Fresh off an invitation to speak at a major pastor’s conference that stirred up memories of an alleged child sex-abuse cover-up at his former church, Pastor C.J. Mahaney reminded members of Sovereign Grace Church in Louisville, Ky., of their biblical mandate to stand by “God’s man” in his Sunday sermon on April 17.
Preaching from Hebrews 13: 17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account,” Mahaney said one responsibility of church membership is “a joyful disposition to trust and protect the pastoral team.”
“Any slanderous comment about the pastoral team should be challenged, and if necessary resolved,” Mahaney said. “Why? Because the pastors are just sensitive souls, because pastors are so sensitive? No. That protection is needed in order to preserve the trust, in order to protect the unity of this church. That’s why that’s needed ultimately, for the advance of the gospel from this church.”
Mahaney’s Sunday sermon followed a controversial appearance last week at Together for the Gospel, a biennial preaching conference he co-founded 10 years ago. He sat out the conference in 2014 amid fallout over his involvement in a class action lawsuit at his former church in Maryland and an umbrella church network he led prior to moving to Louisville, in part to strengthen existing bonds with Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He started a new church and returned to full-time ministry at Sovereign Grace Church in Louisville, which recently joined the Southern Baptist Convention in addition to its affiliation with Sovereign Grace Churches.
With the scandal back in headlines because of recent media reports about allegations of systematic abuse and cover-up that never made it to trial due to statute of limitations, advocacy groups including the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests protested his return at this year’s T4G conference April 12 in Louisville, saying honoring a leader credibly accused of misconduct sends a message to abuse victims not to come forward because they probably will not be believed.
Ignoring their pleas, Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler introduced Mahaney to a sellout crowd at the KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville saying, “I know in this room that C.J. Mahaney has 10,000 friends,” a comment quoted in the first sentence of an April 16 story in The Daily Beast.
Mahaney alluded to his Together for the Gospel appearance in his Sunday sermon at Sovereign Grace Church.
“All the guys who spoke at T4G would say, ‘great privilege, deep honor, incredibly humbling,’ but they would also all agree there’s no comparison between the honor and privilege of speaking at T4G and the honor and privilege of standing here before you,” Mahaney said. “No comparison at all.”
Mahaney said effective pastoral ministry depends on congregational response.
“Your pastors are called to watch over your souls,” he said. “It is your soul that is most important to us. It is your soul that is our main concern.”
“Our care for you is not simply or primarily about the present,” he said. “No, actually it’s informed by the future. … Our concern today is to give all of our energy to you, to serving you, watching over you, to prepare your soul for that final day. Our concern is with your soul in relation to heaven and hell.”
Mahaney said some church members are “uncomfortable” with the language of obedience and submission for many reasons, including “a bad experience” with an authoritarian pastor.
“If that has been your experience in the past, I am so sorry,” Mahaney said. “I want to make real clear — that isn’t going to happen to you here.”