It took Jesus 30 years to prepare for ministry. He ministered publicly for 3 years. He was crucified and rose 3 days later.
It’s taken the board of Sovereign Grace Ministries six days to issue a statement of resolutions essentially declaring they will exonerate their founder CJ Mahoney, re-stating their board authority and declaring the writer of SGM wikileaks to have ‘publicly slandered…Mahaney’s reputation.’ The board further states there has been public defamation.
Background to the events of this group is here. I strongly recommend reading the key blogs which have followed SGM and provided a haven for former members.
1. That Brent Detwiler’s refusal to participate in mediation with C.J. Mahaney—unless Mahaney first agrees (a) to publish an extensive written response to each of Detwiler’s accusations and (b) to make a public confession prior to any mediation or impartial evaluation of his charges—is unjust and constitutes a denial of biblically grounded due process for a qualified minister of the gospel (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Timothy 5:19-20, Proverbs 25:9).
2. That Brent Detwiler’s distribution of written accusations against C.J. Mahaney to all Sovereign Grace pastors constitutes ‘the public slander…of Mahaney’s reputation’.
3. That the board of Sovereign Grace Ministries has reviewed Brent Detwiler’s documents accusing C.J. Mahaney of sinful practices in the conduct of his ministry and finds no reason at this time to deem him unfit for ministry. However, the board will reevaluate Mahaney’s fitness after receiving formal evaluation of the accusations lodged against him (see below). The board acknowledges that sins have been committed but also recognizes and appreciates Mahaney’s eagerness to confess sins, pursue reconciliation with Detwiler, and pursue personal holiness and growth as a minister.
4. That C.J. Mahaney is a qualified minister of the gospel and this board approves his pastoral and teaching ministry in Sovereign Grace and the wider body of Christ.
5. That Sovereign Grace Ministries will engage a process of evaluation regarding CJ Mahaney’s fitness for ministry.
- a panel will examine Mahoney’s confessions to see if he is fit for ministry
- a second panel will work with the first, and set up a fair hearing
- the board will get comments from outside pastors
- the board will then make it’s determination
Oh. The board and CJ Mahoney have already decided, and this statement while hearbreaking for members and former members who had hoped for transparency and healing from leadership, is no surprise. SGM is structured on ‘Apostolic leadership’, birthed out of the discredited sheparding movement. It is hyper-authoritarian, complementarian (no women in leadership) and run by a small hand picked board raised and trained in SGM, and loyal to the founder. The double speak and contradictions will be evident to those who take the time to read past the pr.
Sovereign Grace Ministries has been around for about 30 years, under different names, but around. There are about 70 churches.This is not a denomination, it is a group of charismatic reform churches.
There are to my knowledge five types of church governance.
1. CENTRALIZED form of church government is where a central council has much authority over the running and ordinances of the local congregation. This is typical of denominational mainline churches where the pastor is appointed and regulated by the directions and rules of the central council. This kind is usually one with a long history and has established branches.
2. PRESBYTERIAN form of church government is where the local church is governed by a board of elders which has final authority over every aspect of the church, including the appointment and work of the pastor.
The pastor may or may not be a member of this board. This kind of church may be denominational or independent.
3. CONGREGATIONAL form is where the majority rules, the democracy style of government where the people vote to elect their pastor and the church board to administer the affairs of the church. It is usually an independent church.
4. PASTORAL form of government is where one is in authority, with the board or elders or deacons in the advisory and co-laboring capacity.
The pastor receives from and is directly accountable to God, and he runs the ministry according to his depth and knowledge in God. It is usually an independent church. The person may not be a pastor in his primary call, but it is considered as pastoral in that the pastoral function has a more dominant role and the vision is more localized, called to raise a church in a particular place and time.
5. APOSTOLIC form of government. Apostle means “one sent out”, one with an outward thrust and a pioneering or restoration cutting edge, the edge that causes revolutionary impact and can either be of a new movement or a work of extensive scale, or even both. The leader is a commander with a mandate and an extended vision which is usually cross-cultural or global, but not always. He has to be one raised and equipped for the job and for the hour. He usually presides over a council of fellow ministers that has direct calling and anointing for the thrust, covering the 5-fold ministry in varying degrees. It is a patriarchal and theocratic government, where the Word of God reigns supreme, where the leadership is strong and the followership intelligent, where revelations from above chart the course and the leader is directly accountable first to God. Is he also accountable to the people? Yes, but not in the same way as he reports to his God. The spiritual authority of his leaders is derived very much from ministerial calling even though seniority is respected.
While every form of governance is subject to abuse, checks and balances are in place for most of them. SGM is a mish mash of self made, self chosen apostolic and sheparding rules and polity. The sheparding movement has been throughly discredited, and renounced by a couple of it’s founders. It continues in various forms in the US, with Sovereign Grace Ministries being one group who embraces the doctrines and structure.
The SGM board has spoken. CJ Mahaney has spoken. And spoken again. He plans to be on stage this fall getting a man hug from a co-founder he blackmailed years ago at his popular pastors conference in front of the fanboys. All will once again be well in this hyper-authoritarian, hyper-rerform environment and everyone will live happily ever after.
Or will it? One name is missing from the board statement.** A young minister mentored groomed and schooled personally by Mahaney isn’t quite following the rules. Josh Harris was put in place as senior pastor in the mother church, and is trying to listen to the concerns of members, former members, and obey God. He has come across as the voice of empathy as information became public and he may be the next leader thrown under the bus – or in SGM language – de-gifted. He is on the board and he did not sign the board resolutions. He is one pastor in a larger group of pastors who will have choices to make. I believe as the window of opportunity closes for members and leaders to foster and bring forward change and seek healthier forms of governance and accountability, and to move away from authoritarianism and celebrity worship, current members who are seeking truth will come to a fork in the road. Anger is rising as is frustration, conversation is flowing fast and opinions are being formed, changed or hardened. SGM members have a difficult environment to navigate.
If you look at the history of SGM and of the sheparding movement, you’ll see that the spin and the tracjectory is classic and predictable.
1. A small internal and loyal group decides on political and doctrinal checks and balances
2. A small group decides on the flow of information
3. A small group stifles questions and internal criticism
4. Outside criticism is dismissed by the leader/group
5. Walkaways are labelled, dismissed and shunned
6. Whistleblowers are accused of slander and sometimes taken to court
7. A circle of leaders who benefit financially and by reputation are enlisted to reinforce the leadership message
8. Members are told (using fear and coercion) not to read/listen or follow criticism or critics
9. Power remains centralized, the threat/perceived threat is nuetralized using inside loaded language and the well established language of control
10. The status quo and organizational equilibrium is maintained.
Members of SGM paying attention to the public kerfuffle will see power posturing, performance pre-occupation, unspoken rules, lack of balance in theology which can swing from extreme objectivism to extreme subjectivism, flashes of paranoia and quick anger, loaded language, misplaced loyalty, emotional manipulation, secrecy, (does anyone believe the SGM board will release ‘outside’ findings?) and fostered polorization. ( gleaned from The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen)
Other resources for SGM members
There is nothing new under the sun.
Other groups and denominations have walked this road. Individuals have repented, and the pattern has been that in such toxic and dysfunctional systems, spiritual health is maintained or regained by those God has called to repentance by time away from the group or walking away. The board of Sovereign Grace Ministries may regret their premature statement, time will tell. I’m hearing these hand picked men say, “We stand with Mahaney. You are for us or against us.”
Jesus asks, “Chose this day who you will serve.”
The fork in the road may have come a bit more quickly for some SGM members than expected.
As much as the SGM board would like to be in control and need to be in control, they cannot unring a bell. The online coverage of SGM goes back years, former SGM members have put their stories out for those who have ears to hear. It will get louder and messier and sadder.
Blogs covering SGM
I’ll end with this sickening statement from Ligon Duncan, a long time ideological friend of CJ Mahaney, telling SGM members what to do.
…I would then encourage you to ignore the assaults of wounded people on attack websites and blogs, and that you discount the opinings of those who have no real knowledge of these matters or relation to SGM or authority to comment upon them, and that you refrain from assuming that you (or they) are in a position to render judgment on these things.