Do SGM’s Problems Shake Your Faith?

Kris says:  What follows is one of those posts that some of you (those of you who come here looking for news) probably won’t like, as it’s an editorial of sorts – some of my thoughts about a recent trend I’ve noticed in my email and in comments people have left.  I really don’t presume to be any sort of teacher or profound thinker, so if you’re not usually interested in what I have to say, then you might want to come back another day, when we may finally have some news about things like the release of the report from the Ambassadors of Reconciliation.

That being said, if you’re still here – well, here goes.  :D


In the previous post, new commenter “Shoreline” said,

I am much more interested in how to salvage shipwrecked faith as a result of the experience of sgm.

This is a theme I’ve been hearing more often lately. A few days ago, “yentl” wrote,

So…if good Christians throughout SGM stand up against spiritual abuse, will I be whole again? Unfortunately, if they find in my favor, my friends will hate me. Either way…I lose.

I get the feeling, from different comments and emails, that the issues with which Sovereign Grace Ministries has been dealing over the past 8 or 10 months or so have caused a lot of upheaval in at least some SGM members’ spiritual lives.

I’m looking at the last sentence that I wrote and realizing that what I just said probably seems really, really UN-profound to a lot of you.  But I think it’s important to understand that for people on the outside of SGM, their ideas about “church” are much more elastic…and much less foundational to their Christian faith.

And, if you find that SGM’s problems are causing you to feel differently about your Christian faith – your walk with Jesus – then that’s quite likely a sign that you have confused the real gospel (the good news of what Jesus has done for us) with something else (the role that your SGM church plays in your life as a Christian).

I believe that because of the way SGM churches were established (for years, SGM’s “missions” efforts were almost exclusively directed toward planting more SGM churches in already-churched suburban neighborhoods where there were already plenty of gospel-proclaiming, Bible-believing congregations), and because of what SGM pastors have believed and taught about church, too many people within SGM have made the way that SGM “does church” the defining aspect of their lives as believers. For instance, if you look at earlier SGM writings like the collaborative Why Small Groups: Together Toward Maturity, it is clear that for decades the leaders of SGM believed that SGM churches’ approach to “biblical fellowship” was the only real way to have sanctification…and of course, while sanctification does not save us (or so the book says initially), sanctification will be taking place if we are “truly saved”…and sanctification cannot happen apart from “biblical fellowship” as SGM defines “biblical fellowship”…so therefore, your SGM church, with its “biblically correct” approach to fellowship is crucial to your sanctification, which is required in order for you to actually be saved. (This is discussed here at some length.)

In addition to SGM’s rigid ideas about what constitutes “biblical fellowship,” SGM has for years marketed itself as practically the only purveyor of “correct doctrine,” because SGM is just about the only church out there that is – on paper at least – both “Charismatic” and “Reformed.”  Moreover, a lot of SGMers have absorbed the idea that pretty much no other church gives its people enough tough talk about sin.

The bottom line for many loyal SGMers is that although they like to defend their SGM churches by paying lip service to the idea that “no church is perfect,” the very reason that they feel the need to defend SGM in the first place is because SGM has in many ways historically believed itself to be “more biblical” than other churches, and about as close to perfect as it’s possible for a church to get in this lifetime.

SGM churches have also been “One-Stop Shops.”  For years, members were trained to look to their pastors for all their needs.  Within SGM, pastors were thought to possess special abilities to know their people’s hearts – abilities to discern a person’s sins better than the person himself could discern them.  From C.J. Mahaney’s Happiest [Dearest] Place On Earth sermon comes the following quote:

We need good and godly pastors to watch over our souls because we are vulnerable on a daily basis to the deceitfulness of sin, the hardening effect of sin upon our souls. So sin is deceptive. That’s the DNA of sin, the DNA of sin is deception, therefore we need the discerning and caring eyes of pastors and others because so – so often I’M BLIND TO WHAT IS OBVIOUS TO THEM.

Also, SGM members were for years taught to have disdain for anything having to do with the mental health profession.  No matter what the issue or problem, the SGMer was trained to seek help only from his or her pastor.  Professional counseling – even professional Christian counseling – was automatically suspect.  While it is true that pastors have been told within the past couple of years (since this issue has been discussed publicly here and on other sites) to tone things down, this stuff was taught to pastors as recently as 2009.  At the 2009 Sovereign Grace Ministries Pastors’ Conference, Andy Farmer gave a lengthy teaching to SGM pastors about The Counseling Process in which he provided ample evidence of SGM’s longtime antipathy for the mental health profession.  In that message, he even suggested that pastors might help members figure out whether or not to take prescription drugs such as anti-depressants:

But, uh, I think in generally speaking, we can engage people in their medications in a very helpful thoughtful way and they could – and they could – they could be, ah – and – and – and – we can become part of that process of the management of it.  [View the context for this statement in paragraphs 12-15 here.]

Back in the day, SGM pastors even believed that they ought to be the primary go-to guys for situations involving child sex abuse, weighing in on whether or not victims should involve law enforcement and the legal system, putting pressure on victims to forgive perpetrators quickly, and basically doing little to support victims while at the same time seeming to take the side of the perpetrator.

The bottom line is that if you’ve been part of an SGM church for a significant period of time, you will have very likely reached a place where you are dependent upon your church and your pastor in a way that simply does not happen out in “normal” Christianity.  You have been required to place so much faith and confidence in your church and your pastors that they really do need to be close to perfect. 

To summarize, you’ve been taught that 1) your church is one of the very few purveyors (if not the only purveyor) of truly “biblical” doctrine, particularly as it pertains to being (supposedly) both Reformed and Charismatic; 2) your salvation is dependent upon your sanctification, which is dependent upon a very particular formula for small-group fellowship; 3) your pastors have superior insight into your heart than you yourself do; and 4) your pastors ought to be the main source for all manner of advice.

With all those teachings, it stands to reason that if you discover your church organization might not actually be worthy of so much blind and unquestioning trust, the way you’ve been living out your Christian faith – with so much emphasis placed on your local SGM church - may start to bother you.  You may begin to question many elements of what you have been taught.

The good news in all of this is, well, the good news - the gospel.  The real gospel of Jesus – what He has accomplished on our behalf, what He continues to do now through the work of the Holy Spirit, and the fact that He never changes, despite what your church may have told you about how “constant change is here to stay.”  If you’re finding yourself feeling like the bottom has fallen out of your Christian life because the SGM organization is struggling to define itself, then maybe that’s a sign that you need to look at your church less and look to Jesus more.

The Bible tells us that Jesus – and not a particular expression of His church – is the author and finisher of our faith.  The Bible also tells us that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  While I believe the Bible also tells us that it is important for us to seek out the company of other believers and worship and study the Word with them, the Bible does not specifically spell out (as SGM has always spelled out) the precise way this must be done.  If you’re finding that your faith is being shaken these days, there’s a good possibility that you may have been putting your faith in the wrong thing.

309 comments to Do SGM’s Problems Shake Your Faith?

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  1. Steve240
    March 20th, 2012 at 1:03 pm


    Thanks for sharing information about the message Mahaney gave this past Sunday. I haven’t listened to the message yet but it is interesting to note that this message is suppose to be about Luke 18:9-14. I have shown the passage below.

    If anything, IMO C.J. Mahaney has been more like the Pharisee than the tax collector. The tax collector admitted his sin. An example of Mahaney acting more like a Pharisee was the speech Mahaney gave at the Pastors Conference. There really hasn’t been much of a confession by C.J. Mahaney or a “humbling” of himself since Brent’s documents came out.

    Luke 18:9-14
    New American Standard Bible (NASB)
    The Pharisee and the Publican

    9 And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee (D)stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

  2. Persona
    March 20th, 2012 at 2:06 pm


    I wonder if everyone on the blogs sent CJ a full-length mirror it would help him see himself a little better?

    The Solid Rock message is so concerning. To me, it clearly demonstrates his self-deception pattern.

    Somehow, CJ does not think of himself as a pharisee, even though he bears a pretty good likeness. Amazingly he even asks his listeners see themselves as pharisees and they clap, and laugh at various times…

    He includes an example of how he creates a ‘category’, for anyone interested.

    One thing I was grateful for as I listened, is that there is no more velcro-hold on me by SGM-thought. I’m no longer hooked.

    CJ, if you are listening: God does not want us focused so closely on our sin as you would presume. Becoming more like Jesus is simply not a grueling process. And He focuses more on love, than sin.

  3. intheNickoftime
    March 20th, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    Cj said that all of us are no better than he is. That we, when we focus on HIS sin are doing the same thing as the Pharisee!

    BUT he also said that he/we/tax collectors have all been justified so there is no reason to dwell on our sin any longer. We are changed!

    Nice message. Real slow starting but it gets better a little over half way in. He says it is not good to be preoccupied with our sins, but we should proclaim and celebrate our justification in Christ! (Isn’t that a change?)

  4. Bridget
    March 20th, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    IntheNickoftime @ 153 -

    That is a change. It is a good change. It means little coming from him since the past 30 years has SHOWN us that he does not actually live what he teaches. He has yet to apologize to SGM as a whole. I don’t think he has any business asking anyone to follow him. That may seem harsh to some. It seems like common sense to me.

  5. Argus
    March 20th, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    @Nick, #153 —

    I didn’t listen to the message, but, assuming your statement is correct, that CJ “says it is not good to be preoccupied with our sins, but we should proclaim and celebrate our justification in Christ! (Isn’t that a change?)”

    I would say —

    Yes, and it only took him hundreds of posters making that case thousands times on the blogs these last few years, severed relationships with men who were once his close friends and allies, several criminally-botched abuse cases on his watch, hundreds of thousands of donated SGM dollars for an elaborate crisis-management effort involving new Boards and panels and outside agencies, hundreds of scathing AOR interviews, mainstream press articles, sons-in-laws leaving their jobs, behind-the-scenes deals with influential friends, packing up and moving an entire ministry cross-country (minus the ones who lose their jobs in the process), hundreds of members leaving and more donors ceasing to give their tithes, — oh, and a couple of thousand years of church history and sound doctrine commonly understood by most of Christianity.

    And for that, watch, CJ gets applause an the intrepid apostle ‘adjusting’ the doctrine of the confused sheep who ‘misunderstood’ his intent, and for leading SGM into a ‘fuller understanding’ of ‘the Gospel.’

    And the people will rejoice in the good news.

    And CJ will be a hero.

    And he’ll believe it.

    And he won’t even see the irony of the whole mess he created. He thinks he is worth it. The mess was the other guys’ fault. His glory is in seizing it as an opportunity to reposition himself as leader of a new-and-improved model.

    *shaking my head*

  6. Bridget
    March 20th, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    Argus -

    You forgot something at the end :barf:

  7. 5yearsinPDI
    March 20th, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    Argus, 155….

    A+ on your english essay. A+ on your psych report. A+ on your one pager for the cults topic in Religion class. A+ on understanding sociopaths and the people who enable them. You win the BINGO prize.

    Why is it soooo hard to say “I was wrong, I am sorry”?

  8. Persona
    March 20th, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    I think it is a little audacious for CJ to talk about sin at all, especially to make mention of other peoples’ sins. It’s also pretty audacious for him to borrow any pulpits, right now.

  9. acme
    March 20th, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    In the Washington Post today: an article about sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community in Baltimore (where people were told to go to the religious leaders, not the police — hmm, sounds familiar) had the following good news:

    “Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) has introduced a bill that would withhold federal funds from states that fail to enact laws requiring all adults to report abuse to police. Maryland state Sen. Nancy Jacobs, (R-Harford) introduced a bill recently that could make failing to report sexual abuse a crime punishable by a $1,000 fine and a year in jail. And in New York, State Assemblywoman Margaret Markey is promoting a bill that would extend the statute of limitations for sexual abuse victims, both for criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits.”

  10. Happymom
    March 20th, 2012 at 5:41 pm


    #159, That is good news, thanks for sharing that. It’s only a matter of time before these antiquated laws are changed.

  11. katie
    March 20th, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    I’m wondering if there are people from Solid Rock who are not pro-SGM and how they are feeling now that their church is becoming the new “mothership” as CLC was formerly called. Does anyone know if there is upheaval at that church or if everyone is going along with it?

  12. Persona
    March 20th, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    Katie 161

    CJ would only dare to show-up at churches where seldom is heard a discouraging word. No matter how independent Curt says he is, there is likely very little dissent (openly expressed) at Solid Rock. It’s a tiny church; a fraction the size of CLC.

  13. Yellow is a Happy Color
    March 20th, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    2+2——-let’s both keep praying! Thanks for your encouragement!

    Argus in 155———So so good. As you said, this is soooo truly “the mess he created”. The carnage is astronomical, and it is so friggin’ sad!

    …..and then there is CLC….who currently refers to CJ as “our brother”, and other terms of endearment……

  14. SamMcGee
    March 21st, 2012 at 7:19 am

    Posted to the Apex blog yesterday in a post announcing the seating of the new board:

    “They will process the Ambassadors of Reconciliation report that comes out within the next month or two.”

    So it sounds like a release by the end of March is unlikely.

    And this:

    “We recognize that SGM is now a fragile movement, and its future is not certain. Yet, we also believe that there is enough like-mindedness in enough churches and leaders that it will endure through this challenging season”

    The use of the word “enough” before the words “churches and leaders” leads me to believe that the context is in response to the 16 churches and 70 pastors. At the very least, it references a schism.

    The post was made by Daniel Baker. He started the SGM polity blog in January 2012 with Phil Sasser, he authored the 54 page paper released on Feb 3 , 2012 called “A Defense of and Model For Apostolic Government” and, if I am not mistaken, he is Phil Sasser’s son-in-law.

    Here is a link

  15. Kris
    March 21st, 2012 at 7:26 am

    I listened to the entire sermon PBG linked to in comment #149 (the sermon CJ gave at Solid Rock Church this past Sunday, I believe). Here are my thoughts, in no particular order:

    – I have to say that – to my surprise – I did not find anything actually unsound in this teaching. “intheNICKoftime” had said,

    Cj said that all of us are no better than he is. That we, when we focus on HIS sin are doing the same thing as the Pharisee!

    So, I was prepared to hear CJ telling people that they should not be looking at his sin. But unless I missed something, or unless the message has been edited, I don’t believe there was any such statement made in this sermon.

    – That being said, I was very surprised at how really basic the message was…and how CJ was somehow able to expand one simple thought into something like 45 minutes.

    – The main idea of the message was that we should be like the tax collector, rather than the Pharisee, in how we see ourselves, always, as “the worst sinners we know.” But at the same time, we’re not supposed to remain focused on our sin. We should instead be thrilled about the grace we received as we depart, justified.

    That sounds great, of course, and it appears to be something of a shift for CJ, to end by telling people they should NOT be so focused on their sinfulness. And yet if his main point is to draw attention to our now-justified status, he still spends an inordinate amount of time – most of the sermon – emphasizing our need to be aware of our own sin as opposed to being like the self-righteous Pharisee. He even says at one point that if we cannot always say, “I am the worst sinner I know,” then we are in effect Pharisees. I guess I find the double-speak sort of tiresome.

    – It is just so jarring to me, every time CJ refers to “the Savior” instead of “Jesus.” Aside from one quick reference to “Jesus Christ,” CJ never used the simple name of Jesus in this message. Not once. It was always “the Savior.” For someone who is trying to tell people (in the last 5 minutes or so of the message) that they can rejoice in their justification and NOT still be standing “afar off,” constantly referring to Jesus as “the Savior” is very off-putting. It’s odd. And, as a random side effect, it comes across as being deliberately overly formal – which makes CJ sound pompous.

    – CJ makes the blanket statement at the beginning that the purpose of this parable was to “surprise the listener.” Yet he never backs this assertion up or explains where he gets this idea from. We’re just supposed to accept this statement as fact – that the main (I think he might even have said “sole,” but I’m too lazy and weary of listening to CJ’s clipped speech cadences to go back and check) purpose of this parable was to “surprise us.”

    – Aside from the passage CJ reads at the beginning, there is no additional citing of scripture. He engages in the usual SGM practice of quoting other Christian authors, including Spurgeon, but he does nothing to draw more deeply from the Bible itself.

    – If CJ does start a new SGM church, and if his church draws a crowd, it will be solely on the basis of his reputation and celebrity, and NOT on the depth or profoundness of his teaching, unless he changes his tactics. Like I said, this message was a whole lot of words and very little depth. I get the feeling that CJ is totally resting on his laurels – taking a quick devotional thought (“Keep your focus on your own sin and then on God’s grace”) and using a whole lot of dramatic pauses and talk of “gratitude” and “categories” and other random fluff to turn it into a feature-length sermon.

    Bottom line: 45 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back! :D

  16. Jayson
    March 21st, 2012 at 7:27 am

    We have a couple of friends who still go to SRC. From what we have been able to determine, JL has done a great job at spinning the situation with CJ. Our friends think it is great that CJ is there, he has weathered those “false accusations” and “he is standing strong”. To hear them speak, it sounded like a Catholic church having the Pope take of residence there.
    I did ask if they ever read of the documents from Brent. The reply was they would not read one man’s opinion, who clearly has an “axe to grind”. Some just don’t want to be confused by the facts, :scratch I guess.

  17. Breeezey
    March 21st, 2012 at 7:54 am

    It seems to me that CJ left CLC with his tail between his legs and took his whole family with him. First he ran to Capital Hill Baptist. Then his SILs left CLC to join him. Then he switched his membership to Solid Rock. (If I remember correctly Solid Rock was literally stolen from the founding pastor right after the bldg was completed.) CJ previously had installed one of his closest friends there as senior pastor, John Loftness. (BTW… why does no one in SGM use the title Reverend?) Within a short period of time his whole family ran away. Seriously, CJ is literally fleeing the state. (Who was that masked man?) The only one left is Grant Layman and I’m pretty sure he was dropped from the invite list on Thanksgiving and Christmas. If I remember correctly at one time CJ’s brother Bill was a member at CLC. Anyone seem him there recently?

    Anyway… I have $20 that says Larry Tomczak preaches at CLC before CJ does. With a side bet of $20 that CJ doesn’t preach at CLC before 2013 or 14(speaking at the PC doesn’t count).

    CJ likes the reformers so he may see himself as the second coming of Jonathan Edwards who was kicked out of his own church. John Wesley wasn’t allowed to preach in the pulpit of his father’s church so he preached standing on his father’s gravestone. (The church came outside to hear him preach.) The early church tried to stay in Jerusalem in their own little holy club but the Holy Spirit allowed persecution to scatter them to the ends of the earth. Maybe CJ feels persecuted in Maryland and is allowing percecution to scatter him to… Kentucky???

    SGM’s problems shook my faith in SGM. I always thought they were the gold standard of what a church and church life should be. I left in 96 and tried to return in 2007 but was told “we don’t think you would be a good fit…” because I didn’t believe the reformed crap they began teaching in the years I was gone. I’d ask all kinds of questions that they didn’t like in the classes. Just because I left CLC I didn’t stop being a believer. I was still going to Fishnet and had developed a friendship with Winkie Pratney over those years. Winkie was a yearly regular teaching at CLC for years during the 80s and early 90s but CJ turned away from all his early ministry friends. He literally was left with no one to truly give him grief when he blows it. You can literally tell that while talent and gifting is still there when he preaches but he anointing isn’t. It reminds me of the verse in Judges where it says Samson didn’t know the Holy Spirit had left him.

  18. old timer
    March 21st, 2012 at 8:04 am

    I am NOT the worse sinner I know. The makings for the worse sinner I know are in us all because of our fallen state but why do you think JESUS had to die on the cross? To redeem mankind.

    Sorry CJ but I do NOT accept that mantle on myself anymore…..and I am NOT a Pharisee either because I do not heap comdemnation on other people for their sins and shortcomings…..or because they do not believe as I do.

    The makings for the worse sinner we know is in us all—but because the Lord allowed me to believe and acept the Blood of Jesus over me-I am cleansed, purified and washed whiter than snow. I have been forgiven, redeemed and stand before the Lord washed in the Blood of the Lamb—JESUS.

    I can tell you this—JESUS does not look at me and see the worse sinner HE knows…..only you would do that….and to me that just shows how warped your understanding of the Cross,the Saviour and the Blood of Jesus really is.

  19. sick with worry
    March 21st, 2012 at 8:31 am

    Kris, while I have benefitted from some of CJ’s applications over the years, he should never be thought of as a solid expositor. Actually, the message on deacons last week at CLC was one of the best messages I have heard from any SGMer.

    Since SGM puts such emphasis on guys like Spurgeon, Piper, and Lloyd Jones, you would think some of it would rub off.

  20. oneofthem
    March 21st, 2012 at 8:34 am

    Hi everyone! I’m stepping out of the shadows for a minute :new. Let me just say Kris that SRC has two services and they usually post the sermon that was better. Kudos for JL for correcting the first sermon. Some of your mysterious quotes may be coming from that. The sermon that was posted was fine at the best (not a touch of heresy there). The congregation at SRC has a very youthful and carefree spirit. They are not too concerned with all of this drama and just want things to settle down. Jayson was right with what he said, but not everyone is oblivious.

  21. Kris
    March 21st, 2012 at 8:48 am

    I was thinking some more about what seemed “off” or disingenuous about CJ’s recent sermon…and a realization hit me.

    Like I said earlier, I didn’t hear anything theologically incorrect in this particular teaching. I was actually expecting to, after some of the comments yesterday, but I didn’t. Nothing was actually unscriptural.

    I was even encouraged to note that CJ did spend some time (probably the last 5 minutes or so) emphasizing our need to become “drunk on 100-proof grace,” where we are so overwhelmed by the realization that we can (like the tax collector) “depart justified” that we respond joyfully. And that we actually ought NOT to spend all our time focusing on our own sin and our own sinfulness.


    I realized, as I thought about it some more, that CJ’s main point was still that we ought to be “surprised” by the fact that we still think more like the Pharisee about our sin. In fact, in the portion of the message that I suppose would be considered application, CJ talks about how he spent some time the night before “making a category” for how he is like the Pharisee.

    Which means, of course, that CJ spent time focusing on his own sin, the sin of being like the Pharisee and not properly humble like the tax collector.

    If his listeners are going to take CJ’s message and apply it to themselves the way that he says he applied it to himself, they will still be focusing on their own sin (all the ways in which they resemble the Pharisee rather than the tax collector), despite the good thought he tacked on during the last few minutes of the message.

    It’s kind of bizarre, in a way, how CJ manages to do this. Anyone who wants to defend CJ over the charge that he has historically not emphasized God’s grace and our justification can point to the 5-minute segment about going away joyful, knowing that we are justified. But at the same time, the main message was still about our sin – the sin of not seeing ourselves as the “worst sinners we know” but instead thinking that we are somehow more righteous than other people.

    I find it interesting that CJ manages to do this – manages to have it both ways, where he basically spends 40 minutes instructing people on how to “make a category” for how they’re sinning in resembling the Pharisee…and yet can check off the box for talking about grace because he says in the very end that we ought to be rejoicing about our justification.

  22. intheNickoftime
    March 21st, 2012 at 8:59 am


    I thought CJ’s comment of “anyone who measures his own sin by comparison with another” was a direct shot at people on the blogs looking too closely at His sins and I still feel his goal was to put everyone on the same level.

    He also accomplished that by saying the tax collector was too easily morphed into the Pharisee. Again, I thought, a swipe at his detractors that have assumed they would not do the bad things he has done.

  23. Izze
    March 21st, 2012 at 9:17 am

    @old timer #168 :clap

    thank you for that. It helps me more than you know.

  24. Kraftig
    March 21st, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Re: this “worst sinner I know” garbage:

    The “worst sinner I know” would be someone who is entirely unrepentant and rejects any effort to live a sanctified life. I can’t imagine why anyone would ever attach such a label to themselves.

    I think, however, that it is ironically [and clearly unintentionally] revealing about the one who deploys the phrase. Trying so hard to look so uber-humble always has hilariously catastrophic effects.

    Reminds me of a bumper sticker I often see walking into my office: “If you succeed at failing, which have you?”

  25. Kris
    March 21st, 2012 at 9:22 am


    I can see how you made those inferences. I’m not necessarily saying I disagree with you over the idea that in addition to what his literal words conveyed, CJ was trying to send some subliminal messages to his critics.

    BUT, just going by his words alone, I didn’t pick up on anything theologically incorrect…or even that overtly self-defensive.

    That being said, I do think it’s interesting to observe CJ’s choice of topics. If you think about it, there’s almost an unlimited array of ideas in the Bible that could be turned into superb, meaningful sermons. For someone who supposedly doesn’t believe (now, now that his critics have pointed out the imbalance of the SGM movement’s emphasis on sin) that we ought to be focusing so much on our sin, I’d think CJ could have cracked open a Bible and stumbled upon a dozen other sermon ideas that would have had nothing to do with focusing on our sin. Instead, he chose to circle the same old familiar wagon yet again – even going so far as to squeeze in a couple of references to our need to be the “worst sinners we know” – and do so in such a way where his listeners would be newly prejudiced against analyzing the wrongdoings of others.

    I continue to marvel at CJ’s true cleverness. He may not be very educated, but the guy has a gang leader’s street smarts for self-preservation.

  26. Kraftig
    March 21st, 2012 at 9:37 am

    Also Re: “worst sinner.”

    It fits the narcissist profile neatly. If you’re going to be the ultimate ‘whatever,’ I guess it makes sense to be consistent and apply it universally. Might as well be the worst sinner. I hate it when people use such superlative language.

    Also feeds that craving for attention. Nice.

  27. Lee
    March 21st, 2012 at 9:49 am

    I think the “worst sinner I know” can be taken another way and perhaps that is what CJ means.

    We only know our own hearts. He’s the worst sinner he knows because he is the only one he truly knows. Does that make sense?

    The line does get old after awhile though.

  28. Kraftig
    March 21st, 2012 at 9:57 am

    Lee: Noted. And, you’re probably right. If so, the sentiment should be expressed the way you did it. Doesn’t take too much extra time or effort.

    Like most SGM communication, however, I suspect this one is conveniently packaged up to sound and come across one way [catchy, shocking!, clever, cute], but when necessary be interpreted or explained away as something completely different.

    ” . . . could have communicated better . . .”

  29. EMSoliDeoGloria
    March 21st, 2012 at 10:06 am

    @Lee – in SGM many years, that is the way I’ve heard it explained. It’s not supposed to be an objective comparison of all the sinners in the world with a conclusion that you’ve done worse than anyone else. It’s supposed to be about your awareness of your own personal sinfulness and need for God’s mercy.

    Yet, I’ve never been comfortable with employing “the worst sinner I know” or “better than I deserve” terminology (and I’ve never done so). Perhaps I just don’t like fads and mimicry and that’s what it feels like. Perhaps because the subjective nature of it just seems designed to confuse the listener, rather than impart grace. But mostly, I think I could never use it because of where it seems to draw attention, to my badness… and really, that’s not where I dwell… that’s not where I want to direct others attention when they ask me how I’m doing either… I want to give a meaningful (hopefully not gimmicky) answer and then ask them how THEY are doing, and sincerely listen and relate…

    I’m reminded of how CS Lewis describes the humble person – that you won’t be so much aware of his humility as you will be of his interest in you… of how much you enjoyed interacting with him… I want to be genuinely interested in others, because they bear the image of God and are loved by Jesus; I don’t want to use every interaction to draw attention to myself…

  30. Whirlwind
    March 21st, 2012 at 10:40 am

    @Lee #177 – “The line does get old after awhile though.”

    Yes. I somehow doubt Paul made a point of regularly delivering this line.

    I think you’re correct in how CJ wants to apply that statement (we know ourselves more deeply than we know anyone else, so we should see all the wickedness within our own hearts more clearly than the wickedness in others). Unfortunately, I also doubt Paul’s intent in referring to himself as “the worst of sinners” was to get Timothy and everyone else in Ephesus to adopt that same mindset. Rather, Paul’s intent seems to be having everyone else understand that if God’s mercy could be extended to him after all he had done, it certainly could be extended to anyone else. A better application of Paul’s words would seem to be, “Yeah, Paul was really an evil sinner. I haven’t sunk that low, so I can be confident God is patient with me and will forgive me as well.”

    Rather than coming away thinking, “I’m the worst sinner I know,” we should come away thinking, “I’m NOT the worst sinner I know – Paul is.”

  31. QE2
    March 21st, 2012 at 11:09 am

    I agree with Whirlwind.

    When I think about all Paul did…the loud voice said, “I am Jesus, whom you persecuted”. I doubt many of us have gloated over the murder of a martyr like Stephen, actively and openly fought against the cause of Christ, persecuted other believers, etc.

    Paul himself seems to be saying “I win the ‘worst sinner’ contest”. He didn’t follow up with “and you’re the worst sinner YOU know”.

    While it is a good thing to evaluate ourselves in light of God’s word and not rank ourselves and compare ourselves to each other, CJ has perpetuated a wild misapplication of Paul’s intent, which, to paraphrase Whirlwind, might be:

    I, Paul, was really an evil sinner. You haven’t sunk that low, so I can be confident God is patient with you and will forgive you as well.”

    Words of grace and life, not self-flagellation.

  32. Lee
    March 21st, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Whirlwind @180,

    I agree with you completely. :)

  33. Kris
    March 21st, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    I agree with everyone who says that CJ doesn’t intend his “worst sinner I know” talk to be taken to mean his sins are literally the worst sins he knows.

    And yet – if you think about it – there’s an element to that statement that almost has to include the idea that one’s own sins are the worst. So going around saying you’re the worst sinner you know then becomes some sort of exercise, where the point is to drive home to yourself the reality of your own badness…like wearing a horsehair shirt or sleeping on a bed of nails or whipping yourself. The goal is to remind yourself of your own unworthiness.

    I guess there’s nothing wrong with doing that once. Or every once in awhile. But when you get to the place where it becomes part of your routine, it seems to me like it would lose its power and become pointless, because if you were to take the statement literally, at face value, you wouldn’t honestly believe that it is true.

    The need to see oneself as the “worst sinner one knows,” by the way, is at the root of the peculiar way that some SGM pastors have responded to victims of sex abuse. They were so programmed to go through this mental exercise as a sign of spiritual health that when a victim could not immediately put the attention on his own sin, rather than that of the perpetrator, the pastors became disgusted with the victim and behaved in ways that suggested they supported the perpetrator more. Victims were discouraged from seeking normal legal consequences for perpetrators. Victims were urged to offer quick forgiveness instead. Because, after all, the victim himself (or herself) ought to be in his own mind a “worse sinner” than the perpetrator.

    This Worst Sinner I Know™ fad that CJ created may not be wrong, per se, especially when a person is careful to parse the nuances. But it has had many bad ramifications for SGM churches, particularly in some of the more serious counseling situations.

  34. StvMac
    March 21st, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    I certainly can’t know what Ceej has in his heart when he says, ad nauseum, that he is the worst sinner… From where I was sitting, any number of times I heard him say it, it seemed like just more of the HUMILITY ON PARADE schtick that he has down so well.

    Have you ever noticed that whenever he is introduced it always has to include some acknowledgement of his legendary humility? “And here he is, fresh from G’burg, MD (oops, make that L’ville, KY), a truly humble guy, possibly the most humble ever – and the worst simmer he knows – CEEEEEE JAAAAAY MAAAHEEEENY”.

  35. justawife
    March 21st, 2012 at 12:48 pm


    In regards to: “The Worst Sinner I know” rhetoric.

    I always took it as a way of fishing for compliments. Reading about the Narcisstic personality this is something they do due to low self-esteem. It reminds me of women who are clearly not overweight saying that they look or feel fat. The only reason they do this is to hear people tell them “Oh, you’re not big at all. You are so thin!”. In reality the women do not see themselves as overweight at all, but they are just looking for compliments to inflate their self-esteem. I always thought CJ’s saying was more to get people to tell him “Oh you aren’t that bad” or for people to think “Look at that CJ, he’s so humble”.

  36. Whirlwind
    March 21st, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    It would be interesting to have someone respond back to CJ: “There was a time when I would have thought you were exaggerating.” :D

  37. Breeezey
    March 21st, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    I’m pretty sure the “worst sinner I know” is as compared with others. So lessee…

    I destroyed my marraige through a combination of stupidity, selfishness and hypocrisy. My oldest son barely speaks to me although my ex and I get along fine.

    Hitler took the lives of over 6 million Jews, another 4-6 million christians, gypsies, and infirm. 58 million died in WW2
    Stalin and Lenin killed probably about 40 million through the gulags and forced starvation.
    Pol Pot another 4-6 million killed.
    Mao Zedong about 40 million in the cultural revolution.
    Charlie Manson, maybe a dozen killed at best but one was a pregnant woman and we know what Jesus said about hurting the “least of these”.
    Judas betrayed the Jesus, Lord of Glory. That betrayal cost Jesus his life and God His Son.
    CJ Mahaney cost the ministry of over 100 pastors and (only God knows) numerous others their faith but he never cost any one his life that I know of. (He also blackmailed Larry Tomczak, his onetime best friend and “yokefellow”, and cost him his reputation and livelihood for awhile.)
    What CJ has cost the kingdom of God only God knows but until you get into countless millions killed, worst sinner I know… he isn’t in the category as far as I can see. But he should still put that little phrase into the “forgotten sermons” folder and leave it there.

  38. Kris
    March 21st, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Breezey said,

    But he should still put that little phrase into the “forgotten sermons” folder and leave it there.


    Although this most recent message ended with CJ’s quoting the line “Drunk on 100-proof grace” from some other author, the “Worst Sinner I Know™” schtick still got about 5 times the air time. I wish he’d give it a rest.

    Actually, I wish he’d really see, really understand, the damage this focus has done to so many people, particularly victims of crimes who sought counsel from pastors who were so concerned about assessing the victims’ spiritual health according to how easily the victims still saw their own sin as worse than that of the perpetrators. If CJ really understood what this ridiculous little tagline has done to people, I’m pretty sure he’d retire it once and for all.

  39. Persona
    March 21st, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    Kris 175

    “I continue to marvel at CJ’s true cleverness. He may not be very educated, but the guy has a gang leader’s street smarts for self-preservation.”

    You are correct in your analysis.

    I think CJ has gotten a lot of mileage with his cleverness and his humor. It’s also true that he can stretch a 2 minute message into 45 minutes better than most. Would that fall into the category of the gift of gab?

  40. katie
    March 21st, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    justawife -

    I completely agree. If CJ actually thought he was the worst sinner he knew, he would be taking the accountability provided to him more seriously, not just taking in compliments on how brave and humble he is. I think this line is really overused. Even though it probably means we just don’t know any heart but our own, it doesn’t mean a thing to me anymore.

    Plus I think it’s caused a wave of young girls especially to have really low self esteem and low confidence. These girls will allow anyone to walk over them because they think their opinion doesn’t matter or they aren’t good enough to stand up for themselves. So now there are a bunch of girls with no personality, no clue of who they are except that they are the worst sinner they know… which means they are probably depressed too.

  41. Lost in (cyber) Space
    March 21st, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    Whirlwind #186,

    You made me laugh so hard that my Coke went up my nose! No, really, I mean “Coca-Cola”.

    :clap :clap

  42. 5yearsinPDI
    March 21st, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    Its all part of control and squashing dissent.

    Remember the poster that got on here and said he was an ex pedophile in SGM, and had repented and was now happily married? OK fine, God can truly change people and they can repent.

    Then he comes out with the line that what he did was no worse than one of us feeling mad at a driver who cuts us off in traffic. :barf:

    This is SGM moral equivalency. Feeling irritated, or molesting a child, it is all the same, so just shut up because you have sin too, and no matter what the pastors do or don’t do, well, it doesn’t matter because you should feel like the worse sinner you know. Worse than the man who rapes a child. This is why Wallace and Happy Mom end up the bad guys, and anybody else who presses for justice/apologies in the sex abuse cases is a bad guy. Sin is sin, it is all the same. Your failure to submit is as bad as the rapist. Worse maybe.

    Jesus was clear about greater and lesser sins, greater and lesser rewards. Paul the Apostle as well. I could go into this in more biblical depth if I had time, but even SGM made a difference between scandalous sins that disqualify, and ordinary fleshly sins, when they reinstated CJ. They made a clear distinction between say adultery and theft, and CJs “lesser sins”. But you peons can’t make those distinctions when it is about bungled pedophila cases in SGM churches…..the parent who “won’t forgive” (by their definition) the perp is worse than the perp.

    God is just. God will deal with this. So glad to be out of it.

  43. ExClcer'sMom
    March 21st, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Kraftig, I am still ‘catching up’ here, but I had to stop to say how much I agree with your post #174! I love it! :clap I have been pondering why that statement always does not sit right with me-and you said it perfectly! Thanks!

  44. Muckraker
    March 21st, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    katie @190

    …it’s caused a wave of young girls especially to have really low self esteem and low confidence. These girls will allow anyone to walk over them because they think their opinion doesn’t matter or they aren’t good enough to stand up for themselves. So now there are a bunch of girls with no personality, no clue of who they are except that they are the worst sinner they know… which means they are probably depressed too.

    Very Insightful. My young-adult daughter were just discussing this concept just this morning! There are many young women, who have grown up in CLC, whom we now see as lacking personality. They are not “in touch with” their own true personality. We feel that is a result of the heavy expectations of conformity, the demands for perfect obedience to SGM standards and the concept of submission to parental wishes even into adulthood, specifically placed on the teen girls and young women. :(

  45. Muckraker
    March 21st, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    *and I :D

  46. ExClcer'sMom
    March 21st, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    Breezy, I was laughing, too, at #186!

    5yearsinPDI, post #192, :goodpost So very true! All of it! Thanks for posting that!

  47. Unassimilated
    March 21st, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    1) Funny how CJ twist the worst of sinners thing. Paul did see himself as a wretched mess pre-conversion, but his illustration was to show the depth of mercy that God had shown him. He would point to this as an encouragement to others, rather than as a mantra or measuring stick. Paul’s life illustrates the Gospel of Grace, not a Doctrine of Sin.

    1 Timothy 1:16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.

    2)There were things that Christ found more offensive to the Kingdom than others.
    False teaching, and preventing others from entering into fellowship with Christ.

    Matthew 23:13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

    And its parallel

    Luke 11:52 “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”

    CJ, you may be the worst sinner, does not make everyone the worst though. Knowledge of this is not a badge of humility either, it is a call for repentance and change.
    I would rather learn that you have repented of much, then hear that you are still the worst of sinners.

    Question CJ, when you say you are the worst of sinners, are you speaking of your pre-conversion self as Paul did, as he saw himself as a new and redeemed creation?


    Are you speaking of your current condition, thinking that there is still unlimited work to be done, and that Christ simply has made you aware of your wretchedness so that you can flog yourself in public, and rebuke those that care in private? My understanding is that you speak in the context of current condition and the latter, What a scary place to be, and thank you for the honest warning.

    You have become an expert in a new law, and you may be among the worst of sinners, not sure planting churches is the solution God has in mind for you.

  48. Somewhereintime
    March 21st, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    CJ is the worse sinner I know …

  49. Bridget
    March 21st, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    5years -

    That was my thought as well. Thank you for clarifying it so well.

    When we look at CJ’s audience, SRC, we have to think, “What is the message CJ wants them to get?” He doesn’t want them to judge what others (him especially) have done. Has CJ repented to SRC for his actions as the leader of SGM? Why do they not ask for this — ? They have been taught well.

    I believe someone above mentioned the age demographica of this church as being younger. I find it interesting that this is where CJ would go . . . where the believers are younger, not as grounded in scripture, and more easily influenced. Why not go to a more mature church? But, then again, we have heard CJ and his views about the younger men and the older churches with mature believers are in disagreement with CJ and SGM at the moment.

  50. katie
    March 21st, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Bridget –
    I remember one time CJ telling us he wished he could quit his job and run Children’s Ministry for a living so he could influence and teach the next generation… horrors!

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