What follows is a transcript of C.J. Mahaney’s talk given this past week at Sovereign Grace Ministries’ conference for pastors. I’ve included remarks in blue from Kris at Sovereign Grace Survivors. She asks good questions and makes many excellent comments in this particular blog post. This is not a general endorsement of Survivors. First, here is my simple summary of C.J.'s remarks.
C.J announced his leave of absence on July 6 with these opening remarks.
With a few potential exceptions, I will be taking a break from updating this blog for a while, and I want to share with you the reasons why and entreat you for your prayers while I am on leave. 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…
C.J. no longer believes his sins were serious and he regrets ever making this confession. He has dramatically changed his tune.
“I have concluded that I did not serve you well with this confession. My confession has been misunderstood, misinterpreted, and exploited…. Instead, my communication in some ways create speculation that left me vulnerable to interpretation, that left me vulnerable to exploitation. I left the wrong impression of my sin. In that confession I was trying to convey that I take my sins seriously but I regret that my language conveyed that my sins were unusually serious. I do not think that, I have never thought that…. ‘Your sins are routine and common.’ That is not to minimize my sin. But it did help me to see the wrong impressions I left and I regret that…. Another member of the panel said this: “I think you made a genuine effort to be humble. You overstate the level of offense [sin] and you confuse those outside of Sovereign Grace.” I happen to think that is an accurate critique…. Actually as I look back and reflect…I wish I hadn’t made that confession statement at that time.”
The Pastors Conference last week afforded C.J. his first opportunity to interact with the SGM pastors. He could have taken the opportunity to humble himself; instead, he took the opportunity to justify himself. After four months of supposed “self-examination” and pastoral care, C.J. retracted his confession, lamented his leave of absence, appealed for sympathy, justified his departure from CLC, minimizes his personal sin, used morally neutral language to cover his leadership sins (e.g., “deficiencies,” “weaknesses,” “not communicating wisely,” “inadequate,” etc.), vindicated himself by quoting others, commended himself for his self-examination and humbly over-stating his sin, rejected my narrative, accusations, interpretations and judgments as false; said he never believed his sins were uncommon, scandalous or disqualifying; didn’t believe there were systemic (widespread) problems in SGM, blamed slanderers for distorting (exaggerating) the problems in SGM, acknowledged no abuse of authority in the sinful handling of former leaders, focused on those that assault him, and called for the discipline of “divisive” church members by courageous pastors.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, C.J. did not ask forgiveness of the pastors for any aspect of his character, example, or leadership. He saw no need to ask the pastors forgiveness for anything. He was focused on the sins against him, his overstatement of sin, and the exploitation of his sin by others. He was not focused on his sins against others including the pastors and the movement. My documents, blog posts, letters from others, and input from others resulted in absolutely no acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Not once does C.J. say “I was wrong, please forgive me.”
John Loftness speaking:
I am here right now to give some context before CJ comes to give an update from his leave of absence. More than four months ago CJ volunteered to take this leave. The board decided to expand the board of three men by having all of the regional leaders in SG – I am one of those leaders – and so suddenly in a day I was transformed into a board member. I’ve known CJ for 33 years.
Since leaving CLC and moving to Solid Rock four years ago our friendship has only deepened though we don’t see each other as much as we once did. I give you that background because of our history because the board asked me to serve as a liaison with CJ so he could get appropriate updates of our work and developments that might affect him. The board also thought it was wise and helpful if CJ could receive pastoral care from someone who knew him well and was familiar with all that was going on in Sovereign Grace. [Kris says: I realize that this is supposed to be a bit of an introduction to the notion that CJ will explain why he is no longer attending a Sovereign Grace church but has instead made himself part of Mark Dever's Capitol Hill Baptist Church. But the idea that CJ left Covenant Life Church because he needed to receive care from "someone who knew him well and was familiar with all that was going on in Sovereign Grace" cannot possibly be used as support for CJ's going to CHBC. After all, who would know more about SGM and be more familiar with CJ - Mark Dever, or the men who have been trained by and worked alongside of CJ for decades?] I consider it a great privilege to stand with my friend during this most trying time. We’ve met often, we’ve talked extensively about his soul his leadership and how to evaluate Sovereign Grace. So what you are about to hear reflects the content of many many conversations over the last four months.
Over the last four months so many of you have communicated your support to Carolyn and I and we are so very grateful.
I have been looking forward to this moment when I could address you. I have spent much time over the last four months studying Second Corinthians. Paul is uniquely personal in Second Corinthians, uniquely heart revealing and heart appealing. He says to the Corinthians, “My heart is wide open to you.” He expresses this care in this unique way it is the only time he does this…soon after this statement Paul says this to them, “make room in your heart for us.” You bear no resemblance to the Corinthians…but I think there is relevance in his communication. [Kris says: Why? If CJ’s audience bears no resemblance to the Corinthians, then CJ must want to make the implication that he himself bears resemblance to the Apostle Paul?] I want to…my heart and I want to appeal to you to make room in your heart for me.
Here is the state of my heart. I am sad, I am hopeful, and I am eager to return to the privilege to serve you. Those would be three categories. I am sad. I reflect on what you have experienced during this season, the time you have invested because of all that has taken place, the challenges you have encountered over the past four months, how this has adversely affected your church. I locate myself in the midst of that and find my way to where I bear responsibility for that, I am so sad. My heart aches and breaks because I want to serve you. I don’t want to create work for you. So I pray that my sorrow and sadness is evident to you. I want to open my heart to you. I feel like it has been four months of mourning for the people I love the most.
But I am also hopeful because God is sovereign and He is wise and He is good and He has good purposes for Sovereign Grace and His good purposes cannot and will not be frustrated ultimately.
Deficiencies can be and will be addressed. Never has there been an interim board that we should be more grateful for or appreciative of. These men and their wives have given countless hours of sacrifice. We have been served heroically by these men and their wives. I am so grateful for Dave assuming this leadership role which he did not desire, did not volunteer for, and all the men participating on this interim board because they love the Savior and they love us so let them be the object of our appropriate gratitude for the countless ways they have served us during this season. I have hope because these are humble men, men of integrity, looking to lead us wisely as we walk forward. So I am very sad and I am also very hopeful. That is a little of my heart.
I want to appeal to you to make room in your heart for me. Many of you – this appeal isn’t necessary. From the beginning you have indicated that there has been no adjustment in your heart toward us. The room that was there prior is still there. And some of you seem to have added room in your heart. I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding. So many of you, this appeal isn’t necessary. Given the size of Sovereign Grace, given the diversity of questions, it is quite possible, it is understandable that for some there might be less room in your heart today for me. There may be little room , or maybe no room and if so, I understand. My appeal would simply be that I hope and I pray that what I say and in the future will allow you to make some room in your heart for me.
[Kris says: What does it actually mean, to “make room in your heart” for someone? Does it mean “continue to care about” the person? If so, I can’t imagine why CJ would honestly believe he needed to ask the men (SGM pastors) in his audience to work at continuing to care about him. Obviously they all still care, or they would not be sitting there listening to his remarks.
It seems to me that CJ is asking these guys for something a lot more complicated than vaguely “making room in their hearts” for him. It seems to me that CJ is actually asking these guys instead to be sympathetic to CJ’s own interpretation of the events and revelations of the past several months. He phrases it in the emotionally manipulative lingo of “Make room in your heart for me,” and he implies the clear comparison of himself to the Apostle Paul. But he’s asking for far more from his audience than merely continuing to care about him...or have him in their hearts. He’s asking for them to take on his point of view about SGM’s (and his) problems.]
Here is some of what I have learned during this season of reflection. I hope this provides some clarity where there has been confusion. I am not trying to persuade you. I am just providing you with my perspective for your consideration. [Kris says: The two previous sentences are patently untrue. CJ is clearly trying to persuade his audience to think in a certain way. Otherwise there would be utterly no reason for him to be standing up there in front of them, wasting his breath.]
I will address you from two categories: personal reflections and reflections on Sovereign Grace and my leadership of Sovereign Grace.
The leave of absence began in July. It was voluntary, it wasn’t imposed on me, it wasn’t disciplinary. It was a decision I made for a few different reasons. In light of the public distribution of Brent’s docs…here is what I wanted to do. I wanted to protect the office of the president of SGM. I wanted to protect the integrity of SGM, protect you and your church, I wanted to protect the integrity of the adjudication that was about to go forward. [Kris says: Does CJ continue to have a desire to “protect the adjudication”? Because if he does, why is he standing on the stage and speaking before the adjudicators - the Ambassadors of Reconciliation, presumably - have finished adjudicating?] I wanted to take time to evaluate my heart and my ministry in relation to the leadership to Sovereign Grace. After the Leave of Absence was announced I was informed by numerous leaders outside of Sovereign Grace that this decision was decidedly unwise, that it would be perceived as an admission of guilt or some form of discipline, though neither would be true. And in retrospect I do think this was an unwise decision on my part with unintended consequences and the board agrees with me on this. This leave of absence rendered me unable to communicate my perspective or defend me from all manner of false accusations. [Kris says: This is another absolutely untrue statement. CJ continues to have his SGM-financed ghostwriter at his disposal. He continues to have bandwidth on SGM’s own website for his blog. He has continued to speak publicly, both at SGM churches and non-SGM venues like Capitol Hill Baptist. One’s ability to defend oneself from “all manner of false accusations” has never necessitated being the head of a denomination.] But the leave did provide me with opportunity for reflection and unhurried evaluation and I am grateful. I have had so much interaction with individuals and received so much helpful and wise council inside and outside Sovereign Grace. I have learned much, I know God better, I love Him more, trust Him more, by His grace I am a wiser leader. So I am grateful for this unwise decision.
Next my transition to CHBC. After the public statement about the leave, I decided with the support of the board to attend CHBC during my leave of absence. I am very aware this decision has left you with a number of questions and I understand why.
Prior to the leave we had decided that Mark Dever would pay a strategic role in providing me with care and counsel…so his involvement was decided prior to the decision to attend CHBC. After my public confession and statement, it quickly became evident that for me to remain in CLC in this season would be untenable for a few reasons: there was hostility from a number in the church toward me after the release of Brent’s documents and I had disagreements with the approach that was adopted by the CLC pastors concerning these documents and in relation to my confession an approach that they thought best served the church. [Kris says: So basically what CJ is admitting here is that he was not actually submitted to the authority of any of his pastors at CLC. His primary concern was not actually to obey his pastors and make them happy. He decided he did not need to “"be a joy to pastor.”]
So I didn’t see how I could remain in the church because I didn’t want to be a distraction, a disruption in the church, and I certainly didn’t want to be divisive to the church, because I love this church, I helped found this church, I gave 27 years of my life to this church. I wouldn’t want to do anything to harm this church. So I thought it would serve the church, serve the pastors that I wouldn’t be drawn in by the church to anything controversial by having to reveal any of my differences or concerns. I was desirous of serving the church. [Kris says: Actually, it sounds a lot more like CJ was desirous of serving himself and his own comfort. It sounds a lot more like CJ wanted to avoid hard questions and potentially uncomfortable conversations with other members. If his real desire was to “serve the church,” he could easily have done so by simply saying nothing if people tried to engage him.]
I realize this doesn’t fit the expected practice relative to a church that preceded this decision…I know that, and I understand the questions but this was a situation where I believed and still do believe that the Word agrees that remaining in CLC would not have served this church or have served the pastors of this church. [Kris says: CJ just pulled the Bible card here. He says “...the Word agrees...” I would be very interested in knowing just where the Bible says anything that would have supported CJ’s leaving CLC. CJ’s decision to quit submitting to his own pastors and his own local church flies in the face of everything he has ever taught about the overarching importance of the local church, and of the need for members to constantly be going around asking themselves if they are obeying and submitting to their pastors and making their pastors’ job a joy. Certainly if CJ is going to imply that the Bible supports his decision, he ought, as a responsible “theologian” and elder, to rightly divide the Word and show his audience where he gets this idea.] I did consider becoming part of Solid Rock Church but I didn’t want to be a distraction to that church either, didn’t want to draw that church unnecessarily into this controversy. I am at this time a walking controversy and I did not want to distract another church, to disrupt any church or to be divisive in a local church.
Finally I made this decision as a husband. My wife has an unusually strong constitution but I needed to protect her from the assaults that we were both the objects of. [Kris says: “Assaults”? Isn’t that a pretty melodramatic word for CJ to use to describe what he and Carolyn might have theoretically experienced if they’d remained at their SGM local church? Perhaps I am mistaken, but I’ve always had the impression that people were a bit in awe of Carolyn anyway and have always treated her with the utmost respect. Would she really have been vulnerable to “assaults” if they would have quietly continued to attend CLC?] I am a husband before I am a president. When it was announced that I would be attending CHBC it was suggested that I was fleeing accountability and my response is as follows. I was not under any formal church discipline. Actually I was pursuing accountability. I was taking a leave of absence that I thought was a statement of accountability. I continue to participate in my small group with Bob and Jeff and Gary and continue to receive their care and council, encouragement, correction. I was running into, not away from, two separate panels and I was placing myself under the care and council of Mark Dever for the purpose of adding even more accountability. Mark is a true friend. We have a history of relationship. He is an excellent pastor and the man does not flatter.
One final reason – I needed help, I needed pastoral care, I needed the benefits of worship and preaching where I wouldn’t be distracted, where I wasn’t viewed suspiciously, where I didn’t have to be concerned about anyone approaching me before the meeting or after with questions or accusations. I needed to sit and listen to sermons that could speak to my needy soul. Mark is a dear friend to Sovereign Grace and I will never forget their kindness to us.
I don’t consider myself an exception at all. I do think these were exceptional circumstances.
[Kris says: If CJ doesn't consider himself an exception, then he is really out of touch with what has been the reality for pretty much all other SGM pastors who have times of stepping away from the ministry, or being outright de-gifted. When other SGM pastors have been de-gifted (fired), they were then commanded to remain in SGM churches after they were forced to step down. They were not given the luxury of getting to seek the “benefits of worship and preaching.” They were forced to stay put and face people who knew all about their situations, Sunday after Sunday.]
Next, reflection on personal sins. At the beginning of the week of absence I have acknowledged – like all of you I have examined my heart – would be a practice for me – self-examination in some form has been a practice for me my entire Christian life. Perhaps for some it appears this self-examination, particularly as it relates to Brent’s docs, began in July with the leave of absence. But actually this began just after I received Brent’s first docs which would be more than a year prior to July. [Kris says: As someone else pointed out, it’s interesting how CJ and other SGM leaders continue to refer to the materials Brent shared as “Brent’s Documents.” While it is true that Brent did write significant amounts of commentary himself, what has always reflected most poorly upon CJ and the enablers surrounding him were their very own email communications which were quoted in the documents. As far as I know, nobody - not CJ or anyone else - has ever disputed the authorship of the many emails Brent shared. Nor has CJ or anyone else disputed the basic facts revealed in those emails. Calling the damning information “Brent's Documents” is a clever way of distancing himself from the truth, which is that CJ’s own words in his own emails paint a very poor picture of him as a manipulative and controlling egomaniac.] When he sent the first docs I immediately sent it to those I serve with. I began to consider the contents of his documents and invited the observations and evaluations of those I serve with and through this process I was able to identify with the help of friends and the eyes of others, my wife at my side providing her insight as well, and I was able to identify more clearly certain incidences of sin, habits of sin, most of which I had previously acknowledged years before but I was engaging them again. By God’s grace I was engaging them in a more perceptive way and I hope more thoroughly.
So over a period of a year I crafted and sent to Brent two written confessions as a means of humbling myself and in hopes of being reconciled with him. I want to make clear that my written confessions to Brent were sincere, I was convicted of those sins. I did grieve and still do over the effects of my sin and I communicated that to Brent as well as to other men that were affected by my sin. I still want to communicate that to anyone and everyone that has been affected by my sin. It is a part of what informs my sadness. [Kris says: I wish that CJ would have taken a couple of minutes here to spell out in a few sentences just what, precisely, he’s talking about. What were his sins, if he’s so familiar with them now? I think some simple yet specific statements about what he actually considers to be his wrongdoings would go a long way toward helping those who continue to perceive CJ as not really having come to a place of repentance for anything relating to Brent’s complaints against him.]
However, it does appear that some assumed or concluded that I agree with Brent’s narrative, his accusations and interpretations and judgments of my motives, and this simply wouldn’t be true and it never has been true. Brent’s docs construct a narrative that I disagree with. That narrative portrays my sins as scandalous, calculated and deceptive, and uncommonly intentionally hypocritical, and pervasively so, and this is false. Yes, sadly I am a sinner and throughout my Christian life I have never viewed myself otherwise, and I think I have acknowledged this however inadequately throughout my Christian life but I don’t believe my sins are uncommon or scandalous or disqualifying. I have never believed that since the day the first doc arrived.
[Kris says: So coercing Larry Tomczak - his co-founder - to remain silent about half of the real reasons Larry was parting ways with PDI was not uncommon or scandalous or disqualifying? In order to secure that silence, threatening Larry Tomczak with exposing Larry’s then-teenaged son’s sins, which had been confessed to CJ in what was understood to be a private setting, was not uncommon or scandalous or disqualifying?
Setting up and ruling over a system wherein many men have been disqualified from ministry and fired from their pastoral positions for far more “common” sins (such as “pride” and the “fear of man”) while spending more than a decade refusing to make oneself even remotely accountable that – wasn’t “uncommonly intentionally hypocritical”?
I guess CJ has some singularly unusual ideas about what constitutes “uncommon” sin. Perhaps that would help to explain the pattern within SGM churches of responding so oddly to situations where child sex abuse had occurred. Perhaps that would help to explain why SGM pastors have appeared to take on the part of the perpetrator and further victimize the victims. Perhaps it’s because there’s an organization-wide faulty understanding of what makes a particular action an “uncommon” sin that demands appropriately harsh consequences?]
So I was grateful for the findings and rulings of the first panel in this regard and their agreement with that assessment. I look forward to the review panel, the second panel’s findings and rulings regarding this matter as well. I wish those panels started today.
I think I made a significant error in how I related to Brent’s docs. I viewed his docs as a means of personal sanctification and I related to him as if this is a matter of personal offense. [Kris says: I’m starting to wonder just how closely CJ read Brent’s documents. It was very clear throughout everything Brent shared that Brent was very concerned about ongoing patterns in CJ’s life that were not just about offending Brent on a personal level! Off the top of my head, I can’t even think of a specific conflict or disagreement recounted by Brent that would have been “personal,” with no ramifications for CJ’s role in the ministry.] All of one of my friends and counselors urged me to view his docs this way. [Kris says: CJ apparently has friends and counselors who don’t give good advice.] So I pursued personal reconciliation, I appealed repeatedly for mediation, I held out hope that Brent and I could be reconciled, and sadly to date that has proved to be a false hope.
I should have realized that Brent was making accusations and making charges, he was calling into question my fitness for ministry. This was First Timothy 5, not Matthew 5. [Kris says: Perhaps this is an error in the transcript, but if not, I think CJ meant to say, “not Matthew 18.”] So this whole matter should have been turned over to the SGM board early on for formal adjudication. But this was a new experience for me, and this was a new experience for us and one we weren’t prepared for. [Kris says: If receiving correction is a “new experience” for CJ and the SGM board, that fact is highly telling and actually supports all the charges in Brent's documents.]
I think it might also be helpful to say something about the confession statement to Covenant Life and to you via a letter [i.e., “Why I am taking a leave of absence” posted on the SGM website on July 6]. Those confessions were sincere. I do, like you, take my sins seriously. I see them in light of the holiness of God. I need a Savior and I am so grateful that the Father has provided a Savior for my innumerable sins. But after making this confession I have received much helpful critique from a number of leaders about my confession and I have concluded that I did not serve you well with this confession. My confession has been misunderstood, misinterpreted, and exploited. My confession should have been more precise. It was my desire through my confession to humble myself, to take responsibility for my sin, to set an example, to protect SG. [Kris says: It would have been helpful here for CJ to explain further what it was about his confession that he’s not somehow retracting. Also, maybe it’s just me, but I think the line, “I did not serve you well with this confession” is utterly bogus. Nobody at CLC or within the larger SGM organization was harmed (or “not served well”) by those letters. The only person who might have experienced unpleasant fallout from them was CJ himself. What CJ really meant to say is that those letters did not serve himself well.]
Instead, my communication in some ways create speculation that left me vulnerable to interpretation, that left me vulnerable to exploitation. I left the wrong impression of my sin. In that confession I was trying to convey that I take my sins seriously but I regret that my language conveyed that my sins were unusually serious. I do not think that, I have never thought that. I didn’t distinguish my sins from Brent’s accusations, judgments, narrative and I should have.
One member of the first panel said this to me – quote: “I respect, CJ, how seriously you take the respectable sins but you left the impression that you did something scandalous. But nothing you confessed reached the level of public scandal requiring a public confession. Your sins are routine and common.” [Kris says: Again with the “routine and common” thing. I am really concerned if panel members cannot discern that strong-arming a cofounder, through what amounts to blackmail, into falsely portraying himself as leaving the organization because of his personal sins, rather than because of a major disagreement with a dramatic doctrinal shift, is somehow “routine and common.”] That is not to minimize my sin. But it did help me to see the wrong impressions I left and I regret that.
Another member of the panel said this: “I think you made a genuine effort to be humble. You overstate the level of offense and you confuse those outside of Sovereign Grace.” I happen to think that is an accurate critique. I didn’t just confuse those outside Sovereign Grace, I confused those inside Sovereign Grace as well. I over-stated. I think I did that as well the year before at this Pastors’ Conference. My apology in relation to the polity process. A number of you came in afterwards and said in effect, you overstated that. I think you were right. I think this panel has an accurate assessment.
[Kris says: Maybe I’ve missed something, but I’ve never yet seen or heard anything out of CJ Mahaney that would even come close to taking a shred of true responsibility for the decades of authoritarian leadership, harsh disciplinary practices, faulty teachings, and an overwhelming concern for protecting SGM’s image that resulted in bad policies for reporting abuse to law enforcement officials. I’m not sure which statements CJ is talking about here.]
Finally, in relation to my confession, I wish I had defended myself. I think I briefly, at the outset, possibly at the conclusion, referenced my disagreements with Brent’s narratives and accusations. But I wrongly concluded that it wouldn’t be humble of me to defend myself. I am now convinced that this really reveals an ignorance of, a misunderstanding, a wrong application of humility. I had no category for an appropriate defense against criticisms and accusations, especially public ones. I think not having a category didn’t serve me.
I have no category for an appropriate defense against criticisms and accusations, especially public ones and I think not having that category didn’t serve me, didn’t serve Sovereign Grace, didn’t serve this process. [Kris says: OK, I am revealing my lack of years-long experience as a real SGM member here, but I really don’t understand what CJ means by “not having a category for an appropriate defense against criticisms and accusations.” What in the world does “having a category” mean? Is this some special SGMese? Some phrase that occurs in Spurgeon’s writings? Or a Grudem textbook? I have been in church my entire life and have degrees from both a Christian college and a Christian university, and I have never heard anyone talking about needing a “category” in order to speak the truth when accused of wrongdoing. I wish this transcript came with an interpreter!] Actually as I look back and reflect, though I was new to this process and evaluation, I wish I hadn’t made that confession statement at that time and what I should have done is postpone any confession statement until both panels had ruled. It made my confession statement all the more [unintelligible]. Not doing that left me vulnerable to critics and I don’t think it served you. Those are just a few personal reflections that I hope are helpful.
[Kris says: How would CJ’s vulnerability to critics not have “served” the pastors in his audience? Wouldn’t it be far more accurate for him to say that it did not serve himself?
Also, does anyone else join me in finding it quite revealing that CJ claims he was “new to the process” of being accused and criticized? Is it at all realistic that a leader of a decades-old “family of churches” could have made it this far without ever having done anything or made any misstep that was deserving of an accusation or criticism? I don't think so!
Instead, it’s much more logical to think that CJ lacks experience with being criticized because Brent Detwiler’s accusations are correct, and there really hasn’t been anybody who has been able to deliver corrective criticism to CJ or point out his missteps and mistakes.]
Now reflections on Sovereign Grace, reflections on my leadership of Sovereign Grace. Prior to this leave of absence I had become convinced, with the help of others, that I am not gifted to manage a movement. I lack the necessary organizational skills, I am not good at establishing policy and procedures and processes that set an appropriate expectation for how we serve together.
My gift of leadership is more strategic than it is tactical, it is more theological than it is practical. [Kris says: To echo a reader who had commented on this thought, what would a statement like this mean? Does CJ now consider himself to be a theologian?] And given the growth we have experienced even in the last 10 years we need practical leadership here, and appropriate structures and procedures. It is critical for SG, not optional and where change has been required in SG a process is necessary and here I would perceive definite other weaknesses in my leadership. I can introduce change quickly, I can assume when I have introduced quickly everyone understands it.
I can change quickly. I can tell you it is frightening how quickly I can change, it is disconcerting how quickly I can change. I can change quickly, I can make major decisions quickly. This doesn’t always serve a movement where process is necessary. Certain change is required, explanations, and more explanations, discussion, debate, and more explanation and persuasion. At times my leadership has helped create confusion. If you add to this our history of not communicating wisely – another area I want to take responsibility for, not communicating wisely and well, especially when you have made some significant changes.
[Kris says: This is actually the strongest part of CJ's entire talk. Seriously. It is. He actually admits here how mercurial and ever-changing his ideas and views can be...and how those changes have not been clearly explained to people as they were foisted on them. Excellent.]
There are additional deficiencies with their consequences. As I reflect I realize that I so often am not even aware of the effect of my statements. I can be musing while interacting with guys, or musing in the context of a message, yet I am unaware that guys are assuming that I am setting direction and it doesn’t serve. Or I am peering in the future and sharing my musings and not considering how to communicate that so that they are introduced wisely, so that there is a process of explanation and consideration, so there is a procedure and plan. Too often I have not done that. So at one point I am just musing about transferring the gospel to the next generation of pastors. [Kris says: Again, I need my SGMese translator. What on God’s green earth does CJ even mean when he uses the phrase, “musing about transferring the gospel”? What is “transferring the gospel”? If the gospel is the simple yet profound truth of what Jesus has done for us through His death and resurrection, what is CJ saying in his “musings” that is so hard to understand that he isn’t “introducing it wisely”?]
And I can leave all of my friends my age assuming that their season of effective, fruitful service is quickly coming to an end. I don’t want to leave that impression. But I realize that I can leave that impression and let me just say to all of the older guys here, and not just because of the economy, you have many years of service left and Sovereign Grace needs you more than ever. That is not a criticism of the younger guys. Thank God for our younger guys. You bring us great joy. This movement isn’t ready for you to have a transfer of leadership at this point in time and I am sure you don’t desire that particularly with the number of wise older men in this room who want to serve you till their dying breath and with the grace of God.
As it relates to my leadership over the past four months, as I have reflected in particular over the last eight years of my life, I think I ended up serving in the areas that I am not gifted to serve to the detriment in the areas where I am gifted to serve, and have been the most fruitful over the years. The first among these would be preaching. For the last 3 years there has been a rising course of voices of friends inside SG and outside SG who have spoken to me, met with me personally, and communicated the same concern: Why aren’t you preaching? We are perplexed. Why aren’t you leading a church? What are you doing? I have a friend, a leader outside of SG that took me out to breakfast in the context of a conference, and in complete seriousness said, this breakfast informs a rebuke. I said what is the concern? Took the entirety of breakfast, I took 2 pages of notes and he just said you need to get back in the pulpit and you need to die in the pulpit and you need to lead from the pulpit. And he was quite forceful to impress on me what he felt like would be a form of disobedience if I didn’t because he said God has created a [indiscernible/inaudible] how can you not perceive this? Why are you not doing something about this?
I think he is right. I think I have neglected my call to preach. I think I have accepted a role that is more managerial and quite obviously I am not a manager. And I also think I am a pastor. That is what I think I am. I’m a pastor. And over the last 8 years I have become detached from serving a particular local church. I hope that changes soon. It is my intention to change that soon. [Kris says: Hmm, I’m no fortune teller, of course. (That would be unbiblical.) But if we were in the book of Daniel and there were writing on the wall, I’d feel free to make something of a prediction. These statements from CJ, about his true gifting as a pastor and not a manager, certainly make it sound like he is positioning himself to go back to pastoring. Perhaps Josh Harris needs to be updating his resume?]
So during this season of reflection I have just benefited significantly from objective evaluation of my gifting from men inside of SG as well as outside of SG and I think I stand before you with more clarity on where I am called and gifted to serve and where I am decidedly not called and gifted to serve. Hopefully that will make me more gifted to serve.
And as I have looked at SG and myself, evaluated my leadership but SG more [unintelligible] I am aware that there are a number of areas to be addressed. Dave is going to communicate areas that need to be addressed. I just want to give you three.
Before I do, this practice of evaluation is the norm in Sovereign Grace. If you are new to Sovereign Grace, areas of deficiency aren’t unusual. You won’t be growing out of areas of deficiencies in our lifetime. So it is not abnormal for us to evaluate ourselves. I think it is abnormal this time. There is a loud voice from critics and the prevalence of slander that tends to intrude upon this evaluation, to distort this evaluation. [Kris says: I wish CJ would provide us with some sort of explanation for why he feels free to write off the “loud voice from critics” as insignificant, as something he and his cohorts can ignore. He indicates in this message that SGM has been without any sort of process for redressing wrongdoings by leadership. Since PDI/SGM has been around for more than 30 years, operating under one name or another, it would only make sense that without channels to address institutional wrongdoings, there would indeed be a “loud voice from critics.” Why does he automatically discount this? Why wouldn’t his critics’ “loud voices” be legitimate?] The process of evaluation is one we are committed to and have been historically and will be in the future and actually even bringing these few areas to your attention I have to qualify what I say. I don’t believe these are systemic and I am not attempting to evaluate all of Sovereign Grace. I don’t assume my preferences in [unintelligible] that it applies to all of Sovereign Grace. And I don’t agree with our critics who evaluate Sovereign Grace this way. I show concern for anyone, beginning with myself that make statements about Sovereign Grace that are categorical in nature. [Kris says: HOW? How does CJ “show concern” for those who make categorical statements about SGM? Thus far, all I have heard is his desire to blow off the “loud voice of critics” and call them slanderers.]
But just a couple of areas. First the doctrine of sin. I am deeply grateful for how the doctrine of sin serves the Christian. I am grateful for how it has served us in many ways. The doctrine of sin must be handled with great care and I don’t think we have always understood it properly and I bear some responsibility for this deficiency. Many years ago as I began to teach more about sin and sanctification I did not at that time anticipate all the potential pitfalls in the understanding and applying the doctrine of sin, especially as the amount of churches increased over the years. Oh my, I regret not foreseeing this. I regret not preparing us for this. I think I also assumed that our emphasis on the gospel would sufficiently protect us. Not necessarily so.
So as I have reflected over the last 4 months, I think this has been a 6 year process, in relation to the doctrine of sin I think there are a few areas where we have been affected by a misapplication of the doctrine of sin. [Kris says: So, it’s all about “misapplication”? It’s not because CJ’s teachings and writings were faulty to begin with? Typically, misapplication has to do with mistakes made by the listeners, rather than the teacher. It’s interesting how CJ is really only acknowledging the flaws of others (those who “misapplied” his teachings) rather than problems with what he taught.] First area is fellowship. This has been a strength in Sovereign Grace. I pray it remains a strength. At times the doctrine of sin has had too much of a prominent place in our practice of fellowship. Very careful here, so no misunderstanding. The practice and experience of fellowship is much much much broader than the application of the doctrine of sin. And our practice of fellowship must not be reduced to identifying sin or rehearsing sin or endlessly exploring the potential idols of our heart. Our practice of fellowship should primarily be a means of preaching and applying the gospel to each other. It should be a means of identifying evidences of grace in each other. The category of what it should be could be expanded.
[Kris says: Golly…sure sound like C.J., or more likely, one of his lackeys, has been reading here.]
But it is all too easy for our practice of fellowship to become a preoccupation with sin, primarily about sin rather than a fresh proclamation and application of the gospel to our lives. I regret these misunderstandings and misapplications where they have occurred. I wish I would have anticipated them. [Kris says: Wow. Just wow. During the one instance in this whole talk where CJ gets relatively specific about a problem, the most he can do is apologize or express regret for the deficiencies and mistakes of those who followed his teachings - because they “misunderstood” and “misapplied” what he said.] I think it was about 6 years ago I began to perceive these deficiencies. I’ve looked back through notes where I was – OK – I was attempting to address it but, OK, it was just a point in a message. I asked David Powlison to come to our Pastors’ Conference and preach a message on introspection. So that was all by design. That was simply the single message, had the privilege to teach the pastor care class at pastors’ college last 3 years and this has certainly been a section, but I should have done more. [Kris says: If anyone was under the impression that CJ was taking responsibility for one of SGM’s flaws - that of being too obsessed with pointing out the sins of others and considering that to be “fellowship” - here we have further proof that CJ is actually trying to vindicate himself, to prove just how he is NOT responsible for this particular problem. Not only has he now stated a couple of times that the problems arose through his listeners’ “misapplication” and “misunderstandings” of what he taught - he now also makes a case for how he actually did recognize the problem “about 6 years ago” and made attempts to address the problem.
All he really says here is that he’s sorry his listeners misunderstood and misapplied what was taught, and he did try to fix their problems by having Powlison come in and talk.]
And the second area in this regard is the area of correction. At times the doctrine of sin has been unhelpfully applied in relation to others instead of towards ourselves. So individuals have been corrected and pressed to acknowledge sins that others perceived, sins of the heart and when there isn’t immediate agreement with that correction and assessment then the category of pride can be introduced. The person appears to be unteachable then that is in sin, particularly if everyone else in the group is in agreement with each other about your sin. There is a wonderful quote, I think over the years it has been misunderstood and misapplied. This is from J.I. Packer’s work on the Puritans, Quest for Godliness, “Our best works are shot through with sin and contain something that needs to be forgiven.” The purpose of this quote is to humble us and to provoke us to guard our hearts. I don’t think this is a mandate for us to suspect the hearts of others or to pursue the sins of others or to correct others. I regret not perceiving this misunderstanding and misapplication. I regret not more effectively guarding misapplication. There is more I wish I would have done.
[Kris says: While all of this is definitely true, and it’s great that CJ is actually finally acknowledging what has become an unhealthy pattern of behavior among SGM’s leaders, does anyone else join me in feeling a bit cynical that he’s finally saying all this stuff only now – now, when it is to his own benefit to point out the pattern and declare it wrong? Where was CJ when hundreds of other SGMers were suffering similar fates?]
The second would be pastoral evaluation. This is another area that I think my leadership has been inadequate. More could have been done, more should have been done, more will be done. Sovereign Grace needs to provide our pastors with guidance, the content of a process where objective evaluation of pastors so that pastoral evaluations are theologically informed, objectively done, uniformly done, not arbitrary, not suddenly announced. A pastor shouldn’t be blindsided by an evaluation. And this is particularly critical when there are concerns about the pastor’s character or gifting. The content of this evaluation should be theologically informed, predetermined as well as the timing of this evaluation. I’m aware I’m aware I’m very aware that there are pastors that feel that they have been inappropriately evaluated, even mistreated by Sovereign Grace. Listen, I don’t believe this is systemic from my experience and I have pursued a number of these situations. Here’s what I have decided. Each situation is very different. Very different. [Kris says: It’s interesting that CJ doesn’t believe the various de-giftings represent systemic problems within SGM…and that he’s saying each situation is very different. When it comes to the de-giftings of various pastors (as well, come to think of it, as the way many members have been shown the door), I think anyone with the most rudimentary knowledge could list multiple similarities that would form a distinct disturbing pattern. I would love to have heard an explanation for just how these situations are all “very different.” I would be surprised if the differences outweigh the similarities.
But even so, I can’t imagine that focusing on the differences, rather than the clear similarities, would be helpful or productive in terms of SGM’s addressing its issues. However, trying to individualize and privatize situations where wrongdoing of leadership took place is a good way to enable denying and minimizing problems. SGM has used this tactic many times over the years, in terms of trying to make organization-wide abusive practices all about “Matthew 18” rather than acknowledging wrongdoing and addressing and fixing it out in the open.] We certainly do want to give attention to it. We are giving attention to it. In some ways I spent almost 2 years trying to give attention to it. And we are thankful for AoR and they are serving us even this morning.
One more thing before I finish. Once we have a pastor in place in Sovereign Grace we want to do all we can to keep that pastor in place. We do not want our pastors fearing that in some way that we are looking for a reason to disqualify them. We want to do all we can if at all possible for our pastors to have lengthy, fruitful service.
[Kris says: OK, I’m going to beat the same dead horse I’ve beaten in comments over the past couple of weeks. This particular piece of CJ’s speech is intriguing to me because I think it contains a tacit admission that SGM-the national-corporation functions in a governing capacity within local churches, a capacity that is nowhere acknowledged officially.
Basically, right here we have an admission from CJ himself that SGM Corporate is in charge of hiring and firing decisions. That’s a far cry from the self-description that is posted on the SGM website, where SGM’s mission/purpose is described thus:
“We are a family of churches passionate about advancing the Great Commission through church planting. In support of that mission we facilitate partnerships among pastors, operate a Pastors College, host events, and publish books, music, and other resources.”
I wonder why SGM Corporate isn’t more forthcoming about its role in controlling which pastors work where, and how long these pastors remain in their positions. How is this governing/controlling role for SGM Corporate reconciled with the notion that each SGM church is “independent” and self-contained?
I know I have hammered at this for weeks, repeating myself again and again, but I think this is an important topic that needs clarification, particularly for the poor sap churches that are considering being adopted by SGM. I don’t understand how SGM can claim that local churches are independent – and how, pre-adoption, churches can think that they will retain their independence but just get some vague level of support from SGM Corporate – when the reality is that SGM Corporate is the governing entity for hiring and firing decisions.
For instance, it is quite likely that CJ’s son-in-law Steve Whitacre will be sent to take over and be the senior pastor of New Covenant Church in Arnold, MD. New Covenant Church is in the final stages of being taken over by SGM as a “church re-plant.” NCC put out some notes awhile back about a members’ meeting they held on July 4. Those notes contained a Q&A section, where common questions were answered. One question was, “So, SGM is picking our pastor?” The answer was, “No, they are making suggestions.” But that seems like a half-truth at best, for what would happen if the NCC folks were to object to Steve Whitacre as their new senior pastor? What would happen to the adoption process for their church?
I don’t understand why SGM Corporate isn’t more forthcoming about its governing role…and I don’t understand what a church like NCC would possibly be gaining by deceiving themselves and telling themselves that they have some sort of voice in these decisions…when pretty much, it’s already been decided.
This is especially head-spinning for me. Why do SGM churches continue to assert their independence when hiring and firing decisions are made for them by SGM Corporate? Why do they continue to believe the lie that they are independent, when they cannot even have full freedom to select their own pastor?
And why does SGM Corporate not disclose its governing role but instead portrays itself as some sort of hands-off support group?]
Finally, polity. You are aware of this involved in the process, it will continue. It is not something that should be done quickly, different ways…2 years this process. It has been the tireless work of Jeff and Dave, thanks for your patience and participation. I think we are making progress. It is going to take much longer to make the kind of progress we need to make. We should not be surprised about that. I had a leader say to me just the other day “the fact that you guys don’t have all of your polity clarified and formalized is not a sin. You are a very young movement. ” So that is encouraging, gave me hope.
[Kris says: While it’s great that SGM is retooling its polity, it is not a very good sign that these changes are apparently being engineered behind the scenes, by the pastors themselves, with little (or no?) input from ordinary SGM members. One of SGM’s hugest problems has been its culture of secrecy and control, where the thinking and decision-making are done behind closed doors by pastors and then announced to or foisted on people, sometimes even without even informing them directly. If SGM is serious about change and has a good handle on its problems, any changes to polity would be done out in the open, with plenty of feedback from tithe-paying members.]
One aspect of polity that I do regret not having in place and that would be the appropriate handling of grievances in conflict resolution. We have not had grievance procedures in place for pastors or church members so no doubt there are instances where former pastors or church members would have been greatly served by these procedures. I am sorry that. I am sorry for the effects of that. The board is addressing that. Obviously receiving the value of AoR concerning that become a consistent part of Sovereign Grace church and Sovereign Grace procedures as well. It needs to, we want to, it will become…so that’s not exhaustive. It won’t surprise you that I have lots more to say. I am not going to say it today. I have lots more to say. I have never been this quiet for this long in my entire life. I was going to say it is killing me, but it is sanctifying.
Finally, it would not be good leadership on my part for me to leave you preoccupied with areas of deficiency. It would not be good godly leadership. Do we have problems. Yes we do. But listen. Problems we are facing, confronting, experiencing. These things do not define us, and they do not define our churches. Sovereign Grace is a gospel preaching movement. And by God’s grace Sovereign Grace will continue to be a gospel preaching movement. One thing I would like to say and stress. We must not let our critics define us, or redefine us. I think the days ahead are going to require all the content of Dave’s excellent message.
I think the days ahead are going to require more discernment as it relates to the identification of slander and the influence of slander in our churches. I think the days ahead are going to require courage on the part of pastors and when necessary publicly identify those who are divisive. I think the days ahead are not only going to require, I think they are going to require courage. I think in some ways in Sovereign Grace we have more humility than courage. And we are going to need more courage. Humble courage. It doesn’t mean we don’t learn from critique, we do. But there is a difference between learning from critique and allowing critics to define you. We are [not?] capitulating to slander in the name of humility.
[Kris says: I think every SGM member ought to be asking their pastors what this section of CJ’s talk means. SGM has historically redefined “slander” to mean the sharing of any information or thoughts that might not reflect positively upon leaders or the organization itself. Is that how “slander” is going to continue to be defined?
And what does it mean to be “divisive”? Why would “divisive people need to be “publicly identified”? What would such public identification entail? Are people now going to be outed for asking questions or expressing disapproval of or disagreement with what SGM Corporate and CJ do at the top? Why would pastors need “courage” in order to deal with “divisive” people, unless this pubic outing of the divisive folks is going to involve some sort of messy and unpleasant confrontation?
More importantly, how would such a witch hunt for the “divisive” jive with CJ’s own words in this very message, the words about how people misapplied CJ’s teachings about fellowship and have focused too much on confronting others about their sins? Isn’t it a total contradiction, to on the one hand condemn the hunt for sin in others while on the other hand end this message with a call to arms for pastors to exhibit “courage” and go and “publicly identify” those they think are being “divisive”? Wouldn’t such a process involve a whole lot of the same sin-sniffing CJ claims to now condemn?]
So we are going to continue to evaluate ourselves. But it would not please God if we minimize the evidences of grace in our midst, that have been present and pronounced for so many years. This is not spin. This is not hype. This is not some form of SG self-promotion. This is simply and humbly and accurately an acknowledgment of the mercy of God in and to SGM.