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What Happened to the Promise of a New President for Sovereign Grace Ministries?

C.J.’s temporary Presidency has become his permanent Presidency.  There is no replacement in sight.  No surprise.  Two months ago I wrote, “Well now, who will be the next President of Sovereign Grace Ministries?  C.J. has sworn it won’t be him!  But C.J. has sworn many things and broken his word.  He could come back as President.”  Well, he’s back and it’s not temporary.        

The new Leadership Team has also been installed for SGM.  It has been reduced from 11 men to just 4 men (i.e., C.J. - president, Dave Harvey – church planting and care, Jeff Purswell – Pastors College, Tommy Hill – SGM staff and finances).  This allows for a centralization of power.  SGM now has a four tiered hierarchy in place although the third tier of apostles[1] (e.g., Gamache, Greasley, Osborne, Prater, Shank) has not yet been named.  Here’s what it looks like.

Board of Directors (9 men) --> Leadership Team (4 men) --> Apostles (yet to be named) --> Local Elders

Daniel Baker, an elder in Apex in NC, alluded to this four layer possibility.  He knew there would be at least three layers of government.  One more has been added. 

“Once we include this discussion we are ready to lay the framework for a revitalized Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Such a denomination would have (at least) three layers of government.  The first is the governing body of apostles and elders (the board).  The second is the apostles that serve this body and the churches.  The third is the local elders in their churches within the denomination.” (Daniel Baker, “A Defense of and Model for Apostolic Government,” p. 49)   

The day C.J. returned as the temporary President, he posted “A note to those in Sovereign Grace Ministriesin which he highlighted his two top priorities.  Getting a new Board of Directors into position and helping to identify and install his presidential successor.  That was on January 25, 2012.  C.J. hoped these two primary goals could be accomplished within a few months.”  That was his plan.  It’s been four months.  We have a new Board as of March 19 but we still have the old President.

Four times C.J. pointed out the temporary nature of his role because a new president is needed “who has gifts better suited to serve Sovereign Grace in this next season.”

“Over the last six months I’ve spent many hours reflecting upon Sovereign Grace, our history together, and our purpose and mission.  I’ve also taken time to think and pray about my calling and how I might best serve Sovereign Grace in this new season before us.  I have sought counsel from friends and leaders within SGM and in the broader evangelical church…. In light of all of this, here is how I think I can best serve you in the days ahead: as I step back into the role as president, I will do so only temporarily.  I think it would be wise for SGM to have a new president who has gifts better suited to serve Sovereign Grace in this next season…. So my return will be temporary and with a few important intentions.  Let me briefly explain what they are.  First, I want to give immediate attention to helping the interim board transfer governance to their successors…. Second, once the new board is formed I want to assist them however I can in identifying and installing my successor as president, although that decision will be for the board to make.  There are a few other matters I want to address in my remaining time as president, all of which is subject to the priorities that the board establishes for me.  But I hope these primary goals can be accomplished within the next few months.

“After supporting the board through these important transitions, I hope to return to what I believe is my primary calling from God – pastoral ministry and the pulpit.  This plays a significant role in why my return as president is temporary…. Let me explain. I think preaching and pastoral ministry are where grace is most evident in my life and where my leadership is most effectively expressed.  Others seem to agree…. Over the past six months I have seen more clearly than ever the wisdom of their [many faithful friends] counsel…. And I can proceed into this future confidently when our new board and president are in place.  So that is what I am returning to do and why my return as president will be temporary.” (C.J. Mahaney, “A Note to Those in Sovereign Grace Ministries,” January 25, 2012)

So what’s the moral of the story?  After four months of searching, C.J. has determined he is still the best suited to lead Sovereign Grace as the President.  Remember, he also co-chairs the powerful Polity Committee with Phil Sasser.  C.J.’s solidly in control.  He’s running the show.  What happened to his aspirations for preaching and pastoring?  Well, others will do the pastoring (and administrating) and he has 40 years of messages he can use in the new church plant plus host of other men who can preach.

This is characteristic of C.J.’s leadership.  He can bounce off one wall and slam up against another wall.  One day, he says no way I’m suited to be President.  Next day, I’m the best choice.  His impulsiveness in decision making is often rooted in self-pity, one minute, and self-confidence, the next minute.  He can quickly change from “I’d be a terrible President” to “I’d be a great President.” 

This presents a minor problem for Chairman Loftness and friends.  How do they explain C.J.’s permanency?  No big deal.  SGM is adept at spin.  First, “temporary” will be redefined as “foreseeable future.”  Second, C.J.’s self-assessment will be commended as an expression of humility.  Third, the Board will disagree C.J.’s conclusion that he should not lead SGM.  They will commend his giftings as sufficient and his experience as vital.  Fourth, after making a brief public announcement the Board won’t talk about the matter any further.  Many people in SGM won’t care what C.J. said back in January.  Fifth the Board will promise to help C.J. as President so he can “return to what I [C.J.] believe is my primary calling from God – pastoral ministry and the pulpit.” 

C.J. is not stepping aside for a successor.  Maybe in two years or ten years but not anytime soon.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.


[1] Mark Dever just came out with the designation, “apostolic pastors.”  Maybe SGM will use his novel terminology.  See

Post Script – May 22, 2012

On April 14, 2012, John Loftness, the Chairman of the Board for SGM, said C.J. will serve as President “for the immediate future.”  It’s been over 5 weeks so far.  In the parlance of SGM, you can translate the words “immediate” and “temporary” as “permanent.”  

“The leadership team will provide leadership to the ministry, propose future plans and a budget for Board review, and implement these plans.  For the immediate future, C.J. Mahaney will serve as President, Dave Harvey will lead church planting and church care, Jeff Purswell will serve as Dean of the Pastors College, and Tommy Hill as Director of Finance and Administration.” (John Loftness, “Update from the Sovereign Grace Board,”

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