C.J. Mahaney Taking a Leave of Absence

A public letter has started to circulate the world wide web – C.J. Mahaney is taking a leave of absence.  In an open letter, Mahaney writes, “I’ve asked to take a leave of absence in order to give time to considering these charges, examine my heart, and receive the appropriate help from others.”  The “charges” do not deal with financial or sexual issues, but Mahaney is taking them seriously.  Through his letter explaining why he is taking a leave of absence, Mahaney demonstrates a heart that is soft towards the Lord and is living out what he wrote in his book Humility.

Here is the letter from C.J. Mahaney:

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.  I have had the opportunity to confess my sin to some of those affected in various ways by my sin. And I am so very grateful for their forgiveness.  But I want to perceive and confess any and all sin I have committed.  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.  Even with the charges I disagree with it has been beneficial to examine my soul and ask for the observation of others.  And I am resolved to take responsibility for my sin and every way my leadership has been deficient, and this would include making any appropriate confessions, public or private.  Most importantly I want to please God during this season of examination and evaluation.

So here is what I am going to do. I’ve asked to take a leave of absence in order to give time to considering these charges, examine my heart, and receive the appropriate help from others.  With the guidance of the SGM board, I would also hope to pursue reconciliation with former pastors of Sovereign Grace during this leave. I have stepped off the board and I will not be the President of Sovereign Grace Ministries during this period of examination and evaluation. In order for me to receive an objective evaluation in relation to these charges the board is securing the help of a third-party ministry that has no history of relationship with SGM. With counsel from that ministry, the board will determine the appropriate steps I should take going forward.   After processing these findings, the board will determine the appropriate steps I should take going forward.  This leave of absence will also help remove any impediment to the panel’s exploration that could potentially arise if I remained in my current position, and it will enable me to fully cooperate in the process.

Just so you’ll know, I have also contacted David Powlison and Mark Dever and asked them to review the charges and provide me with their counsel and correction. I have enlisted them to serve me personally during this time and to ensure this process of examining my heart and life is as thorough as possible. And for the past year I have been the recipient of Ken Sande’s correction, counsel and care. That, I am grateful to say, will continue. And as you would expect I will continue to meet with the appropriate men on the board of Sovereign Grace and benefit from their correction, counsel, and care as well. I am deeply moved as I reflect on how rich I am relationally and I am humbled by the time these men are willing to spend serving me and Sovereign Grace.

My friends, I would greatly appreciate your prayers as I continue to walk through this process.  Please pray that God would give me the gift of sight where I have been blinded by my sin and others have been adversely affected by my sin. Pray that I will be convicted and experience godly sorrow resulting in reconciliation where necessary and adjustments to my heart and leadership. Thank you for praying in this way for me.

One more thing. 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.  I have met with some and by God’s grace there has been reconciliation with men like Larry Tomczak (I wish I had recognized and repented of my sin against him years ago).  This brings great joy to my soul.  In other cases, appeals for mediation have thus far been declined, but I’m hopeful this process will facilitate further reconciliation.  But beyond this, there are still issues that need to be addressed and fixed in our family of churches. And I bear a primary responsibility because it has happened on my watch and under my leadership. I have resolved that I and the Sovereign Grace team can’t effectively lead us into the future without evaluating the past, addressing these deficiencies, improving our structure, and as much as possible pursuing reconciliation with former pastors. So during this leave of absence I will not only devote all the appropriate and necessary time to the independent panel and the charges but also to doing what I can to identify where I have failed to lead us effectively in relation to pastoral evaluation and conflict resolution.

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.  And given the mercy of God portrayed in the gospel my heart is filled with hope that his good purpose for us will come to pass and cannot be frustrated. I trust there will be much grace to tell you of at the end of this process.

For an open letter from SGM regarding Mahaney’s leave of absence go to the Gospel Coalition blog.

Update (07/07/11; 9:48pm) : Since the posting of this blog entry, I have received emails seeking to attack the character of C.J. Mahaney and maligning his current state of repentance and the seeking of forgiveness from those that he has offended in the past.  Having offended people in the past while in a leadership role in a church and having been offended by people in leadership positions within the Christian church in the past, I can empathize with both Mahaney and those who feel offended by Mahaney.  This blog is not to defend or accuse Mahaney or SGM, but to celebrate the work of Christ within people’s hearts.  The open letter demonstrates a conviction from God in Mahaney & SGM as well as those who have felt wronged and have demonstrated the grace of forgiveness, forgiving others just as God in Christ forgave them.  It is my prayer that the grace of God will continue to operate in a strong way within Mahaney, SGM, and those who have felt offended so that their lives will shine forth Christ through humble and loving repentance and forgiveness rather than pride and a root of bitterness.

Mowing the Lawn for Jesus

Rolling out of bed at the way-too-early time of 8:00am on Saturday morning in order to squeeze in a shower before leaving with my parents to the church was not my idea of fun.  Sitting down in a circle of chairs still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes while a handful of others who are on time (and by their chipperness must drink very strong coffee) are trying to sing and pray.  As the prayer time gets closer to concluding the other half of the team begins to trickle in fashionably late.  I half wish that I could get away with being late, but am more annoyed that people who live twenty minutes closer to the church facility than my family somehow manage to be consistently late.

Then the checklist is pulled out.  “Toilets? Vacuuming? Mowing the Lawn?  We need two more to mow the lawn.” I raise my hand to push one of the mowers (if they actually work). “Dusting?” The list continues but I zone out happy that I avoided anything to do with bathrooms and trash.

By the time the church clean up finished I was awake and ready to have fun for the rest of the day.  My family would hop back in the car and I would be free of mowing the lawn for Jesus for another three weeks.

As a high schooler I didn’t like the thought of serving the church by mowing the lawn and vacuuming on Saturday mornings.  But my parents had a view for me and my involvement in helping out the church. It was greater than the legalistic sense of “we have to do this”. It was more pure than the guilt trip mentality of “good Christians serve the church”.  The serving helped me into a life of serving others. Emulating Jesus who was the ultimate Servant. Who washed the feet of His disciples.  Who left the glories of the heavens to serve, even to die in service, at the hands of His own creation.

Whether I fully understood it or not (and “not” was the case most of the time), my parents were preparing me to live and love like Jesus.  I can honestly say that I am grateful for their vision and their helping me into the same vision.  As an adult, I now serve a church willingly and even find myself seeking ways to practically involve myself in cleaning and improvements.

C.J. Mahaney writes about this in his book, Humility, in a section entitled “Teaching Our Children to Serve”:

My final suggestion to parents is to intentionally teach your children to serve – and whenever possible, serve in the church with your child.

Your family’s higher purpose is to serve the local church.  It’s true that one reason the local church exists is to equip your family, but that isn’t its ultimate purpose; meanwhile, your family’s ultimate purpose is to serve in the context of the local church for God’s glory. The church is the true family of God, and you have the privilege to serve in the church not only as an adult but also with your child…

Finally, if you’re a parent, be assured that parenting is something God has called you to and that He has personally assigned your children to you both for their good and for your sanctification. They’re gifts from God, and they come with all the grace you need to prepare them for their future – and in particular for the day when you’ll appear with them before the judgment seat of Christ.  What can you do today so on that day you and your children will hear the words “Well done”? (pp 165-166)

Sin’s Hardening Effect

Sin has the amazing ability to slowly harden the heart. It isn’t like liquid nitrogen which will instantly freeze and harden an object. Sin is more like a winter night hovering just at the freezing point that gradually hardens the heart.  It starts as a few icy spots on the surface perimeter and slowly creeps across the surface in a thin film.  At the same time its numbing affect reaches deeper and its hold becomes stronger and more difficult to break.  Eventually the heart is completely hardened.

For this reason the Bible warns us to be on guard against being “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).

Author C.J. Mahaney writes about the hardening effect of sin in his book Humility about the especially dangerous sin of pride:

Sin always has a destructive effect, but often that effect isn’t immediately obvious. Over a period of time, however, where sin is indulged, there’ll be a hardening effect on the soul of a genuinely converted Christian.
To differing degrees we’re all familiar with this hardening effect. Perhaps you gradually find yourself less affected by corporate worship in your local church. Or you’ve recently noticed that your appetite for Holy Scripture has diminished. You may be less sensitive to sin, or your confession of sin is less frequent and lacks sorrow.
The ultimate effect from such hardening by sin is that grace, for the Christian, is no longer amazing. That’s why we need to stay close to the doctrine of sin – because it helps us see the presence of pride and protects us from those hardening effects…and it’s sufficiently potent to put pride to death in our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit…
[Remember] that study alone isn’t sufficient. Along with increased knowledge there must also be grace-motivated application of truth and grace-empowered obedience to truth. Only then will we experience Christ’s liberating power from the sin of pride (pp 93-94).

Humility in Leadership

“Yes, leaders are vital to the church, and it’s appropriate to thank those leaders who have been used by God as a means of grace. But we’re to ascribe glory to no man.  Glory is ascribed exclusively and entirely to God. Only He can regenerate a heart. Only He can change a life. Therefore, only God should receive glory.”
-C.J. Mahaney (Humility p 81)

Starting the Day on the Offensive

“Morning devotions can set your day going well and change you.” (John Myer in the Columbus Ministry Workshop)

Coming to the Word of God with prayer is a sure way to get your day starting off well.  Yet, we often respond to this spiritual discipline with dismissive statements such as “but it is so hard to do”, “they can be so boring”, “I’m not a morning person”, or “I would do them if only I had time in the mornings”.

The last statement carries a key to helping dismantle our excuses and set us up for an effective morning devotion.  Quite simply, they won’t work if we wake up late and feel pressured and rushed.  Waking up 10-15 minutes early (which can be helped by going to bed 10-15 minutes earlier) to dedicate to coming the Christ in the Scriptures will allow you to “set your mind on the things that are above”.

Author and former pastor C.J. Mahaney concurs with this in his book Humility:

How we begin our morning so often sets the tone for the day. I’m convinced that the most decisive time of our day is very often our first waking moments, because they color everything to come (p 68).

Sin doesn’t wake up tired, because it hasn’t been sleeping. When you wake up in the morning, sin is right there, fully awake, ready to attack. so rather then be attacked by sin in the morning, I’ve chosen to go on the offensive. I’ve chosen to announce to sin, “I’m at war with you. I know you’re there, and I’m after you.” (p 69)

In addition to being an offensive weapon in our battle against sin, our devotions provide a consistent way of encountering Christ.  In the business of life if we aren’t deliberate about our times one-on-one with Jesus we can go entire days without conversing with our Savior.  We will tend to only meet up with Jesus on accident or once a week in church.  When it comes to a quality Christian life devotions are a great help because as John Myer said during the Columbus Ministry Workshop, “How far away can  you really get from Jesus if you contact Him every twenty-four hours?”

In God’s Gaze

“Humility gets God’s attention. In Isaiah 66:2 we read these words from the Lord: ‘This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.'” (Humility: True Greatness by C.J. Mahaney, p 19)

Humility, genuine God-driven humility, draws God’s gaze.  In a performance based world it can become easy to try to earn grace and God’s attention through activities.  Don’t misunderstand me, I am not for a couch-potato Christian life nor am I anti-activities.  But we too often miss verses like the one from Isaiah, a verse that is crucial to Christians.  Having a genuine humility as defined by the Bible is something that God treasures and something that He pays attention to.  C.J. Mahaney develops this thought some more in his book Humility:

God is decisively drawn to humility. The person who is humble is the one who draws God’s attention and in this sense, drawing His attention means also attracting His grace – His unmerited kindness. Think about that: There’s something you can do to attract more of God’s gracious, undeserved, supernatural strength and assistance!
What a promise! Listen to this familiar passage again for the very first time: ” God…gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). Contrary to popular and false belief, it’s not “those who help themselves” whom God helps; it’s those who humble themselves (pp 20-21).

The problem with humbling ourselves is that sometimes we take pride in our humility, develop a self-righteous view of humility, or feel humble are we compare ourselves to other sinful and fallen human beings.  The Bible is a great tool to help adjust our definition of humility to God’s definition.  This begins with seeing God as He is and then under His light seeing who we are at our core.  Mahaney opens this thought up as follows:

Our definition of humility must be biblical and not simply pragmatic, and in order to be biblical it most begin with God…That’s where the following definition can help us: Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in the light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.
That’s the twin reality that all genuine humility is rooted in: God’s holiness and our sinfulness. Without an honest awareness of both these realities…all self-evaluation will be skewed and we’ll fail to either understand or practice true humility.  We’ll miss out on experiencing the promise and pleasures that humility offers” (pp 21-22).

In the coming days and weeks there will be more installments along the lines of humility (and possibly other topics) that are addressed and read about in this summer’s 10 week long Columbus Ministry Workshop.

Emotion and Truth Based Christian Lives

“Putting all my desired “Jesus feelings” into words makes me sound like an emotional seventh-grade girl about to leave summer camp. That is not good.  I think many Christians are more interested in chasing a feeling about Jesus than pursuing Jesus himself and reviewing and thinking about the truth of who he is.” -Joshua Harris (Dug Down Deep pp 85-86).

The daily trivia at my Caribou coffee shop was “Name the character played by Johnathan Taylor Thomas (JTT) in the television show Home Improvement”. If you get it right you save ten cents. I got it wrong.  But a conversation ensued with the baristas about teenage heart throbs and how some people can work themselves into an emotional frenzy just thinking about the latest teen hunk. Mention, or even better, trash talk “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob” around some teenage girls and you will immediately see this frenzy of emotions.

Christians can fall into this same kind of emotional frenzy about Jesus.  There is nothing wrong with being a “crazy lover of Jesus” and having a bubbling up of emotions. The Bible is full of expressions of deep emotions and crazy love for God (think about the Psalms or David dancing in front of the Arc of the Covenant).  A completely stoic, Spock-like Christian life is abnormal when compared to the Bible’s description of the Christian experience.

On the other hand, an emotionally driven experience of Jesus can eventually become unhealthy. Over time a person can fall in love with the emotions that they associate with Jesus instead of falling in love with Jesus himself.  It is similar to falling in love with bubbly sensations that come with a relationship with another person rather than falling in love with that person.  There is danger of depression when you don’t have the feelings.  Feelings are also not equal to facts. Emotions that are not based on truth can be deceptive and destructive.  Joshua Harris describes a truth-based emotional response to Jesus quite well in his book Dug Down Deep:

I’m not even sure how to describe the feeling that I believe I should have about Jesus. All I know is that I want a really deep and meaningful feeling. I want something to wash over me. I wouldn’t even mind crying. Actually crying is good. The feeling I’m after definitely needs to be passionate and profound. A touch of melancholy works too. Sad and austere feel very spiritual. I want to feel like Jesus is my closest friend, like we could hang out. I want to feel that he likes me – my tastes, my sensibilities, my music, my food. I want a deep bond – the kind that doesn’t even need words to communicate.

Putting all my desired “Jesus feelings” into words makes me sound like an emotional seventh-grade girl about to leave summer camp. That is not good.

I think many Christians are more interested in chasing a feeling about Jesus than pursuing Jesus himself and reviewing and thinking about the truth of who he is.

The irony of this feeling-driven approach to Jesus is that ultimately it produces the opposite of what we actually want. Deep emotion in response to Jesus isn’t wrong. It can be good. But to find it, we need more than imagination and introspection.

One of the most valuable lessons C.J.[Mahaney] has taught me about the Christian spiritual life is that if you want to feel deeply, you have to think deeply. Too often we separate the two. We assume that if we want to feel deeply, then we need to sit around and, well, feel.

But emotion built on emotion is empty. True emotion – emotion that is reliable and doesn’t lead us astray – is always a response to reality, to truth. It’s only as we study and consider truth about Jesus with our minds that our hearts will be moved by the depth of his greatness and love for us. When we engage our minds with the doctrine of his person and his work, our emotions are given something to stand on, a reason to worship and revel in the very appropriate feelings of awe and gratefulness and adoration.

Knowing Jesus and feeling right emotions about him start with thinking about the truth of who he is and what he’s done. Jesus never asks us how we feel about him. He calls us to believe in him, to trust him. The question he asked his disciples is the same one he confronts us with: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ The real questions when it comes to Jesus are, Do you believe he is who he says he is? Do you believe he’s done what he said he came to do? (pp 85-86)