Sex, Money ... Pride? Why Pastors Are Stepping Down
In the latest development, Joshua Harris, who succeeded Mahaney as Covenant Life Church's senior pastor in 2004, resigned from SGM's board on July 14. A statement from Harvey cited differences over whether God is disciplining all of SGM and how to move forward and evaluate the claims against Mahaney. But Harvey said Harris had agreed to keep attending board meetings when requested and give counsel.
Blogs reported that Harris stated in his previous Sunday sermon that "our denomination is being publicly spanked, we are being humiliated and being brought low."
Before the recent furor, Larry Tomczak, a pastor at Bethel World Outreach Church in Nashville, Tennessee, reconciled with Mahaney after 13 years of estrangement.
For a long time, Tomczak and Mahaney were ministry partners and "yokefellows," as they liked to refer to each other, Tomczak said.
In the late 1970s, they worked together to start Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which grew into a megachurch with more than 3,000 members. They helped plant new churches across the nation through the network that became known as Sovereign Grace Ministries.
But in the 1990s, as Tomczak found himself "going on a different doctrinal path" than some of his dear friends, friction emerged between Tomczak and Mahaney.
"As time went by, I felt I was experiencing abuses of spiritual authority and methodologies that were harmful and inconsistent with Scripture," Tomczak wrote in a testimonial provided to CT. "Other leaders in SGM shared similar experiences with me."
Tomczak's tension with Mahaney turned into an impasse that lasted more than a decade until the two men got together, at Tomczak's request, and worked out their differences last fall.
"In my leaving, I experienced some things that were unfortunate and have led to reconciliation now 13 years later," Tomczak told CT. "My experience, I think, mirrors that of dozens of leaders and hundreds of people in churches that are identified with SGM. My prayer is that they're being corrected. I think this issue with C. J. is bringing everything to the surface."
Like Harvey, Tomczak stressed that no one has leveled charges of sexual misconduct or financial impropriety against Mahaney.
"I think we're focusing on the third area—power—and failures in biblical leadership. Character flaws that have been brought to C. J. that he's admitting," Tomczak said.
As Tomczak sees it, Hebrews 12 makes clear that God demonstrates love of his children through discipline.
In the Nashville pastor's view, Mahaney is experiencing that love—tough love—now.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to note the resignation of Josh Harris from SGM's board.
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Previous coverage of church life and pastors taking a leave include:
The Most Risky Profession |Why you need to pray desperately for your pastor. (July 14, 2011)
Jim Belcher, Francis Chan, N.T. Wright, and Others Leave the Pastorate to Write and Speak | Why church planters often quit their congregations. (May 6, 2010)
The Toll of Our Toiling | John Piper takes an eight-month leave of absence. (March 30, 2010)