I returned to my home in Arizona this summer for a 3-week respite from the heat of Dubai. In keeping with my penchant for self-flagellation and in the spirit of the church covenant of my former church, United Christian Church of Dubai, which states:
“We will, when we move from this place, as soon as possible unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word.”
I attended a church service at another church I used to be a member of – Sovereign Grace Church of Gilbert. Just kidding folks, sorta kinda – I actually did attend the church, but not for the reasons listed above. I actually was curious to see what was going on in the church I was a member of from 2002-2007. I also hoped to talk with Rich Richardson, Senior Pastor and “Director of Global Missions” as well as a member of the National “Leadership Team.” As a member of the National Leadership Team I was interested in asking Rich about Gene Emerson, former Senior Pastor of Kingsway Community Church and close friend of C.J. Mahaney, who resigned after he was found guilty of soliciting a prostitute. Specifically I wanted to ask Rich if the leadership of Sovereign Grace Churches planned on making a public announcement about this event or were going to continue their silence. I also wanted to know if the leadership would revoke Emerson’s ordination or discipline him in any manner.
I also hoped to talk with Steve Shank, a pastor at the Gilbert church and a Regional Director. Shank, formerly was an “apostle” in the Sovereign Grace denomination. (They dropped the term either because none of the SGM “apostles” had seen the risen Christ or maybe because the moniker made the neo-Calvinist leaders in Mahaney’s circle of friends nervous.) Shank is infamous for “de-gifting” pastors. Shank “de-gifted” so many pastors that the term “de-gifting” came to be known as being “Shanked.” I wanted to ask Shank if there were any plans to “de-gift” C.J. Mahaney because his 22-year-old son, Chad, had been arrested for DUI (see note at end of this article). While I think it is ridiculous to hold a parent responsible for the actions of an adult child, SGM has de-gifted other pastors for the actions of their grown children.
August 30, 2015 was the day I chose to return to Sovereign Grace Gilbert. As Providence would have it, neither Rich Richardson nor Steve Shank were in attendance. Rich, wearing his Director of Global Missions hat, was in Australia. Steve was at a Sovereign Grace church in the Denver area. My questions would have to wait though I most likely know what the answers would be.
Below is a photo of the main entrance to the building. This photo was taken about 15 minutes prior to the start of the service. People weren’t exactly beating a path to the door. I estimated attendance to be 250-300 people. Sovereign Grace church of Gilbert’s high water mark was probably in 2007; according to a guy who keeps impeccable records, average attendance that year was 572 and there were 642 members.
Upon entering the church, I immediately went to the bookstore. Much to my surprise there were no books authored by C.J. Mahaney readily visible. Upon closer inspection, I found a few copies of the audio version of “Humility” in stock. They were placed on the bottom shelf.
As I made my way into the sanctuary I recognized about a dozen people from the days when I attended. Gone was the “love-bombing” that Sovereign Grace churches were known for. The pendulum has swung so far to the opposite end that not a soul greeted me on my way into the sanctuary.
Sovereign Grace churches used to bill themselves as Reformed but distinctly Charismatic, or, in the words of Joshua Harris:
“We bring together two streams that are typically kept separate – a deep dedication to sound doctrine and a passionate pursuit of the experience of God and the gifts of the Spirit.”
-John Immel, “Blight In the Vineyard: Exposing the Roots, Myths, and Emotional Torment of Spiritual Tyranny”
While never wildly Charismatic when I attended, I would say that they could drop all pretense of being Charismatic now. A smattering of people raised their hands while singing and there were a few people clapping. The “prophecy mic” was still there but went unused. I have attended Presbyterian services that were livelier.
I already mentioned that Rich Richardson and Steve Shank were absent. The other two pastors are Trey Richardson (Rich’s father) and Jason Hansen. These four pastors also comprise the elder board of the church. So, although the denomination’s new Book of Church Order allows for “bi-vocational” or lay elders (Chapter 2, Section 6) the Gilbert church has none. Nothing has changed here; surely there must be some individuals among the pew-sitters that meet the biblical qualifications of an elder and would be quite suitable for the role, but the paid pastoral staff must be reluctant to share the power with laity. I recognized some older men who have been faithfully serving the church for years, yet they cannot crack the eldership. Meanwhile, a young man like Jason Hansen graduated from the 9 month Sovereign Grace Pastor’s College, shows up at the church still wet behind the ears, and is immediately made an elder! Shades of the Roman Catholic church yet the Roman Catholic clergy are much better educated.
During the announcements, Hansen promoted an upcoming worship conference which will be led by Bob Kauflin and held at the Gilbert church. Hansen urged everyone to attend and said people from other churches in the Phoenix area would also be attending. He also said there would be a charge of $39 (see the screen shot at the end of this post). He informed the church that this charge was to cover Kauflin’s airfare. This seemed a bit disingenuous. First, it seems to me that a church would budget for flying speakers in, but perhaps finances are really tight at the Gilbert church? Second, how many conference attendees would it take to cover Kauflin’s airfare? Maybe 10? No mention of an honorarium which Sovereign Grace churches typically pay to their national leaders for speaking at their church; in their wisdom the pastors/elders have deemed the pew-sitters don’t need to know about that.
Hansen also mentioned that there were three churches in their region that would soon be adopted by the Sovereign Grace denomination. As I recall he said two were in Califonia and one from Arizona. (I wonder if church leaders will also advise the members that former denominational leader C.J. Mahaney, along with his church are bolting the denomination in favor of the SBC?) It never ceases to amaze me that churches want to join this beleaguered denomination. Have the leaders of these churches done their due diligence prior to seeking entry into the Sovereign Grace denomination? Have they thoroughly and truthfully briefed their members about the sexual abuse scandal which the denomination has been involved in? Have they told them 40 churches have left the denomination, along with thousands of members whose churches did not leave? Have they mentioned the terrible financial quagmire the denomination is facing?
When I attended the church the order of the service was worship, announcements and collecting the offering. Following the offering, there was a 5-minute break prior to the sermon. This time was used to take your children to Sunday School and greet people. The 5-minute break no longer exists, adding to the overall unfriendliness of the church. Hansen merely dismissed the children and teachers and then dove into the sermon. I had noticed a large clock in the rear of the church. Once Hansen began speaking the clock started counting down from 40 minutes. Hansen gave a rather unremarkable sermon based on Romans 12:1-2. (Perhaps Senior pastor Rich Richardson also found Hansen’s sermon unremarkable because a few weeks later he preached on the same text!) The only thing I recall was he utilized the first 5-minutes of his 40-minute time slot to tell us about a weight loss television program he liked. You can listen here, (Editors note – Sovereign Grace Gilbert has revamped their website and no longer have any of their sermons on their web page. The sermons are now found on YouTube. You can find Hansen’s sermon here, but be advised it is 5 minutes of your life you can never get back!) The other thing I noticed is that Hansen utilized the Mahaney method of reading the Scriptures – that is, he reads verrrryyyyy sloooowwwwlllly as if his audience was comprised of a bunch of kindergartners. I guess that is one of the things you learn at the Pastor’s College. Hansen was successful in completing his sermon within the 40-minute time limit. He actually had 1:55 left on the game clock!
Again, when I attended the church, after the sermon was finished there was usually a song followed by a lengthy altar call. All the Care Group leaders and their wives were called to the front of the church and people were told they could go up front for prayer or counseling. Not so anymore. Hansen finished his sermon, said a short prayer and dismissed us. People quietly filed out, with only a handful of people lingering to visit with friends. Nobody said anything to me. On my way out I spotted Kathleen Brown, a dear older saintly woman who is the mother-in-law of Steve Shank. We were in the same Care Group for awhile and shared an interest in reading. I initiated a conversation and we had a nice chat. I did not mention anything about the small size of the congregation, but she did bring it up, almost apologetically, saying the attendance was unusually light this morning. Perhaps she was right. It was labor day weekend so maybe many people were out of town.
One other lady said hi to me just prior to me exiting through the front doors.
Things have changed.
Note: It appears Charles “Chad” Mahaney’s records have been expunged. This is easy to do – see this link:
I utilized the links in the screenshot below several weeks ago and the records came up. While recently attempting to view them I received a message saying no such record exists. Unfortunately, I did not take a screenshot of the records at the time. I should have. Factual items portraying C.J. Mahaney or his family in a negative light have a way of disappearing from the internet. Just to be clear “Chad” is a nickname. His given name is Charles Mahaney II.
The blog “Sovereign Grace Uncensored” has an interesting post from several years ago. It would seem that while Chad Mahaney was in high school he and some of his buddies were caught smoking the evil weed. Chad’s involvement was covered up. Not so for the other boys. Rank has its privileges!