(Photo: Sovereign Grace Ministries)
Another longtime evangelical minister is stepping back from ministry to examine his soul. C. J. Mahaney announced last week that he is taking a leave of absence.
Mahaney has chosen to step back from his leadership position at Sovereign Grace Ministries after facing charges not of immorality or financial impropriety, but of certain character flaws such as "pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy."
"These charges (from former pastors and leaders in Sovereign Grace) are serious and they have been very grieving to read," Mahaney said in his announcement last week.
"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."
His decision comes just a year after well-known preacher John Piper took a similar leave over "several species of pride" he saw within himself. Piper returned to Bethlehem Baptist Church and Desiring God Ministries in January after eight months of withdrawing from speaking and writing.
Mahaney has been with the Gaithersburg, Md.-based ministry for nearly 30 years now. During that time, he has gained prominence as an evangelical speaker and author. But now confronted with various charges, the long-time minister has left the helm of the organization for the time being to examine his heart and "receive the appropriate help from others."
According to Rhoda Dixon, communications assistant at Sovereign Grace, Mahaney's leave of absence began on June 30.
The latest news has come as a shock to many but the board of Sovereign Grace, which is a network of local churches, said it has been evaluating the charges over a number of months now and determining a process to resolve the situation.
The charges are not only against Mahaney, however. According to the board, the Gaithersburg, Md.-based ministry is also in need of examination and a review from an independent panel.
The length of Mahaney's leave will depend on the independent panel's review and a decision from the board, which Mahaney has also stepped down from. When asked if there was a possibility that he won't be returning as president of the ministry, Dixon said they will first hear the assessment from the panel and go from there.
In terms of what his duties are during his leave of absence, the board will also be determining that.
For now, Mahaney has already begun seeking forgiveness from various persons affected by "my sin," he said.
"Although my experience of conviction has already started – and this is an evidence of God’s mercy – I’m sure there is more for me to perceive and acknowledge," he stated.
He has also enlisted the help of biblical counselor Dr. David Powlison and Pastor Mark Dever to review the charges against him, some of which he disagrees with.
Nevertheless, Mahaney has acknowledged his flaws and believes this is an opportunity not only for examination of himself but also for reconciliation. He took primary responsibility for the issues SGM is facing.
"For the past 5 years or so I have become increasingly aware of certain deficiencies in my leadership that have contributed to deficiencies in Sovereign Grace Ministries’ structure and governance, the lack of a clear and consistent process of conflict resolution and pastoral evaluation, and the number of former Sovereign Grace pastors who are offended with me/SGM," he wrote.
"My friends, though my soul can be easily overwhelmed as I contemplate my sin and its effects on others, I am also resolved to examine my heart, address the past, and play my role in preparing SGM for a future of planting and serving churches," he added.
"Most importantly I want to please God during this season of examination and evaluation."
In response to the news, some have offered prayers while advising others not to spread gossip.
"[I]nformation like this can be difficult to process because you’re not sure what to do with it," said Justin Taylor, elder at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Ill. "I think our natural temptation is to speculate and to gossip, which ultimately accomplishes nothing but destruction."
Joshua Harris, who succeeded Mahaney as senior pastor at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg in 2004, has called churches that are a part of the Sovereign Grace network to pray.
"This is a difficult time for us, but we see God using these events to refine us and prune us (John 15). We want to embrace all God has for us in this time and pray it will lead to greater fruitfulness."
During Mahaney's absence, Dave Harvey will act as interim president at SGM. The organization has also expanded its board to include more than half a dozen additional members in order "to secure a broader source of accountability."