C.J. Mahaney: “Why I’m Taking a Leave of Absence”
C.J. Mahaney writes:
Over the last few years some former pastors and leaders in Sovereign Grace have made charges against me and informed me about offenses they have with me as well as other leaders in Sovereign Grace. These charges are serious and they have been very grieving to read. These charges are not related to any immorality or financial impropriety, but this doesn’t minimize their serious nature, which include various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.
I believe God is kindly disciplining me through this. I believe I have by the grace of God perceived a degree of my sin, and I have been grieved by my sin and its effects on others. I have had the opportunity to confess my sin to some of those affected in various ways by my sin. And I am so very grateful for their forgiveness. But I want to perceive and confess any and all sin I have committed. Although my experience of conviction has already started—and this is an evidence of God’s mercy—I’m sure there is more for me to perceive and acknowledge. Even with the charges I disagree with it has been beneficial to examine my soul and ask for the observation of others. And I am resolved to take responsibility for my sin and every way my leadership has been deficient, and this would include making any appropriate confessions, public or private. Most importantly I want to please God during this season of examination and evaluation.
So here is what I am going to do. I’ve asked to take a leave of absence in order to give time to considering these charges, examine my heart, and receive the appropriate help from others. With the guidance of the SGM board, I would also hope to pursue reconciliation with former pastors of Sovereign Grace during this leave. I have stepped off the board and I will not be the President of Sovereign Grace Ministries during this period of examination and evaluation. In order for me to receive an objective evaluation in relation to these charges the board is securing the help of a third-party ministry that has no history of relationship with SGM. With counsel from that ministry, the board will determine the appropriate steps I should take going forward. After processing these findings, the board will determine the appropriate steps I should take going forward. This leave of absence will also help remove any impediment to the panel’s exploration that could potentially arise if I remained in my current position, and it will enable me to fully cooperate in the process.
Just so you’ll know, I have also contacted David Powlison and Mark Dever and asked them to review the charges and provide me with their counsel and correction. I have enlisted them to serve me personally during this time and to ensure this process of examining my heart and life is as thorough as possible. And for the past year I have been the recipient of Ken Sande’s correction, counsel and care. That, I am grateful to say, will continue. And as you would expect I will continue to meet with the appropriate men on the board of Sovereign Grace and benefit from their correction, counsel, and care as well. I am deeply moved as I reflect on how rich I am relationally and I am humbled by the time these men are willing to spend serving me and Sovereign Grace.
My friends, I would greatly appreciate your prayers as I continue to walk through this process. Please pray that God would give me the gift of sight where I have been blinded by my sin and others have been adversely affected by my sin. Pray that I will be convicted and experience godly sorrow resulting in reconciliation where necessary and adjustments to my heart and leadership. Thank you for praying in this way for me.
One more thing. For the past 5 years or so I have become increasingly aware of certain deficiencies in my leadership that have contributed to deficiencies in Sovereign Grace Ministries’ structure and governance, the lack of a clear and consistent process of conflict resolution and pastoral evaluation, and the number of former Sovereign Grace pastors who are offended with me/SGM. I have met with some and by God’s grace there has been reconciliation with men like Larry Tomczak (I wish I had recognized and repented of my sin against him years ago). This brings great joy to my soul. In other cases, appeals for mediation have thus far been declined, but I’m hopeful this process will facilitate further reconciliation. But beyond this, there are still issues that need to be addressed and fixed in our family of churches. And I bear a primary responsibility because it has happened on my watch and under my leadership. I have resolved that I and the Sovereign Grace team can’t effectively lead us into the future without evaluating the past, addressing these deficiencies, improving our structure, and as much as possible pursuing reconciliation with former pastors. So during this leave of absence I will not only devote all the appropriate and necessary time to the independent panel and the charges but also to doing what I can to identify where I have failed to lead us effectively in relation to pastoral evaluation and conflict resolution.
My friends, though my soul can be easily overwhelmed as I contemplate my sin and its effects on others, I am also resolved to examine my heart, address the past, and play my role in preparing SGM for a future of planting and serving churches. And given the mercy of God portrayed in the gospel my heart is filled with hope that his good purpose for us will come to pass and cannot be frustrated. I trust there will be much grace to tell you of at the end of this process.
Dave Harvey has also written a letter on behalf of the Board of Sovereign Grace Ministries:
By now you may have read C.J.’s letter about recent developments in his life and in Sovereign Grace Ministries. We want to take a moment to communicate to you as well concerning these events and inform you of the steps the SGM board is taking in response.
We understand that this news may strike some as sudden and surprising. However, a process has been unfolding over a number of months in which the board has sought to evaluate charges against C.J., assist him in examining his heart and pursuing reconciliation, and bring accountability and guidance to him in this process. Because some of the charges move beyond C.J. to SGM, we also wanted to examine ourselves and our practices both past and current. To that end, we are in the process of securing help from an outside organization that can conduct a thorough and objective review of the charges being brought against C.J. and SGM. We are seeking to identify an organization that has no prior history with us and that has wide respect in Christian circles, and we will keep you posted on that search process as we make progress. We have by no means guided this process flawlessly, but we are learning and growing through this long and difficult process. And we are encouraged by how God appears to be leading us.
It is also important for us to be clear that we are supportive of C.J.’s letter and the decisive actions he has taken. The charges against C.J. are serious, but his response has been one of self-examination and, when possible, specific confession to those sinned against. However, given the numerous events, people, and perspectives involved, the work of an independent panel will be vital to fully examining these charges and arriving at an objective conclusion, especially on those charges with which the board does not agree. We therefore believe the leave of absence is appropriate in the present circumstances to afford C.J. the time to reflect upon his heart and to allow an independent panel space to conduct its review. Like C.J., we are committed to facilitate as thorough and objective a process as possible by an independent panel.
In addition to our search for an independent panel, we have taken other steps in response to these circumstances. In order to secure a broader source of accountability and benefit from a deeper pool of wisdom, we have expanded the board to lead SGM in this season. The current regional leadership team members, all pastors in SGM churches, constitute the additional board members: Craig Cabaniss, Mickey Connelly, Rick Gamache, Pete Greasley, John Loftness, Aron Osborne, Mark Prater, and Steve Shank. We are grateful for the wisdom and experience these men bring to this board and for their willingness to serve in this capacity. To facilitate continuity in our day-to-day operations, the new board has appointed Dave Harvey to act as the interim president during C.J.’s leave of absence.
As for C.J., his primary focus during the leave of absence will be to continue to examine his heart and consider the various charges and offenses, as well as to fully cooperate with an independent panel, once chosen by the board. Any pursuit of reconciliation with aggrieved parties will be guided by the counsel of the board and the independent panel. C.J. has also fully submitted himself to the board’s direction regarding his ministry activities and external commitments during this time.
All of us carry concern for the Mahaneys personally, and the board is working to ensure that a clear and helpful plan is in place to provide adequate care for C.J. and his family during this season. This plan will integrate the local care C.J. receives with other lines of counsel he receives from those outside of SGM.
We realize there is much to process here, and much of it is disconcerting. Our theology serves us well in times like this: God is clearly at work in C.J., in our own lives, and in SGM. Our desire is to embrace all that he has for us in this season, knowing he is working for our good, however difficult that may be. To those in the SGM family of churches, our commitment is that we will, by God’s grace, seek to walk as humbly, wisely, and transparently as possible during this season, and to seek to serve and care for Sovereign Grace churches in whatever way we can. We covet your prayers, and we cherish our partnership with you now more than ever.
If I could offer one short word here: information like this can be difficult to process because you’re not sure what to do with it. I think our natural temptation is to speculate and to gossip, which ultimately accomplishes nothing but destruction. No sin is easier to justify because the care and concern can seem sanctified. It’s worth reading this good post by Ray Ortlund on the topic and meditating upon this question from David Powlison:
What does it mean to cover sins in mercy (not cover-up, but true covering in mercy), to allow others to find care and restoration in their own interpersonal context, rather than attempting to humiliate them before the whole world?
When we’re not sure what to do or how to respond, I think we should seek to default to the “all / always / whenever” passages in the NT:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (Phil. 4:4)
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:18)
“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” (Eph. 6:16-18)
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)
When in doubt, King Jehoshaphat’s prayer is always appropriate: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chron. 20:12).