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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: September 13, 2012 08:16AM


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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: September 13, 2012 11:01AM


Last week we announced that C.J. Mahaney would be taking a temporary leave of absence from his position as President of Sovereign Grace Ministries. This leave was intended to create a fair and open process of evaluation for C.J. and the ministry and was not intended to be disciplinary. We assumed that the charges against him would remain private and that following the evaluation period, we would be able to announce publicly an independent evaluation panel's findings.

Since our announcement Brent Detwiler sent his accusations against C.J. and Sovereign Grace to all Sovereign Grace pastors. His material has also been published on the internet. Brent sent his material to the Sovereign Grace pastors despite repeated appeals that he engage C.J. and Sovereign Grace through the agency of an independent mediator, and if he refused to do that, to simply meet with an independent evaluation panel so they could examine his charges without C.J. or Sovereign Grace present to respond.

In light of the fact that C.J. has now been publicly accused with no opportunity to defend himself, the board of Sovereign Grace has made the following resolutions.

1. That Brent Detwiler’s refusal to participate in mediation with C.J. Mahaney—unless Mahaney first agrees (a) to publish an extensive written response to each of Detwiler’s accusations and (b) to make a public confession prior to any mediation or impartial evaluation of his charges—is unjust and constitutes a denial of biblically grounded due process for a qualified minister of the gospel (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Timothy 5:19-20, Proverbs 25:9).

2. That Brent Detwiler’s distribution of written accusations against C.J. Mahaney to all Sovereign Grace pastors constitutes the public slander of Mahaney’s reputation.

3. That the board of Sovereign Grace Ministries has reviewed Brent Detwiler’s documents accusing C.J. Mahaney of sinful practices in the conduct of his ministry and finds no reason at this time to deem him unfit for ministry. However, the board will reevaluate Mahaney’s fitness after receiving formal evaluation of the accusations lodged against him (see below). The board acknowledges that sins have been committed but also recognizes and appreciates Mahaney’s eagerness to confess sins, pursue reconciliation with Detwiler, and pursue personal holiness and growth as a minister.

4. That C.J. Mahaney is a qualified minister of the gospel and this board approves his pastoral and teaching ministry in Sovereign Grace and the wider body of Christ.

5. That Sovereign Grace Ministries will engage a process of evaluation regarding CJ Mahaney's fitness for ministry.

A preliminary panel will examine confessions that Mahaney has already made to determine if at present he is qualified to be a pastor and the president of Sovereign Grace. In light of the public defamation of his character, this is to be done with all deliberate speed. The board deems this preliminary panel necessary to show that while it has concluded that Mahaney is fit for ministry, other temporary outside evaluation is necessary either to lend credibility to its assessment or to make changes this panel deems necessary.

A second panel will commence work concurrent with the first. It will consist of members of an independent conciliation ministry with no ties to Sovereign Grace. This panel will create a process for examination of the outstanding charges against Mahaney and create and lead a process for a fair hearing of those charges to determine if they are true or false. The board will then seek review and comment from qualified pastors with a good reputation in the body of Christ who are not directly associated with the ministry. The board will then make a determination of appropriate action in light of the panel's findings and the advice of the above pastors.

Dave, Aron, Craig, Jeff, John, Mark, Mickey, Pete, Rick, and Steve

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: September 14, 2012 12:09PM


Adrian Warnock
Welcome to the blog, Josh. In this interview I’d like to focus a bit on the important role C. J. Mahaney, who I also interviewed awhile back here on the blog, played in discipling you and how that mentoring benefited you.

Josh Harris
Thanks, Adrian. I’m grateful to be with you. And I’m glad you’re giving space on your blog to the topic of mentoring. I think it’s important, and I hope I can add something useful to the conversation.

To start with, tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be leading Covenant Life Church at such a young age. (A DVD set is available which documents the key transition that led to this.)

I think I may have stumbled upon a theme verse for my life this morning. Josh HarrisI was reading Ecclesiastes 9:11, which says, “Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.” I laughed when I read it and thought, “That pretty much sums up my life!” I’m not the fastest, the strongest, the smartest, or most knowledgeable, and yet God has shown me such kindness.

I do have the joy of serving in the role of senior pastor of Covenant Life Church. And this year I’ll turn 31. I get quizzical looks from people when they find out my position. There’s a wonderful Pakistani man who works at the local grocery store who still can’t get over the fact that I’m a pastor, let alone a senior pastor. I think his picture of a pastor is an austere older gentleman with a robe and collar. So when he looks at me in my jeans and T-shirt, he’s just baffled.

But the story behind me serving in this role is more about my good friend, C. J. Mahaney, and his investment in me. He invited me into his home and family, trained me for pastoral ministry, gave me various opportunities to lead, and then eventually asked me to step in and assume his role. It was the fall of 2004 that he “passed the baton” so to speak and set me in place so that he could devote himself to leading the family of churches known as Sovereign Grace. His office is still next to mine. We meet every Tuesday for lunch. C. J. wanted to give me a chance to lead while I was young and while he was around to serve me. And that’s what he does. He’s a sounding board for ideas, and a trusted source of counsel.

How did you and C. J. meet each other?

We met ten years ago. I was publishing a small magazine for homeschool teens at the time, traveling the country doing teen conferences, and writing my first book. Things were going very well. I joke now that I was “living the evangelical American dream.” All I needed was a TV show and I’d have had it all. Thank heaven God intervened. I got a tape set from a friend called Passion for the Church that featured C. J. teaching on the importance of the local church. I tell this story in my book Stop Dating the Church. That teaching deeply influenced me and caused me to rethink the course I was on.

C. J. was aware of what I was doing. His daughters subscribed to my magazine, and one of the Sovereign Grace churches in Pennsylvania had hosted one of our conferences. C. J. had the youth pastor invite me to speak at Covenant Life, and later I came to an event the church hosted for men who felt called to ministry. That was the first time I actually spent time with C. J. and got to know him.

One night I asked him point blank, “What do you think of what I’m doing with my life?” He told me that he felt what I was doing was important and needed. But he asked if I had an exit strategy. He told me he had seen too many guys on the conference circuit who never got off of it. He asked how I was going to invest in and build my life into the local church. I remember him asking, “What are you going to build with your life?” He was directing me to think long-term and consider the importance of the local church.

How did you respond?

Basically I said, “What do you think I should do?” You see, I was beginning to understand the importance of the local church, but I didn’t see how that translated into specific decisions.C. J. Mahaney I was going to church and I was faithfully involved, but I knew I needed training and oversight and it wasn’t clear to me where I’d get that. C. J. answered by saying, “You need a Paul in your life. You’re a young man; you’re like Timothy—and you need a Paul.” I was thinking, “Thanks a lot, but that’s not super helpful.” I mean, where in the world would I find a Paul? And how would I convince him that I’m a Timothy worth investing time in?

A year or so earlier, on my 21st birthday, my father, Gregg Harris, who is a very godly, wise man, had encouraged me to find men that I wanted to be like and then to sit at their feet and learn from them. My dad’s a big believer in the apprenticeship model of learning. So I had been on the lookout for a role model.

And there I was sitting across from C. J. Mahaney, a man who at the time had been a senior pastor for twenty years—he had done the national conference circuit, he understood the issues I was facing, and he was saying, “Go find a Paul.” I was sitting there thinking, “You’re lookin’ pretty good to me!!”

So how did you ask him to mentor you?

I didn’t ask him that night. C. J. very wisely pointed me to the local church in which I was involved back in Oregon. He told me I needed to go back there and look for that relationship in my church.

This is where I need to pause and emphasize God’s providential leading in my life. I don’t want anyone reading this to think that if you just do the right things, say the right things, you’ll be able to find a mentor who can train you and disciple you. There are things people can do, but the main point of my story is that God sovereignly orchestrated it and provided for me—it had nothing to do with my worthiness or planning!

The next day two friends who are pastors approached me at the conference and basically shared that they felt I needed to be discipled. They did this totally unaware of my conversation with C. J. or the questions swirling in my mind as a result. It was an unbelievable confirmation of what I’d been praying about. They said, “We think your biggest priority should be to find a man who can train you in ministry. God is blessing your work and you’re gaining a larger audience, but you’re an idiot and know nothing!” Of course they said it all so much nicer than that, but the point was clear and I agreed with them. I told them about my growing conviction that C. J. was the man who could help me.

That was a holy moment. Ray Randolph and Bill Houghery from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, were the two men sharing with me. They told me I should talk to C. J. about my desire, and then we prayed. The presence of the Holy Spirit was so powerful in that room. We were all weeping as we prayed. I look back now and understand the significance of that moment. But at that time I couldn’t grasp the full significance of what God was doing.

Before I left the conference for home, I shared my desire with C. J. Unbeknownst to me, God had already been laying on his heart a burden to train young men for the future. So again, you see the quiet providence of God. My asking C. J. was almost like a confirmation from God of what the next season of C. J.’s life was supposed to be devoted to. He and the leadership team of Sovereign Grace had just decided to launch the Pastor’s College. So God timed it perfectly. He showed me that I needed mentoring, and he showed C. J. that he needed to give himself to mentoring. About seven months later I moved from Oregon to Maryland. Two months after I arrived, I Kissed Dating Goodbye was released. A year later I was engaged to my wife Shannon. Seven years later I became senior pastor. It’s been an amazing adventure.

There has been a lot of interest in the blogosphere recently in your relationship with C. J. following Tim Challies’ admission that he is jealous of you for having such a mentor, or indeed, for having any kind of mentor. Can you tell us about how this worked out in practice?

(UPDATE: Challies has posted again about this today independently of this interview!)

First, C. J. brought me into his life. So many things can’t be passed on through a book or a sermon. They have to be observed. They have to be modeled. Living with C. J.’s family for over a year gave me an up-close look at his faithfulness as a husband and father. I witnessed his purposefulness in every situation. I learned from him the importance of taking the initiative. I learned how leading is serving, and that it requires a willingness to expend energy and set direction for others to follow. C. J. spent time with me. He brought me into his thinking. He trained me about the importance of sound doctrine centered in the gospel. He talked with me about issues and concerns he had. He directed me to books and tapes to study.

He also took risks and gave me opportunities to lead. The New Attitude conference (an annual conference for singles that I ran for six years and which is now being restarted under new leadership) was a way for me to learn how to lead with C. J. by my side. I remember so many sessions at the conference where he would whisper in my ear about how to transition between worship and preaching, how to lead in times of ministry, how to close the meetings.

There was no text book, no class. It was on-the-job training. And after every meeting, every session, every Sunday—he always took time first to give me purposeful encouragement. Sometimes I would do the right things, but not completely understand why they were right. C. J. would say, “Great job when you said, such and such. You were pastoring people through that statement. That was a leadership moment. Well done! Keep it up.” C. J. always started with evidence of grace in what I was doing before he moved to critique. He taught me to evaluate everything at all times and look for ways to make things better.

And, of course, he always managed to make this fun and memorable. I remember the many Sunday mornings when, in the midst of the meeting, he would lean over and whisper, “A good leader would notice what just happened that was wrong.” I have to admit—I hated it when he did that! But it helped me to keep my eyes always open.

But it was his friendship and care that meant the most to me. We spent hours together. We confessed sin to each other. We experienced fellowship. That was a big investment of C. J.’s time. He could have been doing something else. But he invested in me. And he continues to do so.

What advice would you give to people who are not currently being discipled? I urge people to do anything they can to position themselves in the right place—to enable them to have such an experience. Would you agree? Do you have any other advice?

I do agree. I think that the starting point is an attitude of humility (and I don’t pretend to be a model for this by any means) that acknowledges that you need help. I think my relationship with C. J. can sound very glamorous from a distance. The reality is that being mentored requires that you believe and embrace the reality that you don’t know everything, that you need to learn. Let’s be honest, our pride, our sin, opposes this. My question for a person who desires to be mentored would be, “How are you learning from those God has already placed in your life? Are you humbly asking them questions? Are you studying people you respect?” And then, are you gleaning what you can from them, even if you don’t have an “official” mentoring relationship with them? I wish I could clone C. J. so that 5,000 young guys like me could have their own private Mahaney mentor. But it’s not possible. What is possible is to read his books. Start with Humility: True Greatness. And today, with the web, you can listen to dozens of his sermons. And hopefully, if I can convince him, C. J. will have his own blog so his influence can be more frequent. There are many godly older men like C. J. from whom we can learn and benefit. In some cases, that will be in a close relationship; at other times it will be from a distance.

Next, it’s vital that you be in a strong local church headed by men that you want to emulate. Whether or not you feel called to ministry, you should be in a place where there are men whose character and teaching, whose life and doctrine, provide you with a compelling example. A church led by such men should be well-stocked with godly men, many of whom are not pastors, who can mentor and disciple.

Finally, I’d encourage men to cry out to God for this good gift. And even if that prayer isn’t answered in the fashion or time that you’d like, don’t forget how important this is. Because one day you’re going to be the older generation that can invest in others. I think a big part of the reason C. J. has been so faithful in training younger men like me is because he never had that benefit in his own life. So much of what he learned he had to learn through books and through trial and error. He wanted a mentor, but though he learned from different older men, he never truly had that. I think it spurred him to be that mentor so that men like me could have what he missed.

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: September 15, 2012 10:25AM



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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: September 19, 2012 05:26AM




Not from Sovereign Grace. But what a lot of happy smiley people with perfect homes and dinners and friendships and couldn’t get over all the equipment for the church plant. The stuff for the creche etc looks way better than the stuff we’ve got at my old church!


The Louisville apparently can afford nothing but the best when they have SGM’s “pope” C.J. Mahaney with them who I am sure is the final say on where the SGM money goes and how it is spent. A shame to hear reports of this “start up” getting much better equipment than typical “start ups.”


How fitting it is that they have to do all the work of set-up and take-down, just as we all used to do for years…and years..and years. It will probably take all day for them to do that each Sunday and some will need to be up at dawn to’s hard labor and it’s EVERY week. There sure is diminutive worship team down there. CLC has several rotating worship teams and a few worship leaders so, that crew down in L’ville is going to get a work-out. Was that really Sasser on the drums? Interesting twist. I guess everyone down there needs to wear multiple hats. The sound equipment is state of the art but, they sure have LOTS of tots in children’s ministry. It may take most of the new ‘congregation’ just to fill the volunteer slots. Ha, they might start missing CLC and all the extra hands, by about week 2. There won’t be any substitutes if you can’t make it to church, guys!


I even replayed parts of the videos that showed them laughing and acting (?) particularly happy or enjoying themselves. I watched in fascination as they ‘celebrated’ and enjoyed meals at what could only be the Hotel Kauflin, for it is truly an ENORMOUS structure. I tried not to be envious of the beautiful furniture (and furnishings) and the back-yard that looks like professionally landscaped park or athletic field. This might sound so petty and unimportant but I also noticed that in one of the washtubs outside (during a celebration/get together) there was bottled water and cans of expensive, Italian lemonade. One of the children (in the video) wandered over and fishes out one of the cans of lemonade. I sat there and thought of all the times my children asked me (in the past 20 years) for something that wasn’t in our budget -- like inexpensive juice boxes. I would never wish evil on or for these people (especially their children) but watching the videos made me physically ill and angry at the extravagant waste and expense. It made me angry that while we tithed and scrimped and went without these families lived in fine houses and vacationed in huge beach and lake houses. What kind of people do this? Do all pastors of large ministries live this way? I look at Francis Chan’s life and I think, no they don’t. I long for the day to be free of this hurt, this sadness, and this anger.


It all had the feel of a very nice upscale party. Even the way the food was laid out showed that no one appears to be hurting for cash. It’d be interesting to know how much money this church plant has at its disposal, and what is being paid out for salaries. If the move to Kentucky really is all about economics, what they might be saving in housing costs is going out the window for no-expense-spared decisions about little things, like buying the higher quality coffeehouse-style paper cups with secure lids for coffee time.


Yep, just decided. After watching the rest of the videos, I am going to L’ville for the food. The bottled water is worth it alone. Must be nice to be king and get all that stuff. Not a care in the world for anyone you left behind.


OK, I made it through that video without screaming, or breaking my keyboard with fierce pounding. Here are my thoughts: After going on a church plant for SGM, and doing setup and tear down for 10 years, this video makes me angry. The amount of money that must have been spent to get this church to their first day, must have been staggering. The Portable Church equipment they had is mind blowing expensive. We built our own cabinets for our stuff. The cost of that auditorium must have been extravagant. The food, the state of the art sound board and such. Disgusting. It amazes me what it takes to “do church” in America these days. I also didn’t notice any of the pastors/elders in the setting up part of the video. That’s repulsive. I guess they are too important to setup and tear down everything.


The stranger who happens to stumble into their midst is going to sense the group’s insularity, simply because of everyone’s years and years of “This is how we do it.” I’m a girl, so of course I was particularly fascinated to catch the glimpses of how the Louisville women set everything up for a get-together. (Anyone else noticed the cute little tags tied with twine onto the different dishes of sauces, labeling which sauce was which?) This prissy Pottery Barn perfection is effortless to these SGM women after all the years of teachings and striving to be like one another, but to an outsider, it’s going to feel like stepping into another world. So is the way they talk to each other. They are by definition CJ’s most hardcore followers, so of course none of them has ever engaged in much critical thinking when it comes to SGM and the SGM culture. None of them has a clue about how weird their SGM catchphrases sound, especially when taken collectively. The visitors might enjoy the love-bombing. They might be impressed by the artful paint jobs, the casual-chic home furnishings, the Martha Stewart-ish buffet spreads, the bottled water, the expensive lemonade. But in the end, something about the whole enterprise is going to make many of them feel strange.


As an outsider, I thought the whole video was a slap in the face. See how happy and successful we are, look at our beautiful food and smiling faces…our beautiful home and many friends. The beautiful people…all looking very much the same. It looks to me that God is allowing them to very much enjoy their rewards in the here and now…complete with beautiful, fancy equipment for their beautiful (on the outside) church.


PCI flies in a consultant to tour the facilities and comes up with a complete turn-key church set-up that not only includes sound but stuff for children’s ministry, reception (those new coffee urns), signage, etc. Everything looks brand spankin’ new. Not like the hand me downs or meager sound system budgets other plants received for years. But… Things shifted some time ago as SGM started using PCI for plants. South Carolina for example. In the SGMs we participated in for 20 years, I think we spent 8 of those “On the Road” and we never had equipment or facilities that nice. Ever. It’s good to be the King, I suppose.



This is a start up church with many of the people on staff at SGM. They tithe to the SGCL. The income from the tithers supports the pastors (some of which have an income from SGM, in which case they don’t need an income. So, the “new plant” does not need to support a pastor, which in this case is many pastors, because several already have SGM income. When you add housing allowances to all this, it is just bizzare. NO ONE starts churches like this. What a joke. What a smack to all the people who have moved, looked for jobs, had no pastors on staff, met in homes with no facility, etc., etc., etc. Come to think of it, is ANYONE at this “new plan” unemployed? This is like watching “Steppford Church.” It is in the realm of some “other world.”


I watched this video with much sadness. Everyone was so happy yet the folks at CLC are so sad. These are people we loved and served with for decades. They were our pastors and friends. We babysat their kids. They were our neighbors. And yet they left with nigh a word. They left accusing us of gossip and slander. All for the gospel.


I wondered if they would seem even the slightest bit uncomfortable with what had happened and continues to happen in SGM and in SGM churches? I wondered if they would feel or act awkward as they set up their ‘play church’ in the perfectly landscaped and appointed academy (no regular, run-of-the-mill middle school or jr. high for this church plant, mind you) that is the (for now) home of SGCL.

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: September 28, 2012 02:51AM



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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: October 07, 2012 05:06AM


"I also believe SGM will sadly continue as a ministry. Partly because the Mahaneys, Chesemores, Bradshaws and Kauflins all perpetrate an amazing life style. They have beautifully decorated homes. They seem so freaking happy. They gush all over their spouses. They seem so wise and to be great listeners. They don’t have knock down drag em out fights with their spouse. Wife is meek and submissive. Hubby is a supportive leader that serves his family. I mean it is VERY appealing!" - KWIM, SGM Survivors

I think what’s especially insidious about the way SGM leaders have portrayed their lives is that they have drilled it into people that leaders have what they have because of their “more biblical” choices. The adult kids’ marriages are so great because they did everything the “right” way and found their spouses through courtship. They “sacrificed for the gospel” by “having the faith” to have wives who stayed home and homeschooled the kids. They have lovely homes because the women are practicing Titus 2 principles. They go on amazing vacations because they’ve handled their finances properly. The list could go on and on.

But what gets me about this is the circular cause-and-effect relationship between these people’s message, their lifestyle, how that lifestyle is used to attract people to the ministry, and -- most importantly -- their followers’ continued willingness to support this ministry financially because of the way the lifestyle is portrayed.

You can’t maintain a pretty home without some combination of time and money. Seriously. While it’s true that you can do all sorts of creative things on the cheap, those things require time. And in order for one of the adults in a household to have that kind of time, the other adult needs to earn enough money to support the whole family. The same goes for looking good. For a woman, maintaining the kind of well-coiffed appearance that the female SGM bloggers maintain demands getting regular haircuts and professional highlights at least once every two months. That costs money, even if you try to do it on the cheap. The sort of clothes those women wear require at least some money . The clothes their children wear require money.

Date nights require money and/or time.

So you have these families -- like the Mahaneys -- who put their lives out there as examples of what happens when you make the “more biblical” choices and do things like date nights and keep an organized home and stay home with your children. They show themselves, always, in a positive light, revealing only just enough vulnerabilities to where they seem relatable but still remain on their pedestals so that they are still admired.

And people absorb the idea that if they themselves make these same “more biblical” choices, they too will be rewarded with similarly pretty lives.

Yet all the while, a significant piece of what fuels the engine of the SGM lifestyle -- money -- depends upon the continued donations of people who follow you at least in part because of the lifestyle you portray. You have to continue selling your lifestyle in order to continue to attract followers who will continue to give their money to the organization that pays you so you can afford your lifestyle.

If you really stop and think about it, it’s all so bizarre. And it has virtually nothing to do with Jesus. The SGM leaders talk a good game -- they say the right words. But then they imply in all sorts of ways that the gospel they peddle will lead people to have better marriages, better families, and prettier houses with custom paint jobs and lots of artsy throw pillows and granite countertops.


SGM Survivors

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: October 07, 2012 05:15AM

Sovereign Grace Church Brings History and Controversy to New Louisville Launch

Courier Journal
October 2nd, 2012
by Peter Smith

Greeters beamed with smiles, children handed out visitor cards and parents lined up to register for child care. After more than 20 minutes of opening worship led by a band with electric guitar and keyboards, the pastor took to the podium.

“And so Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville begins,” said C.J. Mahaney, 59. “… We are just a group of primarily old guys attempting to church-plant one more time before we die in order to serve the next generation with the gospel.”

As understated as that sounds, rarely does a new congregation bring as much history — and controversy — as Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, which began worshiping Sunday at Christian Academy’s English Station campus in eastern Jefferson County.

The launch represents not just another new church but the exodus of leaders of an entire denomination, Sovereign Grace Ministries, to Louisville.

The denomination — which includes more than 90 churches with about 28,000 members worldwide — has already seen two congregations split off amid controversies. And by all accounts, more churches may leave if leaders decide to assert more central authority after an ongoing review of the denomination’s form of government.

Former members have told of pastors and small-group leaders probing into members’ personal lives and shaming them for real or perceived sins — sometimes ostracizing members who were deemed unrepentant, wounding them spiritually and cutting off close friendships.

Mahaney himself, a co-founder and longtime president of Sovereign Grace, has been accused of pride, dictatorial conduct and a lack of accountability. He took leave from his post last year amid one controversy, but internal church reviews found him fit for ministry and returned him to the presidency.

In Mahaney’s inaugural sermon in Louisville, he alluded to the tumult, saying he wanted the church to have a quiet launch. But “if God allows opposition in some form, criticism in some form, slander in some form,” it would be worth it if “there are lives transformed by the gospel.”

“Satan isn’t elated about this church,” he said.

Move to Louisville

Sovereign Grace leaders, including Mahaney, moved their headquarters to Louisville amid a growing estrangement from the denomination’s mother church in Gaithersburg, Md., the site of its offices since its inception in 1982.

Until now, it had no church in Kentucky or Indiana, but Louisville is now home to its new flagship church, which will double as a training ground for new pastors.

It is part of a multi-denominational movement known as New Calvinism — which emphasizes God’s grace over human free will in saving sinners, as well as church discipline, strong pastoral authority and male leadership in homes and churches.

In moving to Louisville, Sovereign Grace also is deepening its cooperation with Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, an epicenter of the New Calvinist movement. Seminary President Albert Mohler, with whom Mahaney regularly headlines conference programs, has lauded Sovereign Grace “as a demonstration of the revitalization of Christianity in the early 21st century.”

Mahaney is a member of the seminary-hosted Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which promotes male authority in churches and homes.

His ministry began in the early 1970s, when the converted former drug user began preaching at hippie-friendly Christian festivals and eventually helped found Covenant Life Church, now a megachurch in Gaithersburg, and later the Sovereign Grace network.

He has become a regular at Calvinist conferences such as Together for the Gospel in Louisville, where admirers have lined up to get book autographs and pose for photos with him.

But controversies arose after some former Sovereign Grace members and leaders — including some who worked closely with Mahaney for years — described a pattern of spiritual abuse and cult-like behavior within Sovereign Grace and its churches. The controversies simmered for years on blogs with such names as SGM Survivors and SGM Refuge.

Then, in the summer of 2011, a founding member of the Sovereign Grace board, Brent Detwiler of North Carolina, distributed documents to pastors detailing years of confrontations over what Detwiler termed Mahaney’s abusive, manipulative and dishonest behavior.

Internal church reviews found Mahaney had some culpability, but disputed Detwiler’s sweeping claims.

A separate report by an independent conflict-resolution group, Ambassadors of Reconciliation, did not weigh charges against individuals but confirmed “a number of people have experienced deep hurts and disappointments in SGM churches.”

An “over-emphasis of the teaching about sin without the balance of God’s grace leads people to be judgmental, critical, and at times despondent,” the report said. “At the same time … many thousands of people have been and continue to be richly blessed by their involvement in a SGM church.”

Mahaney apologized in a written statement that “deficiencies in my leadership have contributed to the ministry failures cataloged” in the Ambassadors report.

And in an interview, he denied systemic problems in the denomination.

“All pastors, to differing degrees, make mistakes,” he said. “All pastors also come with their own set of limitations, weaknesses, patterns of sin. … That’s not to minimize in any way where offense has occurred, and scripture is clear about the continuing influence of sin in all of our lives and how we are to humbly pursue reconciliation where offense has occurred.”

Of Detwiler, Mahaney said: “He was a friend, and I pray God has mercy on him.”

Critics persist

Mahaney’s critics contend the denomination never gave their charges a fair hearing or adequately reconciled with those hurt by the church.

“It’s just been a continuing downplay of what’s been happening,” Detwiler said.

Bob Dixon of suburban Richmond, Va., who belonged to Sovereign Grace congregations for 30 years and was a former care-group leader, said those interested in participating with Sovereign Grace Ministries should heed Jesus’ counsel about the biblical Pharisees — to consider actions as well as words.

People should not only “consider what they say and write but consider what they’ve done, in particular to their ex-pastors, and then the members of their churches,” he said.

Joshua Harris — pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg and a best-selling author promoting traditional courtship, rather than dating — acknowledged strains in his relationship with Mahaney, his one-time mentor, when he resigned last year.

Of Harris and other pastors whose churches have left the denomination, Mahaney said the most important thing is that “we love the same savior, we preach the same gospel.”

One of Sovereign Grace’s the most high-profile splits involved Larry Tomczak, who pioneered the movement with Mahaney, in 1997.

Accounts vary on the details, but according to a Sovereign Grace report, Mahaney and other board members held out a threat of exposing wrongdoing by Tomczak’s teenage son, which the boy had confessed in confidence to church leaders. “The threat was … wrong. It was coercive. It was sinful,” the report said.

And while the two men had a public reconciliation in 2011, Tomczak said Mahaney and board leaders still hadn’t acknowledged “a pattern that has devastated our immediate and extended families, plus scores of God’s people across the country.”

Bob Kauflin, director of Sovereign Grace Music and a longtime leader in the ministry, said: “We’re thankful for Larry and his ongoing ministry, but have no further comment on the subject.”

Church praised

None of those controversies were evident at the opening of Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville.

About 45 adults from Gaithersburg and other Sovereign Grace churches participated in the launch, and about 230 people attended in all, including local visitors, out-of-town well-wishers and numerous children.

“We love marriage and all things related to family and children,” Mahaney said.

Jake Simmons, 26, said he became a Christian in a Sovereign Grace church in Knoxville, Tenn., before coming to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He said his pastors there helped him mature and prepare for ministry, and when the controversies erupted, they “cleared their schedule for whoever wanted to talk.”

Kathy Spiro, who was involved in the Gaithersburg church about 30 years, moved to Prospect to help plant the congregation.

She said that, during her husband’s recent fatal illness, “the care the church provided was amazing,” and that, whenever she turned to pastors for counsel, they would advise but never dictate.

Spiro, 59, a sign-language interpreter now living in Prospect, said the previous year’s controversy should not “define the movement.”

“I feel like the leaders are men of integrity, all of them, and they’ll sort it out,” she said.

Several Baptist and other churches have welcomed the church’s arrival, seeing it as an ally rather than a competitor.

“I anticipate the church plant will grow quickly since they proclaim the good news about Jesus Christ and have a godly and gifted team of ministers,” said Tom Schreiner, a professor at Southern Seminary and pastor of preaching at Clifton Baptist, where Mahaney preached recently.

Mahaney said he told Clifton Baptist members he appreciated their support and added, “None of you are welcome at our church plant” — because he wants to reach people who don’t have a church, not take members from churches.

Worship leader Bob Kauflin added that church members “don’t want to reinvent the wheel” and have begun volunteering at other churches’ events, such as a recent community-service project at Sojourn Community Church’s midtown campus. “If you’re doing something effective in your community that you just need bodies and resources for, we want to join you,” he said.

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: October 13, 2012 05:40AM


I am angry and disappointed that SGM decided to hold it’s Pastor’s Conference at The Rosen Shingle Creek Resort

At $131 per night (add room surcharges and taxes) the cost of just the hotel rooms for two nights is close to or over $275. Add to that the cost of the Conference Registration which is $175 per individual and $325 per married couple, the cost is now $450 per individual and $600 married couple.

These costs do not include round-trip airfare for Pastor’s and their wives who live several states away or the cost of gas (at close to or over $4 per gallon) if you are close enough to drive to Florida.

Add airfare which at bare-bones is going to run $350 or more for each person the cost now escalates to $$900 per individual and $1250 per married couple.

These costs do not include meals and non-essentials that most people purchase for trips, including toiletries, and clothes for a different climate.

Does anyone else think that this is NOT the kind of hotel, trip, conference, EXPENSE, that Jesus would be taking in if He was truly interested in seeking and saving the LOST of this world?

Does anyone else think that the kind of money that will be spent on the SGM Pastor’s Conference — Do a quick calculation with me with just those rough figures I gave you of $900 per individual and $1250 per married couple — could be better used at the kind ministries that SGM used to talk about at the now DEFUNCT Celebration Conferences they used to hold for the ‘little people’?

A trip or vacation with your family isn’t ungodly or wrong. I do believe this extravagant expenditure at an opulent Hotel and Golf Resort illustrates how absolutely CLUELESS and out of touch SGM’s Leadership Team is with the rest of the WORLD.

It illustrates in a painful and ugly way how out of touch they are with the middle class families that tithed “until it HURT” to send our Pastor’s to this kind of resort and conference.

Hurting But Hopeful
SGM Survivors


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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: October 13, 2012 05:45AM


"If someone as bright and aware as Trueman really doesn’t know about Mahaney and SGM, it must be because, like his colleagues, he is deliberately keeping himself in the dark, or has strong powers of denial. Spiritual abuse is not rocket science. And you don’t have to go through it to have enough understanding of it to do something about it." - Jeff B

This -- absolutely this.

I know people want to extend grace to the Reformed Big Dogs and believe in them. It’s a natural thing, to want to “believe the best” about someone whose ministry has blessed you. But after awhile, it just gets to be a little ridiculous.

I know for a fact that all the RBDs, at one time or another, have been contacted by various earnest former SGMers (or even alarmed current SGMers) who have taken the time to lay out SGM’s issues and explain them to these men. Many of the RBDs have been contacted multiple times by multiple people. And the people who have tried to enlighten them are not those who could easily be written off as “flakes” or even “embittered former members with an ax to grind.”

The fact is that these men don’t want to see it. I think there are all sorts of motivations involved. Probably the main one is that they think that if they acknowledge that SGM and CJ are dysfunctional, it would make THEM look bad. It would make them look foolish for seeming to endorse and promote CJ with such limited knowledge of what was really going on behind the scenes.

Also, the Reformed book publishing world is actually a tight little place, with tight little reciprocal relationships. For those who have finally reached a place where their books are getting out there and being promoted, and where they are able to have a broader audience for their particular message, not to mention a source of relatively easy side income, the last thing they want to do is upset the apple cart by offending their publishers and/or their own book endorsers.

It’s a silly little thing, but just think for a moment of how many Reformed books contain a CJ blurb of endorsement on the cover. If his decades of dysfunction were to become widely acknowledged by the RBDs, that could easily turn off people from buying those books. It would also make the publishers and the authors themselves look more than a little foolish.

So nobody should kid himself or herself. With respect to a working knowledge of SGM’s deep-seated problems and CJ’s own huge issues, no RBD is really in the dark. They’ve all had it laid out for them, in one way or another. The truth is that they’ve chosen not to acknowledge it or do anything about it. It’s easier and more expedient and -- yes -- more self-serving and self-preserving to look the other way and (if things ever finally do come home to roost) plead ignorance.

SGM Survivors

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