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.

Worship Matters Book Review

“Worship matters. It matter to God because he is the one ultimately worthy of all worship. It matters to us because worshipping God is the reason for which we were created. And it matters to every worship leader, because we have no greater privilege than leading others to encounter the greatness of God.  That’s why it’s so important to think carefully about what we do and why we do it” (p 19).

Bob Kauflin has been in music ministry for over thirty years and his experience humbly shines through in this masterful book.  Worship Matters is more than a book about how to lead people musically and technique enhancement (though it does touch on those subjects). It continually takes aim at the heart of those involved in leading worship musically.  Kauflin navigates the sometimes fiery world of music styles and preferences with skill by holding to Scripture and not pushing any agenda besides seeing those involved come closer to Christ in order to better minister Christ to others and bring others to Christ.  Worship Matters is a must read for anyone interested in music – whether a novice or a veteran. I give it a solid 5 out of 5 stars.

Media & Worldliness

How does a Christian writer tackle the tar-baby issue of worldliness and our media consumption? Go too far one direction and you end up promoting living in Amish-like isolation.  Too far the other direction and you end up saying that everything is relative so it doesn’t really matter what we watch or how we deal with the internet.

In Worldliness, contributing author Craig Cabaniss attempts to navigate this realm in the chapter God, My Heart, and Media. I believe he does a good job in his attempt to continually point us to the Bible and avoid wrecking upon the rocks of media avoidance or media indulgence.

Cabaniss starts right off by declaring, “I’m not saying it’s wrong to watch television, rent a DVD, surf the Internet, or spend an evening at the cinema. The hazard is thoughtless watching” (p 40). His stress throughout the chapter pushes this point of being discerning in our pursuit of glorifying God and spiritual growth in our viewing habits. In the section Watching with Immunity? he reminds us that our love for the world isn’t a monster hidden in our plasma tv’s but is in our flesh, and thus we should be careful in thinking that we are immune from being influenced by our media intake. The L Word section of the book addresses the topic of legalism that gets thrown around whenever the topic of tv, movies, and internet gets brought up in Christian circles.

Our discernment in what we view is hammered again in Living Coram Deo (“before the face of God”) when the writer states, “it means we surf the Internet, listen to the radio, watch television, or rent a DVD in God’s presence. We make our choices – all our choices – with God’s holy face in view. It’s not the gaze of our pastor, parent, fellow small group member, or unbelieving neighbor that matters most. We’re accountable to God in all things, including our entertainment” (p 47). He goes on to describe this as Grace-motivated Obedience based on Ephesians 5. Cabaniss does an excellent job of presenting balanced case studies of applying Ephesians 5 in Watch What They Do, Watch What They Say, and Viewer Discretion Advised. The last section has a great section to aid in our discernment with a series of heart searching questions to ask ourselves in regard to time, heart, and content.

In the closing paragraphs of the chapter, Cabaniss demonstrates his ability to strike a balance in holding to Scriptural parameters without declaring a need to isolate ourselves from all media influence or confining ourselves to purely “Christian” forms of entertainment.

We’re not limited to watching only explicitly Christian programs or films. By God’s common grace, unregenerate artists made in God’s image do create works that make “true” observations about life. Unbelievers can craft “honorable” stories and “lovely” songs. they can produce films with “commendable” screenplays and “excellent” visual artistry. It’s possible to enjoy entertainment media for the glory of God, and this passage [Philippians 4:8] helps us do so. (p 66)

While I’m optimistic about the possibility of watching for the glory of God, I’m also realistic about life in the mediasphere. For most of us, applying biblical discernment and viewing with discretion will mean watching less than we currently do. But that’s no great loss. It means more time to interact with actual people – a date with your spouse, talk-time or play-time with your children, fellowship with your friends, serving people in your church, or reaching out to unbelievers. There’s a world of things to do with the TV turned off. (p 67)

This chapter was both refreshing and challenging.  I recommend reading it with active thought, questions, and discernment.  It will likely challenge you whether you grew up in a culture that generally painted watching tv, movies, etc as categorically “worldy” (with the possible exception if they were “Christian” or produced by Christians) or with a background that never really challenged your viewing and listening intake.

Readings on Humility & Worldliness

“Humility is a funny thing. On the one hand, it’s an extremely desirable trait. Most of us, as Christians, would say we want to be humble, right? Or at least we want to be thought of as humble. At the same time, few of us have given attention to what being humble actually means. Even fewer have considered what it takes to grow in humility” (Humility: True Greatness p 9).

“A love for the world begins in the soul. It’s subtle, not always immediately obvious to others, and often undetected by the people who are slowly succumbing to its lies… Today, the greatest challenge facing American evangelicals is not persecution from the world, but seduction by the world” (Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World pp 20-22)

I have started two of the newest books in my library – Humility and Worldliness both by C.J. Mahaney of Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Both books grabbed my attention and had God tugging on my heart prompting me to repent as well as prompting me to pray for others.  And I’m only past chapter one in both books.

In the coming days, and maybe weeks, I will be writing about these books and in the end reviewing them.  Though I am only at the start of each book, I must say that I find myself recommended them to people.  I encourage you to order them online or at least  see if you can check them out of the library to read for yourself. The topics of humility and worldliness are parts of our lives that must not be neglected.

Here is a small excerpt to help prompt you to read the books.  This is from Worldliness under the section Demas the Deserter:

What a tragedy! A life wasted. A testimony ruined. The gospel maligned. For Demas, in love with this present world, not only deserted Paul and the saints – he deserted his Savior.
What happened? How did Demas go from passionate follower of Christ, close companion to the apostle, willing to risk all for the sake of the gospel, to deserter? Where did things go horribly wrong?
Before Demas deserted, he drifted.
It wasn’t immediate. It wasn’t obvious at first. He didn’t go from disciple to deserter in a day. No, it was a gradual weakening, a subtle contaminating, and an eventual conforming to this world.
We all know a Demas – someone who, like a spiritual meteorite, burned bright with the love of Christ for a while, then suddenly (or so it seemed) faded from fellowship and turned his back on Christ, or fell into serious sin, leaving all to wonder what happened.
So often we’re ignorant of the signs, the symptoms of worldliness. People can be attending church, singing the songs, apparently listening to the sermons – no different on the outside than they’ve always been. But inside, that person is drifting (pp 19-20).

Worship Team Dynamics

I have listened to a couple audio messages by Bob Kauflin from the Sovereign Grace Worship Team Training Resources website.  The messages are from the Practical Foundations for Worship series.  They are: “Leading and Feeding Your Team” and “Heart Attitudes for the Worship Team”.

Leading and Feeding Your Team

This message is directed primarily at those who are taking the lead within the music team.  It deals with relationships between the leader and the team, team members and one another, the worship leader and the pastor, the bringing on of new members, discipline within the team, rehearsal practices, and more.

I recommend that those who are taking the lead in a worship team listen to this message.  It wouldn’t be bad if others in the team listen to the message as well.

Heart Attitudes for the Worship Team

This message is very well put together and I highly recommend it for all those in the area of music ministry.  It’s principles also stretch to people involved in other areas of church service.   Bob examines the proper heart attitudes needed to properly and biblicaly serve, especially in a public area of ministry.

It is a good way to check with the Lord about our own heart condition and attitude – confessing & repenting where short.  I highly recommend those in ministry listen to this message.

Healthy Worship Tension Teaser

I’ve started section three of Worship Matters called Healthy Tensions.  This first chapter is called “Guiding Principles”.  I found it to be a teaser for another nine chapters.  It also lays out our need to not get stuck on “our way” of doing things but also not to go to an anarchy approach of “any way is a good way” of doing things mentality.  This last statement will be explained more in the following excerpts and my listing of the nine healthy tensions that will be examined in the book & possibly in my future blogs.

“As the number of Sovereign Grace churches increased, we had to ask some questions: Are we doing what we do on Sundays because it’s biblical, or is it just our preference or simply what we’ve always done?  Is there a scriptural or normal order of service that churches should follow?” (p 153)

“Why is it so difficult to figure out what God wants us to do when we get together?  I can think of a few reasons.

First, although every generation and church is responsible to weigh its practices and traditions against the unchanging authority of God’s Word, God hasn’t been quite as specific in this area as some of us would prefer.  The Bible doesn’t give an order of service in this area as some of us would prefer…

Second, we tend to read the Bible through the grid of our own practices and preferences…Whether a tradition is three hundred, thirty, or three years old, the danger is the same.  We start with Scripture but eventually invest ultimate authority in our own traditions and views.

Third, some Christians think God hasn’t said anything about how we should worship him.  I call this the Whatever Principle.  It says that we can worship God any way we want.  The emphasis is on our own ideas and personal expression.  The problem with this line of thinking is that God has given us a number of examples and commands in Scripture that clearly communicate what he wants us to do when the church meets.  We’re to pray…Pastors are to preach and explaining God’s Word…We’re to sing praises to God…God hasn’t told us everything, but he certainly hasn’t been silent on the subject” (pp 154-155).

“With deep respect for those who’ve gone before us, in our church we attempt to follow three principles for ordering our services: 1. Do what God clearly commands. 2. Don’t do what God clearly forbids. 3. Use scriptural wisdom for everything else.

We’ll always be learning, always, improving, always seeking to learn from others how we can more effectively magnify the greatness of God in Jesus Christ when we gather” (p 155).

“There are several aspects of worship that we view, or at least practice, differently.  Rather than just endlessly discussing disagreements, we try to learn what the other might have that we don’t.  We’re trying to embrace what I call the healthy tensions of worship…My goal in examining these tensions is not so much to become balanced as it is to understand, pursue, and enjoy all the ways God has enabled us to worship him…Allen Ross says: ‘There is no reason for individual churches to change everything they have been doing; but there is every reason for all congregations to evaluate everything they are doing to see how they can do it better.'” (pp 156-157).

Ok, now for a sneak peek of the upcoming nine tensions to be discussed in the book and for me to consider blogging about:

  1. Transcendent and Immanent
  2. Head and Hearth
  3. Internal and External
  4. Vertical and Horizontal
  5. Planned and Spontaneous
  6. Rooted and Relevant
  7. Skilled and Authentic
  8. For the Church and for Unbelievers
  9. Event and Everyday