Sovereign Grace Ministries

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Sovereign Grace Ministries
Sovereign Grace Ministries.png
Classification Protestant
Orientation Neocharismatic, Calvinist
Region Primarily United States
Origin 1982
Gaithersburg, Maryland
Congregations 79[1]
Official website

Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) (previously known as People of Destiny International and PDI) is a group of Reformed,[2] neocharismatic,[3] Evangelical, restorationist,[4] Christian churches primarily located in North America.[5] It has variously been described as a family of churches,[6] a denomination,[7] and an apostolic network.[8] There are congregations in Australia, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Great Britain, Germany and Mexico.[9]


The organization of over 70 member churches grew out of the charismatic renewal of the 1970s under the leadership of Catholic Charismatic Larry Tomczak. It has its roots in a charismatic prayer meeting in Silver Spring, Maryland, then Washington, DC called Take and Give (TAG), which grew into Covenant Life Church, the longtime flagship of Sovereign Grace.[10] It was formally established in 1982.[11] Tomczak cofounded the church with CJ Mahaney.[12] Mahaney describes himself as a "former pothead."[2] Larry Tomczak withdrew from the Charismatic Catholic scene shortly before the creation of Covenant Life Church.[13]

Tomczak and Mahaney and the movement were influenced by Bryn Jones and Terry Virgo, leaders of the British New Church Movement. Both Tomczak and Mahaney spoke at New Frontiers' Bible Weeks and Stoneleigh Conference. They were also friendly with Maranatha Campus Ministries for a period.[14]

In "The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Thought" published in 1995,[15] Alister McGrath associated PDI with the shepherding movement and described it as having "informal links with Bryn Jones," the UK house church leader.[16] In the mid-1990s, while Tomczak was still involved in the group's leadership, religious anthropologist Dr. Karla Poewe wrote that "Vineyard is particularly attractive to the young and intellectual... People of Destiny serves a Catholic constituency" although participants at that time would not agree with this assessment. ,[17] contrasting PDI with the Vineyard Church.

The theological focus gradually shifted during the mid 1990s and it was later suggested that the increasingly Calvinistic theology of PDI was a major factor in Larry Tomczak's departure from the movement.[11][18] Although reconciled with C J Mahaney in 2011,[19][20] he earlier described the parting of ways with Sovereign Grace Ministries as "an unbelievable nightmare" during which his family "were threatened in various ways if [they] did not cooperate with [PDI/SGM]... A letter was circulated in an attempt to discredit me and to distort the events surrounding my departure."[21] Other notable charismatic figures, such as Lou Engle, founder of The Call prayer concerts, and Ché Ahn, pastor of Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena, CA, also ceased to be formally associated with PDI during this period.[22]

Sovereign Grace Ministries currently identifies itself as "a family of churches passionate about the gospel of Jesus Christ... with a strong doctrinal basis that is evangelical, Reformed, and continuationist."[23] This move towards the Reformed (or Calvinist) wing of the church is illustrated by Sovereign Grace's partnerships with speakers such as John MacArthur, Mark Dever, and John Piper, who speak at the Together for the Gospel Conferences.[24][vague]

In 2002, Wayne Grudem, a theology professor at Phoenix Seminary in Arizona, said "What I see is outward evidence of God's favor. That's at the heart of the success of this church... I know of churches around the United States who are looking to Sovereign Grace Ministries as an example of the way churches ought to work."[2] Whether or not Grudem has in any way made modified his sentiment regarding seeing "outward evidence of God's favor" upon SGM in the interim since 2002, in light of the wholesale changes and controversy surrounding the organization that have transpired during that time, is currently unknown, in terms of published documentation.

On July 6, 2011, Mahaney announced that he would be taking a leave of absence as a team reviews charges brought against him of "pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy." One of the purposes for this period included reconciliation with former SGM ministers. Larry Tomczak reported that Mahaney had gone out of his way to rebuild their relationship after 13 years of estrangement.[19][20] On January 25, 2012, Mahaney was reinstated as president of the organization by the board after three review panels found no reason to disqualify C.J. from his role as President, or to "call into question his fitness for gospel ministry."[25]

Early in 2012, Sovereign Grace Ministries announced their intention to relocate their headquarters from Gaithersburg, Maryland to Louisville, Kentucky, citing Louisville's lower cost of living as well as the growing connection with The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in town.[26] Some critics have suggested that the move may have more to do with the fractured state of the organization's relationship with the SGM flagship church, Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg.[27]

Previous names[edit]

Sovereign Grace Ministries was known as "People of Destiny International" until 1998.[28] British restorationist leader Terry Virgo states that Larry Tomczak and CJ Mahaney, leaders at the time, had become "increasingly uncomfortable" with the "People of Destiny International" name, and it was shortened to "PDI Ministries".[29] In 2002, the group adopted its current name of "Sovereign Grace Ministries."[citation needed]

Church planting[edit]

Church planter Fred Herron described the PDI/SGM church planting method of founding new churches: a pastor leads a group of members to relocate to a different city and form, or plant, a new church.[30][self-published source?]

The first church planting team was sent out to Cleveland Ohio and founded the church North Coast Church in the earliest years of Covenant Life Church. Church planting continues.[31]

For many years, PDI did not adopt existing churches, but later altered its policy. SGM adoption of an existing church begins with the development of a relationship with leadership and continues with dialogue to evaluate the doctrinal and practical compatibility of Sovereign Grace with the church desiring adoption.[32]

Leave of absence[edit]

In June 2011, C.J. Mahaney voluntarily took leave of absence to examine charges made against him and made public through a 600 page document written by Brent Detwiler.[33] In February 2012, the board of directors at SGM published its findings. They said: "After examining the reports [...] we find nothing in them that would disqualify C.J. from his role as president, nor do they in any way call into question his fitness for gospel ministry." Mahaney has been reinstated as the president of the organization.[34]

Child sex abuse scandal[edit]

In late 2012, a lawsuit was brought against Sovereign Grace Ministries for allegedly not reporting sex abuse that allegedly occurred 20 to 30 years ago. The plaintiffs claimed that church leaders, including Mahaney, did not report accusations of misconduct to the police. A thorough police investigation resulted in no charges or arrests of any of the men named as alleged perpetrators in the lawsuit. An independent investigator also found no evidence of an attempt to cover up child sex abuse, and that the sex abuse allegations that were investigated likely never happened at all. One of the plaintiffs has since recanted her story, admitting it was false.Larry Tomczak, a co-founder of SGM, who left the organization in the late 1990s, was alleged to have abused and assaulted a victim over a period of twenty-five years, but an investigation did not result in any charges.[35][36] All of the claims pertaining to the Maryland defendants were dismissed in May 2013 because the statute of limitations had expired – years ago in most cases. Despite the graphic child sex abuse claims made in the civil lawsuit, the plaintiffs did not file criminal charges against anyone they named as a perpetrator, even though there is no statute of limitations for criminal child sexual abuse. [37] An appeal of the lower court's decision was heard by the Maryland appellate court in May 2014, and the lawsuit was again dismissed because the Plaintiff's attorney, Susan Burke, had failed to file properly. The case was then appealed to Maryland's highest court and on September 22, 2014, the court denied cert, ending the civil lawsuit. In a separate case, a criminal conviction of Nathaniel Morales, a former member of Covenant Life Church, occurred in May 2014. Mr. Morales was accused of abusing four boys in their homes (not on church property) in the 1980's and early 1990's. None of the plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit was named as a victim in the Morales case,and no church employees were charged with wrongdoing in that case. Mr. Morales was sentenced to a combined 110 years in prison.[citation needed]

In November 2013, SGM issued a statement saying that, years after pastoral counsel was sought, "allowing courts to second guess pastoral guidance would represent a blow to the First Amendment."[38] Regarding the accuracy of the plaintiffs' claims, SGM released a statement saying that "SGM is not in a position to comment on the specific allegations at this time, but upon review it appears the complaint contains a number of misleading allegations, as well as considerable mischaracterizations of intent."[39]

Late 2012 also saw the departure of the movement's flagship Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD from SGM, a decision supported by an overwhelming 93%[40] of voting members.[41] Additionally, the Sovereign Grace churches in Charlottesville, VA, Indiana and Altoona PA, Sarasota and Daytona Beach, FL cut ties with the movement during this period. Daytona Beach's pastor Jesse Jarvis noted a “leadership culture characterized by excessive authority and insufficient accountability” as rationale for the church's departure.[42] About 80 churches from the United States and around the world remained in the organization, however.


  1. ^ "List of all SGM Churches". Sovereign Grace Ministries. Retrieved 11 June 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Duin, Julia (December 23, 2002). "KEEPING THEIR EYES on the CROSS; Gospel truth draws at Covenant Life". The Washington Times. Retrieved Jul 20, 2011. 
  3. ^ Maseko, Achim Nkosi (2010). Church Schism & Corruption. p. 326. ISBN 978-1-4092-2186-9. 
  4. ^ Hocken includes SGM in his list of restorationists; see Stanley M Burgess, Eduard M van der Maas (eds) The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002) s.v. Church, Theology of the (see p550)
  5. ^ "Sovereign Grace Churches". SGM Official Website. Retrieved 2008-02-29. 
  6. ^ Get to Know Sovereign Grace Church
  7. ^ Smith, Peter (3 July 2013). "C.J. Mahaney pulls out of Louisville pastors conference". The Courier-Journal. Retrieved 13 July 2013. 
  8. ^ Wagner includes SGM in his list of apostolic networks; see Stanley M Burgess, Eduard M van der Maas (eds) The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002) s.v. Charismatic Movement (see p507)
  9. ^ "Sovereign Grace Churches, by Country". SGM Official Website. Retrieved 2008-03-04. 
  10. ^ Tomczak, Larry (1989). Clap Your Hands. Word Publishing. pp. 179–196. ISBN 978-0-85009-315-5. 
  11. ^ a b "Gospel Bluesman Offers God's Love In Sin City". Charisma Magazine. July 2000. Retrieved 2008-02-09. [broken citation]
  12. ^ Tomczak, Larry (1989). Clap Your Hands. Word Publishing. p. 164. ISBN 978-0-85009-315-5. 
  13. ^ Tomczak, Larry (1989). Clap Your Hands. Word Publishing. p. 185. ISBN 978-0-85009-315-5. 
  14. ^ Virgo, Terry. No Well Worn Paths. p. 162. 
  15. ^ "Gospel Bluesman Offers God's Love In Sin City". Retrieved 2008-06-20. 
  16. ^ McGrath, Alister. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Thought. p. 432. 
  17. ^ Poewe, Karla O. (1994). Charismatic Christianity as a Global Culture. p. 25. 
  18. ^ Tomczak, Larry (1998). What Do You Believe About How People get Saved?. 
  19. ^ a b A letter from Larry Tomczak on his reconciliation with C.J. Mahaney
  20. ^ a b Christianity Today article "Sex, Money ... Pride? Why Pastors Are Stepping Down"
  21. ^ Tomczak, Larry. Reckless Abandon. p. 15. 
  22. ^ Poloma, Margaret M. Main Street Mystics. p. 177. 
  23. ^ "Sovereign Grace Ministries--About Us". Retrieved 2008-06-20. 
  24. ^ Together for the Gospel. "T4G 2008 Conference". Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  25. ^ "Sovereign Grace Ministries Reinstates C.J. Mahaney as President". Christianity Today. Retrieved 10 May 2012. 
  26. ^ "Controversial church with Southern Baptist ties moves headquarters to Louisville". The Courier Journal. Retrieved 10 May 2012. 
  27. ^ "Sovereign Grace Ministries Relocating Headquarters to Kentucky". Christianity Today. Retrieved 10 May 2012. 
  28. ^ "News Briefs". Christianity Today. 1998-04-27. Retrieved 2008-02-29. 
  29. ^ Virgo, Terry. No Well Worn Paths. p. 145. 
  30. ^ Herron, Fred (2003). Expanding God's Kingdom Through Church-Planting. pp. 73–74. 
  31. ^ "Our Approach to Church Planting". Sovereign Grace Ministries. Retrieved 2009-10-19. 
  32. ^ "SGM Church-planting FAQ". Sovereign grace ministries. Retrieved 2009-09-03. 
  33. ^ "C.J. Mahaney Takes Leave Over 'Serious' Charges". Charisma News. Retrieved 2012-02-08. 
  34. ^ Mclean, Mickey. "C.J. Mahaney reinstated at Sovereign Grace". World Magazine. Retrieved 2012-02-08. 
  35. ^ Boorstein, Michelle (2013-01-14). "Suit accuses Sovereign Grace Ministries of covering up alleged child sexual abuse". The Washington Post. 
  36. ^ Bailey, Sarah Pulliam (24 May 2013). "Evangelical leaders stand by pastor accused of abuse cover-up". Religion News Service. 
  37. ^ "Sovereign Grace Ministries, Class-Action Civil Lawsuit involving Child Sex Abuse". WJLA. May 2013. Retrieved 2013-05-23. 
  38. ^ "Sovereign Grace Ministries: Courts Shouldn't 'Second Guess' Pastoral Counseling of Sex Abuse Victims". Christianity today. Jan 2013. Retrieved 2013-05-23. 
  39. ^ "Updated Statement on Reported Lawsuit". Sovereign grace ministries. Retrieved 2013-05-23. 
  40. ^ "Maryland megachurch secedes from Sovereign grace ministries", The Christian Post .
  41. ^ "Flagship Church Votes to Leave C.J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries". Christian research network. Nov 21, 2012. 
  42. ^ "Troubled ministry". The World mag. Nov 2012. 

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