C.J. Mahaney’s comments at Covenant Life Church yesterday
July 11, 2011 by Dave Harvey
After last week’s announcement about C.J. Mahaney’s leave of absence, the pastors at Covenant Life Church called a members meeting so that C.J. could address the congregation. Some of his comments are relevant to others in Sovereign Grace churches as well, so we’ve posted them below.
Larry Tomczak was also kind enough to write up his account of his and C.J.’s recent reconciliation. We’ve published those comments as a separate blog post.
Because of my history with this church and my love for this church, I am grateful for the opportunity to address you. I want to thank Josh and the pastoral team for giving me this time.
I am sure for the vast majority here, what you heard the past week about the charges made against me has come as a complete shock. I understand and I am so very sorry.
Let me clarify at the outset that your pastors are not the primary object of these accusations—the accusations are primarily directed at me in the context of Sovereign Grace Ministries. This is about me, not your pastors. It is my hope that your relationship with the pastoral team will be strengthened, not weakened, through this. Please provide them with your support at this time. And if you are angry, I understand. But please direct that anger toward me.
My intention tonight is to share with you a few of the ways I believe I have sinned and some of the failures in my leadership, and help you understand to some degree how we have arrived where we find ourselves this evening.
A few years ago I started to realize that there were a number of former SGM pastors who had offenses with SGM and/or me. So I began to pursue some of them for the purpose of reconciliation. In January of 2010 I sent Brent Detwiler an email asking if he had any offense with me, communicating my desire to meet with him and hear him out. In 2009 Brent had been pastoring a church in North Carolina and left SGM.
When Brent responded to my email, he informed me that he was not willing to meet with me but that he would interact with me through email and written documents. Two months later I received a 130-page document from him outlining his perspective about my sins and failures as a leader in SGM.
I need to tell you up front that after reading this document and ones that followed, I don’t agree with a number of Brent’s charges and conclusions, nor the manner with which he has presented his offenses. However, my purpose this evening is not to criticize Brent or defend myself, but to inform you about various ways I have sinned and failed at different points in my ministry.
The central focus of Brent’s initial document was how I processed, responded to, and led through a relational conflict we had in 2003-2004. This conflict began when Brent and Dave Harvey brought to me correction related to certain character deficiencies and deficiencies in my leadership of the team. Rather than humbly listening to their critique and examining my heart, I reacted sinfully to what I perceived as their deficient manner of presentation, and this began a season where I was resistant to their correction.
Here is what they experienced from me:
- I was difficult to entreat.
- I sinfully judged their motives.
- I was arrogantly confident in my perception.
- I compared myself favorably to them.
- I was offended by what I thought to be a lack of appreciation from them for all I had done for them, and a lack of care for me in a season of trials.
And though we continued to work together, I gradually withdrew from them in my soul. And added to this I arrogantly dismissed their critique and did not inform others of their critique even after I agreed to do so. So I was in effect confirming the accuracy of their correction by how I was behaving.
In 2004 at the end of a lengthy process of correcting me and with the help of my small group I began to perceive some of these sins and ask forgiveness for those sins, and those in my small group were able to affirm some evidences of conviction, repentance, and growth. But in looking back my perception of my sin, my confession of sin, and my follow up with those I sinned against was woefully inadequate. I never circled back around to Brent or Dave to convey to them where they were right or the changes I was pursuing. And I neglected to inform Josh [Harris], Grant [Layman], and Kenneth [Maresco] about the specifics of Dave and Brent’s concerns.
When I received Brent’s first document, I sent it to a group of men who could help me evaluate the content of the document and these offenses from 2004. God used Brent’s document and the correction of my friends to help me see the sins I already mentioned much more clearly; and not just the sins, but the effects of those sins upon those I was called to serve with.
Let me introduce you to another failure of my leadership. I have been poor at establishing a process for resolving conflict and I have at times sought to manage the process on my own. In light of Brent’s offenses I should have immediately asked the SGM leadership team to lead the evaluation process and not attempted to manage the process on my own.
Brent was unwilling to meet with me personally. He insisted that my response be in written form to his satisfaction before he would meet with me personally and for months I let the process drift. I was reluctant to comply with him and thought it best to pursue reconciliation in person. Months passed. I’m sure the time delay tempted Brent and I am sorry for this.
In the fall Brent sent a second document, this one 165 pages in length. In this document Brent further illustrated failures he had observed in my leadership. He pointed out how defensive I could become when my integrity was questioned—which was accurate—and added further illustrations of the sins I already noted. Brent also detailed how he believed my sinful patterns ultimately contributed to his dismissal as a pastor from his church in 2009.
After receiving the second document, I sent it to the SGM leadership team, eight Covenant Life Church elders, and some friends who have known me and worked with me for many years. I asked them to read the documents and provide me with their honest evaluation of me not only in relation to the documents but any sins or leadership failures they would have observed apart from these documents in their own experience with me.
I spent a day together with these men in November of 2010 where I could hear evaluation from each of them. It was a sad and painful day for me to recognize that Brent was not the only one to experience the effects of my sin, but to various degrees many of the other men in the room had as well. At the end of the day I asked the men to forgive me. I then circled back around to a number of them privately to ask forgiveness more specifically. I then proceeded to write Brent a letter of confession for the sins I was perceiving and appealed for mediation so that we could receive help in being reconciled through an impartial third party. Brent wrote back and informed me my confession was not specific enough and asked that I review the documents again.
At this time, the SGM board assumed full responsibility for the process and I recused myself from any discussion or decisions regarding Brent’s complaint. They asked me to respond to Brent with a more detailed confession, so I asked my friend John Loftness to catalogue all of Brent’s charges and to spend a day going over each one with me so I could respond to Brent with a greater degree of specificity. With the help of John and the board, I then crafted a second confession of about ten pages. It saddens me to report to you that Brent did not find this confession adequate.
Throughout this time I was also benefitting from the counsel of Ken Sande of Peacemaker Ministries. Ken reached out to Brent and proposed a process of mediation that Brent declined. We then began to discuss involving an outside panel to evaluate Brent’s charges even if Brent declined to participate.
Last month Brent sent a third document, this one 200 pages in length. In this document Brent pointed out my leadership failures in 1997 when Larry Tomczak left SGM after relocating to Atlanta to plant a church. During this time Larry and I had a conflict over how we would describe his leaving SGM. It grieves me to report to you that in a particular phone conversation I sought to coerce Larry to present his leaving as I thought was right. (And by the way none of your current pastors would have known this. It involved SGM not CLC.) And when Larry did leave, my public announcement of his departure was self-righteous in attitude and critical of Larry at a very vulnerable time in his life. I highlighted his sin alone, and I was blind to my own. I’m deeply grieved by this.
But I am happy to report that seven months before Brent’s third document arrived, a letter arrived on my desk from Larry Tomczak asking if we could be reconciled. By the grace of God I agreed and this led to a series of meetings we had in Nashville. I am humbled and delighted to report to you that when I confessed my sins to Larry and Doris they freely, immediately, and graciously forgave me. If memory serves me that was in December last year.
Larry and I stood side by side and cofounded CLC. We stood side by side and cofounded SGM. Sin separated us, but I will have the sweet joy to stand side by side with him again in November when he joins us as a special guest at our Pastors Conference. I hope to do the same at CLC to welcome him back. Actually when we do this I think it would be appropriate if I stand off to the side. Larry has been a wonderful example of extending forgiveness.
There are certainly other examples I could give of these sin categories: examples that have hurt others, hindered my leadership, gone against what I’ve taught, and—most significantly—dishonored God. But the past year and a half has helped me see these things and forced me to confront these things in a much more thorough way than I ever have before. And so, in a way typical of our gracious God, these difficult months have quite obviously been for my good. I believe through these things God is disciplining me for my sin and leadership failures and I am very grateful for this discipline. Hebrews 12 tells how I should respond to this discipline: don’t be indifferent to it, and don’t be overwhelmed by it.
I bear a unique and primary responsibility for all that took place in 1997, 2004, and on other occasions as well. I am grateful to God that I am perceiving my sins and leadership failures. I’m aware that I am a sinner in need of grace and I am grateful for the forgiveness that Jesus purchased for my sins.
There is however an element in Brent’s storyline that I do not agree with. He asserts that my sins and leadership failures contributed directly to his removal from his church and SGM. I don’t believe I have the final word on this, nor should I, and I have welcomed the recommendation of the SGM board that we establish a panel of respected leaders outside SGM to study these charges and give us their evaluation of me and the ministry as a whole.
I asked the board for a leave of absence from my position as President so I can have no position of influence in this process or its outcome, and so that every charge can be thoroughly evaluated. The evaluation of the panel will be made public and communicated to you.
But this evening I want to communicate my sorrow for my sin and leadership failures and their effects on others; in particular you, the church I love the most. I want to ask for your forgiveness for these sins and their effects on you.
Please pray for me, but let me give you my greater burden: please pray for SGM. I want to do all I can do to spread the gospel. I want to protect your relationship with your pastors. I want to protect the pastors and churches of SGM. And above all I want to please and glorify God whatever this requires of me. Not surprisingly there are matters of policy and practice that need correction. I bear primary responsibility for this since these deficiencies have been revealed on my watch. Please don’t misunderstand, this is not a blanket assessment of SGM churches or pastors. But we need to make some changes in:
- Our polity and structures of accountability for pastors. We have been hard at work on this one for two years and that needs to continue.
- How we evaluate pastors. In some instances, the way we have evaluated pastors in the past has been inconsistent and, some cases, flawed.
- How pastors correct one another. Again, this is not applicable to every pastor or pastoral team, but where appropriate we want to grow here.
- How we resolve conflict.
Please also pray that Brent and I would be reconciled. We were once good friends. I pray that because of the gospel that friendship would be restored.
Most importantly, pray that God would be glorified through all of this by reconciling broken relationships wherever they may exist in our churches, and by bringing about the fruit and effect of the gospel that has so graciously saved each of us.