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Jul032018

P.J. Smyth Tells Covenant Life Church, “I Cannot Re-Engage as Your Lead Pastor” Because of Divisions & Dissensions – Will Likely Plant Church in Area with Interested Members 

In November 2003, C.J. Mahaney announced that Joshua Harris would replace him as senior pastor of Covenant Life Church in September 2004.  Here are some excerpts from an article at the time. 

I Believe God Has Provided the Best
by Ken McIntyre and Shelley Reinhart
December 1, 2003 

C.J., who repeatedly said the announcement made this “one of the happiest days of my life,” characterized Joshua’s deep commitment to Covenant Life as “an answer to my prayers” and “striking evidence of God’s love for this church.” 

Josh himself passionately assured us that his heart is “here,” that he wants to raise his family at Covenant Life, and that he desires to spend his life serving us and our children for the glory of God. … 

“Joshua is the most broadly gifted individual I know, and I am convinced that someone more gifted will better serve you,” C.J. said.  “Please understand: This brings me nothing other than pure and great joy. 

“I wanted you to have the best,” he explained.  “I believe that God has provided the best.  And I think this has been evident to you as he has been given the responsibility to serve and lead as executive pastor.  He has led us so effectively and so fruitfully. … 

“I [Joshua] don’t say that with any sense of pride.  What I mean is that I view this as my life calling.  I have no ambition or even desire for pastoral ministry apart from Covenant Life Church. … 

The evening’s expression of love for, and trust in, both C.J. and Josh was overwhelming.  As we sang “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” as a church family, the truth of that sentiment and the significance of our time together were apparent to all. 

In January 2015, Joshua Harris announced he was leaving CLC for seminary in Vancouver, Canada.  He also revealed, “there was tension and great difficulty behind the scenes” with C.J. from 2004 to 2011.  C.J. angrily and abruptly left the church in 2011 doing much harm to it.  He is still not reconciled with the church.  Many of the 4,300 members were badly stumbled by his hypocrisy.  Throughout this article, I’ve added comments, notes in brackets [ ] and underlining for focus or emphasis. 

Joshua Harris Sunday Remarks
Date: January 25, 2015
Author: Jason Cunningham

Seven years after I arrived at the church, I was set in as the hand-picked replacement for C.J.  I was 30 years old, with no formal theological training and no formal training in organizational leadership, and I was the Senior Pastor of a 3,000 member church.  That my friends is a crazy, backwards life! 

The plan was for me to be the pastor of Covenant Life with C.J. as the Apostle over our church and our movement.  I’m not going to go into the story of how that plan got derailed.  But suffice it to say there were serious flaws in this structure and from the earliest moments of my tenure as Lead Pastor there was tension and great difficulty behind the scenes

History is repeating itself with P.J. Smyth! 

P.J. was recommended to replace Joshua as lead pastor by the Search Team in September 2015.  He was affirmed by congregational vote on December 13, 2015.  He and his family arrived from South Africa a year later.  He was installed on January 29, 2017.  

Here are the comments made by executive pastor Mark Mitchell regarding P.J. being “an excellent choice as Lead Pastor” because of “his godly character,” “pronounced humility,” etc. 

Lead Pastor Search Update: P.J. Smyth
Date: September 28, 2015
Author: Jason Cunningham 

Below is the text of Mark Mitchell’s update from Sunday morning, September 27. 

Good morning, everyone. 

This past Thursday through Saturday the elders met together on our fall retreat to consider the Search Team’s recommendations and written report on the Lead Pastor search process and to discuss next steps. 

Many of you were praying for us.  Many of you were even fasting on our behalf. And there’s just no way that we can thank you enough.  We believe God heard and answered your prayers.  Our conversations, our times of seeking the Lord, were marked by faith, unity, a fruitful discussion together, and a wonderful sense of God’s peace—and we know that is in no small part due to your prayers.  So on behalf of all the elders we want to say, thank you. 

Here’s the update: the 11 person Search Team [chaired by Pat Ennis] made up of eight members and three elders met from April through September, and after many, many hours given to prayer, gathering input from the congregation, viewing resumes, conducting interviews and listening to sermons, the search team has recommended P.J. Smyth to the Board of Elders for the role of Lead Pastor. [Applause] 

Very appropriate.  P.J. would be blessed by your enthusiastic response. 

After much discussion and prayerful consideration, the Board of Elders enthusiastically believes that P.J. should be our next Lead Pastor.  We believe that God has been directing our path over these last few months and has provided this man as a gift to our church.  As we’ve gotten to know P.J., we believe his godly character, his pronounced humility, his leadership gifting, and proven fruitfulness in ministry make him an excellent choice as Lead Pastor to serve our congregation, Covenant Life Church, for the foreseeable future. 

He’s aligned with our doctrine and values, committed to team and accountability, he is eager to grow and learn from us, and he passionately loves Jesus, His church and His mission—and as the Board of Elders we heartily commend him to you, the congregation. 

Three months later, the following was written on the CLC blog about the upcoming affirmation vote. 

Lead Pastor Affirmation Vote
Date: December 7, 2015
Author: Jason Cunningham 

As Mark Mitchell shared this past Sunday, December 13 is a very important day in the life and history of our church.  That is the day we, as a church family, get to express whether or not we believe God has provided P.J. Smyth to be our next Lead Pastor. 

Just to recap the process: The Search Team had their first meeting in late April, and the lead pastor job description was posted online in late June.  By late September, the Search Team and the elders were in strong agreement to put P.J. forward not only as their single recommendation but a gifted, experienced and proven pastor and visionary leader who is well aligned with our theology and values. 

To be at this place just eight months after we began is a remarkable expression of God’s goodness and particular love for Covenant Life.  We have a lot to give God thanks for! 

Now, we’re responsible to determine if indeed we believe P.J. Smyth is God’s provision for our church.  So, we are asking all adult members of Covenant Life Church to make every effort to be present next week and to participate in this vote of affirmation.  We’d like to see member participation as close to 100% as possible. 

After P.J. was affirmed by the church it took 10 months to work out all the details (e.g., getting their visas) so the Smyth’s could move from South Africa to the United States.  

During this time period, Rigby Wallace interviewed P.J. & Ashleigh (Ash) Smyth, and Bo & Nancy Lotinsky in June 2016 at the Global Conference of Advance leaders held in the United Kingdom about “the Smyths transition into leading Covenant Life Church in the Greater D.C. area.” 

Bo was the chairman of the elder board for Covenant Life Church.  He resigned six weeks ago over concerns for P.J.  Nancy is still an administrative assistant at the CLC.  Rigby is an apostolic leader for Advance – the global movement headed up by P.J.  Here are excerpts from the interview.  A much more complete (and very interesting) transcript can be read here

Global 2016: Covenant Life Interview with Bo and Nancy, PJ and Ashleigh
June 9, 2016 

Rigby Wallace
Most of us are aware that the Smyth’s are on their way, waiting for visa issues to come through, but they are on their way to serve in an amazing community called Covenant Life in Maryland just outside Washington, D.C.  That have been invited by the elders there to come and take up the lead elder role and it has been a fantastic process to be a part of.  Steve and Anna [van Rhyn], Sue and I have journeyed with P.J. and Ash over the last couple of years and we have watched something of this amazing choreography of the Holy Spirit.  It is a beautiful thing.  You can’t be a student of the Book of Acts and not see massive people movements.  We want everybody to dial into the story of how P.J. and Ash have processed this sense of God opening a door in Covenant Life.  And we have also got  Bo and Nancy Lotinsky, who we are just getting to know. … I want to invite these two couples to come up here and I am going to in a gentle, loving way interview them. … And I am going to start with you P.J.  Did you see it coming? 

P.J. Smyth
Did we see it coming?  Yes and no. … A month later [January 2015], Josh Harris who led Covenant Life for ten years resigned. … Steve [van Rhyn] was actually bold enough to say, “Bro, I think this might be God.” [i.e. Josh’s resignation which opened the door for P.J.].  And we just made a little pact there and then on the phone, we are not going to talk to anyone else about this.  My heart wasn’t beating fast.  I wasn’t excited.  Nothing but just Lord if this is you we pray this would come, the job [lead pastor at CLC] would come to me.  We agreed we would not send out CDs [of messages] to anybody.  We would just allow the Lord to be Lord and remarkably two months towards the end of March, Josh Harris who hadn’t chatted to Terry [Virgo] for four or five years, reached out to Terry and just said any ideas for an interim pastor.  Josh was trying to help the process.  And Terry said I will get back to you.  And he got in touch with me and then put Josh in touch with me.  And then conversation started.  And then over the last nine months of last year [Apr-Dec 2015], was a case of Covenant Life and us getting to know each other.  And both parties, gradually, increasingly felt the Lord has led us to each other. 

Rigby Wallace
So that is kind of from the Smyths.  Covenant Life, Bo would you give us a little bit of your side in a God honoring way around some of the very painful history you guys have walked through and something of how you began to connect the dots and sense that God could be in the P.J. relocation to Covenant Life.

Bo Lotinsky
Thank you for having us come. … A few years after that, that’s where the difficulties for Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace [Ministries], which was based there at the church at the time, underwent a great difficulty [when I sent out The Documents in 2011] that went on for years.  Initially, the first serious trial was that long-standing relationship came to a very difficult end [C.J. left CLC in August 2011, then CLC left SGM in December 2012].  The church is coming up on its 40th anniversary [1978-2017].  So it was a long relationship.  That was a very difficult thing. … So I think there is a lot to learned here.  I think God is up to a lot of good.  And he is certainly up to a lot of good.  And certainly, bringing these two into our lives is just the latest great thing that God has begun to do in our church. 

Rigby Wallace
So Ash … as this door began to open you’ve had to wrestle with the implications as a wife, as a mum, as someone who is deeply connected to a community of very meaningful relationships in Johannesburg.  We have walked with you on this.  I think it will be so powerful for us just to hear what it has been like for you? 

Ashleigh Smyth
I don’t like change.  I don’t like risks.  You know, he [P.J.] says let’s go and I panic.  He and God say let’s go.  I read something so helpful that we don’t fear change so much as we fear loss.  And that has helped me to sort of separate.  I do feel God is in this.  I am sad about the loss.  But actually, the change is exciting.  I know God always takes us forward.   I am excited about what God has for us there.  I am just dealing with the loss of leaving [GodFirst church in Johannesburg]. … It helped us as a family when we sat down and [were] dealing with our emotions a bit, let’s separate, do we think this is what God has called us to and how do we feel.   And all five of said yes, we think this is God.  And then we dealt with how we feel. 

Rigby Wallace
So let’s just chat around the issue of affection, the growing affections.  Nancy you are watching this process unfold, yes there is all the big picture, visional dimensions of this, but you are also watching a church having to open its heart to a new leader again and what’s it like on the inside.  Maybe you could just speak to how’s the church kind of receiving Ashleigh and P.J.?  You know, I would imagine, there’s ups and downs on that because of what they have gone through, but we would love just to hear, it would help us to pray.

Nancy Lotinsky
Well, I felt like the Lord gave me a picture this morning of what the last five years [2011-2016] have been like.  It was like being on a ship.  And it was sailing nicely, and everything was going smoothly, and then all of a sudden, it was becalmed, is that the word, where the wind stops, and you are just kind of sitting there, and then there were leaks coming in, and then all of a sudden there is a shot over the bow, and you just started getting this sensation, this ship is going down.  It is sinking and people are going overboard.  And that was just the kind of feeling that we were getting.  And yet at the same time, we had this very strong sense, that God was up to his ultimate plan in this whole situation. …  So we have seen from the outset, I mean P.J. came to speak and the very first time he spoke there [May 3, 2015], people said can he be our new senior pastor, I mean right from the very beginning they were just so drawn to him.  And Ashleigh, the women just love her.  There is no pretense about Ashleigh.  She is just so comfortable and people relate to her so easily.  And the women, especially the elders’ wives, have really fallen in love with her.  It been really a blessing to see that happen.  And P.J. I don’t know if you remember this, but the first time you were there, some of us went out to dinner, you asked Mark Mitchell, what are you going to do about the youth, or the young people, because that has been the biggest exodus.  And we have a 20-year-old son.  He is almost 21 and his peers are gone, they are just not there anymore [largely due to C.J.’s hypocrisy in leaving CLC].  I leaned over and I went, P.J., he’s got to be the answer to this.  We just had that sense from the beginning that even though at that point we didn’t know you were coming, we thought, somehow this fits into the whole picture that God has for our church. So everyone loves them already.

Rigby Wallace
So P.J. … what has God been doing in your heart in relation to a [eldership] team with a whole bunch of new brothers, want the best for them, and yet need to love a church that has gone through so much. Talk to us.

P.J. Smyth
I think Covenant Life Church is in way better shape than they realize they are.  I think the eldership team is, I think the church is.  They are doing way better than they should be doing after what they have gone through.  So when we first connected with the church, we were unaware of the layers of pain, and so on, and we immediately saw the sound foundations of the church.  There are a few that are cracked and wobbly.  Maybe one or two that needs replacing.  But some just need filling in.  But most of the foundations is [are] exceptional. … A very grateful church, a very hospitable warm church, generous of heart.  Love the word of God.  Love the Holy Spirit.  There is just so many things to fall in love with.  So that was easy.  Fall in love.  And admire and think, man we have things to learn, this is terrific.  And then as we got to know people.  There are so many people who are so likable and even those who are dealing with pain, are largely dealing with it in a godly way.  They have been very warm and open to us.  We have had the nine month interview process [Apr.-Dec. 2015] was so open and honest and frank.  I just can’t think of anything we didn’t talk about.

[Comment: This is a blatant lie.  P.J. never talked about his knowledge of his father’s crimes (e.g. sexual sadism) and how he helped his father escape deportation and prosecution by the Zimbabwe government.] 

I know there will be bumps and things that we realize we should have talked about but just having that kind of an environment which I know we cherish.  You know, honesty and openness.  Love and truth.

[Comment: P.J. would never have been hired if he was truthful about his knowledge of his father crimes including the violent beating of boys which P.J. sometimes observed.] 

And that has been very easy.  And then I think as we have got to know the – I’ve fallen in love with the area

[Comment: I lived in the Washington D.C. area for 10 years.  People often move there because they are drawn to the wealth, power and prestige of living in the area.] 

This county [Montgomery County, MD] it is about the 12th most wealthy county out of 3,000 plus counties.  It is the most linguistically diverse as well and that is an amazing combination to have.  To be in the greater D.C. area gets my juices going.  It would just be a privileged to serve that community.  And then our hearts have been steadily broken for the church but not in a condescending way.  You know, “Oh these dear people, they need us.”  Not at all.  They’ve got Jesus.  They’re coming up and out and we are so grateful to be joining their story which will become our story.  And we know that God sent us.  They have invited us, but God sent us

Rigby Wallace
So there is this big open canvas called the future.  Any last thoughts before we go to a little moment of prayer and prophecy. 

Bo Lotinsky
Yea, I am confident that the future is going to be just wonderful. … I have such a peace and an assurance that God is in this.  And that God will do great things.  And I am just not worried about trying to interpret what happened [in the past]. … It is one of those things, and I think it is part of God’s plan, and I really believe that when you go through something like this [i.e., The Documents being posted, C.J. leaving CLC, SGM relocating to Louisville, CLC leaving SGM, the sex abuse lawsuit with 11 plaintiffs, the conviction of sex abuser Nathaniel Morales who oversaw the CLC international student ministry at the University of MD, 65% of the members leaving CLC, all the youth exiting the church, etc.], something great is going to happen on the other end.  And I am very, very excited and can’t wait until the Smyths’ get there, and we can together discover all the great things God has for us as a church.  So pray for us as a church.  I wish I could say everybody is in faith and have come through this and are fully healed.  There are some things that have to be dealt with, but I think once the Smyths get there things will be great. 

Six months after the interview above, the Smyth’s arrived at Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia on December 22, 2016.  The next month he was installed. 

Vision Sunday: Installing PJ Smyth as Lead Pastor
Date: January 31, 2017
Author: Jason Cunningham 

January 29 was Vision Sunday, a day to celebrate God’s care and provision in bringing PJ Smyth and family to the U.S. and PJ to serve as Covenant Life’s lead pastor.  If you weren’t able to attend the service, enjoy this video recap of the installation ceremony. 

You can view or listen to PJ’s Vision Sunday message online as well. 

Executive pastor Mark Mitchell said this about P.J. during the installation. 

“P.J. has been through a thorough examination process.  He clearly meets the qualifications for eldership and he wholeheartedly embraces the responsibility to shepherd, oversee, lead, and care for this local church in partnership with all the elders.” 

He also said this about the contact between Joshua Harris and Terry Virgo of Newfrontiers.   

“In January 2015, our lead pastor, Joshua Harris, announced his plan to transition from his role in order to attend seminary.  And after reaching out to a number of ministry friends and leaders, Terry Virgo, who has been a friend of this church for many decades, suggested to Josh that we consider P.J. for the roll of lead pastor.  Now, that conversation led to a phone call between Josh and P.J. which took place in March (which happened to be the same month we were finalizing the members of our Search Committee).”  

Four days after P.J. was installed, his father, John Smyth (an eminent barrister, Queen’s Counsel and well-known evangelical leader) was exposed for the violent beating of over 20 young men in England and many boys in Zimbabwe.  It made headline news in the United Kingdom, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and the United States.  On February 2, and again on February 4, 2017, P.J. categorically denied to Covenant Life Church all knowledge of any allegations of wrong doing against his father and pretended to be shocked by the news.  He further denied all involvement in the matter though he was extensively involved for years.  It was an all-out attempt to deceive the church and it largely worked with the help of the CLC elders who also covered up his audacious lies!  

I first wrote about this deception in March 2017.  Then again in March 2018 when I was contacted by victims of John Smyth and an investigator of John Smyth who provided me extraordinary first-hand evidence not yet released to the public.  Of course, the CLC elders told members not to read what I wrote and sought to discredit me in countless ways.  That effort continues to this very day.  They don’t want members to know the truth about P.J. or their wretched cover up for P.J.  Read the following evidence. 

Lead Pastor P.J. Smyth Deceives Covenant Life Church About Knowledge of John Smyth’s Violent Beating of Boys
Friday, March 3, 2017 at 6:52AM
 
New & Indisputable Evidence Proves P.J. Smyth Knew All About Father’s Violent Beating of Boys – He & Pastors Continue to Deceive Covenant Life Church Despite My Appeals
Friday, March 2, 2018 at 2:40PM 

P.J. was installed as lead pastor 16 months ago.  Fast forward 14 months.  On Saturday, April 28, Mark Mitchell sent this message to CLC members about “an important decision.”  It was the decision to “part ways” with P.J.  They were done with him in short order.  

From: Covenant Life Church <mmitchell@covlife.org>
Sent: Saturday, April 28, 2018 11:02 AM
To: [CLC Members]
Subject: Members Meeting Tomorrow - Twelve Meeting Canceled 

Church Family,

Over the past week, the elders have spent a number of hours together in much discussion and prayer over some important topics that concern our church.  These discussions began several months ago and culminated this past Thursday.

As a result, the elders would like to have a brief members’ meeting tomorrow, immediately after our Sunday meeting, to share an important decision we’ve recently made.  In order to best accommodate as many as possible, the Twelve meeting is canceled. … 

When the Financial Advisory Committee learned of the decision to “part ways” they went to the elders before the Sunday morning meeting and told them it would result in the financial collapse of CLC in under a year.  As a result, the elders backed off and simply told the church there were “significant disagreements among the elders.”  Mitchell wrote the church three times that week.  

From: Covenant Life Church <mmitchell@covlife.org>
Sent: Wednesday, May 2, 2018 4:11 PM
To: [CLC Members]
Subject: Prayer Request From Elders 

Dear Church, 

These are difficult days.  The elders’ abbreviated announcement on Sunday has understandably caused great concern.  Many of you have emailed or called to express your views.  No matter what your opinion, we are grateful for your comments and want you to know that we are considering each one.

As I said on Sunday [April 29], the elders chose to postpone the announcement [of P.J.’s removal as lead pastor] in response to a strong appeal from church members.  Tonight we will be meeting with them and a few others to hear their concerns and seek their counsel.  Would you please pray for our time together?

I will send a follow-up email tomorrow.

Gratefully,
Mark 

From: Covenant Life Church <mmitchell@covlife.org>
Sent: Thursday, May 3, 2018 5:22 PM
To: [CLC Members]
Subject: Elder Update From Mark 

“The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). 

Dear Church, 

Thank you for your earnest prayers.  While the elders were meeting last night with a group of members, scores of you gathered in the Auditorium to cry out for God’s mercy and to ask him to help your leaders walk in humility.  No doubt many others were praying elsewhere.  Nothing has more power and potential at this time than fervent prayer. 

In last night’s meeting, a group of members shared some strong concerns with us.  They spoke firmly, yet graciously and clearly.  They were quick to express their love and faithful to register their disappointment with the fact that disagreements have been occurring among the elders for [six] months without the congregation’s knowledge [just like the “tension and great difficulty behind the scenes” with C.J. for seven years]. 

Tonight the elders will meet again to review their concerns, pray, and decide how to respond.  Would you please pray for us again?  We want very much to honor the exhortation in 1 Peter 5:5: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” 

I will plan to email again tomorrow with an update. 

Gratefully, 
Mark 

From: Covenant Life Church <mmitchell@covlife.org>
Date: Friday, May 4, 2018 at 9:44 PM
To: [CLC Members]
Subject: Thanks for Patience and Prayer 

“Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling!  Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.” (Psalm 43:3-4). 

Dear Church, 

Thank you for your continued prayers for us.

The elders met last night and had a helpful discussion.  We know you are eager for more information and we want to provide it, but we don’t want to communicate prematurely [the church still didn’t know the elders wanted part ways with P.J. but word was leaking out].  Please continue to ask the Lord to fill us with wisdom and grace.  We will share more as soon as it’s prudent to do so.

Thanks for your patience!
Mark 

Two days later, Greg Somerville, one of the pastors, posted an article on the CLC blog with favorable quotes and comments from members about the pastors supposed humility.  I wrote about it. 

Communications Director, Greg Somerville, Exalts Covenant Life Pastors but Censors Criticism in “Miracle Territory” 
Monday, May 14, 2018 at 2:34PM 

Here are Sommerville’s comments.  I’ve not included the quotes and comments from the members below.  They are found in my article. 

May 6—“Miracle Territory”
Date: Tuesday, May 8, 2018
Author: Greg Somerville 

On Sunday, April 29, the church was informed of significant disagreements among the elders [but not P.J.’s dismissal].  The elders shared that they would be meeting with a group of lay leaders to hear their input.  In the absence of specific details, speculations swirled and emotions surged.  But so did prayer.  And faith.  Many fasted and prayed with an unprecedented sense of urgency.  Over 200 attended Wednesday night’s [May 2] prayer meeting.  Many felt desperate to see the Lord move in our church.  

What happened this Sunday, May 6, was a miraculous display of God’s mercy toward his people.  Elders shared openly and thoroughly.  They confessed how their actions had caused pain and confusion for the church and the Smyth family.  Their repentance was met with forgiveness.  Elders and members demonstrated mutual respect and affection for each other.  A member [Travis Earles] exhorted us to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21); to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19); to use our freedom as an opportunity to serve one another rather than bite and devour one another (Galatians 5:13-15); and to remember that unless the Lord builds this house, we all labor in vain (Psalm 127:1). 

Though there is not yet a final resolution to the issues, afterwards many expressed a sense of relief and hope [because the elders told the church they reversed their decision to part ways and gave P.J. the option of “re-engaging as lead pastor] and a fresh resolve to pray that God would accomplish his purposes for Covenant Life.  

A few days later, Mark Mitchell sent out this update. 

From: Covenant Life Church <mmitchell@covlife.org>
Date: Friday, May 11, 2018 at 6:59:40 PM EDT
To: [CLC Members]
Subject: Friday Update From Mark 

I enjoyed some time out on my porch this morning, letting the Creator revive my soul with the sights and sounds of spring.  King David must have had a morning like this in mind when he wrote,

“You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it...You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth...The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy” (Psalm 65:9-13).

I hope you are able to hear and join in the creation’s praise of our great God today!

This Sunday [Mother’s Day] we have the pleasure of honoring our moms.  Assuming they would be blessed NOT to hear lots of church news on their special day, I’m going to pack a lot into this Friday update.

Advisory Committee

Last night [May 10] PJ and the elders met to pray and talk together.  It was a relaxed, productive meeting that helped us clarify and align expectations.

As I described on Sunday [May 6], PJ is still carefully deciding whether to re-engage as Lead Pastor.  As such, the elders, along with PJ, have determined that having an Advisory Committee available to clarify issues and strengthen communication with each other would be helpful.  We have asked Travis Earles, Ed Stockton, Michael Winn, Myung Yi, and a member of the Financial Advisory Committee (to be determined) [Jim Wilson] to serve on this committee.  We chose these men because of their proven leadership on other church committees and their familiarity with the situation these past few weeks.  While prepared to take as much time as needed, they share a sense of urgency that these issues be resolved soon [P.J. delayed his decision for two months].

PJ and the elders are fully supportive of the Advisory Committee.  We are sharing with them copies of Board meeting minutes [that documented the conflicts] as well as questions and comments submitted by members.  I am personally indebted to these men for the sacrifices they are making on behalf of our church, and I look forward to updating you on their progress in next Friday’s update.

Input From Members

Over 70 members have submitted comments and questions for the elders since Monday.  It’s evident that there are sharply differing perspectives and concerns.  We are going to need some time to give these the thoughtful consideration they deserve.  Also, we want to give members one more week to submit input before we decide, with the help of the Advisory Committee, the best time and format for addressing the issues you have raised.  If you have not yet sent in comments or questions, click here

If you missed last Sunday’s meeting, you have an opportunity to watch the full video tomorrow morning at the church from 10-11:30 AM (Discovery Land Video Room - #221).  Some members of the Advisory Committee and elders will be on hand to answer questions afterwards.

Dave Brewer

This past Wednesday [May 9], Dave Brewer informed the Youth Ministry that he will be transitioning off staff in June in order to serve as Pastor of Family Ministries for a church in Howard County [Grace Community Church in Fulton,  MD].  As he stated in his email, this transition is not due to the current circumstances, but is an unexpected opportunity [i.e., a “promotion” from youth ministry to family ministry] that has been developing for a number of months. 

Dave has served Covenant Life as a pastor for 16 years.  So many of us have been affected directly or indirectly by him and his family.  The youth will be gathering together at 7 PM on Wednesday, May 23, to thank Dave for his ministry.  If you have been personally affected and want to join, all are welcome!

All Leaders Summit - Tuesday, May 15

The events of the past two weeks have made me freshly grateful for the men and women who serve our church with their leadership gifts.  And we need you more than ever!  Please make plans to join us this coming Tuesday from 7-9 PM for our second “All Leaders Summit.”  Whether or not you are currently serving as a leader, you are warmly invited to this interactive evening of reflections on the issues at hand combined with faith-fueling prayer.  To make sure we have enough space and snacks, RSVP here to let us know you are coming. 

Sunday Schedule

If you are planning to bring mothers or neighbors on Sunday, you will be relieved to know that we don’t have any surprise announcements in store. 😊 Ben Keeler will be leading us in worship while Sam and Becki Cox stay home and enjoy their brand new baby girl, Mabel Grace (above).  Jose Troche will be continuing our series in the Gospel of John.  All children and fathers will be on their best behavior.  And King Jesus will be present among his people to strengthen, encourage, and bless.

I look forward to gathering with you on Sunday. 
Mark 

Four days after this email from Mark Mitchell, I posted another article on BrentDetwiler.com that was widely read by CLC members.  

Erin Hill’s Disturbing “Hate” Mail & Bad Theology Illustrates Indifference to Extraordinary Deceit of Lead Pastor P.J. Smyth by Most Covenant Life Members
Tuesday, May 15, 2018 at 3:10PM 

According to Google Analytics, approximately 500 people from the geographical area around Covenant Life Church were reading this article and other articles on my blog from May 14-17.  The following Sunday, Mitchell instructed members not to read material online.  

I also posted this comment on another blog at the time. 

Brent Detwiler says:
May 16, 2018 at 8:50 pm 

P.J. should not suffer for his father’s crimes but he should be held accountable for his defense of his father against the allegations of sexual sadism, voyeurism, and exhibitionism which resulted in criminal charges.  30+ years [a pseudonym], please study the evidence.  You should not be defending or excusing P.J. in any way, shape or form.  You should be calling for his permanent firing on this blog and in CLC. 

New & Indisputable Evidence Proves P.J. Smyth Knew All About Father’s Violent Beating of Boys – He & Pastors Continue to Deceive Covenant Life Church Despite My Appeals
Friday, March 2, 2018 at 2:40PM 

Before he was exposed, P.J. even had the gall to highly commend his father on the CLC blog as a “primary shaping spiritual influence” who “instilled in him a love for God’s Word and for leadership” even though he knew all the evil his father had committed.  He is an accomplice to the charade that the Smyth’s are top of the class evangelical elites. 

In addition, P.J. observed some of the violent beatings.   He too should have reported them to law enforcement as required.  Moreover, he was his father’s closest confidante once the allegations and charges were brought against his father in Zimbabwe.  P.J. was a college graduate, married, and 22 years old.  He was no juvenile. 

Yet, despite his first-hand knowledge of violent beatings and other overwhelming evidence, he repudiated David Coltart (the top civil rights lawyer in Zimbabwe) and the Zimbabwe pastors who testified on the behalf of seven victims.  Furthermore, he worked to get his father off for his crimes from Feb 1994 (age 23) to Oct 1997 (age 26) through connections with the government.  He was no innocent hap-along.  He should have helped with the prosecution even though it was his father.  The horrific beating of boys and young men involved scores of individuals and inflicted great harm upon their souls. 

I don’t know what it is like to grow up with a sexual sadist for a father, but that is no excuse for P.J. defending him, allowing innocents to be harmed, and being party to corrupt means to stop the prosecution. 

All of this cunning conveyed to CLC.  P.J. withheld the above information from the Search Committee to get the lead pastor job.  And then he lied to Covenant Life to keep the job after his father was exposed on three continents in Feb. 2017.  P.J. claimed absolutely no knowledge of any allegations against his father as reported in the press.  His lying was beyond audacious!  Soon after, the CLC pastors discovered it was a lie.  They covered it up. 

P.J. didn’t lie because he feared a lawsuit.  He lied because he didn’t want to be exposed and lose his job and face possible deportation.  He lied because he wanted to keep his prestigious job at a former mega-church with 40 acres and a massive facility in one of the wealthiest counties in America that is near Washington D.C. 

Furthermore, P.J. has refused to speak out against his father and call for him to return to England and face justice even though victims have asked him to do so.  He has also refused interviews with people like Cathy Newman [at Channel 4 News] in the UK who broke the story about his father.  And he has expressed no care or compassionate concern for victims of his father according to the victims themselves. 

I have never said or implied that P.J. committed the crimes he father did.  But he is cunning like his father and for that he must be held accountable.  No one with any biblical integrity would allow him to continue in pastoral ministry at CLC given the magnitude of his deceit which mirrors that of his father. 

Earlier in the year, at a CLC members’ meeting on March 4, someone asked P.J if he lied.  He did not answer the question.  Nor did Mark Mitchell.  Instead Mitchell took the opportunity to demeaned me - that is nothing new.  I wrote about his refusal in this post. 

P.J. Smyth & Mark Mitchell Refuse to Answer Question at Members’ Meeting About Reliable Witnesses Calling P.J. a Liar for Denying Knowledge of Father’s Violent Beating of Boys
Thursday, April 5, 2018 at 5:38PM

Moving on.  Mitchell sent out another update on June 2.  

From: Covenant Life Church <mmitchell@covlife.org>
Date: Saturday, June 2, 2018 at 6:14 PM
To: [CLC Members]
Subject: Update 

Tomorrow and Next Steps 

Dear Church, 

Psalm 145:4 says, “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.”  This morning I attended the Family Schools Program (FSP) graduation and witnessed nine young men and women turn their tassels to celebrate the blissful end of one season and the adventurous beginning of another.  It was a joy to not only celebrate the diligence of these students and the dedication of their parents, but also to hear Greg Somerville commend God’s goodness, the power of perspective, and the preeminence of love to this next generation. 

We send our hearty congratulations to these young men and women and our faith-filled prayers to the Lord for his continued blessing on their lives! 

Covenant Life School will be having their graduation ceremony this upcoming Saturday. I look forward to celebrating this moment again! 

For the rest of this update I want to touch on PJ’s status, questions members have submitted, and our plans for tomorrow. 

PJ’s Status 

As a reminder, the Board of Elders established an Advisory Committee (AC) “to help PJ Smyth determine whether he can re-engage as Lead Elder of Covenant Life Church, and what Board configuration would best facilitate that purpose.”  To this end, on Thursday, May 24, the AC sent several recommendations for the Board of Elders to consider.  We met this past Thursday (May 31) to consider those recommendations and have sent our responses back to the AC. 

The next step is for a few of the elders to meet with PJ and the AC next week for further dialogue.  Afterwards, PJ intends to finalize his decision, so it can be communicated to the church on Sunday, June 10 [he waited until June 29 and did it via email].  Our current plan is to devote the majority of that meeting to sharing this decision and any relevant details that surround it. 

I want to thank you for your patience and your continued prayers as we’ve engaged in this process.  We continue to ask the Lord that his will would be done and that he would give us grace to trust and follow him regardless of the outcome.  I’ve found the following prayer from God’s Word to be helpful: 

“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12). 

I invite you to join me in praying this prayer for our congregation. 

Submitted Questions 

A number of you have submitted a variety of questions about this situation to the elders.  We’ve responded to some of you directly and we are preparing an FAQ with answers to other common questions.  Those will be made available in the Quick Read next week on Tuesday. 

Tomorrow 

We have the privilege of hearing John Leconte preach from John 4-5 on the healing of an official’s son.  May the Spirit open our eyes to Jesus’ awesome and unchanged power and authority in our lives.  See you then, Mark. 

Another update followed three days later. 

Lead Pastor Status FAQs
Date: June 5, 2018
Author: Elders 

These FAQs were developed from member feedback received as of May 25, 2018. Additional questions will either be addressed as updates to this FAQ or in a members meeting context. 

PJ’s Status 

Is PJ still employed by CLC? 

Yes.  PJ’s employment was never terminated [which could have resulted in his deportation]. 

Is PJ still the Lead Pastor (LP)? 

PJ has not been functioning as LP since the elders decided to part ways on April 21.  He has been carefully considering whether to re-engage as LP since the elders rescinded that decision on May 3

Has PJ made his final decision whether to stay as LP? 

PJ will come to a final decision by Sunday June 10. 

Will there be any congregational involvement? 

If PJ decides to re-engage as LP, he and a smaller group of elders (i.e. an interim board) will be presented to the congregation for affirmation. 

Role of the Advisory Committee (AC) 

What is the Advisory Committee doing? 

The elders tasked this group, as stated in their charter, “to help PJ determine whether he can re-engage as Lead Elder of Covenant Life Church, and what Board configuration would best facilitate that purpose.” To this end, the AC has spent significant time in dialogue with PJ and the other elders and made a number of  recommendations

Who is on Advisory Committee? 

Myung Yi, Travis Earles, Michael Winn, Ed Stockton, and Jim Wilson. 

Who selected them? 

The elders, including PJ. 

Was Board of Elders (BoE) unanimously supportive of their selection? 

Yes. 

What qualifies them? 

Committee members have proven their leadership expertise in other church contexts and were commended by the BOE [Board of Elders] for their initiative, maturity, and wisdom.  They were among those who appealed to the elders to reconsider upon hearing of the decision to part ways with PJ.  In part, their initiative qualified them to continue to serve the elders with their counsel.  In addition, they have served in a number of leadership roles in the church.  Myung Yi was vice chairman of the Lead Pastor Search Team and leads a small group.  Travis Earles recently chaired the Local Missions Committee and has served as a small group leader and ministry team leader.  Ed Stockton is the chairman of the board of Covenant Life School.  Jim Wilson serves on the Financial Advisory Committee.  Michael Winn helps to lead the Benevolence Committee and the Greeting Team. 

Is BOE ceding authority to them? 

The Advisory Committee does not have authority.  They have been tasked to provide counsel and recommendations to PJ and the BoE. 

Role of the Financial Advisory Committee (FAC) 

What specific concerns did the FAC raise that the BOE didn’t previously consider? 

The FAC raised significant concerns with the elders’ decision making process. Specifically, not inviting their counsel in such an employment decision with such significant financial implications especially given the church’s current financial position - the very counsel they are chartered as a committee to provide the elders. [CLC has been on the financial brink for a long time.  P.J. leaving and taking people with him posed a grave danger to the survival of CLC.  The FAC wanted him to stay.] 

Did intervention of the FAC and other lay leaders violate the Constitution? 

No.  The FAC simply counseled the elders in accordance with their charter.  Any authoritative decisions were made by the elders in accordance with the constitution with no other parties present. 

How and why was the FAC given access to this info before the congregation? 

The FAC was made aware of the elders’ decision on Saturday April 28 [they appealed to the elders before the meeting on Sunday, April 29 to not announce the parting of ways with P.J.], the same day an email was sent to the church indicating a significant announcement the next day. Our standard operating procedure is to review any employment related issues with the Financial Advisory Committee in advance of making final decisions.  In hindsight, the FAC should actually have been brought into these issues earlier than they were. [The FAC was profoundly troubled they were not consulted and didn’t know about the six month long conflict with P.J.] 

Did the elders change their mind because the members of the FAC are some of the biggest financial contributors to the church? 

The elders do not know how much an individual contributes to the church financially, including the members of the FAC. Their counsel is weighty due to their wisdom and expertise on financial matters and their demonstrated commitment to Christ and Covenant Life Church. 

Preaching 

Why has PJ not preached since March [4]? 

The preaching plan set up several months ago had PJ preaching regularly during the FORTY series in January, February and early March then taking a break for much of March and April. The preaching schedule basically followed that established plan, with one or two exceptions.  Then in late April and May PJ did not preach in light of the decision to part ways and the process that has followed. 

How many times is he expected to preach annually? 

The job description states that the LP [lead pastor] will preach between 25-35 times per year. 

What is PJ’s relationship with the Preaching Team? 

PJ has been actively involved in the preaching team throughout his tenure.  He has brought ideas for preaching series to this team for initial feedback before presenting it to the rest of the elders and he has invited the team’s input before and after preaching (as other preachers do). 

I wrote about this update in another post on June 7 and commented on all of the above. 

P.J. Smyth to Announce this Sunday Whether He Is Leaving or Staying as Lead Pastor of Covenant Life Church
Thursday, June 7, 2018 at 12:19PM 

Mitchell’s update on June 5 was followed by this one on June 9.  It included a resignation letter from one of the pastors, Adam Malcolm.

From: Covenant Life Church <mmitchell@covlife.org>
Date: June 9, 2018 at 5:59:35 PM EDT
To: [CLC Members]
Subject: Update on PJ and Elders 

Dear Church, 

Thank you for your many prayers for the elders and our congregation and for your ongoing patience with what has turned out to be a lengthier process to resolve PJ’s status than we anticipated. 

Update from PJ 

Dear CLC, 

The Advisory Committee (AC) and elders have been working hard over the last few weeks to propose a new Board of Elders configuration that would serve our church well no matter who was Lead Pastor, but particularly one that current elders [five resigned] and I could support.  On Tuesday, the AC and a few elders interacted with me on these proposals.  I am supportive of these proposals and grateful for their efforts and wisdom.  However, despite my alignment with these proposals, I have realized that I am more depleted from the fray [i.e., “a protracted fight, struggle, or dispute”] of recent months than I knew, and in this depleted state, I run the risk of making an unwise decision to either stay or go.  Therefore, I asked the AC and elders if I could take some time off from now until the end of the month to make the right decision, and will aim to communicate the decision no later than Sunday, July 8 [it came Friday night, June 29]. 

I realize this delay is disappointing, and I am sorry about that, but this is such an important decision for all of us, with long-term ramifications, that I believe it is wise to take a bit more time.  I look forward to giving you some more details tomorrow in person.  Thank you for your prayers. 

PJ

Grace for Patience and a Spirit-Led Decision

As PJ said, if hearing this tempts you to frustration, I can understand.  However, I’d like to offer the following perspective. 

I believe we all want the Lord’s will to be done and we also want what’s best for the long-term good of Covenant Life Church.   

[Comment: The “Lord’s will” was bringing P.J. to CLC for its “long-term good” not a protracted “fray” that has divided the church.]   

Both of these goals are in sync with each other.  Therefore, even though waiting a few more weeks is not what we want, I believe it’s both humble and wise for PJ to take this extra time.  And, under the circumstances, I trust it’s what the Lord wants.  

[Comment: The Lord’s wants these men to repent.  Gal. 5:19-20 “Now the works of the flesh are evident … enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions.”] 

We want PJ to make a clear, sober-minded, Spirit-led decision that’s not impeded or obscured by spiritual or emotional depletion.  And if this means we need to be a bit more patient as a congregation, I trust the Holy Spirit will give us the grace to do that (Galatians 5:22-25). 

[Comment: From my perspective, the Holy Spirit is not leading anything that is going in CLC.  In judgement, the Lord has thrown the elders and church into confusion.  The Holy Spirit would have given grace and patience over the last eight months to resolve the conflicts if they were led by him.  “Depletion” is not the problem.] 

The Lord promises to give wisdom to those who ask (James 1:5-8).  May the Lord fill us with his wisdom and the knowledge of his will (Colossians 1:9-14) as we seek to glorify and follow him together 

[Comment: Mitchell repeatedly claimed it was God’s wisdom that brought P.J. to CLC in the first place.  This empty religious talk and citing of Scripture is nauseating.  If these men were glorifying and following Jesus Christ none of this would be happening.] 

We’ll say more about this when we gather tomorrow. 

Update on Elder Transitions 

Within the last couple of weeks, we’ve had some additional changes in the eldership. 

[Comment: Bo Lotinksy and Dave Brown resigned earlier in May over concerns for P.J.’s character.  Brown sent a letter to his Care Group regarding the same.] 

David Finch resigned from the eldership on May 25 and the Board of Elders accepted his resignation on May 31. 

Tim Harvey resigned from the eldership on June 2 and the Board of Elders accepted his resignation on June 7. 

[Comment: Mitchell doesn’t explain why Finch and Harvey resigned but they would not do so if they were supportive of P.J.] 

Both of these men have been members of Covenant Life for over 20 years and they both began serving as non-staff elders in February 2015 during a difficult period of our church life.  Their service has been marked by godliness, faith, steadfastness, and much sacrifice.  They love the Lord Jesus Christ, are exemplary husbands and fathers, and deeply care for this church.

Adam Malcolm is transitioning off the staff at the end of July but has resigned from the Board of Elders effective June 7.  (Click the button below to see Adam’s letter explaining the reasons for his transition.) Adam has served as a staff pastor since August 2004.  During this time he has done an exemplary job of overseeing many small groups, discipling new and existing leaders, and caring for many individuals and families, at times during extraordinarily difficult life circumstances.  In recent years he’s also taught a number of Bible studies, displaying his passion to equip believers to know God’s Word and grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.  The Lord saved Adam during an Alpha Course here and it’s been a joy to watch him grow from a new believer to a mature and seasoned elder. 

Each of these brothers has my love and respect and I count it a privilege to have served alongside them for the good of Covenant Life.  They will be missed from the eldership.  As you see them, please thank them for their service to our church family. 

Plan for Tomorrow 

In our meeting tomorrow, we’ll begin with singing and then transition to talking about the current situation with PJ.  We’ll do this by reflecting back on some of the significant issues that brought us to this point.  You’ll get to hear from PJ directly and we’ll also share the specific recommendations of the Advisory Committee.  Finally, we’ll take some time to look forward to the next few weeks. 

Isaiah prophesied, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  May Jesus be to us all this prophecy declares about who he is.  He is ours and we are his. 

See you tomorrow.

Yours in Christ,
Mark

## 

Letter from Adam Malcolm 

June 9, 2018 

Dear Church, 

It is with sadness that I am writing to you today.  As you are now aware, I will be transitioning off of the pastoral team effective July 31, 2018.  

Over the past year, I had begun to consider if the Lord might have me transition back into the marketplace sometime during the next 3-5 years, allowing a younger, well qualified man to take my place in serving you as a staff pastor for the next 20+ years.  But the Lord’s ways and plans are not always our ways or plans, and since he is all-knowing and all-wise, I happily submit to His kind and loving timing for an earlier transition. 

The reason for my leaving is related to the ongoing reality that our church has gotten smaller and can no longer support the level of staff that we have historically maintained.  With giving for the current fiscal year down over 10% from budget (approximately $450,000 behind), layoffs are likely as we look to FY19, even though several resignations and layoffs have already occurred this year.  With this in mind I voluntarily offered in early May to transition off the team to allow the remaining staff elders the opportunity to continue to serve you. 

[Comment: In 2013, CLC had 20 full-time pastors.  They are down to six with P.J. and Adam Malcolm leaving and that doesn’t include Greg Somerville who supposed to resign in August.  CLC still has 30 support staff.  There will be deep cuts with P.J.’s exodus.  He will also take Sam Cox with him who is the well-known worship leader he brought over from England in March 2017.]  

In my leaving, I ask that you continue with all the more fervency to pray for the remaining pastors and their families.  While pastoral ministry is a labor of love, it is a labor and also a great sacrifice for each of the men and their families who faithfully serve, especially those who serve full-time. 

I do want to communicate that I have strong disagreements regarding how matters with PJ have been and are being handled. 

[Comment: Adam doesn’t explain but clearly there is fault on both sides.]   

However, since I am transitioning off of the team, I will no longer be participating with the remaining elders in working out solutions to address them and hopefully move the church forward.  Despite those disagreements, I know that each man is a man of the gospel and desires what is best for the health and continued fruitfulness of CLC. 

It has been one of the greatest privileges of my life to serve these past 14 years as one of your pastors.  Though I will no longer have that honor, I hope to continue to experience your friendship and fellowship in the months and years ahead.  Thanks to all who have demonstrated their love, support and encouragement to both me and my family over the years.   While I will no longer be a pastor, I am grateful that I am eternally your brother in Christ.  

[Comment: It will be interesting to see if Adam stays at CLC or leaves with P.J.] 

In Him,
Adam

The correspondence above is from June 9.  Another update from Mitchell is sent out on June 15.  He asks a good question, but provides a poor answer.  

What Is God Doing Among Us?
Date: June 15, 2018
Author: Mark Mitchell 

Note: Mark shared these comments during Sunday’s service on June 10. 

David Mathis, Executive Editor of Desiring God, wrote in an email I received on June 9: “God considers our faith of such importance that he is willing to allow us pain to strengthen it.” 

In addition to the word “pain,” I would add the words “frustration” and “disappointment.” And isn’t it true that so often the pain, frustration, and disappointment that we experience in life often comes through people.  Sometimes God’s people.  We don’t intend to bring these things into each other’s lives, at least not usually.  But sometimes we do nonetheless. 

The Bible conveys the same truth in this way: [This following text from 1 Peter has to do with persecution; not pain, frustration and disappointment experienced by a church that comes from divisions among its elders.] 

“[N]ow for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6–7

I don’t claim to have authoritative insight into what God is doing in us at Covenant Life, but I suspect this goal has something to do with it.  I believe God has allowed us to experience pain, frustration, and disappointment in order to test our faith so that it may be found to be genuine and may result in the praise and glory and honor of Jesus Christ.

[Comment: Mitchell has always repudiated the notion that God is exposing, opposing, judging and disciplining CLC for a litany of unrepentant sins including the cover up of sexual abuse and the labeling of victims as liars.  It is not something he has “allowed” to “test our faith.”  It is something the Lord has decreed in keeping with his Word.  “God opposes the proud” (Jam. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5).] 

As a church, we have been “grieved by various trials.”  And by my reckoning, it’s been about seven years of trials in various forms—disagreements [conflicts] among leaders [C.J. and the CLC elders], separation from a family of churches [Sovereign Grace Ministries] with whom we had decades of partnership, loss of relationship and friendship, a civil lawsuit containing grievous allegations [Mitchell has publicly called most these “false allegations], the departure of many close friends [65% of the church], the departure of a beloved lead pastor [Joshua Harris], searching for a new lead pastor [P.J.] for the first time in our 40-year history, a long wait for his arrival [one year]—and then, after the hopes and excitement of new leadership, we’ve come full circle right back to disagreements [conflicts] among leaders [P.J. and the CLC elders]. 

[Comment: Mitchell refers to the above as “seven years of trials.”  There have been trials but there has also been a reaping of what has been sinfully sown by the leaders for many years and members in recent years who have refused to study the evidence against their leaders and hold them accountable.  See Gal. 6:7-8.  CLC is reaping “destruction” (NIV) and “corruption” (ESV, NASB), as the text teaches.] 

Who could have scripted this?  Luke wrote the following in Acts 4 regarding the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  I believe it gives us a clue

“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them...truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:24–28

In other words, God predestined the events of the cross even though it came about through [evil] human actions.  This is a mystery.  The Bible teaches that human beings are genuinely responsible for the choices they make in this life—real choices—for good or evil, intentional and unintentional (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13-142 Corinthians 5:10).  And the Bible also teaches that God is truly sovereign over all that takes place in this life—including human choices (Proverbs 21:1Daniel 4:35).  How to reconcile these two things even the most intelligent scholars and theologians throughout church history have not been able to explain.  Still the Bible teaches both.  And that’s what I believe, not only for life in general, but for our very specific situation here at Covenant Life. 

[Comment: God is sovereign over the “very specific situation here at Covenant Life” but Mitchell should identify his sovereignty in the form of his discipline (Heb. 12:4-17) and judgment which “begins with the household of God” (1 Pet. 4:17).  CLC should be studying God’s dealings with the churches in Revelation 2-3 which were commanded to repent or else terrible consequences would follow.  Not Acts 4 on the confluence of human responsibility and divine sovereignty in the death of Christ.] 

Human beings, your church leaders have with the best of intentions made real choices, in different ways, over the last several months, that have resulted in pain, frustration, and disappointment for you and for us.  Nonetheless, I believe the Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth has purposed/ordained/allowed these circumstances so that the tested genuineness of our faith—more precious than gold—may result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 

[Comment: This is the fundamental problem with Mitchell.  He commends all the “church leaders” for “the best of intentions” and doesn’t acknowledge the “fray” that has been going on behind the scenes for eight months which has provoked the Lord Jesus Christ.  God is not testing the “genuineness of our faith.”  He has been testing hearts to see if the elders and members will obey him like he did the Israelites in the wilderness who never entered the promised land because of their disobedience.]   

So, no matter what your perspective is about our current situation, I want to exhort you to fix your eyes on our Sovereign Lord who is actively involved in our situation.  My prayer is that our faith in him—in his sovereignty, goodness, wisdom, and love—though tested by trials, would glorify and honor Jesus. 

[Comment: What is happening at CLC will stumble more believers and bring greater reproach to the gospel of Jesus Christ no matter how much image management is done to put things in a positive light.  The discerning will see through the spin – theological and otherwise.] 

And finally, we come to P.J.’s letter and the elders’ letter in response from last Friday, June 29. 

From: Covenant Life Church mmitchell@covlife.org
Date: June 29, 2018 at 6:59:34 PM EDT
To: CLC Members
Subject: PJ’s Decision and Elder’s Response 

Letter from PJ 

Dear Covenant Life, 

As you know, I have been prayerfully considering whether to withdraw my acceptance of the elders’ April [21] decision to part ways with me, and take them up on their [May 3] invitation to re-engage as Lead Pastor.  Thank you for your patience in giving me time to consider such an important decision. 

[Comment: P.J. makes it sound like he had the option of staying at Covenant Life Church when the elders told him they were parting ways.  The elders reversed the decision only because they were put under extraordinary pressure by the Financial Advisory Committee (FAC) fearing financial collapse.  P.J. took two months to make his decision.  During this time the conflicts continued.]    

## 

My Decision 

Over the last two months I have been observing the [sinful] dynamics in our eldership team and congregation with the eager hope of being reassured that I should re-engage [he accepts no blame].  In particular, given all that has recently transpired, I was looking for reassurance that (1) the elders and I could work effectively together moving forward, (2) I could be an effective unifying influence in our congregation, and (3) my family and I could regain our “spark” for continuing at CLC.   Sadly, I have not been sufficiently reassured on these fronts [everyone else is the problem].  Though I have tried my absolute best to muster the faith to continue, I regretfully have reached the conclusion that I cannot re-engage as your Lead Pastor. 

[Comment: It is all about P.J. being “reassured.”  It is not about him changing, growing or repenting.  Moreover, “Miracle Territory” on May 6 was no miracle.  It was a façade.  The “dynamics in our eldership and congregation” did not change.  They continued over the last two months and “dynamics” can only mean sinful ways of relating to him and one another.  That is P.J. perspective on the elders and church.  

Keep in mind that serious conflicts and disagreements between P.J. and the elders had been going on for six months.  P.J. was installed as lead pastor in January 2017.  The difficulties with the elders began around November 2017 and continued through April 2018 and from there to the present.  It has been eight months of enmity.  

The following section in the Church Constitution talks about members being able to read the elder’s minutes.  That is how Travis Earles became aware of the depths of the conflicts with P.J. and got involved in the process.   

Section 8.07 Distribution of Minutes of Board Meetings.
A copy of the minutes of the meetings of the Board of Elders shall be available in the church office for the review by a church member during the normal office hours of the church. 

P.J. gives three reasons for deciding not to re-engage as Lead Pastor (there should be no capital letters – it is not an official title).  First, he cannot work with the elders.  Second, he cannot unify the church.  Third, he and his family don’t want to continue at CLC.  

Nowhere in this letter does he acknowledge any wrongdoing.  That is revealing.  The problem is solely the elders and members in the church.  P.J. needs reassuring.  They need repentance.  He accepts no responsibility for what is happening.  It is the fault of others.]   

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I know this is disappointing news for many of you, and Ashleigh and I are deeply grateful for the love and encouragement expressed in different ways by so many of you over the last two months.  I continue to be in faith for the future of Covenant Life and will remain a friend and supporter of this church. 

[Comment: These affirmations ring hollow.  From what I’ve been told, the vast majority of people in CLC believed P.J. would stay.  His decision to leave has come as a shock.  Things must be really bad.  People are demanding answers.  P.J. must believe the “many of you” and “so many of you” will leave with him to plant a church.  

P.J. refers to his decision as “disappointing news.”  I suspect many people are struggling with anger, offense, distrust, and disillusionment in their hearts toward P.J. and the elders.  They must be asking, “How could this happen?”  

A mere eighteen months ago, he was installed as lead pastor with the promise that he would make everything wonderful!  Six months ago, he began a 10-week preaching series called, “Forty: Forward Together.” That is, the next 40 years together as a church moving forward.  P.J. and all the elders share responsibility for this painful and God dishonoring division because it is rooted in sin.  I would not stay at CLC.  And I would not leave with P.J.  I would find a new church.]  

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Our Future 

We have reflected on the generous suggestion the elders made back in April about me planting a church.  This is a mighty expression of kingdom-heartedness and care towards our city, me and my family, and any members who might want to be part of such an initiative.  As I have considered this possibility, two things come to mind.  First, like the Spanish explorer Cortez, my family and I “burned our ships” when we moved here in order to lead Covenant Life and be missionaries to the Metro DC area.  Although I will no longer be doing the former, a church plant would enable me to continue doing the latter.  Second, when Paul and Barnabas disagreed and parted ways in Acts 15:36-41, although a painful parting, it actually resulted in multiplied ministry.  Rather than over-analyze their disagreement, it seems each pressed on with the mission of God with people who wanted to work with them.  I think a church plant would enable a similar multiplication of ministry in our area [sounds like a done deal].  Two churches, each internally unified and outwardly-focused, in good relationship with each other, could be a big “win” for the kingdom of God in our area, and a redemptive outcome to this unexpected situation we are in. 

[Comment: I assume P.J. has signed, or will sign, a non-disclosure agreement in exchange for financial support.   Sovereign Grace Ministries tried to silence me with severance when I left in 2009.  If I signed the legally binding document, I would have been forbidden from ever saying anything critical of SGM.  The contract was provided by SGM/CLC lawyer, Chip Grange.  

In this paragraph P.J. is going out of his way to put everyone and everything in a positive light.  That is so disingenuous but like him.  Let’s be clear.  If he plants a church in the area with “any members who might want to be part of such an initiative,” we are talking about a church split (if officially sanctioned) that could destroy Covenant Life Church!  How can you do that with a clear conscience?  

This is not Paul and Barnabas disagreeing over whether to take John Mark on a missionary journey!  This is not about “multiplied ministry”!  This is not a “big ‘win for the kingdom of God.’”  This is a disaster!  And yet, this disaster is ultimately the judgement of God brought upon all parties for their unrepentant sin.  Covenant Life has been brought low again with this division and dissension.  P.J. will take people who “want” to work with him to start an “internally unified” church.  There is enmity between the “I am of P.J.” faction” and the “I am not of P.J.” faction. 

P.J. believes he is a missionary (i.e., apostle) to “the Metro DC area.”  There is little doubt he will plant a church though in one place he refers to it as a “possibility.”  There are 1,500 people including children at CLC now.  From what I gather, a substantial number will go with him, but they are foolish if they do.  A “mass exodus” will likely bring CLC to an end.]  

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You obviously will need more details about this decision and the implications for CLC and my family.  To this end, the elders and I have scheduled a Members Meeting for 6 PM on Sunday July 8.  Please make every effort to attend in person, but if you are on vacation, the meeting will be recorded and made available to members. 

[Comment: “This decision” sounds like a decision has already been made.  P.J. is in the United States on a work visa with Covenant Life Church.  I assume he will have to get a new visa working for Advance USA or something to that effect.] 

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With sadness but confidence in God’s good plan, 

[Comment: With sadness but no sorrow for his sinful contribution to this lamentable division.  God’s good plan was for P.J. to fill up the auditorium, pay off the mortgage, make capital improvements in the aging facility, do a 5-million-dollar capital improvement campaign this fall, change the name of CLC to Christ Church Metro, buy the SGM space on the bottom floor, have CLC join Advance, support P.J. as the Global Leader of Advance, and plant churches for Advance in the United States.  Luke 14:11, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

PJ 

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Letter from Mark 

Dear Covenant Life, 

When we called PJ in December 2015 to serve as our Lead Pastor, none of us could have predicted the events of the last several months, now culminating in PJ’s decision described above.  We can only imagine the disappointment and heartache many of you are feeling.  On behalf of the elders, I want you to know that we have carried you on our hearts and in our prayers throughout this time.   

[Comment: These events were predictable when the elders discovered in March 2017 that P.J. was a fraud and withheld all the information about his lewd, violent, deceitful, and despicable father from the Search Team during the vetting process.  But the elders are no better.  They covered up this information when it was brought to their attention because they just hired him.  They should have fired him then.  None of these men are trustworthy.  And like P.J., Mitchell doesn’t even offer a feeble apology for “the disappointment and heartache many of you are feeling.”] 

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And while none of us desired or expected this outcome, I firmly believe the Sovereign Lord has been actively and purposefully involved in these difficult circumstances, refining our faith for the greater glory of Jesus (1 Peter 1:7).  I’m confident that our loving and faithful Father in heaven will give us the wisdom we need and show us the path forward. 

[Comment: This is a misapplication of the sovereignty of God that excuses the sinful actions and attitudes of P.J., Mitchell and the elders that have brought about this reproach of Jesus Christ, not his greater glory.  In January 2017, “the path forward” was P.J. Smyth.  He was the answer!  In reality, I believe the Lord gave them this corrupt leader in his anger.  P.J. was not the way forward.  He was the way backward.  There will be further negative “outcomes” until the past and present are dealt with in an open, honest and accountable fashion.  Proverbs 28:13-14, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.  Blessed is the one who fears the LORD always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.”]  

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Covenant Life’s Future 

As PJ’s letter mentions, in April the elders expressed our support of him planting a church in the DC Metro area.  Though there are many questions still to resolve and this will inevitably mean more change and uncertainty for Covenant Life, we do believe this will multiply ministry by enabling two “internally unified and outwardly-focused” congregations to bear fruit for God’s glory.  We respect PJ’s zeal for gospel advance in the DC region and will pray for God’s blessing on all his efforts. 

[Comment: God’s glory?  This is an Ishmael (Gen. 16), not an Issac.  There is no promise.  In American vernacular, it is pure hype.  It is hard to believe the elders ever agreed to let P.J. plant a church in the D.C. with members from CLC.  They may well have sealed their doom.] 

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Please know that your elders are committed to work tirelessly for the strengthening and flourishing of Covenant Life Church.  To that end, we will continue doing the things that have marked this church for 41 years--preaching the gospel, teaching sound biblical doctrine, making disciples, shepherding the flock, and loving our community.  We are also committed to pressing forward with several initiatives that have been highlighted in recent months. 

[Comment: They need to work honestly, not tirelessly.  “Strengthening and flourishing” will not occur until the elders deal with root issues like the conspiracy to commit and cover up the sexual abuse of children and sexual assault of young men over three decades.  They must allow for a genuinely independent investigation by third party professionals (unlike the scandalous investigation by Lars Liebeler.).  They are foolish to believe they can be “pressing forward with several initiatives” when the  opposition of God is so great.] 

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We are committed to facing the uncertainty before us with faith in God, dependence on the Holy Spirit (James 4:13-15), and with eyes fixed on our great champion, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:1-2).  We know there will be challenges ahead.  But there will also be new opportunities for each of us to invest our God-given gifts to build a Christ-centered community and reach the lost around us for Christ. 

[Comment: CLC has been a C.J.-centered, Josh-centered, and P.J.-centered church to a large degree.  It has been built around charismatic personalities.  As a result, the Lord removed all of them.  A “Christ-centered community” would be centered on obeying Christ, not covering up sin to maintain a reputation of godliness (cf. Rev. 3:1).   

“You just started getting this sensation, this ship [CLC] is going down.  It is sinking and people are going overboard.  And that was just the kind of feeling that we were getting.  And yet at the same time, we had this very strong sense, that God was up to his ultimate plan in this whole situation. …  So we have seen from the outset, I mean P.J. came to speak and the very first time he spoke there, people said can he be our new senior pastor, I mean right from the very beginning they were just so drawn to him.”  

P.J. was the key to God doing great things.              

“Yea, I am confident that the future is going to be just wonderful. … I have such a peace and an assurance that God is in this.  And that God will do great things.  And I am just not worried about trying to interpret what happened [in the past]. … It is one of those things, and I think it is part of God’s plan, and I really believe that when you go through something like this something great is going to happen on the other end.  And I am very, very excited and can’t wait until the Smyths’ get there, and we can together discover all the great things God has for us as a church.”] 

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My fervent prayer is that we “may be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:9-12).   

[Comment: What is happening at CLC is a major church split.  P.J., Mark Mitchell and the elders have not walked “in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work.”  They have done the opposite.] 

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We will share more specifics with you at our Members Meeting on Sunday, July 8 at 6 PM.  And this Sunday morning, we will gather on a hilltop above the Sea of Galilee and witness Jesus miraculously multiply one boy’s small lunch to feed 5,000 hungry disciples (John 6:1-15). 

[Comment: Mitchell is talking about the upcoming sermon.] 

Brothers and sisters, let’s keep our eyes and hearts fixed on the One “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think,” fully convinced that “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21) 

God’s grace be with you all,
Mark 

One perceptive, well-connected, and prominent CLC member, who writes under a pseudonym, said this about P.J. in May 2017. 

BoughtTheField says:
May 3, 2017 at 4:31 pm 

PJ is quite a force to be reckoned with.  He is a master at swaying the congregation’s emotions and persuading them to his point of view.  He has won over the hearts of many, many people of CLC already.  When he walks through a crowd at church, he keeps getting a stream of high fives and affectionate back slaps.  He keeps the congregation’s attention during sermons like no other preacher.  He gets away with Driscollesque [Mark Driscoll] remarks and controversial teachings because he has already endeared himself to the congregation.  He has convinced members and leaders at CLC to host the main international conference for Advance, his denomination.  I could go on and on with examples, but many people are already fiercely loyal to PJ Smyth and are gaining a new, powerfully optimistic vision of CLC’s future. 

This story won’t fizzle out in some hidden corner.  It will either end really well with enormous growthand influence or really badly with a very destructive explosion!

In July 2013, there were 20 full-time staff pastors at CLC.  The beginning of May, there were nine staff pastors (i.e., Boisvert, Brewer, Laing, Leach, Malcolm, Mitchell, Rogers, Somerville, Smyth) and nine non-staff pastors (i.e., Brown, Finch, Harvey, Keeler, Kinsinger, Leconte, Lotinsky, Troche, & Wyzga).  The pastors are also the elders of the church. 

Over the last two months, eight of these 18 pastors have left or resigned or announced their plans to do so.  More departures and resignations will be announced shortly.  The staff has been decimated. 

There remain 30 support staff employees.  That will soon change. 

The staff and non-staff pastors that remain are working hard to convince people “great things” are in store for Covenant Life Church.  Where have I heard that before?  I fear they are false prophets pumping up people with unholy optimism and carnal enthusiasm.  

On May 23, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote an article titled The Wrath of God Poured Out — The Humiliation of the Southern Baptist Convention.  He said in part. 

“Judgment has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention.  The terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance.  There can be no doubt that this story is not over.”

He also said this with C.J. Mahaney, Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Churches, Inc. in mind. 

“Every Christian church and every pastor and every church member must be ready to protect any of God’s children threatened by abuse and must hold every abuser fully accountable. … The church must make every appropriate call to law enforcement and recognize the rightful God-ordained responsibility of civil government to protect, to investigate, and to prosecute [abuse]. 

“A church, denomination, or Christian ministry must look outside of itself when confronted with a pattern of mishandling such responsibilities, or merely of being charged with such a pattern.  We cannot vindicate ourselves.  That is the advice I have given consistently for many years.  I now must make this judgment a matter of public commitment.  I believe that any public accusation concerning such a pattern requires an independent, third-party investigation.  In making this judgment, I make public what I want to be held to do should, God forbid, such a responsibility arise.” 

You can read more about Mohler’s comments below. 

Al Mohler Calls for an Independent, Third-Party Investigation of C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Churches, Inc.
Monday, May 28, 2018 at 6:22PM 

The investigation by Lars Liebeler from Thaler-Liebeler, LLP of child sexual abuse, and its cover up in CLC, was not an independent investigation in any way, shape or form.  It was an internal review by a lawyer hired to protect the interests of Covenant Life Church.  This must be acknowledged by Mark Mitchell and the elders.  

People should read this statement by Robert Cunningham, the senior pastor of Tates Creek Presbyterian Church in Lexington, KY, on Addressing Our Past.  It is outstanding example of how to do an investigation, prioritize “righteousness over reputation,” and humble oneself before victims, the church, the city and media.  It is totally unlike anything done by the leaders of Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Churches, Inc. 

A bonafide investigation “addressing our past” should be done at Covenant Life Church but that will never happen under the current leadership and it couldn’t happen under P.J. since he colluded with his evil father.  He would have been called to account by victims in the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe for his extreme hypocrisy.  They know P.J. knew all about the criminal allegations against his father and tried to protect him from the legal consequences of his crimes including the culpable homicide of sixteen year old, Guide Nyachuru. 

It is my earnest prayer, the Lord removes all the current leaders and raises up, or brings in, new and godly leaders who will call for an independent investigation.   No one should accept a call to leadership in CLC without this condition.  

Mark Mitchell has been the executive pastor since 2013.  I assume he will become the lead pastor if only on an interim basis.  People should read these posts about him. 

P.J. Smyth & Mark Mitchell Refuse to Answer Question at Members’ Meeting About Reliable Witnesses Calling P.J. a Liar for Denying Knowledge of Father’s Violent Beating of Boys
Thursday, April 5, 2018 at 5:38PM
 
The “Independent” Investigation of Sexual Abuse at Covenant Life Church Didn’t Include Talking to the Victims of Abuse – Incredulously, Executive Pastor Mark Mitchell Says Exclusion Was Due to “Limited Finances”  
Saturday, April 28, 2018 at 1:50PM 

The hypocrisy and deceitfulness of P.J. Smyth, Mark Mitchell and the pastors continues unabated.  While they were fighting among themselves for six months, and concealed it from everyone, they were challenging the entire church to re-up their memberships.  That is, increase their giving, serving, small group involvement, Sunday attendance, and loyalty to the pastors.  That was the P.J. plan.  But now P.J. has pulled a C.J.  He is out of there!