Sovereign Grace Churches

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Sovereign Grace Churches
File:Sovereign Grace Ministries.png
Abbreviation SGM
Classification Protestant
Orientation Continuationist, Calvinist
Region Primarily United States
Origin 1982
Gaithersburg, Maryland
Congregations 79[1]
Official website

Sovereign Grace Churches (previously known as Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) and People of Destiny International (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]

As of 2008 the group identified 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][25] 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."[26][27]

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.[28] 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.[29]

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%[30] of voting members.[31] 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.[32] About 80 churches from the United States and around the world remained in the organization, however.

History of name changes

Sovereign Grace Ministries was known as "People of Destiny International" until 1998.[33] 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".[34] In 2002, the group adopted its next name of "Sovereign Grace Ministries."[35]

In December 2014, executive director Mark Prater announced that the group's name would change to "Sovereign Grace Churches", to reflect its newly changed structure.[36]

Church planting

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.[37][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.[38]

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.[39]

Child sex abuse scandals

In late 2012, a lawsuit in Montgomery County, Maryland was brought against Sovereign Grace Ministries for allegedly not reporting sex abuse that allegedly occurred 20 to 30 years ago.[40] The plaintiffs claimed that church leaders, including Mahaney, did not report accusations of misconduct to the police.[40] A thorough police investigation resulted in no charges or arrests of any of the men named as alleged perpetrators in the lawsuit.[citation needed] An independent investigator also found no evidence of an attempt to cover up child sex abuse. The independent investigator also determined that the sex abuse allegations that were investigated likely never happened at all.[citation needed] One of the plaintiffs has since recanted her story, admitting it was false.[citation needed] 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. Tomczak was investigated and no charges were filed against him.[40][41] All of the claims by the Maryland plaintiffs were dismissed in May 2013 because the statute of limitations had expired, 3 years after each turned 18; the claims by two Virginia plaintiffs were still within the statute of limitations.[42] 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.[citation needed] The case was then appealed to Maryland's highest court and on September 22, 2014, the court denied cert, ending the civil lawsuit.[citation needed]

In a different case in 2014, Nathaniel Morales, a youth volunteer at Covenant Life Church, was convicted of abusing four boys between 1983 and 1991. [43][44]

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."[45] 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."[46]


  1. "List of all SGM Churches". Sovereign Grace Ministries. Retrieved June 11, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Duin, Julia (December 23, 2002). "KEEPING THEIR EYES on the CROSS; Gospel truth draws at Covenant Life". The Washington Times. Retrieved July 20, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Maseko, Achim Nkosi (2010). Church Schism & Corruption. p. 326. ISBN 978-1-4092-2186-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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 February 29, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Get to Know Sovereign Grace Church Archived August 18, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  7. Smith, Peter (July 3, 2013). "C.J. Mahaney pulls out of Louisville pastors conference". The Courier-Journal. Retrieved July 13, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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 March 4, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Tomczak, Larry (1989). Clap Your Hands. Word Publishing. pp. 179–196. ISBN 978-0-85009-315-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Gospel Bluesman Offers God's Love in Sin City". Charisma Magazine. July 2000. Retrieved February 9, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[full citation needed] Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "bluesman" defined multiple times with different content
  12. Tomczak, Larry (1989). Clap Your Hands. Word Publishing. p. 164. ISBN 978-0-85009-315-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Tomczak, Larry (1989). Clap Your Hands. Word Publishing. p. 185. ISBN 978-0-85009-315-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Virgo, Terry. No Well Worn Paths. p. 162.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Gospel Bluesman Offers God's Love in Sin City". Retrieved June 20, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. McGrath, Alister. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Thought. p. 432.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Poewe, Karla O. (1994). Charismatic Christianity as a Global Culture. p. 25.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Tomczak, Larry (1998). What Do You Believe About How People get Saved?.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. 19.0 19.1 A letter from Larry Tomczak on his reconciliation with C.J. Mahaney Archived September 20, 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  20. 20.0 20.1 Bobby Ross Jr. "Sex, Money ... Pride? Why Pastors Are Stepping Down". Retrieved July 14, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Tomczak, Larry. Reckless Abandon. p. 15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Poloma, Margaret M. Main Street Mystics. p. 177.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "Sovereign Grace Ministries--About Us". Retrieved June 20, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Together for the Gospel. "T4G 2008 Conference". Retrieved February 28, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. "C.J. Mahaney Takes Leave Over 'Serious' Charges". Charisma News. Retrieved February 8, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. "Sovereign Grace Ministries Reinstates C.J. Mahaney as President". Christianity Today. Retrieved May 10, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. Mclean, Mickey. "C.J. Mahaney reinstated at Sovereign Grace". World Magazine. Retrieved February 8, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. "Controversial church with Southern Baptist ties moves headquarters to Louisville". The Courier Journal. Retrieved May 10, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. "Sovereign Grace Ministries Relocating Headquarters to Kentucky". Christianity Today. Retrieved May 10, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. "Maryland megachurch secedes from Sovereign grace ministries", The Christian Post<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  31. "Flagship Church Votes to Leave C.J. Mahaney's Sovereign Grace Ministries". Christian research network. November 21, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. "Troubled ministry". The World mag. November 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  33. "News Briefs". Christianity Today. April 27, 1998. Retrieved February 29, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. Virgo, Terry. No Well Worn Paths. p. 145.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  35. C.J. Mahaney. "PDI Becomes Sovereign Grace". Archived from the original on February 10, 2003. Retrieved July 17, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  36. Mark Prater. "Transitioning to Sovereign Grace Churches". Archived from the original on April 21, 2015. Retrieved July 14, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. Herron, Fred (2003). Expanding God's Kingdom Through Church-Planting. pp. 73–74.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. "Our Approach to Church Planting". Sovereign Grace Ministries. Retrieved October 19, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  39. "SGM Church-planting FAQ". Sovereign grace ministries. Retrieved September 3, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. 40.0 40.1 40.2 Boorstein, Michelle (January 14, 2013). "Suit accuses Sovereign Grace Ministries of covering up alleged child sexual abuse". The Washington Post.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  41. Bailey, Sarah Pulliam (May 24, 2013). "Evangelical leaders stand by pastor accused of abuse cover-up". Religion News Service.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  42. "Sovereign Grace Ministries, Class-Action Civil Lawsuit involving Child Sex Abuse". WJLA. May 2013. Retrieved May 23, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  43. Lewis, Kevin (May 15, 2014). "Nathaniel Morales of Covenant Life Church convicted of sexually abusing young boys". WJLA. Retrieved July 17, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  44. Carter, Brianne; Lewis, Kevin (August 14, 2014). "Judge calls former church youth group leader Nathaniel Morales a 'cowardly pervert' before sentencing him to 40 years in prison". WJLA. Retrieved July 17, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  45. "Sovereign Grace Ministries: Courts Shouldn't 'Second Guess' Pastoral Counseling of Sex Abuse Victims". Christianity today. January 2013. Retrieved May 23, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  46. "Updated Statement on Reported Lawsuit". Sovereign grace ministries. Archived from the original on August 21, 2013. Retrieved May 23, 2013. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links