faced the practice of the Nicolaitans (“suppress the people”). One hated it; the other held to it (Rev.2:6 & 15). May SGM leaders align with the former.

To be faithful to criteria for Biblical leadership; to steer clear of the sin of favoritism and partiality; and to be consistent with what was expected of former SGM leaders, I believe senior leaders should step down for a season to be retooled for ministry according to I Pet. 5 and I Tim. 3 standards. Public repentance and public statements should be made along with
restitution where appropriate. Then and only then, can the favor of Almighty God return in its fullness to this ministry and unity be restored. The warning of God’s “lampstand” (His Presence) being removed (Rev. 2:5) is very real when a church or ministry is being evaluated by Jesus and fails to respond. Many onlookers are hoping and praying that will not happen.

Then we all can pray like Nehemiah did after he instituted reforms to restore the walls of the city of God: “Remember me with favor, O my God.” (Neh. 13:31)

ps: Because the issues and contents of this statement have already been made public at church meetings and on the Internet for months, I sensed it was appropriate to release my story at this time. CJ and I are almost 40-year friends and our reconciliation statement still stands. In my study I keep a plaque he gave me decades ago. On it are the words: “My Brother, I would not be the man I am without your care and example. I am eternally indebted to you. Your Yokefellow, CJ.” I would add: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” (Prov. 27:6)

CJ Mahaney’s Comments at Covenant Life Church

 

The following is a post from Dave Harvey following CJ Mahaney’s confession at Covenant Life Church in July, 2011.   This post has since been removed from SGM site and we preserve it here as a matter of record.

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After last week’s announcement about C.J. Mahaney’s leave of absence, the pastors at Covenant Life Church called a members meeting so that C.J. could address the congregation. Some of his comments are relevant to others in Sovereign Grace churches as well, so we’ve posted them below.

Larry Tomczak was also kind enough to write up his account of his and C.J.’s recent reconciliation. We’ve published those comments as a separate blog post.

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Because of my history with this church and my love for this church, I am grateful for the opportunity to address you. I want to thank Josh and the pastoral team for giving me this time.

I am sure for the vast majority here, what you heard the past week about the charges made against me has come as a complete shock. I understand and I am so very sorry.

Let me clarify at the outset that your pastors are not the primary object of these accusations—the accusations are primarily directed at me in the context of Sovereign Grace Ministries. This is about me, not your pastors. It is my hope that your relationship with the pastoral team will be strengthened, not weakened, through this. Please provide them with your support at this time. And if you are angry, I understand. But please direct that anger toward me.

My intention tonight is to share with you a few of the ways I believe I have sinned and some of the failures in my leadership, and help you understand to some degree how we have arrived where we find ourselves this evening.

A few years ago I started to realize that there were a number of former SGM pastors who had offenses with SGM and/or me. So I began to pursue some of them for the purpose of reconciliation. In January of 2010 I sent Brent Detwiler an email asking if he had any offense with me, communicating my desire to meet with him and hear him out. In 2009 Brent had been pastoring a church in North Carolina and left SGM.

When Brent responded to my email, he informed me that he was not willing to meet with me but that he would interact with me through email and written documents. Two months later I received a 130-page document from him outlining his perspective about my sins and failures as a leader in SGM.

I need to tell you up front that after reading this document and ones that followed, I don’t agree with a number of Brent’s charges and conclusions, nor the manner with which he has presented his offenses.  However, my purpose this evening is not to criticize Brent or defend myself, but to inform you about various ways I have sinned and failed at different points in my ministry.

The central focus of Brent’s initial document was how I processed, responded to, and led through a relational conflict we had in 2003-2004. This conflict began when Brent and Dave Harvey brought to me correction related to certain character deficiencies and deficiencies in my leadership of the team. Rather than humbly listening to their critique and examining my heart, I reacted sinfully to what I perceived as their deficient manner of presentation, and this began a season where I was resistant to their correction.

Here is what they experienced from me:

  • I was difficult to entreat.
  • I sinfully judged their motives.
  • I was arrogantly confident in my perception.
  • I compared myself favorably to them.
  • I was offended by what I thought to be a lack of appreciation from them for all I had done for them, and a lack of care for me in a season of trials.

And though we continued to work together, I gradually withdrew from them in my soul. And added to this I arrogantly dismissed their critique and did not inform others of their critique even after I agreed to do so. So I was in effect confirming the accuracy of their correction by how I was behaving.

In 2004 at the end of a lengthy process of correcting me and with the help of my small group I began to perceive some of these sins and ask forgiveness for those sins, and those in my small group were able to affirm some evidences of conviction, repentance, and growth. But in looking back my perception of my sin, my confession of sin, and my follow up with those I sinned against was woefully inadequate.  I never circled back around to Brent or Dave to convey to them where they were right or the changes I was pursuing. And I neglected to inform Josh [Harris], Grant [Layman], and Kenneth [Maresco] about the specifics of Dave and Brent’s concerns.

When I received Brent’s first document, I sent it to a group of men who could help me evaluate the content of the document and these offenses from 2004. God used Brent’s document and the correction of my friends to help me see the sins I already mentioned much more clearly; and not just the sins, but the effects of those sins upon those I was called to serve with.

Let me introduce you to another failure of my leadership. I have been poor at establishing a process for resolving conflict and I have at times sought to manage the process on my own. In light of Brent’s offenses I should have immediately asked the SGM leadership team to lead the evaluation process and not attempted to manage the process on my own.

Brent was unwilling to meet with me personally. He insisted that my response be in written form to his satisfaction before he would meet with me personally and for months I let the process drift. I was reluctant to comply with him and thought it best to pursue reconciliation in person. Months passed. I’m sure the time delay tempted Brent and I am sorry for this.

In the fall Brent sent a second document, this one 165 pages in length. In this document Brent further illustrated failures he had observed in my leadership. He pointed out how defensive I could become when my integrity was questioned—which was accurate—and added further illustrations of the sins I already noted. Brent also detailed how he believed my sinful patterns ultimately contributed to his dismissal as a pastor from his church in 2009.

After receiving the second document, I sent it to the SGM leadership team, eight Covenant Life Church elders, and some friends who have known me and worked with me for many years. I asked them to read the documents and provide me with their honest evaluation of me not only in relation to the documents but any sins or leadership failures they would have observed apart from these documents in their own experience with me.

I spent a day together with these men in November of 2010 where I could hear evaluation from each of them. It was a sad and painful day for me to recognize that Brent was not the only one to experience the effects of my sin, but to various degrees many of the other men in the room had as well. At the end of the day I asked the men to forgive me.  I then circled back around to a number of them privately to ask forgiveness more specifically.  I then proceeded to write Brent a letter of confession for the sins I was perceiving and appealed for mediation so that we could receive help in being reconciled through an impartial third party. Brent wrote back and informed me my confession was not specific enough and asked that I review the documents again.

At this time, the SGM board assumed full responsibility for the process and I recused myself from any discussion or decisions regarding Brent’s complaint.  They asked me to respond to Brent with a more detailed confession, so I asked my friend John Loftness to catalogue all of Brent’s charges and to spend a day going over each one with me so I could respond to Brent with a greater degree of specificity. With the help of John and the board, I then crafted a second confession of about ten pages. It saddens me to report to you that Brent did not find this confession adequate.

Throughout this time I was also benefitting from the counsel of Ken Sande of Peacemaker Ministries. Ken reached out to Brent and proposed a process of mediation that Brent declined. We then began to discuss involving an outside panel to evaluate Brent’s charges even if Brent declined to participate.

Last month Brent sent a third document, this one 200 pages in length. In this document Brent pointed out my leadership failures in 1997 when Larry Tomczak left SGM after relocating to Atlanta to plant a church. During this time Larry and I had a conflict over how we would describe his leaving SGM. It grieves me to report to you that in a particular phone conversation I sought to coerce Larry to present his leaving as I thought was right. (And by the way none of your current pastors would have known this. It involved SGM not CLC.) And when Larry did leave, my public announcement of his departure was self-righteous in attitude and critical of Larry at a very vulnerable time in his life.  I highlighted his sin alone, and I was blind to my own. I’m deeply grieved by this.

But I am happy to report that seven months before Brent’s third document arrived, a letter arrived on my desk from Larry Tomczak asking if we could be reconciled. By the grace of God I agreed and this led to a series of meetings we had in Nashville. I am humbled and delighted to report to you that when I confessed my sins to Larry and Doris they freely, immediately, and graciously forgave me. If memory serves me that was in December last year.

Larry and I stood side by side and cofounded CLC. We stood side by side and cofounded SGM. Sin separated us, but I will have the sweet joy to stand side by side with him again in November when he joins us as a special guest at our Pastors Conference. I hope to do the same at CLC to welcome him back. Actually when we do this I think it would be appropriate if I stand off to the side. Larry has been a wonderful example of extending forgiveness.

There are certainly other examples I could give of these sin categories: examples that have hurt others, hindered my leadership, gone against what I’ve taught, and—most significantly—dishonored God. But the past year and a half has helped me see these things and forced me to confront these things in a much more thorough way than I ever have before. And so, in a way typical of our gracious God, these difficult months have quite obviously been for my good. I believe through these things God is disciplining me for my sin and leadership failures and I am very grateful for this discipline. Hebrews 12 tells how I should respond to this discipline: don’t be indifferent to it, and don’t be overwhelmed by it.

I bear a unique and primary responsibility for all that took place in 1997, 2004, and on other occasions as well. I am grateful to God that I am perceiving my sins and leadership failures. I’m aware that I am a sinner in need of grace and I am grateful for the forgiveness that Jesus purchased for my sins.

There is however an element in Brent’s storyline that I do not agree with. He asserts that my sins and leadership failures contributed directly to his removal from his church and SGM. I don’t believe I have the final word on this, nor should I, and I have welcomed the recommendation of the SGM board that we establish a panel of respected leaders outside SGM to study these charges and give us their evaluation of me and the ministry as a whole.

I asked the board for a leave of absence from my position as President so I can have no position of influence in this process or its outcome, and so that every charge can be thoroughly evaluated. The evaluation of the panel will be made public and communicated to you.

But this evening I want to communicate my sorrow for my sin and leadership failures and their effects on others; in particular you, the church I love the most. I want to ask for your forgiveness for these sins and their effects on you.

Please pray for me, but let me give you my greater burden: please pray for SGM. I want to do all I can do to spread the gospel. I want to protect your relationship with your pastors. I want to protect the pastors and churches of SGM. And above all I want to please and glorify God whatever this requires of me. Not surprisingly there are matters of policy and practice that need correction. I bear primary responsibility for this since these deficiencies have been revealed on my watch.  Please don’t misunderstand, this is not a blanket assessment of SGM churches or pastors.  But we need to make some changes in:

  • Our polity and structures of accountability for pastors. We have been hard at work on this one for two years and that needs to continue.
  • How we evaluate pastors.  In some instances, the way we have evaluated pastors in the past has been inconsistent and, some cases, flawed.
  • How pastors correct one another. Again, this is not applicable to every pastor or pastoral team, but where appropriate we want to grow here.
  • How we resolve conflict.

Please also pray that Brent and I would be reconciled. We were once good friends. I pray that because of the gospel that friendship would be restored.

Most importantly, pray that God would be glorified through all of this by reconciling broken relationships wherever they may exist in our churches, and by bringing about the fruit and effect of the gospel  that has so graciously saved each of us.

CJ Mahaney – Why I am Taking a Leave of Absence

 

The following post is a record of CJ Mahaney’s Confession to Covenant Life Church in July, 2011 – the original was removed from the SGM site recently and we’re preserving this as a matter of record on the sgmNation site.

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Over the last few years some former pastors and leaders in Sovereign Grace have made charges against me and informed me about offenses they have with me as well as other leaders in Sovereign Grace. These charges are serious and they have been very grieving to read. These charges are not related to any immorality or financial impropriety, but this doesn’t minimize their serious nature, which include various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.

I believe God is kindly disciplining me through this. I believe I have by the grace of God perceived a degree of my sin, and I have been grieved by my sin and its effects on others.  I have had the opportunity to confess my sin to some of those affected in various ways by my sin. And I am so very grateful for their forgiveness.  But I want to perceive and confess any and all sin I have committed.  Although my experience of conviction has already started—and this is an evidence of God’s mercy—I’m sure there is more for me to perceive and acknowledge.  Even with the charges I disagree with it has been beneficial to examine my soul and ask for the observation of others.  And I am resolved to take responsibility for my sin and every way my leadership has been deficient, and this would include making any appropriate confessions, public or private.  Most importantly I want to please God during this season of examination and evaluation.

So here is what I am going to do. I’ve asked to take a leave of absence in order to give time to considering these charges, examine my heart, and receive the appropriate help from others.  With the guidance of the SGM board, I would also hope to pursue reconciliation with former pastors of Sovereign Grace during this leave. I have stepped off the board and I will not be the President of Sovereign Grace Ministries during this period of examination and evaluation. In order for me to receive an objective evaluation in relation to these charges the board is securing the help of a third-party ministry that has no history of relationship with SGM. With counsel from that ministry, the board will determine the appropriate steps I should take going forward.   After processing these findings, the board will determine the appropriate steps I should take going forward.  This leave of absence will also help remove any impediment to the panel’s exploration that could potentially arise if I remained in my current position, and it will enable me to fully cooperate in the process.

Just so you’ll know, I have also contacted David Powlison and Mark Dever and asked them to review the charges and provide me with their counsel and correction. I have enlisted them to serve me personally during this time and to ensure this process of examining my heart and life is as thorough as possible. And for the past year I have been the recipient of Ken Sande’s correction, counsel and care. That, I am grateful to say, will continue. And as you would expect I will continue to meet with the appropriate men on the board of Sovereign Grace and benefit from their correction, counsel, and care as well. I am deeply moved as I reflect on how rich I am relationally and I am humbled by the time these men are willing to spend serving me and Sovereign Grace.

My friends, I would greatly appreciate your prayers as I continue to walk through this process.  Please pray that God would give me the gift of sight where I have been blinded by my sin and others have been adversely affected by my sin. Pray that I will be convicted and experience godly sorrow resulting in reconciliation where necessary and adjustments to my heart and leadership. Thank you for praying in this way for me.

One more thing. For the past 5 years or so I have become increasingly aware of certain deficiencies in my leadership that have contributed to deficiencies in Sovereign Grace Ministries’ structure and governance, the lack of a clear and consistent process of conflict resolution and pastoral evaluation, and the number of former Sovereign Grace pastors who are offended with me/SGM.  I have met with some and by God’s grace there has been reconciliation with men like Larry Tomczak (I wish I had recognized and repented of my sin against him years ago).  This brings great joy to my soul.  In other cases, appeals for mediation have thus far been declined, but I’m hopeful this process will facilitate further reconciliation.  But beyond this, there are still issues that need to be addressed and fixed in our family of churches. And I bear a primary responsibility because it has happened on my watch and under my leadership. I have resolved that I and the Sovereign Grace team can’t effectively lead us into the future without evaluating the past, addressing these deficiencies, improving our structure, and as much as possible pursuing reconciliation with former pastors. So during this leave of absence I will not only devote all the appropriate and necessary time to the independent panel and the charges but also to doing what I can to identify where I have failed to lead us effectively in relation to pastoral evaluation and conflict resolution.

My friends, though my soul can be easily overwhelmed as I contemplate my sin and its effects on others, I am also resolved to examine my heart, address the past, and play my role in preparing SGM for a future of planting and serving churches.  And given the mercy of God portrayed in the gospel my heart is filled with hope that his good purpose for us will come to pass and cannot be frustrated. I trust there will be much grace to tell you of at the end of this process.