In July 2011, Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) installed an interim Board of Directors. Our primary task was to determine C.J. Mahaney’s fitness to serve SGM as President in light of accusations made against him by a former SGM leader, Brent Detwiler. To accomplish this, we sought to apply the teaching of 1 Timothy 5:19-21 regarding the examination of an elder. As described in our October 28 blog post, we created three panels to review Brent’s allegations and report their findings to us, after which we would determine if C.J. was to continue in his role as President.
After examining the reports of these three review panels, we find nothing in them that would disqualify C.J. from his role as President, nor do they in any way call into question his fitness for gospel ministry. Therefore the Board has decided unanimously to return C.J. to the office of President, effective immediately.
After briefly describing the background and the review process, they conclude:
This has been a trying season for our family of churches and for C.J. and his family in particular. The recommendations made by the panels delineate some of the weaknesses we see in our ministry, and we expect to learn even more when the separate AOR-led Group Reconciliation process is completed this spring. Our hope and prayer is that all of us evaluate these matters humbly, apply the forgiveness that comes through the gospel appropriately, and relate to one another about these matters graciously as we work together to reform what needs reforming, reaffirm the goodness of God in our midst, and continue to plant and build local churches with our chief aim the glory of God through the gospel.
Three fundamental charges had been brought against C.J. by Brent Detwiler, and each of the three review panels sought to answer one of the following questions:
- Was Larry Tomczak’s departure from Sovereign Grace Ministries handled properly?
- Did C.J. wrongly influence the process of Brent Detwiler’s dismissal from his church in Mooresville, NC?
- Was C.J.’s participation in fellowship in 2003-2004, including the giving and receiving of correction, in keeping with the teaching of Scripture?
On the three charges, the independent panels reached the following conclusions:
- No, Tomczak’s departure from Sovereign Grace Ministries was not handled properly. [This is the most complicated and painful report. Attempts to summarize it would likely be inaccurate, but they summarize their findings—focusing on the SGM side of responsibility—under the following headings: (1) SGM board members share culpability; (2) the coercive threat was sinful; (3) public critique hurt Tomczak’s reputation; (4) fear affected some board decisions; (5) deficient processes contributed to the conflict; (6) Larry Tomczak contributed to the conflict surrounding his departure; (7) the SGM Board failed to aggressively pursue reconciliation. At the same time, they show that there has been repentance and confession of sin by those involved, reconciliation has been pursued, and some of the perceptions about this story are inaccurate.]
- There is no evidence that C.J. directly or indirectly wrongly influenced the events leading up to and including the resignation of Detwiler as senior pastor of GCC.
- C.J.’s participation in fellowship from 2003-2004, including giving and receiving correction, was in keeping with the teaching of Scripture.
You can read the entire reports in PDF form here. In short, these issues seem to have been bound up with sin (by more than one person), miscommunication, and unclear polity and policies. The review reports offer a number of recommendations for C.J. and Sovereign Grace Ministries going forward.
What’s next for C.J.? In a response to the review panels, he expresses his gratitude and talks about his future plans:
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. There is much work for SGM to do in the years ahead, and I want to do all I can to make this work fruitful. The opportunities for church planting in this country and throughout the world are numerous. The requests we receive for help exceed our resources. And one can’t help but be excited about the immediate future given the present Pastors College class and the church planting ventures we have planned for the next few years.
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. I love SGM and I want the best for SGM. Lord willing, I look forward to serving SGM more effectively in a different role. 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. In 2010 we began considering how to expand the SGM board and better define their role in evaluating and overseeing the president. Now that the interim board has served its purpose, it is time for us to complete the transition to a more permanent expanded board. I look forward to seeing this process through and benefitting from the leadership that an expanded board will provide for Sovereign Grace. Despite the many evidences of grace in our midst, I’m aware of a number of present weaknesses in SGM and some past failings; as our president, I take full responsibility for these and I am grateful that with a new board in place we can together continue to address these issues.
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. And I think I have neglected this call to preach for a number of years as I have endeavored to serve as president. Over the past five years many faithful friends have brought this concern to my attention and impressed upon me the importance of preaching as a primary means of my serving and leading. However moved I was by their concerns and encouragement, the many responsibilities of the presidential role would quickly preoccupy me again and the effect of their counsel would subside. Over the past six months I have seen more clearly than ever the wisdom of their counsel. So I think the most effective way I can serve Sovereign Grace is by planting a church and leading a local congregation through faithful expository preaching and teaching, as well as serving Sovereign Grace in other tasks and roles the board might recommend for me. I also hope to continue to serve the broader church where strategic opportunity and invitation present themselves, as I have with my good friends in Together for the Gospel. I simply can’t wait to get started. 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. I would be most grateful for your support in prayer in this season of transition.
This has been a trying season for a ministry and friends I love and respect. I am grateful to God for this labor of love in methodically working through countless documents and interviews, over hundreds of hours, seeking truth in love. May God use this refining process to provide course adjustments, reconciliation, and further fruitful gospel ministry.