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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: August 26, 2012 10:36PM


In Sovereign Grace Ministries spreading the gospel to the non-believer is given lip-service (talked about, sung about, highlighted in testimonies and sermons) BUT…

You have to fit it in AFTER you go to 2-3 hour Church Meeting each Sunday (more if you are serving that day in some capacity), Care Group, CG Women’s Prayer, CG Men’s Prayer, Care Group with your teen, Youth Meeting with your teen, Children’s Ministry serving (once a month for each parent), Any Children’s Ministry Training/Planning, Any of the multiple Homeschooling Training, Planning, or Activities OR Parent Meetings or volunteering for Covenant Life School (if at CLC)…

AND AFTER you go to parenting classes, women’s meetings/retreats, men’s meetings/retreats, marriage retreats, Youth retreat with your teen, evangelism and counseling training courses, other courses on various doctrine and sin related topics derived from long, Puritan tomes…

AND after you read some or many of those long, Puritan tomes…

AND after you read the latest SGM published or recommended books and catch up on the ones you did read last year and should have…

AND if you are a CGL/wife, AFTER you go to meetings to be trained or “honored” multiple times through the year at your pastor’s house or the church building, after you meet with various people in your Care Group for meals and fellowship and counseling, AFTER you serve everyone in your Care Group move or help when they are sick or had a baby…

AND after you spend weekly date times with your spouse, special dates with each child, homeschool field trips or volunteering at your Christian School, keep your house in order with no clutter, plan your meals for 30 days in advance, shop with coupons at various grocery stores to get good deals, dress well, exercise, take your kids to a multitude of church-sponsored or people-in-the-church sponsored activities…AND be available daily to your husband for…xyz…

AND after you do intense introspection on your own terrible manifestations of indwelling sin (Is exhaustion one?)…

Only THEN are you supposed to reach out to the non-believing neighbor who lives next door and share the gospel…and hopefully get them to come to church so they can….fit sharing the gospel AFTER you go to 2-3 hour Church Meeting each Sunday (more if you are serving that day in some capacity), Care Group, and so on…

No one directly TELLS you that you HAVE to do any or all of these things (except the Sunday Meeting and Care Group, you have to regularly attend, if a member or have a special permission from the pastor to not) AND you HAVE to TITHE to be a CGL (where is THAT in the NT?)

No one makes you do all this…but there is the pressure of the group-think. Everyone ALWAYS asks each other “Are you going to such and such?” There is much emphasis on being in involved with ALL of this as being equivalent to being a mature Christian, as well as, some other area of serving specific to your area of “gifting” in the church like sound-crew, scouting, sports teams, “you name it”, from the pulpit, to the point that I think people get literally burned out, fall into some sin, or get depressed! OR if they are a Type A personality, then they thrive on this and wonder what’s wrong with everyone else??!!

It is a vicious cycle of activity that Jesus NEVER meant to equal living the Christian life!!! :beat

SGM Survivors

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: August 26, 2012 11:16PM


I know this is a VERY broad generalization, and I know that as soon as I say this, someone will come along and cite all sorts of examples of how this generalization isn’t true. But a trend I’ve noticed is that SGM seems to hold a special appeal for people who come from shaky family backgrounds, particularly those who did not have strong relationships with their fathers growing up. On one level, I think this has something to do with authority -- about subconsciously wanting to find an authority figure that finally gets the “daddy” thing right. On a more surface level, I think there’s also something hugely attractive about the way SGM pastors have historically used their own families as endorsements of their godliness and of the SGM way of life.

The person who has never had satisfying relationships with his familial authority figures arrives at SGM and sees a system that (on the surface, at least) seems very functional and peaceful, where the “daddy” -- the one with the final say -- comes across as a godly, super-nice, and self-effacingly humble guy who actually can be trusted with the power. The other “family members” -- the brothers and sisters -- are as nice and friendly as can be. They also seem very happy and content with how “daddy” is running things. Because of the heavy emphasis on “no gossip!” and “believe the best,” they would NEVER hear about anything about their new “family” that might possibly not be perfect.

This person then looks around and sees all the nice families, and sees the systems that are in place to “ensure” this niceness -- the emphasis on homeschooling, courtship instead of dating, authoritative parenting, parent-controlled youth group -- and they think they’ve found The Answer. In one fell swoop, they’ve found a new “daddy” who gets the authority thing right…they’ve found a new model on which to base their leadership of their own familiy…and they’ve found a unique theological blend that is different than just about anything else out there.

Sure, on a conscious level, most SGMers claim they do not believe their SGM churches are “perfect.” That is often the knee-jerk response to this website -- the “No church is perfect, so how can you dare criticize SGM” mantra. But deep down, I think there’s something in all of us that is looking for The Answer. All of us are looking for perfection.

Christians know -- in theory, at least -- that this perfection is found in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The SGM system provides a place where one can (presumably) grow in that relationship. And then it goes on to provide so much more, all those systems for finally “getting it right.” It doesn’t take long for it to feel like SGM encompasses all parts of The Answer -- the Savior, plus Systems.

SGM Survivors

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: August 27, 2012 03:15AM


Dear Members of Covenant Life,

We (the pastors of Covenant Life) are writing you with heavy hearts. What follows are two separate letters—one from Brian Chesemore and one from Mike Bradshaw—announcing their decision to resign as pastors and withdraw their membership in our church.

We deeply love and respect both of these men, and this has been a difficult challenge. They are both Christ-exalting ministers of the gospel—hard-working and faithful—and we consider this a loss for our staff and for our church. More than that they are dear friends.

Both Mike and Brian informed us of their decision in letters a few weeks ago. Because of vacation schedules, we weren’t able to meet until last week. We hoped that we might convince them to change their minds. We spent two full days discussing extensively our differing points of view, talking together, asking questions, listening carefully to one another, and reviewing our disagreements (Proverbs 19:20). By God’s grace our discussions were marked by mutual love and affection that was peaceable, gentle and open to reason (James 3:17). We sought to soberly consider their concerns and learn from them. We also shared where we’ve recognized that we could have better led in the past month and voiced a desire to continue to examine ourselves.

As we discussed our points of disagreement, we shared with Mike and Brian that we didn’t believe that these issues warranted separation. We want a diversity of perspectives on our team. We asked them to reconsider the decision to resign. While we sincerely love these men and want to support them personally, we also expressed our disagreement with their decision to leave. We did not want them to leave at this time or in this way. We urged them—many times through tears—to stay and press through this difficult season in light of our shared gospel priorities and unity (Colossians 3:13).

Mike and Brian repeatedly communicated their appreciation for our counsel and concerns. We believe they truly listened to our perspective, but sadly we were not able to persuade them to stay.

Mike and Brian requested that they be able to write open letters to the congregation, and we wanted you to have the chance to hear their perspective. At the same time it is important for you to know that your pastors disagree with a number of issues raised in their letters. We have a different perspective on their assessment of the past few years and our relationship and view of Sovereign Grace. And we differ over how they characterize our leadership of the church since Brent’s documents were released. Most importantly, we don’t think that these issues rise to a level that necessitates a separation. That being said we know they are men of godly conviction and are acting in accordance with their consciences. We also recognize that in light of the unique family dynamics created by this situation, they’re seeking to do
what they think is best for their families.

We want you to know that we’re glad to discuss any of these issues more fully with you. Please bring us your questions. Whether you agree or disagree with Brian and Mike, we welcome your thoughts and concerns. Ultimately, we believe the gospel is bigger than any of these issues and that we can walk in unity as we wrestle through them together (Ephesians 4:1-6).

As you know, through this trying time we’ve made some course corrections in our leadership. Though we’re imperfect and weak, we believe we are leading according to God’s Word and doing our best to be faithful pastors to you. We also recognize that we could be wrong in different areas and not realize it. Our commitment to you is that if in the future God shows us we’re wrong through his Word, your correction, or through the counsel of others, we will seek to humble ourselves, admit that to you, and make appropriate changes to how we are leading. Please pray that we would be both courageous as we lead but also humble and quick to admit our faults.

A word for parents. If your children have sat under Mike Bradshaw’s skillful leadership, the news that the beloved “Mr. B” will no longer be a pastor will no doubt be very difficult information for them to hear. Mike has made an incredible investment in their lives through his teaching on Sundays and at Summer Celebration. We’d encourage you to be thoughtful and prayerful in how you share this news with them. Set aside time for an unhurried conversation. Give them time to ask questions. Give them time to grieve. With our own children we’ve sought to share that sometimes Christians who love Jesus have different opinions. (Sharing the story of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15 might be a good introduction to the subject.) Tell them that what is most important is that we love Mr. B, and that Mr. B loves them, and we all love and want to serve Jesus.

Mike and Brian (along with their dear wives and children) are brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s remember that this isn’t changing. The gospel of Jesus Christ has brought us into relationship together, not our agreement on secondary issues. In light of Christ’s love we want to exhort you to continue to love Mike and Brian and their families. Don’t remove your love and affection toward them in any way. In situations like this where there is real disagreement or a change in relationship, we must still be guided by gospel priorities in light of Christ’s reconciling, atoning work on our behalf. We believe Colossians 3:12-15 is an appropriate place to direct our attention in this time:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

This is not the first time Christians have agreed to disagree. And it won’t be the last. We thank God we agree on what matters most—the gospel of Jesus Christ. We love and respect these men and can commend their ministries to others. We pray that God will bless them in ministry and shower his grace on their lives. And we will always count them our friends and dear brothers. That will never change for us.

We will be holding a Members Meeting this Saturday, August 13, from 6-8 p.m. in the Auditorium. We would hold this sooner, but the WorshipGod conference this week (and a wedding on Sunday) make Saturday the only day that works. We hope you can join us.

Let’s continue to trust the Lord together. He is with us. “In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever” (Psalm 44:8).

For the Glory of Jesus,

Adam Malcolm
Ben Wikner
Braden Greer
Corby Megorden
Dave Brewer
Don Devries
Erik Sheffer
Grant Layman
Isaac Hydoski
Jamie Leach
Joe Lee
Jon Smith
Joshua Harris
Kenneth Maresco
Kevin Rogers
Mark Mitchell
Matt Maka
Robin Boisvert

[ Note: Mike Bradshaw and Brian Chesemore are C.J. Mahaney's sons-in-law ]

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: August 27, 2012 03:18AM


Dear Covenant Life Church Family,

It is with profound sadness that I write to inform you that I have resigned from my role as one of your pastors. Among the greatest joys and highest honors of my life has been to serve you and your children these past eight years (Philippians 1:3-5). I deeply love you and the pastoral team. So it is with a heavy heart, but a sincere desire to serve and care for each one of you and my family, and most of all to honor God, that I make this decision. Please know that this is not an emotional response or impulsive reaction but a careful conclusion I’ve come to through much prayer, deliberation and counsel.

My reason is simple: I can no longer, in good conscience, support the leadership of the pastoral team on key issues, in particular how they have led our church in addressing the accusations brought against C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries.

I first received Brent Detwiler’s documents the afternoon of June 17th 2011, along with the entire pastoral team. Subsequently, we spent many hours discussing the accusations and seeking wisdom from above in order to best serve our church and the people involved (James 3:17). We were all saddened by these accusations. Josh Harris graciously took time to hear from each pastor, giving us the opportunity to voice questions and our varying perspectives during this most critical time. On multiple occasions I was able to express my perspective. I believed my voice, along with others, would be represented and honored at the member’s meetings. However, on the evening of July 10th it became clear that the questions I raised and perspective I brought had little impact on the direction Josh was taking in addressing these matters. When my subsequent appeals were ineffective in altering the course of the following members’ meetings, it became only more evident that I could not support the leadership of the pastoral team on these critical issues and therefore, must resign.

My primary reasons for resigning are as follows:

The failure to biblically process accusations brought against an elder at our July 10th Member’s Meeting, and subsequent meetings, as laid out in Scripture (1 Timothy 5:19-21, Proverbs 18:17, Deuteronomy 19:15-20, Proverbs 18:13, Proverbs 11:13).

The encouragement to read Brent’s documents and the blogs void of guidance and evaluation from the Scriptures; Josh’s specific encouragement for heads of households to read Brent’s documents to examine their desire to be a part of Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries – a statement that brought creditability to these slanderous documents (1 Peter 2:1, Leviticus 19:16, Proverbs 11:13, Proverbs 17:9, Proverbs 10:18, Exodus 20:16, Psalm 50:19-21, Ephesians 4:29-32).

I’m grateful that three weeks after making these statements Josh expressed his regret for not leading us to God’s Word in addressing these matters. However, much damage had already been done.

The failure to publicly and specifically confront gossip and slander among our congregation in a timely manner (2 Timothy 2:14-17, 1 Peter 5:2-3, Ephesians 4:30-31, Proverbs 6:16-19, Acts 20:29-31, Ephesians 4:1-6, 2 Timothy 2:24-26, James 3:1-13).

The misrepresentation of C.J. Mahaney’s character and growth in sanctification at the Members’ Meetings (2 Timothy 4:14-16, Matthew 12:36, James 3:1-13, Psalm 130:3-4, Philippians 3:12-17).

The concern that Josh’s statements regarding Sovereign Grace Ministries were imbalanced, unnecessarily critical, and illegitimately applied to all of Sovereign Grace. Additionally, there has been the absence of appropriate appreciation for the vast fruitfulness of this ministry and our thirty-year partnership in gospel-advancing work both here and abroad (Philippians 1:3-5, Philippians 4:15).

I do not question the motives of your pastors. I believe they truly want God’s best for Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries. They are men I respect and deeply love and am personally indebted to. They are my closest friends! However, I believe they have made serious errors at this most critical time that have led to significant consequences for our church. I am also concerned by the trajectory that these decisions, and the perspectives behind them, point to for our church. It is these factors that compel me to such decisive action.

I too want God’s best for Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries. I believe I can make no greater statement of my love for you than by making this painful decision.

As I have for the last eighteen years, you have my enduring commitment to pray for you and your pastors.

“And this is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians

With love and affection,

Michael Bradshaw (Mr. B)

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: August 27, 2012 03:23AM


Dear Pastors and Members of Covenant Life Church,

I love Covenant Life Church deeply and it broke my heart to recently arrive at the settled place where I believe it is necessary to write this letter of resignation. My hope is that what follows adequately explains the reasons for my transition from the pastoral team I have loved, served, and respected over these last eight years. Coming as this does in the midst of this challenging season, I realize that my decision may well seem sudden and surprising to some, and for that I am very sorry. This is not a decision I have come to quickly and lightly. I have sought to persevere through my concerns, “bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2-3). With this gospel-exhortation before me, I have made my decision prayerfully and soberly over the last year.

My reasons for resigning are twofold.

First, I have observed over the last two years an undeniably diminishing enthusiasm amongst members of our pastoral team for the partnership we share with Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Since 1991, I have had the privilege of attending and serving in three SGM churches. I am passionate about our family of churches and the doctrine, relationships, values, and mission that we share. Although we are in a difficult season as a relatively young movement, I believe God is continuing to guide and grow us in our gospel-mission. We may be hearing a tremendous amount of criticism right now, but because of grace there is a far greater display of gospel-fruitfulness in the churches of our movement.

I returned to Covenant Life in 2003 after a church plant in part because of this church’s strategic partnership with Sovereign Grace Ministries. But for the last two years I have had growing questions and concerns regarding our relationship with Sovereign Grace Ministries which I’ve expressed to Josh, the board of elders, and various members of our pastoral team.

Many discussions have led me to believe that the majority of our pastoral team seems to think there is little to learn from Sovereign Grace. Under our board’s leadership, we have spent far more time criticizing in matters of polity and mission than building up and partnering with SGM even though SGM has been in
the laborious process of leading us in polity refinements for almost two years (Eph. 4:29; Neh. 4:1-20). And our trajectory has been a steady move away from Sovereign Grace, which deeply disappoints me. I’m not suggesting that Covenant Life won’t remain a SGM church. I pray and have a strong hope that it will. But I believe our church has minimized and neglected the privilege of our long-standing partnership with our friends in Sovereign Grace.

I would disagree with this direction and believe our partnership has been historically beneficial and should still be vital. We have the uncommon gift of a “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:5). We don’t exist in this partnership solely to reform it. It is meant to be mutually
beneficial, and I believe we impoverish ourselves when we neglect or minimize the wisdom, experience, and relationships that reside in Sovereign Grace. To go further, I believe Covenant Life’s recent history reveals that we need more help from Sovereign Grace, not less.

I shared my concerns and perspective with the board numerous times and I believe they have faithfully listened. But these conversations did not produce the results I prayed for. Not wanting to react quickly, I chose to persevere in both prayer and appeals for greater appreciation and partnership with the
Leadership Team and churches of SGM. However, my efforts failed to bring encouraging changes in this direction.

For twenty years I have had a passion to serve Sovereign Grace, our weaknesses not withstanding, but I don’t believe I can sufficiently fulfill that desire here at Covenant Life. My decision to resign is rooted in this reality.

I had hoped and planned for a transition much farther down the road, and in a manner that would cause the least amount of pain to people I love and would prefer to spend the rest of my life pastoring. However, the pastoral meetings and recent members’ meetings related to Brent Detwiler’s accusations have expedited this decision for me.

Which brings me to the second reason for my resignation: the failure of the pastoral team to lead in a biblical manner by providing a Scriptural framework through which to view Brent’s documents and the events that followed.

On July 10, 2011, Josh led our church into a season of publicly interpreting Brent’s documents and what he believed to be God’s perspective in these times.
No doubt, the writing and release of these documents required a massive call for discerning and courageous leadership. While I believe Josh has only the best of motives, and wanted only to walk in truth and transparency, I think he failed to provide the essential biblical categories for interpreting these
accusations and in so doing neglected his primary pastoral duty as a shepherd (2 Ti. 3:14-4:4). The alternatives to clear scriptural guidance have serious consequences. I believe the pastors neglected to biblically define Brent’s documents as accusations against an elder and as slanderous (1 Ti. 5:19-21).
Instead, Josh expressed sympathy for the documents and encouraged heads of households to read Brent’s accusations to see if they would want to be a part of Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries.

I could not in good conscience exhort heads of households to read Brent’s documents and I am grateful that Josh later expressed regret for this recommendation. While the documents contain some truth about the sins which C.J. Mahaney has confessed, they also contain large amounts of sinful judgment, claiming even to understand C.J.’s motives (Matt. 7:1-5). They are unreasonable and entirely one-sided (James 3:17; Prv. 18:13, 17). And they should not have been considered without adequate due process in which C.J.’s side was heard. I appealed to this end, and the men heard my appeal, but did not agree.

Our team’s failure to demonstrate adequate impartiality and to bring clear and specific biblical guidelines gave credibility to Brent’s accusations and this has resulted in speculation, gossip, and even slander of C.J.’s character. For over thirty years C.J. has labored to serve faithfully as a pastor. He’s not perfect because he’s not Jesus. But he is a man who has walked with integrity and remains qualified as a minister of the gospel unless clearly shown otherwise through a biblically just process.

Because this didn’t happen, the pastors of our church failed to lead at a critical time. I believe this has had a detrimental effect on our local church, and that our example has had a detrimental effect on churches beyond Covenant Life. I love these men dearly, but for the sake of the gospel, I cannot continue to serve where I have a growing concern about our direction and our adherence to God’s Word when leaders receive accusation. I don’t want to feign unity. From my perspective these are matters that are closely tied to the work of the gospel. And though I love Covenant Life, I believe I’ve arrived at a Paul and Barnabas moment (Acts 15:36-41). I pray that our separation produces the fruit that these two men experienced in their latter years of ministry.

I understand that this letter presents my perspective and may not represent the view of other men on the pastoral team. But with sadness I must submit my resignation.

The pastors and members of Covenant Life will be the daily object of my prayers and gratefulness. I love my fellow pastors and I am indebted to them in more ways than I can name. And the privilege of caring for the dear members of Covenant Life has simply been, and will remain, one of the greatest privileges
of my life.

Brian Chesemore

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: August 27, 2012 04:39AM


Dear Members of Covenant Life,

Yesterday in the e-mail regarding Mike Bradshaw’s and Brian Chesemore’s resignations, we announced that we would have a members meeting this Saturday. We apologize for any inconvenience, but we’ve decided to change the date of this meeting to next Wednesday, August 17, from 7-9 p.m. in the Auditorium.

We hope this will allow more people to participate. It also gives me more time to prepare; this Saturday was going to be a stretch, as I need to prepare the sermon for Sunday morning. We had previously planned on having Thabiti Anyabwile preach to us. Thank you for your understanding and patience with this change. Here are some of the bigger items we plan to address at the Members Meeting on Wednesday.

1. Ad Hoc Committees: We will give an update on the selection of Ad Hoc Committee Members. Reminder: the deadline for making nominations is August 13. We plan to select 20 people from the names the congregation nominated and present this list to the congregation to affirm.

2. Caring for Victims of Sexual Abuse: We’ll communicate how we’re seeking to reach out to people on the blogs who have shared heartbreaking stories of sexual abuse and also make you aware of our policies and practices.

3. Mike’s and Brian’s Resignations: We’ll seek to answer some common questions to this current situation.

4. C.J. Mahaney Attending Capitol Hill Baptist Church During Leave of Absence: This is a big one and I wanted to share it with you here and talk about it more at the Members Meeting. C.J. and the Sovereign Grace Board have let us know that they think it is best for C.J. and Carolyn to attend Capitol Hill Baptist Church during his leave of absence. In June, when C.J. realized that a leave might be necessary, he began pursuing Mark Dever (pastor of CHBC) about pastoral care and counsel for both himself and Carolyn. He thinks that in addition to continuing the care he is receiving from Mark, it would serve him and his family to worship with Mark’s church during this time. We’re torn over this decision. We understand C.J. wanting to attend where he feels he can best be cared for and best serve his family, but we also have reasons why we think it would be good for him to stay at Covenant Life. C.J. has also expressed concerns and points of disagreement with how we have been leading during this season. He’s communicated a desire to work through these issues with us in the coming months with the help of mediators from Ambassadors of Reconciliation. We are all eager to do this and have told C.J. we’re ready to meet as soon as he’s ready.

5. Improving Our Communication: We’re seeing that we need to grow in effective communication with the church and would like to share ideas and invite your input.
We look forward to being with you next Wednesday. Let’s continue to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). And please keep your pastors in your prayers. We are weak and fallible but filled with hope in God.

On Behalf of the Pastors,

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: August 27, 2012 10:23AM


Many of you have kindly inquired about my leave of absence and how I will be spending my time during this season. Before I give you an update, I want to take this moment to thank each of you who have expressed your encouragement and your support in prayer.

Some of you have asked where I will be attending church during my leave. That’s a good question, as it’s not uncommon for pastors to take a leave in a church that is away from their home congregations, and this seems wise. During my leave of absence I will be attending Capitol Hill Baptist Church where Mark Dever is the senior pastor. After seeking counsel about this decision, I’ve concluded that this is the best place for Carolyn and me to receive care and counsel, to examine my life and leadership, and to consider my future during this season of reflection. I want to learn all I can during this season, and I pray that this time will benefit not only me but Sovereign Grace as well.

Mark and I have a rich history of friendship. I met Mark thirteen years ago and since then we have become very close friends. Mark has been not only a unique friend but also a mentor to me. I want to continue to take advantage of our friendship and his mentoring as much as possible during this time, benefiting from Mark’s unique pastoral wisdom and his gift of leadership. I am deeply grateful for his kindness and this opportunity. Actually, other than my wife Carolyn and those with whom I have served closely in Sovereign Grace Ministries, no one has had more influence on my life in the last ten years than Mark.

This leave of absence from my role as president of SGM will allow me the time necessary to process the valuable feedback I have received (and continue to receive), and to devote time to consider how I can best serve Sovereign Grace Ministries in the future. I’m seeking and benefiting from the advice of the SGM board and a number of leaders in the broader church—men I admire and who have become my friends over the years. I am approaching this task without making any assumptions or presuming upon any particular outcome. By God’s grace and the kindness of these men I am not lacking wise counsel as I seek to discern the will of God about how I might most effectively serve when this leave of absence concludes.

So for those who have kindly asked, I hope this information is helpful. I deeply appreciate the encouragement and support of so many at this time. I simply do not know how to adequately express this, but I trust you feel my deep gratefulness for your support. And I would appreciate your prayers, given the importance of the decisions before me and their impact on Sovereign Grace Ministries, the pastors I respect the most and the people of our churches for whom I have the deepest affection.

With gratefulness,


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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: August 27, 2012 10:27AM


Kris says: Yesterday, I received the following from Covenant Life Church pastor GS, with a request that I post it…

Dear exCLCer and SGMnot,

This past week I read the stories that you posted on SGMSurvivors. The details are heartbreaking for me, the pastors of Covenant Life, and the members of our church. I cannot imagine the anguish these events have caused for you and your families. I am doubly grieved to know how deeply disappointed you are with the pastoral care you received during that crisis and in the years following.

In my 14 years of pastoral ministry at Covenant Life Church, I have so often failed to love and care for God’s people the way I should. If it weren’t for the grace of our Lord Jesus and the forgiveness of the saints, this pastor would not have the faith to keep caring for God’s precious church. Stories like yours cause me to cry out for more of God’s Spirit, more of God’s heart. I do
not want to fail his children in their time of deepest need!

I realize you don’t have much confidence in the pastors of Covenant Life Church right now, and I can understand that. But would you be willing to talk with me about your experience? Though I am sure it would be painful to review the details, I want to make sure our pastoral team learns all we can from your experience so that we can better serve other families in the future. And if
nothing else, I hope I could express the grief we feel for the suffering you have endured.

Kris has my e-mail address — please let her know if you are willing for me to contact you about this. In the meantime I will be praying for you and your family.

On behalf of the pastors of Covenant Life Church,


(Family Life Pastor)

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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: August 27, 2012 10:33AM


To: GS and all the pastors at Covenant Life Church

Greg, I want to thank you for taking the step to be open and post on this public blog in relation to the past mishandled sex abuse cases discussed here. You have taken a great step to reach out to the hurt, angry, and disenfranchised people who have been in the past “discarded” by various SGM churches, as well as, those who patently disagree with various aspects of SGM’s doctrine and practices. My husband, daughter and I have discussed this entire situation at length and have decided not to call you in relation to the tragedy that occurred in our family. We are no longer CLC members and we wish to move on with our lives, serving God elsewhere. This is particularly true for our daughter. However, I did want to write a response to you openly on SGMsurvivors.

Your blog post appears, on first reading, an apology of sorts, and yet it is not. A number of commenters gave you a huge benefit of the doubt on that. I had not made it known publically before that John Loftness and Gary Ricucci were the pastors involved in our sex abuse case, but you as a pastoral staff most assuredly knew that. [These were the same pastors who 6 years earlier had been involved in exCLCer’s case] Both of these men have since then been promoted within SGM ranks. JL is a Senior Pastor and on the SGM Board and GR is a “SGM Pastor”. To send an email from yourself and “on behalf of the pastors of Covenant Life Church,” while it may be heartfelt, gave the false impression that there had been some sort of conviction of wrong doing by the pastors involved in these sex abuse cases. Nowhere in this email is an actual apology of the errors in judgment by these pastors.

You desire to talk to us, saying, “I want to make sure our pastoral team learns all we can from your experience so that we can better serve other families in the future,” and I’m glad that you do, however, I am sure that you can read between the lines of the various sex abuse stories and the resulting blog comments from hundreds of people and figure it out. You don’t need to talk to us. I would encourage you, though, to discuss an appropriate policy for handling sex abuse cases with professionals that deal specifically with sex abuse victims.

I agree with Kris’s comment:

“I would also encourage Mr. Somerville to step outside his SGM box and look at the larger picture. As he thinks about exCLCer’s and SGMnot’s stories, he needs to realize that the harsh and hard-hearted responses of the pastors involved in those situations have much broader root causes. He needs to understand that there is a much MUCH bigger problem beneath the surface than just two (or a half-dozen or however many) badly handled cases of sexual abuse….while I believe that yes, it is important for SGM/CLC pastors to reach out to all victims of specific situations, I actually think it is just as important for these pastors to examine the trends. Examine the root causes. Examine what it is about what their organization has trained them to believe what enabled these horrific things to happen in the first place.”

I believe many of the critical bloggers and commenters in the blogosphere have clearly communicated what these root causes are and there is much to be learned from critics.

Instead of calling you privately, I would like to ask some pointed questions publically, that summarize what I believe are the crux of the pastoral mishandling of our cases. And I would like to encourage you, or better yet JL and GR, to post responses on this blog. I believe that this will help in the healing process of all those hurt and abused in the midst of these sex abuse cases:

What were the reasons that CLC pastors felt they had the authority and right to interject themselves into the legal system, as it dealt with the crime of child sex abuse, and to try to negate or minimize the appropriate sentencing for those crimes by asking victims’ parents to delay or not call the police and to ask parents’ of victims to advocate for the perpetrators by letters or statements asking for leniency? (This was, particularly egregious, in regards to exCLCer’s stepfather’s crime of child molestation of her sister of approximately 4 years!)
When JL counseled us “don’t call the police”, after he ALREADY had directly pastored another family in the midst of a sex abuse case and DEFINITELY knew that the law required us to do so, AND that it would be in the best interest of our daughter and other possible victims, why did he do that and has he been censored/disciplined through his employers, SRC/SGM?
Why did JL instruct us to tell no one, not even our Care Group, close family, and even close friends living with us? Did they consider the privacy of the perpetrator and his family as more important than the crisis that we were going through? Or was the secrecy because they were more concerned with the reputation of CLC than our emotional and psychological needs? In both cases, why wasn’t the embarrassment and shame of others knowing about these crimes part of the NATURAL CONSEQUENCES of committing such a crime?
Were there any direct funds or donations from SGM or CLC paid for the legal fees of either perpetrator or their family during these court cases? And if so, will you make financial restitution to the victims and their families, in particular, to the children of exCLCer’s family for any psychological counseling that they have needed from the sexual molestation or the errors in judgment by the pastors handling these cases?
What was the length of time between the discovery of sin, which was deemed serious enough to excommunicate a woman with 9 children and no viable source of income, whose child had recently been a victim of such a horrible, longstanding sexual molestation by a church member, and the time in which she was asked to leave? Why was there not a LONG season of longsuffering for this woman and her children? And was there any impropriety in the decision to excommunicate her, because she had dared to not agree to your counsel or so that the perp’s identity would be protected?
Why was the ENTIRE church of approximately 1000 members at that time, a church supposedly built upon the practicing the “One Anothers” of scripture, not allowed the opportunity to serve and care for all these children rather than having them placed in a often-flawed, secular foster system? Thus, multiplying many times over the re-victimization of these children and destroying in the process any faith or trust that some of them had in God?!
Why did JL and GR not answer the confrontive letters and emails that exCLCer sent them each year on the anniversary date of her family being thrown out of the church? How could they turn a deaf ear to her cries for justice, year after year, until finally this past summer when a male member of CLC inquired about her case? She has more heart and passion than many who call themselves Christians!!
After reading our case stories and the resulting outrage online, do you as a pastoral team understand clearly what child molestation is, so that this crime will not be minimized by calling it “teenage experimentation”, or in exCLCer’s case “attraction of the woman that she was becoming” or some other excuse. And will you create a written, zero-tolerance policy that will specifically support victims and their families with follow-up counseling, as needed, AND clearly protect other possible victims in the church family as the primary goals VS. emphasizing the care, legal advocacy, and privacy of the perpetrators?

It is my hope that through this very painful discipline of the Holy Spirit that CLC and SGM, at large, are experiencing will bear fruit and bring about a deeper understanding and practice of the love of God. I believe that the failures of CLC’s pastoral team in caring for sex abuse cases have become public as part of that discipline. As the other cases posted and referred to on SGMsurvivors testify, this mishandling of sex abuse cases has been a pervasive pattern within SGM. And it is my hope that this entire family of churches will decisively deal with this grievous pattern and the underlying root causes of wrong theological emphases, and put an end to it.

In conclusion, I would urge the pastors of CLC and SGM to not discount the criticisms and opinions of people commenting on this and other related blogs. I am sure that it is very difficult to hear strong words, sometimes communicated in anger or frustration. There is much to learn from those who have passion and take the time to express their thoughts. Also, I believe that the biblical step of a clear, detailed repentance is in order from JL and GR, even though all the victims and family members appear to not want to hear it. This blog would be a good format to do that in, since some of the family members from these cases, at this time, will not set foot in a church building!

May God continue to work in each of our lives,


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Re: Sovereign Grace Ministries
Posted by: Maranatha Trail ()
Date: August 27, 2012 10:51AM


I was actually considering writing some sort of response to Tim Challies myself. When I saw Brian’s post, I realized I didn’t need to -- he pretty much said everything I would have said, and since he’s an SGM insider, his words are more powerful than mine would be.

The only thing I would consider adding would have to do with this assertion from Mr. Challies:

It was almost 6 weeks ago that this information came to light. Beyond a brief mention in an interview, this is the first I’ve written about it, despite being rebuked by a handful of bloggers and receiving many email requests for comment. I guess this is the kind of situation I typically comment on since, in some ways, that’s what I do on this blog: I try to write about what is of interest to Christians in this little slice of the Christian world. Yet I have hesitated, not because I am in any way formally connected to SGM or CLC and not because I have anything to lose. [emphasis added]

I used to have a lot of respect for Tim Challies. I discovered his blog way back in the early days, before it became his full-time occupation. (He used to be employed in the I.T. profession, if memory serves, but once he’d built enough of a name for himself, and had a book contract, he was able to quit that job and focus on blogging/writing full-time. I also believe he’s now employed at least part-time by his church as one of its “teaching elders,” a position he was offered no doubt at least in part because of his blogging fame.)

I think I found his site way back in 2004 or 2005 while looking for information about Rick Warren. My parents’ church had been suddenly overtaken by “Purpose-Driven” stuff, and my dad and I had been having discussions about what was bothering him about Warren’s materials. We found Mr. Challies’ analysis of the “Purpose-Driven” movement to be very helpful. I also appreciated his various book reviews.

Interestingly enough, it was Challies’ live-blogging from SGM conferences -- as well as his positive reviews of SGM materials and how obviously enamored he was with CJ Mahaney -- that caused Guy and me to visit and then stick around our SGM church as long as we did. By the time we were attending our SGM church, I’d developed into such a Challies fan-girl that I kept telling myself, “Surely you must just be imagining that there’s something wrong here. Surely a guy like Tim Challies cannot be wrong. He’s got such great discernment about everything else!”

Later, though, after we’d left SGM and then stumbled upon SGM’s long history of spiritual abuse because of interacting with others on this blog, I began to have my doubts about Tim Challies. I’d contacted him probably 3 or 4 weeks after first hearing of some of the really bad stories, just knowing that he’d take some of the same brain power and energy he’d directed toward deconstructing Rick Warren’s “Purpose-Driven” materials and use it to take a closer look at SGM.

Well, I was wrong. He did answer my email, but it was the briefest and most non-committal of responses. About six months later, I think I wrote him again, and once again got something like a one-sentence email in return.

I guess I’m a little bit slow, because I still didn’t get it. I still didn’t understand why it was that Tim Challies could critique Rick Warren but seemed to be so willfully oblivious about problems with CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries.

I can’t quite remember when it was that the pieces finally began to fall into place. Maybe it was something one of the commenters here said. I don’t recall anymore. But one day I realized that -- contrary to what Tim Challies asserted in his post yesterday --

…Yet I have hesitated, not because I am in any way formally connected to SGM or CLC and not because I have anything to lose.

Tim Challies does indeed have some pretty close connections with Sovereign Grace Ministries. And whether he wants to acknowledge it or not, he does indeed have something to lose!

The “Reformed” world is pretty tight these days. Tim Challies supports his family of 5 at least in part through ad revenues from his blog, and through royalties he earns from his books. I don’t have a copy of Challies’ latest book in front of me, but I am fairly certain either CJ Mahaney himself or one or more of CJ’s close cohorts provided book blurbs (endorsements) for the cover. SGM also has an eager book-buying population. Historically, if CJ recommends a book, the book will be sold in SGM bookstores (and at SGM book tables), and SGM lemmings will stand in line to buy whatever their pastors recommend.

It’s now totally logical, why Tim Challies wouldn’t dare to break ranks with the likes of Reformed Big Dogs like Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan. Or even of the Junior Reformed Big Dogs like Kevin DeYoung. All of these men have given CJ a free pass and have declared Brent’s documents to be meaningless. Challies wouldn’t dare be the lone voice going against that crowd.

So he gives us his half-hearted sermonette about the evils of Wikileaks for Christians. Even as he admits that he hasn’t read all of Brent’s documents, he pronounces judgment on them and feels free to declare that they primarily represent an “interpersonal conflict.” Mr. Challies seems grimly determined to overlook the obvious larger picture that is present in the fact that Brent Detwiler grew so frustrated over trying to call CJ to some sort of formal accountability over the course of a decade that Brent believed he had no other alternative but to send out his documents to a large circle of SGM pastors. If such a dramatic move doesn’t indicate serious organizational flaws (and not just a “largely interpersonal conflict”) I’m not sure what does.

Mr. Challies -- the guy who first garnered a blog following by picking apart Rick Warren and making a name for himself as having “discernment,” even going so far as writing a book about discernment -- now shows us that when his livelihood is at risk, his discernment takes a vacation.

Within the context of SGM, I now believe that Mr. Challies’ discernment is about on par with Mr. Mahaney’s humility. Both men may have “written the book” -- but that doesn’t mean they actually live out what they wrote about.

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