What can pastors learn from the recent controversy with CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries?

If you are unfamiliar with this situation, read these 3 articles:

CJ’s explanation why he is taking a leave of absence.

CJ’s comments before Covenant Life Church

A response from the board of Sovereign Grace Ministries

First, let me say, I have no desire to weigh in on the particular conflicts that are taking place.  I consider CJ Mahaney a friend and significant influence in my life as a pastor over the years and have high hopes the gospel will be cherished even more by those involved once these proceedings conclude.  There are, however, some important lessons to be learned as pastors as we simply see the nature of this conflict:

1) Staff relationships continue long after they leave your church.  Many of us have had conflicts with staff in our churches we either worked with as fellow employees or were even in the position of boss over them.  Unfortunately, even in a church, those relationships do not always end well.  We should learn to do all we can to be at “peace with all men” including staff and fellow pastors who may be leaving our church staff realizing those things that are left unresolved can come back and bite you.

2) Do not envy the “famous” pastors of our day.  It is a strong, irresistible temptation to envy, even idolize those pastors whom God has given a massive platform for ministry.  We see them speak at the main conferences.  We read their books in awe.  We want to be like them.  Allow this conflict to be a reminder to us all of the great public burdens these well-known pastors like CJ Mahaney carry that we have no idea about.  Most of what they do is examined with close scrutiny and seen and heard by all.  We all know if this was not CJ Mahaney, we would not even know about it.  We all know if the accusations of “pride” were directed to anyone else other than the guy who wrote the definitive book on Humility, we would be uninterested.  Pastors, be reminded that being in obsurity in pastoral ministry is not a curse as many think, but a gift that our every mistake is not online for the world to see. 

3) Do not allow one controversy to judge a man’s ministry.  It would be tragic to judge all of Spurgeon’s immeasurably fruitful ministry on the down grade controversy.  Equally so, it would be unfair to evaluate CJ’s decades of incredibly fruitful ministry to so many based on this one controversy, or any other for that matter.  None of us as pastors would want to be evaluated in this way, nor should we do so to CJ’s ministry.

This is not meant to be a defense of CJ, but an opportunity to learn from this very public conflict, not seize the moment simply to criticize, as many have.  I know many of you, like me, have learned much from CJ Mahaney.  Allow this unfortunate public conflict to be yet another lesson for us to know how to be faithful pastors and mindful of the ways our sins, failures, and broken relationships in our ministries can and will effect us, our churches, and our ministries.



Posted in The Pastor's Soul, Training for Ministry
13 comments on “What can pastors learn from the recent controversy with CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries?
  1. Tom says:


    Thank you for your perspective and helpful insights here. They echo 1 Cor 10:12.

    One thing I would probably disagree with you about, though, is your comparison of CJ’s issues to Spurgeon’s downgrade controversy. From what I understand, CJ’s issues span decades. While I’ve been tremendously helped by CJ’s ministry myself, his ministry is now reaping what his aberrant theology / ecclesiology sowed.

    That being said, again I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 10, and how his example should serve to keep us alert to our own pride and our need for God’s grace.


  2. Jason Nicholls says:

    Well said, and Amen.

  3. Jenn Grover says:

    Wow, it sounds like the lessons are all about protecting pastors versus caring for God’s people.

    • briancroft says:

      There could be an entirely different post about caring for God’s people on this matter. My focus for this post was specifically for pastors as is much of what I write on this blog. I hope this clears up any confusion that I do not care about others outside of pastors in regard to this situation.

  4. Steve240 says:

    Interesting perspective you give on C.J. Mahaney and what has happened.

    I think groups like SGM can enable someone to get to the point that Mahaney became due to a lot of the “hero worship” including long periods of clapping he received when he was the speaker at various SGM Churches and events. It doesn’t excuse Mahaney’s actions but certain environments can enable behaviors like this.

    I do find it hard to “not allow one controversy to judge a man’s ministry” when the documents show that Mahaney hid his sin of blackmailing Larry Tomczak for 13 years. It took a number of appeals by Larry to get C.J. to respond. Had this time frame been a lot shorter this would be easier to do.

    While this sin was hid Mahaney wrote a book on humility which is just baffling that one could do that. Sadly it shows how self deceived Mahaney must have been. One also wonders if Mahaney might have been forced to reconcile and was a preemptive action by Mahaney since Brent was starting to produce documents showing Mahaney’s sin. Had these documents not been coming out, I wonder just how long it would have been before Mahaney decided to reconcile.

    I hope the church can learn from the mistakes made here to help prevent them from happening in the future.

  5. Brian,

    I have a related question re: practical pastoral ministry that I would love if you would take up at some point. It is a question prompted by the release of many and massive documents by one of the parties. Here is the question: Should a pastor take copious notes and document everything that takes place during a conflict? Or is that, in someway, betraying an unloving heart? I would love to hear your input.

    (Btw, I loved “Visit the Sick”!)


    • briancroft says:

      Thanks for your encouragement on the book. I don’t think it is wrong to document conflict as long as it is driven with a motive to be clear on the facts of the matter, verses building a case against someone to spread years later. There is, however, a matter of documenting discussions with those who may bring legal charges against you for some reason. In that case, the facts in print are very necessary and wise.

  6. Steve in Toronto says:

    It would be helpful if you would direct your readers to a few articles written by people who do not have a vested interest in minimizing the nature of accusations that have been leveled (and from what I have read of the relevant e-mail substantially proven) against Rev. Mahaney . If the accusations are true CJ Mahaney is lucky that no criminal charges were filed.

    • briancroft says:

      That is a fair request. I wanted to address the lessons to learn from this, not enter the debate on whether the accusations are true. Because of this, I felt the links from CJ and SGM were enough to shed light on what was happening for those unfamiliar with it. Trust me, it is not hard to find those who are making the accusations, nor find those who want to give their 2 cents in the debate.

  7. Steve240 says:


    I will add this about Mahaney. I use to hear Mahaney speak at what called “TAG” which was a weekly intrachurch teaching that was held in Washington DC in the 70’s going to maybe the early 80’s. Both Larry Tomczak and C.J. Mahaney spoke at TAG and it attracted weekly over 1,000 people usually. Both Larry and C.J. eventually disolved TAG after forming a church that was eventually called Covenant Life Church (CLC).

    Back in the TAG days Mahaney seemed sincere. I am sure Mahaney went through a slow transformation was “led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” II Cor 11:3 I am sure that is what happens with most leaders that go astray.

    Early in the days of setting up what would become CLC Mahaney indicated that there should never be one Sr. Position but the leadership should be shared by a plurality of men. Unfortunately Mahaney changed from that position and he eventually became the Senior Leader of both CLC and Sovereign Grace Ministries. I am sure that one of his big mistakes.

    Mahaney and others allowed Mahaney to be set up to a position where some even called him the group’s “pope” who was not to be questioned. What is confounding is that SGM taught on “indwelling sin” and like to quote the passage in Jeremiah about the heart being “sick” and how easy it was for someone to deceive oneself. If a group teaches on this you would think they would want to avoid having any one person in this type of position.

    It is sad when one who may have started so well to apparently drift so far. What is sadder is that Mahaney even taught on not wanting to be like this when he taught on the life of Solomon.

  8. Txfriend says:

    Excuse me, but whose ministry is this? CJ’s, Spurgeon’s, etc.???? No! These ministries belong to God. I’m so sick of seeing idol worship within the Christian community. Mega churches, mega pastors, mega bucks – it’s all so ripe for the enemy. Small churches aren’t flashy, but they hit at the heart of the matter. And that is to love God with all your heart, soul and mind; and to love your neighbor as yourself. These are the Great Commission and the Great Commandant given by Jesus. It is just that simple. These ministries complicate it. Enough said.

  9. Gloria says:

    I have never attended a church where a pastor openly admits to any fault. I would be more mature in my faith if I did. May he be reconciled but it seems like the other guy has an axe he wants to grind.

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  1. […] in the out spoken discussions of which so many seemed eager to jump.  This was my aim in this previous post about what we simply needed to learn from this very public conflict as […]

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