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Monday
Jul092018

Five Covenant Life Pastors Who Resigned Talk about Sin Issues with Lead Pastor P.J. Smyth that Led to His Firing  

I received the document below about P.J. Smyth on Saturday night.  You can read the original here.  It was put together by a group of individuals at Covenant Life Church in conjunction with the five pastors who recently resigned in a collective effort to inform members of the sin issues related to P.J. in preparation for a members’ meeting last night (Sunday) where P.J.’s planting a church in area was announced.  

An editor and group of compilers gathered the information from the following pastors who have resigned.  They are Bo Lotinksy (chairman of the elder board), Tim Harvey (vice-chairman of the elder board), Dave Brown, David Finch and Adam Malcolm.  They all want the truth about P.J. to be known because the remaining pastors (henceforth referred to as elders) are keeping it from the church. 

The editor added bold print, underlining, comments in brackets [ ] and footnotes.  I have added comments in alternative brackets { }.    

At the meeting last night, P.J. told everyone he would pioneer an exciting church plant just 10-20 minutes away from Covenant Life Church in November.  He also announced a special vision night meeting in late July or early August for members interested in following him.      

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PJ’s History with Covenant Life and its Significance Going Forward
Introduction and Explanation 

What does this paper contain? 
This is an account, from the perspective of the resigning elders, of PJ’s history with Covenant Life, from the search process {Apr.-Dec. 2015} up to the present time.   

What’s not included in here?
So far as we know, we have not included unsubstantiated statements, idle speculation, gossip or slander.  To the best of our abilities this is a factual compilation of the views of the departing elders, mostly in their own words.   

Why is it important that members hear about these concerns now that PJ is leaving?  
Members need to be informed so they can be part of the discussion as details of public endorsement and possible financial support for PJ’s church plant are being worked out.  Additionally, members departing with PJ who appreciate his obvious giftings need to understand his significant weaknesses as well, so that they can help him to build a healthy church.  

{Comment: P.J. should not be allowed to plant a church.  He is clearly unqualified.  This should never have been an option given the magnitude of his sins over the last 18 months.  He can’t possibly build a “healthy church.”  The remaining CLC elders are compromising themselves like past elders did with C.J. Mahaney when they supported his church plant and refused to remove him from ministry.  The remaining elders endorsed P.J. and his church plant without qualification last night.} 

Our purpose for writing:
Members of Covenant Life should be informed not only of the “headlines” of recent issues, but important details that have not yet been shared with members.  In endeavoring to be gracious to PJ, the CLC elders have not given us a complete account. 

We believe that this information from the resigning elders will help to clear the confusion that members have experienced in recent weeks. 

If we are to build a strong and healthy Covenant Life going forward, the members must be an integral part of the solution.  Inclusion and openness is key. 

{Comment: The CLC elders are not being gracious.  They are being dishonest.  They have given a false impression of P.J. because they have withheld “important details.”  P.J. was not a “good fit” for CLC because he was unfit for ministry.  How could anyone allow him to plant a church with people from CLC?} 

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Notes:  

Bolding, italics and underlining have been added by the editor, as the information herein was taken from oral interviews {that were made into transcripts}. 

This document is still in DRAFT form and we hope to continue revising as time permits and new information comes in.  Your comments and suggestions for improvement are welcome.  Email:  CovLifefriends@gmail.com 

The elders who provided this information have asked for confidentiality, and we have honored their request.   None of them, nor the compilers of this paper, want to see their name on the World Wide Web!   

{Comment: Each of the elders should courageously attach their name to the quotes they have provided the compilers.  In fact, Bo Lotinsky, Tim Harvey, Dave Brown, David Finch and Adam Malcolm should write up their individual accounts on the World Wide Web since P.J. is the Global Leader of the Advance movement and one of seven top apostles in Newfrontiers movement with over 800 related churches in 70 nations.  Before doing so, they should go to all parties concerned to confront their sin and call for their private repentance and public confession.  If that is not forthcoming, they have a biblical obligation to go public.  This is not an issue confined to a local church.  It has worldwide implications.} 

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IMPORTANT: 

Please do not share or electronically transmit this paper to those outside of Covenant Life Church.  Please limit distribution to current members, or those recently departed who still love our congregation and who will agree to confidentiality.   

{Comment: Confidentiality has been used time and again to contain information that should be made public for the safety of God’s people and the accountability of leaders like P.J. Smyth and C.J. Mahaney.} 

## 

A Brief Summary of Issues 

PJ has been untrustworthy while at Covenant Life and has caused harm to the church.  

  • PJ appears to have misrepresented himself in the Pastor Search process.  He made promises that upon arrival he refused to keep.   
  • He broke his promise to provide pastoral care for elders.  He did not work at building friendships among the elders and was not warm and kind to some of the staff and volunteers who worked closely with him. 
  • He failed to show many of his sermons to the preaching team (an established procedure he previously agreed to) and reneged on his promise to take seminar classes and attend an annual workshop (except for once, while still in South Africa). 
  • He did not behave like a mature leader.  He issued ultimatums to the elders but later said he hadn’t meant it, or that it was a “miscommunication.”   
  • Instead of investing time caring for Covenant Life members, elders and staff his focus appears to have been on his work with New Frontiers and Advance.  Though the church has generously paid his international travel expenses for these trips and the elders have agreed to nearly all his proposals, he has responded with accusations and complaints. 
  • Leaders need accountability, but PJ has tried to remove accountability and consolidate power in the Lead Pastor role.   
  • Though possessing an engaging pulpit style, energy and wit, PJ has not been a healing and unifying pastor.  He criticized and belittled CLC elders to leaders in Advance and NFI and polarized the congregation.  Instead of bringing healing and comfort, he has divided the church and caused harm.  

{Comment: This is an excellent summary.  P.J. “misrepresented himself,” “made promises…he refused to keep,” “did not work at building friendships,” “was not warm and kind,” “failed to show many of his sermons to the preaching team,” “reneged on his promise to take seminar classes,” “issued ultimatums to the elders,” “his focus appears to have been on his work with New Frontiers and Advance,” “responded with accusations and complaints,” “tried to remove accountability and consolidate power,” “not been a healing and unifying pastor,” “criticized and belittled CLC elders to leaders in Advance and NFI,” “polarized the congregation,” “divided the church and caused harm.” 

Clearly, P.J. does not meet the qualifications for an overseer (elder, pastor) spelled out by Paul the apostle in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9.  Why is CLC even talking about him planting a church with members?  The elders pride themselves on their Bible knowledge, expositional preaching, and commitment to sound doctrine; but it does not matter if they are unwilling to live under its authority and deal with P.J. in righteousness.} 

What should Covenant Life’s role be in supporting (possibly funding) a church plant to be led by P.J. Smyth?  The congregation should be part of this discussion. 

{Comment:  The answer is obvious.  Members should oppose the church plant.  It was announced last night that the church plant will be funded by those who go with P.J.  But it appears CLC will continue to pay P.J. with benefits until then.  He last preached on March 3 and was fired on April 21.} 

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Why Did Five Elders Choose to Resign at a Critical Time for Our Church?
In May and June, 2018, in the midst of a significant crisis for Covenant Life, the following men resigned from the Board of Elders: Bo Lotinsky (Chairman of the Board of Elders), Dave Brown, Tim Harvey (Vice-Chairman of the Board of Elders), David Finch and Adam Malcolm.  According to one of the departing elders {Dave Brown}, one of the most important reasons for resigning involved PJ’s character, or what another elder more neutrally referred to as “behavior issues.” 

Concerns about PJ’s Character and Leadership 

A broken commitment to pastoral care
Several of the elders shared that PJ had, as part of the hiring process, committed to providing pastoral care for the elders as well as the congregation. “PJ was briefed on CLC’s history, the church split, the lawsuit, budget issues, having to let go so many staff and pastors, and the other issues CLC was trying to deal with, including the Constitution – how we were going to govern ourselves.”  

As part of the hiring process several of the elders had communicated that the vocational pastors were exhausted from all these things and needed pastoral care.  And the whole congregation needed care.  PJ was briefed on all that.” 

The Search Committee questioned PJ about providing care for the elders.  PJ wrote that “his highest priority would be to pastor his fellow elders and their wives.”  But when he started the job a year and a half ago, he immediately stated that he didn’t do pastoral care for other elders. 

{Comment:  P.J. is a con artist like his father, John Smyth.  He will say anything to get what he wants.  In this case, the lead pastor position with Covenant Life Church.  Victims of his father also told me P.J. was not concerned about them.  In one conservation with Mark Stibbe, P.J.’s only concern was to find out information about the on-going criminal investigation of his father in the United Kingdom.  He showed no interest in expressing care or solidarity with the men his father brutally abused and beat.  Someday I may write about this callous and self-centered indifference based on correspondence in my possession.} 

The lack of relationship building
There had been talk about the importance of building a relational team, but one elder said that the elder team became divided from PJ.  “PJ never spent time with individual elders.” 

Another elder amplifies:
“So, here’s the sidebar, and I only came to learn this through several of the staff pastors.  One of the narratives that PJ will share is that ‘the eldership is too big, I can’t possibly get to know everybody.’  The AC {Advisory Committee} and the FAC {Financial Advisory Committee} say the same.  The thing is, though, there are only five or six staff elders.  As of January [2018], we had Robin, Adam Malcolm, Kevin Rogers, Will Laing, Brew [Dave Brewer], Greg Somerville and I think that’s it.  And at that time, Greg had already announced that he was stepping off the team. 

So you have five guys.  You can’t get to know those five guys?  PJ would spend a lot of time with Mark {Mitchell} and Kevin {Rogers}, but [another staff pastor] tried for fifteen months to get a meeting with PJ.  He couldn’t even walk into PJ’s office and knock on the door and say, ‘hey do you have a few minutes to chat?’  ‘No, you have to talk to my secretary.’  And so for fifteen months he tried to get a meeting with PJ and finally got a one-hour meeting.  And he said it was a great meeting, and that he’d had a wonderful conversation with PJ, thought it very congenial, warm and friendly.  But he had to go through Emily [PJ’s secretary] to get that meeting with PJ and he only had that one meeting in the fifteen months PJ’s been here.” 

“And ___, ___ and ___ [three other staff pastors] never had a meeting with PJ.  Now, when I say ‘never had a meeting,’ I mean one-on-one, sit down, let’s have a conversation.  There were staff meetings and 5 planning meetings involving a larger group, but PJ never took the time to really get to know those guys.  To knock on the door and say, ‘hey, what’s going on?’”[1] 

{Comment: P.J. is not about caring for others.  He is about building his kingdom.  Moreover, he broke his word about caring for the elders and building a “relational team.”} 

Another elder noted that PJ “has limitations and blind spots and I would love to see him more enthusiastic about bringing on and cultivating guys who can fill in those blind spots in him.  I haven’t seen that in evidence in him.” 

“He’s clearly used to working with smaller teams with a smaller bandwidth of gifts and skills.  I think he’s been more aware of the difficulties of a large team than he has with [understanding or appreciating] the strengths it can bring.” 

{Comment: P.J. does not want accountability.  He wants control and subservience.} 

PJ’s confusing and contradictory communication
Several elders spoke to PJ’s ongoing practice of saying (or writing) something at one time, then contradicting it without explanation.  One elder characterized this behavior as speaking with “a forked tongue.”[2]  For example, on the questionnaire PJ was asked to fill out in 2015 when he was being interviewed as a candidate for lead elder, he wrote that he thought preaching should be about 80% expositional.  He also agreed that caring pastorally for the other elders on the team, who had been through a lot in the past few years, would be part of his job description.  And he agreed to pursue theological training. 

When he arrived, he broke all those commitments.  The position paper he wrote over the past few months about preaching was highly critical of expositional preaching, at least as practiced at CLC.  When he started the job a year and a half ago, he immediately stated that he didn’t do pastoral care for other elders.  And he asked to defer theological education for a year or two. 

{Comment: P.J. is a deceiver.  It is his “ongoing practice.”  He has a “forked tongue.”  He will make promises and “commitments” he never intends to keep.  His sociopathic lying is most apparent in his categorical denial of all knowledge of all allegations of exhibitionism, voyeurism, and sexual sadism against his father when in fact in had full knowledge of these allegations.  That is an extensively documented fact!  It is why his father was arrested and tried for crimen injuria in Zimbabwe.  P.J. was fully involved in the process of countering the allegations against his father from April 1993 to October 1997 when he was tried before the Harare Supreme Court in Zimbabwe.  P.J. claims he doesn’t remember anything from the time period including his father’s arrest, jailing and trial.} 

Lack of transparency regarding his father’s crimes
“So, PJ came in and of course we had the rough landing in January {actually it was in February} [2016] with his dad and that whole issue.  That was the first raising of red flags for some of us [on the elder board].  Because the communication was odd {no it was deceitful} from him.  He would give us information, and then we would go out and communicate something [to the congregation] and then he would tell us, ‘oh, I forgot about this,’ but we found out later that ‘I forgot about this’ was because a newspaper was about to report on something and make it public.” 

And so, we’re thinking, “Had you really forgotten about that, or was it because a reporter {Cathy Newman of Channel 4 in the UK who broke the story and with whom I was in contact} called you that it was coming out?” and so it raised a lot of questions about his communication {no, about his integrity}.  “And I don’t want to say he’s lying or being deceptive, but it’s just like… he seemed to be handling this without the degree of care that we would be expecting.  And maybe that’s a cultural thing, maybe it’s, you know, how people operate in South Africa, and you grew up there, maybe that’s it, but….” 

{Comment: P.J. didn’t forget anything!  He was lying and misleading the whole time.  It was plain and obvious!  I proved it to the elders in March 2017.  Read,  Lead Pastor P.J. Smyth Deceives Covenant Life Church About Knowledge of John Smyth’s Violent Beating of Boys (March 3, 2017).   

I did the same a year later in March 2018.  Read, New & Indisputable Evidence Proves P.J. Smyth Knew All About Father’s Violent Beating of Boys – He & Pastors Continue to Deceive Covenant Life Church Despite My Appeals (March 2, 2018). 

Not wanting “to say he’s lying or being deceptive” is a total cop out and suggesting “maybe that’s a cultural thing” is absolutely pathetic.  What is wrong with this elder?  I sent all the elders all the evidence proving P.J. was a liar and deceiver.  That included four personal letters and a request to meet with them.  They were not interested in the truth!  They were only interested in covering up the truth.   

On a somewhat encouraging note, I learned this week that a few people are pressing the remaining elders to come clean and expose P.J. for his lying about his father.  They hoped Mark Mitchell would expose P.J. at the members’ meeting last night.  That didn’t happen.  I am not surprised.  Mitchell and those aligned with him continue to cover up so much about P.J.  The remaining elders know they are sending out a deceiver (P.J.) to plant a church with CLC members.  How can anyone follow them?  The only thing Mitchell has done for the past 18 months is attempt to discredit my evidentiary writings about P.J. and told people not to read them!  He needs to go!}   

Regarding what PJ knew about his dad’s crimes and offenses, the elder most involved in the process says we still don’t know.  That elder was part of a three-person committee which talked with the African pastors handling the John Smyth crisis in the ‘90s, and he said those pastors changed their story over time.  At first, all of them said that PJ lied about his involvement.  Later, they released another statement saying he didn’t lie. 

{Comment: “We still don’t know…what PJ knew about his dad’s crimes and offenses.” This is ridiculous!  It is all in black and white!  They do know what P.J. knew but none of the elders are willing to be honest in public because they all covered it up.  Chris Hingley was the main pastor from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe who told the CLC elders that P.J. was lying in February 2017.  P.J. got to him and deceived him into believing he could not remember the events due to trauma.  This is same lie P.J. told CLC at a private members’ meeting.  Later, Hingley doubted P.J.’s fabricated story in correspondence I have from him.  P.J. is a pathetic liar like his father and Nathaniel Morales who claimed he didn’t remember his sexual abuse of boys in CLC for which he was sentenced to 40 years.  Sociopathic liars often claim amnesia!] 

An engaging presenter but sees questioning as disloyalty.
“PJ can be very engaging when he presents things, and he has an ability to get people [on board] with him,” one elder said.
But a problem he noticed is that “PJ hears fair and reasonable questioning but assumes the questioner must be disloyal. He has evidently never experienced this kind of questioning.” 

{Comment: The elders of CLC have often assumed the same disloyalty of members who have asked fair and reasonable questions in the past and present.}      

Stonewalling?  PJ refused to answer direct questions put to him.
When they had the elders retreat this spring with three NFI leaders {David Devenish, Steve Van Rhyn, Alan Frow}, joining them, the NFI elders pressed PJ to explain his thinking in the areas where he had contradicted himself.  PJ simply refused to answer the questions.  The elder who reported this noted that PJ often prefers to let other elders speak on his behalf even when he was right there.  At one point during the retreat, accordingly to this elder, PJ said, approximately, “I suppose it looks like I’m stonewalling.” 

{Comment: P.J. refused to answer because he would be caught in his lies and have to give account for his “contradictions.”} 

The elder noted that PJ’s pattern of avoiding conflict is one he shares with former senior pastor C.J. Mahaney. 

{Comment: C.J. did not avoid conflict when he was offended at someone.  He once told me he actually enjoyed conflict (I am not making this up).   When corrected, however, he often remained quiet and pretended he was humbly listening or convicted.  In reality, he was offended by the correction but would not reveal it by being honest.} 

A polarizing, not a unifying Influence
Since PJ took office, many members have left CLC.  On Sunday, June 24, 2018 there were less than 800 members in attendance.  One elder observed sadly, “For PJ, the dear members who have left since he came on weren’t a big deal for him.” 

{Comment: In 2011, attendance was 4,300.  In February, 2018 it was 1,100.  It is now 800.  P.J. and C.J. are alike.  If you don’t idolize them, they are happy to see you go.}  

Were the Elders Confused?  Picking at Trifles?
“These issues that are in play are not picayune, trifling or any way confused.  These issues have been addressed for the last fifteen months, since PJ was installed and those issues {regarding his father} began to surface.” “None of this has just come up just in the last few months,” one elder stated. 

{Comment: I have reported the conflicts began around November 2017.  I must be wrong.  They date back to P.J.’s installation as lead pastor in January 2017.  Picayune means “petty.”} 

“Frankly, none of this [the current crisis] is anything that I or the other elders sought but was brought on by PJ’s behaviors. This included the lack of follow-through on his commitments to the church and to the many hundreds of hours that he was vetted by the search committee.”   

{Comment: CLC members need to be told about P.J.’s behaviors and broken commitments that brought on the current crisis.  How can this information be withheld from them?} 

Regarding PJ’s inability to work with board chairman Bo Lotinsky, another elder told me that “during the two years we were in hiatus” (Josh’s last year, the pastor search, etc.) “Mark was the acting lead pastor as he was in the following year as well, and Bo and Mark worked beautifully together in trying to go forward.” 

The Preaching Controversy
The issue of preaching came up in the pastor selection process.  Several people on the search committee listened to many of PJ’s sermons from South Africa.  The Board had phone conversations with people who knew PJ in South Africa.  “The elders came to believe that PJ was a gifted speaker but had some problems in the way he handled the Scriptures.[3]  To rectify these deficiencies, they asked him to participate in the annual Simeon Trust Pastors Workshop.  He agreed that he would participate.  And he did, in one instance, in 2016 while he was waiting for his visa to come through.  He has not participated since.  During the last workshop he was abroad on Advance business.” 

“The other theological training that the elder board asked of PJ was to take some seminary classes (not to pursue a degree).  There are many flexible programs available in our area. He agreed to this.” 

{Comment: P.J. is not a strong exegete (i.e. interpreter) of Scripture.  He needs formal training in hermeneutics and systematic theology.} 

“PJ understood that we have a preaching team composed of four elders.  Whomever is preaching is required to submit an outline and manuscript.  The four elders serve in an advisory role to give input and feedback.  He completely understood that arrangement and agreed.  But once he was here it became a problem for him.”  PJ failed to show many of his sermons to the teaching team,[4] and there were weeks where he made significant departures from what he had committed to preach.   

{Comment: P.J. didn’t want the input and accountability.  This is another example where he lacked the most rudimentary integrity.} 

Failure to do this resulted in some problems, including culturally inappropriate sermon humor,[5] theological mistakes[6] and rebuking the church in frustration[7] without the involvement or concurrence of the other elders. 

{Comment: Footnote 5 reads, “Culturally-inappropriate humor missteps include the video of a bikini-clad woman at the Christmas Eve service, and stage-diving.”  Why are they making excuses for P.J.'s lewdness?  This is biblically-inappropriate humor, not a cultural misstep.  Note, this was a video, not a passing photo.}  

[As part of the Pastor Search process] several of the elders had asked him to write a paper on his philosophy of preaching.  In May 2015[8] he wrote a paper in which he stated that preaching should be 80% expository.  It was a good paper and was a great assurance to the elder board that he understood their concerns, and that he wanted to improve.  However, in March 2018 he wrote a paper contradicting the May 2015 one. 

{Comment: This is another example of P.J. deceiving.  This time the Search Team.  He wrote what they wanted to hear to get the job.}

Another elder added that, “Many on the Search Committee feel very embarrassed.  They say, ‘We did our job.’  We interviewed people who knew him and served with him for years, we listened to his sermons, we looked at his polity, he did a lot of papers.  He sent us this lengthy paper on his view of expository preaching, quoting extensively from Simeon Trust… and now we’re hearing that he’s not a fan of Simeon Trust.” 

“PJ put another paper out there on his view of eldership and how it should be collaborative and working together.” 

{Comments: Liars, lie.  P.J. is an accomplished one just like his father.} 

Are Cultural Differences at the Root of the Problem?
There have been explanations given that PJ got into difficulties to a large degree because of cultural differences.  One elder said, “There is a modicum of truth in that but just a modicum.  That was not what got him into trouble.” 

{Comment: Thank you for a moment of sanity!} 

“Who we hired was first and foremost a thoroughbred evangelist.  He is a totally committed church planter[9] and a movement leader” in both Advance and NFI [New Frontiers International -- an international church-planting organization based in the U.K.[10]].  “The bottom line is, as a church planter -- which is a high calling -- you pretty much have a free hand and you can pick and choose your own team and establish your own rules and preach how you want to preach.” 

{Comment: The elders, Search Team and CLC picked a “thoroughbred evangelist” and “movement leader” they believed would restore CLC to its glory.  I think it is analogous to Israel picking Saul to be King.}  

PJ’s fellow leaders in Advance/NFI weren’t sure PJ was a good fit for a church like CLC.  “And those guys at the time expressed some concern.  They said, ‘I don’t know if PJ can submit to this.  He’s never done anything like this before.  His background is he grabs a couple of his good buddies – close friends – and he plants a church.  And then they grow that church, and then his close relationships – they go plant another church.  That’s what he’s done.  He gets to call the shots; he gets to build his team.  And now you’re coming into a situation where the church has been around for forty years, and it’s got established members, it’s got a very established eldership team.’” 

[Comment: P.J. is used to being in charge and calling all the shots.  He had no experience submitting to an eldership team comprised of peers.  Even the leaders of Advance and Newfrontiers pointed this out.  That should have been a huge concern for the Search Team.  He had no proven character in working with others to whom he was accountable.} 

“At the spring elders retreat with three leaders from Advance/NFI in attendance, Alan Frow [Advance pastor from California] gave us his experience on leading the church in Los Angeles.  He says, “I knew when I came that there would be cultural differences between how we do things in South Africa versus the United States.  So when I came on that team I intentionally decided to not lead for three years.  I decided I needed to take some time – three years – to get to know the culture, to get to know the team, and get to know the church, before I became the senior pastor.  And I advised PJ to do the same thing.  I advised him that, “you are stepping into a different cultural situation.  You should get to know these guys; you need to give it time and get to know the people. 

So then Steve Van Rhyn said, “Except of course we know that PJ never plays second fiddle to anybody.” 

PJ’s philosophy was “front-footed, let’s just move forward and all that.”  “In a way, that was attractive to many in the church – engage the culture, etc. – but PJ’s ministry experience was based on being a church planter -- not pastoring/administering a church.” 

The elder told us that he became increasingly concerned that “even though there were so many good-faith efforts to let PJ know who we were, PJ, in time, decided that he was the remedy to our past” and “that was the way he wanted to lead – fast, quick, and [have the ability to] pick his own team.” 

{Comment: Taking three years to get to know the culture, the elders, and the church was good counsel but P.J. was obsessed with his “mission” to reach the whole of Washington D.C. and see Advance based in Covenant Life Church.  CLC was a stepping stone to building his empire.  People should read this interview of P.J. about moving to CLC to be lead pastor.  For example, this quote. 

“For me, if I think of ten areas that need healing in the church.  Or ten problems areas, for example, hypothetically ten.  I think we need to pray that just as the tide of hope and faith and growth and saved [are] added.  You know we are charging a mountain again together.  I hope that rising tide, we just drowned seven out of ten of the problems.  They will just evaporate.  They will disappear.  And then we are left with three that the Lord will – is manageable, ten is not manageable.”     

Patiently caring for people was not on his agenda.  And as Steve Van Rhyn said, “PJ never plays second fiddle to anybody.”  It sounds like someone else who goes by his initials.}  

A Factor that Worsened the Crisis: Interference from New Frontiers
A revealing account by two of the elders concerned the April 20-21, 2018 retreat of the Board of Elders.  Three leaders {David Devenish, Steve Van Rhyn, Alan Frow} from New Frontiers International (an international church-planting organization based in the U.K.[11]), were in attendance at the retreat, at the request of PJ.  They were invited to help CLC’s elders work through the issues by bringing in an outside perspective. 

During the retreat, the three NFI leaders made a demand that the CLC elders decide before the end of the retreat whether or not they would keep PJ on. 

{Comment: The elders decided to part ways with P.J. during the retreat on April 21.}

That elder regrets that the Board didn’t adequately push back again this interference from NFI. (Another elder stated that NFI needs to apologize to CLC.) 

The Board wanted and needed more time to discuss the issues with PJ, but the NFI elders insisted on an immediate decision, which resulted in most of the elders voting to let PJ go. (PJ seemed shocked that the other elders stood their ground by voting to fire him.  The elder describing this noted that PJ is accustomed to being surrounded by hand-picked people under his authority.) 

{Comment: The Newfrontiers apostles (not elders) are partly to blame for dividing Covenant Life Church.  “At the request of PJ” these leaders from Newfrontiers attended the retreat.  P.J. knew he could count on them to help get his way.  They “made a demand” and “insisted on an immediate decision” to “keep P.J. on” as lead pastor according to this account by two CLC elders.  NFI is the old name for Newfrontiers.  David Devenish, Steve Van Rhyn, and Alan Frow should return to CLC to ask forgiveness (not to apologize).  This appears to be a prearranged strategy set up by P.J. to pressure the CLC elders to retain him if needed.  That is manipulative and amounts to lording.}     

How New Frontiers “Apostles” Govern their Churches: A Troubling Model?
New Frontiers (NFI) has maintained the “gifted apostle”[12] polity model.[13]  In practice, one of the elders explained, NFI invests much power in their leaders but requires little accountability – a model of governance which even CLC’s former denomination[14] has moved away from.   

{Comment: “CLC’s former denomination,” Sovereign Grace Ministries has changed its governance on paper but not in reality.  The lying and lording continue.  There is no authentic accountability.  It is more corrupt than ever.} 

He believes this model has worked well within NFI only because their head apostle (Terry Virgo) is so humble.[15]  The elder said he has heard almost no teaching from NFI about character, and that is a concern.   

{Comment: I know and like Terry Virgo but his teaching on law and grace tends to antinomianism and licentiousness.  That was apparent in his message at Covenant Life Church on Identity in Christ on February 25, 2018.  It caused people to question the soundness of his doctrine on sanctification.  That is a legitimate concern and I think the same deficiency is evident in P.J.’s preaching (and life!).  I hope Terry will address P.J.’s deceit and remove him from leadership in Newfrontiers and Advance.}       

One elder noted, “PJ’s had opportunities to seek wisdom not only from the [CLC] elder board but from members of the congregation, but instead he seeks wisdom from his Advance team and from the team he’s being groomed to lead in New Frontiers. (PJ is considered an “apostle” with New Frontiers,[16] and one elder told us that PJ is being positioned for a top leadership role within NFI.) 

{Comment: P.J. is already a top leader in Newfrontiers.  It is possible they are thinking of him replacing David Devenish in the future as the overall apostolic leader like P.J. already is in Advance.] 

“It seems that CLC was regarded a beachhead for [the movement].”  He believes that PJ’s priority and passions are as a movement leader for Advance and for NFI.   

{Comment: That is true though this was known to all the CLC elders during the vetting process.  Pat Ennis, who chaired the Search Team, told me in January 2016 that P.J. planned for CLC to join Advance, buy the 17,000 square foot space on the lower floor from Sovereign Grace Ministries/Churches, and use CLC as a base of operation.  This plan was concealed by the leaders of Advance and the elders of CLC knowing many members would oppose it and not “affirm” P.J. as the lead pastor.  Pat said it would be introduced gradually.}  

Why Did the Board of Elders Vote Twice to Terminate PJ’s Employment?
When the board voted there were four votes total of No Confidence [in PJ’s leadership].  The first two votes were straw votes {“an unofficial ballot conducted as a test of opinion”}.  In the first two votes, one vote was unanimous that his leadership was seriously flawed and problematic.  “In no way was this about the size of the board.  There were Constitutional issues: The size of the Board was one of the [areas under discussion], but the more substantive issue was about the deeper issue of authority” {i.e., power}. 

{Comment: All 17 elders said P.J.’s “leadership was seriously flawed and problematic.”  And yet the eight remaining elders (i.e., Mark Mitchell, Robin Boisvert, Kevin Rogers, Jamie Leach, Todd Keeler, John Leconte, Jose Troche, and Steve Wyzga) commended P.J. last night to plant a church.} 

The other issue discussed on the elder board at that time was with respect to his preaching.  “The majority of elders did not agree with PJ’s own characterizations of his preaching.”  The board asked PJ to be better equipped for his preaching. 

{Comment: P.J. had a high opinion of his preaching in contrast to the majority of the elders.} 

These discussions led to two formal votes.  The results of the first formal vote indicated that the vast majority of the board thought PJ was not a good fit for the church and it would be best to part ways.  Five days later the board voted again; the results were very nearly identical. 

{Comment: 17 men voted.  The “vast majority” thought P.J. was “not a good fit for the church” and it would “be best to part ways.“  That is the terminology that has been used by Mitchell with the church over the last two months but “not a good fit” doesn’t begin to describe the serious issues of concern for his character.  One support staff employee is disgusted by the fact the elders refuse to tell the church about their character concerns for P.J.}     

Why the Elders Reversed Their Decision, Part 1: Pressure from the FAC and (Some) Members
CLC members were told that the Financial Advisory Committee had advised the Board that Covenant Life would likely have to close its doors within a short time if PJ didn’t stay, due to members who would leave if PJ wasn’t the Lead Pastor.  “One elder said, “the FAC and the Travis Earles group told the Board that the church will be insolvent if PJ is let go.  I do not share that viewpoint at all.”[17] 

{Comment: Travis Earles and his faction have been a major problem for Covenant Life Church.  The elders should never have given him a public platform.  Last night, Mark Mitchell reported that CLC is financially solvent.  He gave the following figures as of May 31.  CLC was 497k behind in total income due to a drop in contributions but 617k under in expenses because so many elders have left, leaving a cash flow of 120k.  He also said they have unrestricted funds (general savings) of 900k, restricted funds (for missions, etc.) of 230k, and capital reserves (for the facility) of 237k.  In addition, they carry a 1.5-million-dollar mortgage.} 

But a significant number of people in the congregation were pushing back against the decision {to part ways with P.J}.  “There were dozens of emails that poured into every elder.”  Many of these emails contained “vitriol,” the elder said.  Letters that said, “we don’t care about church polity or the Constitution.[18]  We just want PJ.  We’re happy to let PJ lead in any way he wants.”[19] 

{Comment: This reminds me of my post, Erin Hill’s Disturbing “Hate” Mail & Bad Theology Illustrates Indifference to Extraordinary Deceit of Lead Pastor P.J. Smyth by Most Covenant Life Members (May 15, 2018).  “A significant number of people” wanted to blindly keep their celebrity leader but this is equally the fault of the elders who have covered up for P.J. since he was installed 18 months ago.  He should have been fired long ago but they didn’t want to look bad and suffer another major setback.  The mantra, “We just want  PJ” is frightening!}   

Why the Elders Reversed Their Decision, Part 2: A “Bad Process”
One elder explains: “My reasons for agreeing to withdraw our vote to part ways with PJ was to invite others in the congregation into the evaluation process and to have others examine whether PJ and CLC are a good fit for each other.  It appears that instead, an assumption has been made that PJ and CLC are a good fit for each other.” 

Another resigning elder noted that “the decision about parting ways with PJ was made for good and solid reasons, many of which would still apply.  This included concerns about PJ’s leadership; he was not a good fit for our church or our eldership.”  However, after dialogue with the Financial Advisory Committee (FAC) the elder board “realized they hadn’t involved anyone else in the church,” and because of that that elder “felt that the decision needed to be reversed.” 

After dialogue with Travis Earles and others, this elder and others “realized that the process [in which they had made that decision] was bad,” and that “going forward with that decision was going to result in damage to the church.”  “Not,” he qualified, “that the decision was wrong, but [the problem was in] not dialoguing with others.”  He said that the first two votes to oust PJ had been “based on principle,” but the decision to reverse was “a pragmatic one.” 

{Comment: All of this needs to be explained to the church in great detail with a much greater emphasis on P.J.’s lack of character.  That is, his intimidation, manipulation, sinful ambition, lust for power, extraordinary lying, manifest lack of care for others, etc.  As with C.J. Mahaney, the elders know P.J. is disqualified from ministry but they don’t have the integrity or courage to remove him.  It is incomprehensible that the remaining elders are sending him out to plant a church.}  

Disagreement about the Constitution, and Why it Matters
Before PJ came to CLC he was thoroughly briefed on the contents of the document.  One elder in particular “spent an incredible amount of time with PJ explaining the new Constitution.”  PJ read the Constitution (in draft form) and affirmed it.  “PJ spent a lot of time with various elders and with various individuals in the congregation; he was thoroughly briefed on the history and culture of CLC, because so much of the Constitution related to our history as a church.” 

“So he was fully aware that what we [CLC] had embarked upon was a plurality of elders, and that it included a Chairman (a non-staff elder) who would preside over the meetings.”  It is the job of the Chairman of the Board to make sure the church constitution is followed.[20]  (Another elder explained that the Lead Elder and the Chairman roles were separated in the Constitution as a protection against the unaccountable power under which our church had suffered previously.[21]  “All these efforts were designed to ensure that the congregation had as much input as possible, and that no single elder, especially the lead elder, would be able to get away with anything.” “What happened increasingly, was that PJ was not happy being under the Constitution.” 

This elder explains what the Constitution regulates and why PJ wasn’t happy with it:
PJ wanted control over “the hiring and firing of staff and elders, the size of the elder board, who was on the elder board, who he wanted off, staff he believed should not be part of the team he wanted….” “PJ wanted to appoint the Chairman of the Board himself.” 

{Comment: This is dangerous.  P.J. didn’t want to be “under the Constitution” that he agreed to in the hiring process.  He pretended agreement but planned to change it once in charge.  The fundamental problem with P.J. is his selfish ambition.  This craving has produced “disorder and every evil thing.”  James 3:13-16, “Who among you is wise and understanding?  Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.  But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.  This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.  And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”} 

One elder issued this caution: “Church leadership must have a balance of power regardless of the level of gifting of any leader.  Trustworthy or no, we can’t risk compromising the accountability structure we’ve created because of a positive feeling about one charismatic speaker.” 

{Comment: Sound doctrine, spiritual gifting, and irreproachable character are what qualifies a man for ministry.  You need all three.  People must learn from the Corinthians.  You can have genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit without sound doctrine and without being godly.  But people naively assume if you have spiritual gifts, you must be godly.  Or if you teach sound doctrine, you must be godly.  That is a grave error!  So many have been deceived by these false assumptions.  That is why charismatic leaders like P.J. or C.J. are able to deceive multitudes.  One moment, they wow you with a great sermon or dramatic direction for the church.  The next moment, they deceive you with a lie.}         

Another Factor that Worsened the Crisis: Lack of Communication from the Elder Board Though the problems between the elder board and PJ began fifteen months ago with PJ’s installation, the congregation was only made aware in recent weeks.  Many members felt blindsided, and at least two elders said that lack of transparency and timely communication has been an ongoing problem at CLC. 

{Comment: Members in CLC have been blindsided for decades because things have been covered up by the elders for decades.  But inevitably, the elders are exposed by the Lord for their deceit.  The problem is not a “lack of transparency and timely communication.”  It is a lack of honesty rooted in the love of reputation.  That is true this very moment as the remaining elders continue to cover up the serious issues of character in P.J.  It is a repeat of C.J.} 

One elder related, “That first Sunday all-morning meeting Mark’s first inclination was to get a bunch of elders on stage and each share what their thinking is, because he was aware that it’s impossible for one man to speak for everyone.  But that approach was not practical for a short time[22] [during the Sunday service].  There was concern it would lead to more confusion.” 

One elder opined that, “Staff elders are still stuck in the SGM mindset[23] of controlling information too much.”  There is “too much control of information, too much spin.” 

{Comment: I hope this non-staff elder who has resigned goes public and exposes the spin (i.e. the disinformation) with detailed illustrations including the names of staff elders.  That is the only way things will change at CLC.  In this regard, Mark Mitchell is the worst.  He has spun information like the claim Lars Liebeler didn’t talk to the victims of sexual abuse in the church because there wasn’t enough money in the budget.  What a wretched lie!  Why hasn’t he been fired with P.J.?  Read The “Independent” Investigation of Sexual Abuse at Covenant Life Church Didn’t Include Talking to the Victims of Abuse – Incredulously, Executive Pastor Mark Mitchell Says Exclusion Was Due to “Limited Finances”   (April 28, 2018).} 

He believes that a lack of transparency is a common dynamic in churches with celebrity pastors, who love control.[24]  He believes God is dealing with the Church to root out the celebrity pastor phenomenon, which in his view is unbiblical.  This elder contrasted the tight information control at CLC with churches such as Capitol Hill Baptist and the evangelical megachurch[25] in Columbia where Dave Brewer is now employed. These churches, he said, have healthier and wiser models of interaction between the elders and the congregation and among the elders.[26]  The “First among equals” language used by PJ [and Advance[27]] isn’t a biblical concept and as pastor Mike Bullmore notes, “usually ends up with the accent on ‘first.’” 

{Comment: This elder should not use Mark Dever at Capitol Hill Baptist Church as an example.  No one in the Body of Christ has done more to cover up for C.J. Mahaney than Dever.  There is also  strict control of information in Dever’s church.} 

This elder told the Board of Elders that they would likely have censored Paul’s disagreement with Barnabus and the personal conflicts in various churches described in the epistles, if the New Testament had been run by them before publishing.  Yet the apostles weren’t afraid to be transparent about imperfections. 

Another resigning elder lamented that he “had thought that in the last few years the elder board had moved more in the direction of transparency than it seems we actually have.” “I thought we were more ‘there,’” he said.  He says his own view is “to be as open and transparent to congregants as possible,” adding that, “church leadership owes the church the truth.” 

[Comment: This elder should also write an open account of all that has transpired with detailed information.  I agree with him, “church leadership owes the church the truth.”  And yet, the church has still not been told the truth about P.J.  Covert writings like this one, should be replaced with overt writings.  That is, candid accounts with documented evidence that expose individuals assuming they refuse to come clean in public after private reproofs.  Why the on-going secrecy?  Why won’t the elders who have resigned affix their names to the quotes in this document?  Why don’t they just come out and tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth?  I hope they change their approach and speak out boldly and openly.} 

When the elder was asked how the BOE might be persuaded to improve church communications, he recommended that members continue to press the elders for transparency, insisting that they tell the full story and pointing out that members (especially long-term ones, who both give and serve generously) will continue to leave over that issue if they don’t. 

{Comment: I’m glad this elder who has resigned is recommending “that members continue to press the elders for transparency, insisting that they tell the full story.”  But this elder already knows the full story.  He and the other elders who have resigned,  should be sharing that unabridged story with the whole church!} 

Were the Elders Too Accommodating with PJ?
“Ideally, our relations with others are perfectly harmonious, gracious, yet truthful.  There’s a balance,” one elder said.  If we put an unbalanced emphasis on [speaking] the truth we err.  “But on the other hand, if we over-emphasize being ‘gracious’ we can forget that we owe ourselves and others the truth.” 

The latter is what happened, in his opinion.  “The elders overextended themselves with PJ.  There was an inordinate emphasis on going the extra mile and giving PJ the benefit of every doubt.  But PJ never really gave anything in return.  There was no accommodation [on PJ’s part].” 

{Comment: This kind of sinful accommodation is related to man-pleasing and the fear of man, not graciousness.} 

“Many on the elder board did not think PJ was listening to anyone on the board.  He did not seem to be learning from anything they were saying.”  “That’s not just a communication issue.  These are issues of openness, transparency, trustworthiness and wisdom and these issues increasingly became the problem.  PJ increasingly tried to take control of the board, of actions.” 

{Comment: Notice the reference to “many on the elder board.” This is an insightful statement.  It speaks to P.J.’s pride, deceit, dishonesty, independence, unteachableness, and sinful motivations.  Everything you don’t want in a church planter or pastor!  The remaining elders should be warning people not to go with P.J. on his “pioneering” church plant!  They will share the blame for the destruction that follows.  The teaching of 1 Timothy 5:20-22, 24 applies.  Verse 22, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others.  Keep yourself pure.”  We share in the sins of others and act impurely when we lay hands on people and set them aside for ministry when they do not meet the qualifications of Scripture.  P.J.’s sins will continue to harm people.  The CLC elders are culpable.} 

Who Comprises the Advisory Committee and What Was Their Stated Mission?
The Advisory Committee is a recently-formed group of five members who were selected by PJ and the remaining Board of Elders.  Mark Mitchell told the church: 

“Committee members have proven their leadership expertise in other church contexts and were commended by the BOE for their initiative, maturity, and wisdom.  They were among those who appealed to the elders to reconsider upon hearing of the decision to part ways with PJ.” 

“In part,” Mark said, “their initiative qualified them to continue to serve the elders with their counsel.[28]  In addition, they have served in a number of leadership roles in the church.  Myung Yi was vice chairman of the Lead Pastor Search Team {under Pat Ennis who has left CLC} and leads a small group.  Travis Earles[29] recently chaired the Local Missions Committee and has served as a small group leader and ministry team leader.  Ed Stockton is the chairman of the board of Covenant Life School.  Jim Wilson serves on the Financial Advisory Committee.[30] Michael Winn helps to lead the Benevolence Committee and the Greeting Team.” 

The charter of the Advisory Committee was “to arrive at recommendations that would be helpful for PJ to reengage.” [i.e., incentives that would make staying on an attractive proposition for PJ.]  All of the A.C. recommendations were approved by PJ and the elders who remained on the Board. 

{Comment: The remaining elders gave him everything he wanted to keep him as lead pastor in order to avoid a disaster.  That is not leadership.  That is compromise.  Now they are spinning the church plant to make it sound like it is something good and great for the gospel of Christ.  They all need to go because they can’t be counted on to do what is right in the sight of God.} 

The Advisory Committee’s recommendations would have required changes to the Constitution, removing the protections contained therein, such as separating the jobs of Lead Pastor and Chairman.  It is to be hoped that now with the departure of PJ, these Constitutional protections can be left in place.[31] 

{Comment: The recommendations of the Advisory Committee proved a great disservice to CLC and did not secure P.J.’s re-engagement in the end.  Why?  Last night, P.J. said he was not “reassured” that people in CLC would follow him because he had “lost credibility” and was” too polarizing a figure.”  Translation.  He knew the writing was on the wall because people were reading my posts, reading this document, and talking to the elders who resigned.  The Lord forced him out!  The Advisory Committee was comprised of Myung Yi, Travis Earles, Michael Winn, Ed Stockton, and Jim Wilson.  It has been disbanded with P.J. leaving.}       

Going Forward: Additional Recommendations to the BOE and the Congregation 

BOE should communicate clearly and honestly:
One resigning elder offered these thoughts to the BOE and AC: “I would appeal to you men and the Advisory Committee to be forthright and open in your communication to the congregation.  The communication to date has been one-sided and seemingly lays the blame entirely at the feet of the elders and portrays PJ as a victim.  I do not believe that is your intent – but it is the result of only sharing part of the story and not the whole.” 

{Comment: The Board of Elders and Advisory Committee have not been “forthright and open” with the congregation.  The five resigning elders, and many prominent members, appealed to the remaining elders to be honest last night about the 18-month ordeal with P.J.  They did just the opposite!  P.J. has also portrayed himself as the victim.  His father did the same thing in 1993 when multiple victims came forward in Zimbabwe.  He also threatened them with a lawsuit.  P.J. is like his father.}  

“Various members of the congregation have shared with me that they find the current communication confusing and disturbing.  Their perspective is that the elders are not telling them the whole story.  If CLC is to survive, you must be forthcoming in communicating all that has happened and not limit the communication to just a portion of the events that have occurred.  Otherwise, I do believe that irreparable harm will result, and trust eroded beyond the potential ability to win back a large segment of the congregation.  I do believe that as ministers of the gospel and shepherds of the flock, we need to be open and honest with the church – it is the only real way to engender trust.” 

{Comment: The elders (past & present) have not told the “whole story” about a lot of stories going back decades.  No one should go on the church plant with P.J. and no one should stay at CLC under the remaining elders.  Find a church where there is reason to trust the leaders based upon their actions not their words or doctrine.} 

Congregation should ask questions of the BOE:
Another elder said that the congregation “should ask questions: What led us to this in the first place?”[32]  “What brought the Board of Elders to decide to part ways with PJ?”  He added that, “This is not P.J.’s church, nor the elders’ church.  This is God’s church and He’s going to have his way.  There’s a lot at stake here that falls on the remaining elders.” 

[Comment: The remaining elders are corrupt.  Despite all these appeals they continue to cover up the truth about P.J.  This goes back to February 2, 2017 when P.J. blatantly lied to all the elders and all of CLC about having no knowledge of any allegations coming out in the press against his father just four days after his installation.  The resigning and remaining elders all know P.J. deceived them!  From what I understand, some of the resigning elders are pressing for this to be acknowledged.}  

BOE should delegate to, and empower the congregation:
One resigning elder feels that the Board of Elders “needs to better delegate, empower, and draw on the resources of the church.” [As examples he cited various ministry areas and things like the grievance policy.]  “This is an area we’ve all realized needs to be done better, but we haven’t made much progress.  Ministry opportunities are less centralized than in SGM days, but there is much more that could be done.”  He suggested that things could be delegated to committees of elders [instead of the entire Board], and groups like the ad hoc Advisory Committee.  “Other things that [the BOE] could have done, or still can going forward, would be to form committees among the church.” 

We asked this elder about the Board’s failure to implement those kinds of changes in the past, pointing out that in general, members have not been allowed to lead, and so everything has typically been left to the elders.  He agreed but noted that this would require a change in the way the elders do things.  “There’s no desire [on the part of the Board] to hold on to everything.  A lot of the failures are not due to malice or conspiracy but more to just a lack of capacity and bandwidth.”  “To delegate something that would [potentially] be a great time saver requires you to do more work initially.” 

He added, “Nobody ever said [for instance], ‘let’s just backburner this grievance policy’ {i.e., how to raise concerns and resolve conflicts with the pastors} but there wasn’t the capacity to deal with it in-house and even the thought of parceling it out would take a certain amount of initial effort.  There was just one crisis after another.” 

Appendix: Is it Biblical (or Loving) to Criticize Leaders Publicly? 

One elder’s thoughts: 

“We had a couple of elders meeting recently where a couple of us said to the rest of the guys, “Point to me in God’s Word where it says, ‘do not speak ill of another person.’  Now that sounds bad.  There is a place in Scripture where it says, ‘speak the truth in love’ and ‘faithful are the wounds of a friend.’  It also says do not give in to gossip or slander.  But gossip and slander are about spreading falsehoods about somebody, for the intent to harm their character or their reputation, NOT about speaking the truth.  And if you read through the New Testament, how many times did Paul identify people by name and said, ‘this person need to be confronted, that person needs to be removed from the congregation, or that person is spreading strife or slander, or that group of people.  I mean, Paul did it all the time.  And Jesus had no problem saying to the Pharisees, “you brood of vipers.” 

{Comment: The Advisory Committee actually made this recommendation to the elders on May 24 because members were rightly criticizing the elders for their handling of the situation with P.J.    

“As part of a cultural reset within CLC, the Advisory Committee has observed a tendency toward criticism in speech within our congregation.  The AC would like to recommend that the members be challenged to focus on encouragement and refrain from unsolicited criticism for a period of time (i.e. 6-12 months) unless something unbiblical or unconstitutional is at play.”} 

[I asked him:] Do you think that part of that dynamic is that in Sovereign Grace days our congregation was very schooled in not talking about things that aren’t “nice.”  It’s been an education for the congregation to come to a place where we think that it’s not sin to talk about things like that.  But the congregation I think still has a lot of that mindset, so when you hear anything that sounds like controversy, many in the congregation want to do this kind of thing [covers eyes and ears].” 

[Elder:] “What’s funny is how many guys will say, ‘We’re called to believe the best.’  And at one point in a meeting [another elder] finally said, ‘Show me in Scripture where it says we’re called to believe the best.’” 

“In 1st Corinthians it says, ‘love bears all things, love believes all things,’ but we as Christians are also supposed to pursue the truth.  I do believe in our church culture there is this desire to be magnanimous, this desire to avoid causing further disputes. 

[Comment: The same 1 Corinthians 13 says, “Love…does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”  Or as another translation puts it, “It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.”  Love hates the covering up of unrighteousness.  Peace at any price is not love.  It is compromise for the sake of ease.}  

“… In prior meetings we’ve had in the church, when someone was going to get up and speak, we would talk about how we need to be honest.  We need to be open. [But the response would be], ‘Well, no -- we can’t do that, because that person we’re talking about might be offended, and they’re going to be sitting right there.’” 

“Yes, but you’ve already had the conversation with them.  You’ve already told them your concerns.  They’ve already acknowledged that they’re not willing to agree with you.  So there should not be a hesitation to then say publicly what you’ve already said privately.”

“So, as a side note, it’s kind of the same thing with Rachael Denhollander’s post on Facebook.  We have a lot of things that we’d like to publicly correct Sovereign Grace on, but the guys on the team are like, “Well, I don’t want to say that because I don’t want to offend Sovereign Grace.” 

“I’m just sharing that that’s the mentality: ‘I’m worried about offending this person.’  I think if we’re going to speak the truth, we need to do it in a loving way, and if we’re concerned about offending them we should at least tell them, ‘I’m going to share this publicly, and I just want to let you know that.’” 

{Comment: “I don’t want to offend Sovereign Grace.  I’m just sharing that that’s the mentality.  ‘I’m worried about offending this person.’”  I’ve been confronting this godless mentality of the elders in Covenant Church for the past 14 years.  Joshua Harris, Grant Layman, and Kenneth Maresco refused to hold C.J. Mahaney accountable as agreed upon after our confrontation of him, which I led in August 2004, because they were afraid to offend him.  So did Bob Kauflin. That cowardice directly contributed to the demise of CLC and SGM.  Thousands have fallen from the Lord as a result. 

Quoting the prophet Isaiah, Peter refers to Jesus as “a stone of stumbling and rock of offense” (1 Peter 2:8).  Simeon in the temple prophesied, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed” (Luke 2:34).  Jesus told his opportunistic brothers, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil” (John 7:7).  Paul told Timothy, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). 

Jesus taught, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).  The elders at CLC want nothing to do with this kind of Christianity.  That is why they did not remove C.J. Mahaney from ministry and have not spoken out against Sovereign Grace Ministries (aka Sovereign Grace Churches, Inc.).  They don’t want to suffer the wrath and rejection of powerful and influential leaders around the nation that support C.J.  They love the favor and praise of men. 

This same sinful dynamic is at work now.  The sins in P.J.’s life are identical to the sins in C.J.’s life.  They should expose and oppose P.J. but instead they enable him because they don’t want to offend the global leaders of Advance and Newfrontiers or those people in CLC who still idolize him.  Instead they cover up his sin in the name of graciousness and gospel expansion, but it is nothing but spin and compromise. 

Covenant Life is about image management rooted in the love or reputation.  That is one of the reasons Joshua Harris, Kenneth Maresco, Robin Boisvert, Corby Megorden and Grant Layman covered up the sexual abuse of boys by Nathaniel Morales.  They didn’t want to suffer reputational harm and the consequent loss of people and money.  Such ethical compromise is despicable.  As a result, Morales continued to abuse boys around the country.  Read C.J. Mahaney, Covenant Life Church & the Conspiracy to Cover-up the Sexual Abuse of Children (February 13, 2018).  It is also the reason they did a scandalous “independent investigation” that was neither! 

And it is the same reason, P.J. Symth won’t expose his father and publicly demand he return from South Africa to England to face justice which he has been asked to do by the victims of his father.  P.J. knows all about his father’s crimes.  He even observed some of them according to reliable eye witness testimony.  

P.J. should be speaking out against his insidious father in the United Kingdom, Zimbabwe, South Africa and the United States.  He should also be meeting with the scores of victims to express his sorrow and compassion.  Instead he has steadfastly refused to be interviewed by reporters including Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News in the UK who broke the ghastly story after a six-month investigation.  He doesn’t want anyone asking him hard questions and citing concrete evidence exposing his protection of his father. 

The Covenant Life elders love the praise of men more than the gospel of Jesus despite all their pretensions to the contrary.  The elders have also made themselves out to be victims over these past seven years, but they are in large measure the culprits.  They have brought the wrath of God upon themselves and the church because of their cowardice, compromise, and corruption.  They refuse to acknowledge their sin.  

Whoever remains at Covenant Life must fearlessly demand all the elders resign and then work to replace them with men who have demonstrated a willingness to suffer for Christ and follow Christ no matter the cost. 


[1] {Slang for “How are you doing?”}

[2] https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/speak+with+forked+tongue

[3] The elder explained: “It’s possible for a preacher to take a text, work it a little bit and then launch into his own agenda.  We’re committed to being tethered to the Word.”

[4] This had been the policy and practice for all of the preaching pastors from Joshua Harris’s time up to the present.

[5] Culturally-inappropriate humor missteps include the video of a bikini-clad woman at the Christmas Eve service, and stage-diving.

[6] For example, referring to justification as a “process”

[7] Missions Conference hosted by Covenant Life on May 14, 2016. (Audios here: https://www.covlife.org/resources/series/Mission%20Weekend%202016)

[8] This was during the pastoral search process, before the Search Committee had made the recommendation (in October 2015) to hire PJ

[9] PJ successfully planted two churches – in Harare, Zimbabwe and Johannesburg, S.A.

[10] NFI is headed by Terry Virgo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terry_Virgo 

[11] NFI is headed by Terry Virgo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terry_Virgo

[12] Pastor and author Sam Storms writes: “Such “leaders” are thought to possess the Holy Spirit in a heightened degree.  They are … extraordinarily “anointed” to a degree beyond that which is available to the ordinary Christian and in such a way as to put them beyond evaluation or critique.”  Entire article here: http://www.samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/themoses-model-a-recipe-for-disaster

[13] “Polity” simply refers to how a particular church assembly chooses to govern itself.

[14] Sovereign Grace Ministries -- now Sovereign Grace Churches

[15] While not officially retiring, Terry’s role is changing. Here’s a New Frontiers pastor’s explanation of how the movement is changing but, in his view, will still be great:

https://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/the-emperorsnew-frontiers.

[16] New Frontiers Apostolic Leaders page, here: https://newfrontierstogether.org/apostolic-leaders/

[17] [Perhaps the FAC is not all of one mind either? This member spoke at length with FAC member Jim Wilson who discounted the doomsday scenario.]

[18] {Missing}

[19] P.J. can be very engaging when he presents things, and he has an ability to get people [on board] with him,” one elder said.

[20] The elders’ meetings follow Robert's Rules of Order to ensure that no elder's issues are blocked from discussion (something that happened often in the past).

[21] PJ stated that he wanted to undo that protection through Constitutional amendments. He appears to want a church with no protection from unaccountable leadership.]

[22] [Though special members’ meetings – either directly following the service, or on a Saturday or Sunday night – have usually been well-attended in the past.]

[23] [In Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) churches, which included Covenant Life, any disclosure of difficult issues to the congregation was avoided whenever possible. CLC members voted Dec. 12, 2012 to separate from SGM.]

[24] Another elder observed, “Celebrity pastors have proliferated in our day. People want a ‘king.’”

[25] Grace Community Church in Fulton, MD

[26] For example, one elder said, if Mark Dever is outnumbered by his elders in a decision, he defers to the majority because he is representing the team, leading in implementing the team's decisions. Similarly, John Piper and some other prominent pastors define their roles in terms of being responsible for preaching and vision, not as being the one who makes all the significant decisions for the church.

[27] From the Advance web site, here: http://www.advancemovement.com/about/5-statement-of-faith-and-values/ 

[28] One of the elders explained that these men “were essentially self-selected because they had weighed in individually with their concerns.”

[29] Travis Earles is a lifelong member at CLC who recently spearheaded the protest against the BOE’s vote to part ways with PJ.

[30] The Financial Advisory Committee was consulted and offered affirmative input in the decision to hire PJ.

[31] “Final Recommendations” from the Advisory Committee: all-church email dated May 24, 2018

[32] His own opinion is that what led us to this was “the belief of the FAC and the Travis Earles group that the church will be insolvent if P.J. is let go.”