CLC – Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire!

By | February 4, 2016
P.J. Smyth

There are now three things in life you can count on; death, taxes, and Covenant Life Church of Gaithersburg, MD having a celebrity senior pastor.

2016-02-04 PJ Smyth bio



Letter from CLC Pastor Mark Mitchell:

December 20, 2015

Dear Church Family,

As I joyfully shared this morning, based on the vote of affirmation, P.J. Smyth will be the next Lead Pastor of Covenant Life Church!

I want to thank all of you who participated in the vote by paper ballot and online. Here are the results:

1055 adult members voted, or 62.4% of our total adult membership
1025 voted “yes” (97.2% of the votes cast)
30 voted “no” (2.8% of the votes cast)
We believe the strong affirmation of the Search Team, the elders and over a thousand members of our church family are a clear indication that P.J. is the Lord’s provision for Covenant Life and an answer to our prayers. Thank the Lord for his faithfulness and for the Smyth family!

Earlier this month, a few of us discussed terms of employment with P.J. and he told us that if the church voted “yes,” he was ready to come on board. He’s on vacation right now (as are many in South Africa at this time of year), but I was able to get through to him yesterday through one of his elders. This was his reply. “Hi Mark. Thanks for the news via Stephen. I am delighted with the affirmation vote and accept the offer.” So from his end and ours, this is now official.

If you voted “no,” please know that we’re grateful you voted and respect you for doing so according to your conscience. If you would like to talk with an elder about any concerns, please let us know and we’d be happy to set that up.

Please pray for a favorable and timely immigration process. Our application has been received, and we’ve been told by the immigration attorney that a decision is likely somewhere in the May to August timeframe. May the Lord’s good and perfect will be done.

Other important details:

P.J. will be with us from January 10-20. He will preach twice and participate in a variety of meetings. We also plan to have him with us in March and May for approximately two weeks each.
We will have a Members Meeting after the service on January 17, the second Sunday that P.J. is here. This will give us an opportunity to hear from him directly, address important topics as a church family, and clarify exactly what to expect between now and the time when P.J. relocates here with his family.
We also need to address the specific issue of non-staff elder terms. In January of this year, we voted the non-staff elders to a one-year term since the church constitution was not complete. That term ends next month, so we will need to vote on extending their term until the ratification of the constitution in March.
Finally, P.J. asks that we not post the results of the affirmation vote on social media. Many in his congregation are on summer break like he is and won’t be returning until January. He would like to inform the GodFirst church family in person. Thanks for considering this request.

Looking ahead, I will not be sending out a Friday email for the next two weeks due to the Christmas and New Year holidays. So the next one you’ll receive will be on Friday, January 8.

Hope to see you the 23rd or 24th at Christmas Eve services, and have a blessed Christmas and grace-filled new year!

In Christ,


First there was C.J. Mahaney.  He was a frequent speaker at conferences and had a few books written in his name that were fairly big sellers in his niche of the Evangelical Christian world. He frequently referred to Sovereign Grace churches in general, and Covenant Life Church in particular, as “the happiest place on earth.”

That was right before it wasn’t.

Brent Detwiler’s leaked notes on the cut-throat politics amongst the “apostolic team” revealed all was not so happy in SGM/SGC.  Add to this the lawsuit filed by Susan Burke, which made credible charges of sexual abuse and a conspiracy to cover it up, and you had a church whose happy-meter was not even registering a reading.

When the weekly high-fives and standing ovations for the humble, bald-headed narcissist evaporated, Charles Joseph Mahaney decided it was time for him and his entourage to pull up stakes and plant a gospelly-centered church in Louisville, KY.  The cost of living was so much cheaper there, don’t you know, and even though the small city already had 4,500 churches, not one of them got the gospel exactly right. (Very hard to do if you haven’t attended the 9-month Sovereign Grace “Pastors College.”)

Fortunately, the wise and humble Mahaney had installed Joshua Harris as the senior pastor a few years prior to his fleeing to Louisville.  Harris had not attended the mandatory 9-month Pastors College; as a matter of fact, he hadn’t attended any college whatsoever.  Not to worry though, because the young Harris was a celebrity in his own right, having published a successful selling book titled “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” This qualified Harris to leap-frog over many men who had served as loyal assistant pastors to Mahaney for years.  Undoubtedly feelings were hurt, but at the end of the day CLC had a celebrity in charge and all was good in their world.

Joshua Harris made one wise choice while he was in charge – he pulled CLC out of the Sovereign Grace denomination. He made one foolish decision – he lied to church members and the press about when CLC leaders knew about the sexual abuse.  When former assistant pastor Grant Layman testified in the criminal case against pedophile Nathan Morales that church leaders knew of the abuse much earlier than Harris had admitted to, it was time for Harris to “Kiss CLC Goodbye.”  He jumped ship under the guise of attending seminary in Vancouver, B.C.  though, truth be told, Harris, with no college credits, is unable to attend seminary.  He is actually attending a one year diploma program.

CLC earnestly began searching for another celebrity pastor.  Apparently they could not find any USA citizens interested in taking the job, so they hired South African, P.J. Smyth. Smyth has obtained celebrity status in South African Christian circles and I am sure he will accomplish the same in short order in the USA.  I have listened to about 6 of Smyth’s sermons and I was favorably impressed.  He is a handsome man, a good speaker and comes across as a likable fellow.  I am sure he could be a headliner for Together 4 the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition or 9Marx in no time, if he so desired.  He could really pump up the excitement and, more importantly, the cash intake for any of those money-making businesses ministries.

But Smyth has other plans.

And its safe to assume those plans will include a lot of time away from the pulpit of CLC.

Mitchell outlined, in his letter above, that they are working on getting Smyth a visa so he can reside in the USA on a full-time basis.  Meanwhile their new senior pastor was only able to spend two weeks with them in January, and he hopes to spend two more weeks with them in both March and May. (I wonder if CLC is paying him full salary during this period?) At any rate, I would think a new senior pastor would desire to throw himself into his new job, desiring to spend as much time as possible getting to know the people and the unique requirements of ministering in the new church.

I would be wrong.

Smyth spent two weeks with CLC and then was off on a whirlwind tour of the USA to network with other churches in his “Advance” organization.

2016-02-04 PJ Smyth tweet from STL



2016-02-04 P.J. Smyth preaching at Crosspoint STL 1-20-2016



2016-02-04 PJ Smyth photo from OKC



2016-02-04 PJ Smyth preaching at Frontline OKC 1-24-2106


2016-02-04 PJ Smyth tweet from NYC

Distressing to me was the fact that P.J. pulled the same stunt C.J. has so often pulled, that is, he recycles his same sermons in different venues.  At Crosspoint Church in St. Louis, Smyth preached from the text of Colossians 4.

At Frontline Church in Oklahoma City, Smyth preached from the text of Luke 1.

Care to guess what texts Smyth preached from while at CLC?

Screenshot 2016-02-04 19.58.34

Yep, just like CJ, PJ is doing the hard work of sermon preparation.  Hours and hours and hours each week!



It appears to me that PJ is intent on building his “Advance” kingdom and CLC will be used to gain a foothold in the United States.  Here is a screen shot from a 2015 conference; notice that Josh Kouri was one of the speakers.  Kouri is the pastor of Frontline Church in Oklahoma city, the church PJ preached at during his latest visit to the USA.


2016-02-04 Advance NA Conference

2016-02-04 Josh Kouri of Frontline Church OKC Advance network

This Advance organization is a lot like a denomination; they have many similarities with the Sovereign Grace Churches denomination.  They exist to spread the gospel through the planting of churches.  They financially assist new church plants and then expect the churches to regularly support the Advance network.   They call their leaders “apostles” although they advise not using that term amongst the uninitiated.  They have “Hubs” instead of “Regions” and the leaders of these Hubs will visit local churches to help them with problematic issues.

It all sounds a bit nefarious to me, I think CLC is setting themselves up to be burned once again.  I hope they at least knew what they were getting into when they voted to affirm the leader who was already selected by CLC leadership. I would also suggest the CLC assistant pastors be ready to do a lot of preaching!

2016-02-04 What Advance churches are expected to give

2016-02-04 Advance national strategy

2016-02-04 Advance big A little a apostle

2016-02-04 Advance do not use apostle initially


2016-02-04 Advance apostles standing invites


2016-02-04 PJ Smyth Advance Leadership 2016-02-04 P.J. Smyth is salaried 2016-02-04 Advance view of apostles


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[…] remained loyal to the church that PJ was their man. The members reportedly voted overwhelmingly (97% in favor) of hiring PJ. One year later, in January of 2017, PJ and his family arrived in the […]

Bill M

I’ve now passed through more than a few churches with lobbies that look like Starbucks inside, complete with the coffee bar.

Maybe this is a market Starbucks should consider tapping. 😉

Just think about the potential for adding non-religious extras to a Church service. Maybe Covenant Life should put in a spa in case St. P.J.’s sermons aren’t enough of a draw.

And create some package deals such as the following:

1) A canned sermon plus a mani/pedi with other Godly women: $55.
2) A canned sermon plus a men’s only (of course the women will be cooking everything but the meat) BBQ: $35.
3) A canned sermon plus we’ll put your kids in a nursery that has a system whereby you can monitor them using your smart phone: priceless.


Bill M

Reading through your narrative on CLC and the various “pastors” reminds me of the history of British and French kings, complete with the intrigue and metaphorical spilled blood. So when will the people tire of having a king?

Thanks for the comment, Bill. The folks at Covenant Life Church seem to need a regal cult figure to rally around even if that person is just out to steal their money and treat them like dirt. The issue now is how long the broader community is willing to put up with people who think their religious beliefs exempt them from having to follow laws they don’t like/perform their civic and moral duty to protect children from predators.

I think that Covenant Life Church has worn out its welcome in Montgomery County, Maryland. Perhaps their new Pastor can set up shop for them in South Africa. 😉

Also, as I recall, Joshua Harris didn’t try to separate Covenant Life Church from Sovereign Grace Ministries until circumstances forced him to quit sitting on the fence.

Even after SGM illegally (because it did so without having a Pastor of CLC on its board per its by-laws filed with the State of Maryland), took its resources to Louisville, Kentucky, Harris and the other CLC Pastors dilly dallied about kissing SGM good-bye.

It wasn’t until Attorneys Susan Burke and Bill O’Neill sued Sovereign Grace Ministries on behalf of victims and alleged victims, that Harris and the other CLC Pastors immediately held a meeting saying they didn’t want to be associated with SGM because it was part of a national lawsuit.

I think some other reasons for ditching SGM were given as well, but it was clear that the lawsuit forced Joshua Harris to make an immediate decision regarding CLC’s partnership with SGM.

Shortly thereafter, CLC got sued, too, so Harris’ panicky decision to ditch SGM was for naught.

Thanks. Janna

It’s not just Sovereign Grace / PDI / whatever… most churches today are trying to be ‘relevant’ and ‘hip’, so all the pastors basically look like outtakes from a Starbucks commercial.

That’s fine. I’m just tired of it being hip to cover up child sexual abuse at Sovereign Grace/PDI/whatever. And using my tax dollars to subsidize “non-profit Churches” that are anything but non-profit.

Thanks for the great article, Todd. I think we can conclude from the biography above that like his predecessors Joshua Harris and C.J. Mahaney, P.J. Smyth has little or no formal education and certainly has not attended even a fake Seminary program like the one Joshua Harris is using to spin his new role as a conference speaker.

This wouldn’t be such a big deal except that the Covenant Life Church Pastoral Search Team said they were looking for an interim Pastor who possessed at least a Master’s Degree. Presumably they would have therefore wanted an educated full-time Pastor as well.

Thus the decision to hire Smyth, an uneducated non-American who seems to know little about the American legal system, seems strange.

But here’s the real kicker. In the meeting that CLC Pastors held in which they accused their critics of being members of a Satanic conspiracy to undo St. P.J. Smyth’s heavenly work, Smyth mentioned that his cronies in South Africa had been monitoring CLC’s sexual abuse scandal for 2 years.

Please see the post backing up this contention here:

But Joshua Harris only announced his departure one year ago. That means the following two things are true:

1) Harris was accepting a salary for a job he was no longer interested in for at least a year prior to formally quitting that job. That wouldn’t be so egregious had he not dumped all his Pastoral responsibilities on current Executive Pastor Mark Mitchell during that year

Some folks have asked if Harris, whose Church lost at least 1200 members under his watch, got severance pay or some other buy-off from CLC’s current Pastors. It sounds like Harris did get a big Church-funded bonus, unofficially, because for at least a year he was allowed to just “call it in” regarding an important leadership job for which he was responsible.

2) CLC’s Search committee lied about seeking a new Pastor who was educated, as opposed to just being another self-proclaimed holy man. Covenant Life Church Pastors bad been courting P.J. Smyth for at least a year prior to Joshua Harris’ official departure announcement despite knowing that he had not attended Seminary.

Could it be any clearer that CLC is not really a Church? It’s just a corrupt business masquerading as a religious organization.