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The Official History of Covenant Life Church

This is the history of Covenant Life Church as it appeared on its website until 2019.  It has now been removed.


“O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!" 
—Samuel Trevor Francis


Over a four-year period in the 1970s, a meeting known as “Take and Give” (TAG) began drawing as many as 2000 per week to Washington, D.C., for passionate Bible teaching and worship.  The burgeoning TAG ministry was led by C.J. Mahaney and Larry Tomczak, both young preachers converted in the wake of the Jesus Movement.  But they longed for something more than an assembly of loosely connected Christians and wanted to build a local church like those they saw modeled in the New Testament.  

[Above: Christ Church of Washington on Massacheusetts Ave in NW D.C.  TAG was held here.]


So in 1977 a small group of Christians (55 at the first meeting) began to gather in the basement of a suburban Maryland home.  Together, they committed to build a community where they could learn and grow and worship God together.

Simultaneously, the TAG ministry began to wind down and met for the last time in December of 1979. 

As the young church grew, it met in different schools and facilities around Montgomery County.  Then in the early ‘90s, God provided 40 acres in the middle of Gaithersburg where Covenant Life began to build a permanent home.  

 [Above: Phase 1 buiding on 7501 Muncaster Mills Rd., Gaithersburg, MD] 

In 1997, God drew a young author and speaker named Joshua Harris to the vision of the local church.  After prayer and counsel, Joshua moved from Oregon to Maryland to be trained in ministry by C.J.  At Covenant Life, Joshua encountered a church that loved the good news of the gospel, earnestly applied God’s Word, loved the work of the Holy Spirit, and prized Christ-centered relationships.

Seven years later in 2004, after 27 years of faithful service to Covenant Life, C.J. passed the lead pastor baton to Joshua Harris in order to devote himself to serving Sovereign Grace Ministries full time.


Following circumstances that led to a long period of sober consideration and prayer, on December 16, 2012, Covenant Life Church ended its formal association with Sovereign Grace Ministries.  We remain grateful to the leaders of Sovereign Grace who played a pivotal role over three decades in establishing and building the church. 

In January of 2015 Joshua Harris announced plans to step away from his senior leadership role and pursue formal studies at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C.  The Covenant Life elders wholeheartedly supported Joshua in the decision, expressing unbridled enthusiasm for his future mixed with a deep sense of loss and sadness to see him go.

[Above: Emma, Mary Kate, Shannon, Joshua, Joshua Quinn] 

Joshua’s last Sunday preaching was April 12, 2015.  He and his family moved west in mid-June. 

The next month, a Lead Pastor Search Team of elders and members started connecting with both the congregation and lead pastor candidates to explore who the Lord might bring to fill the Lead Pastor role.  They received resumes, surveyed the membership, held focus groups and ultimately interviewed candidates.  In October the Search Team recommended PJ Smyth of GodFirst Church, Johannesburg, South Africa, to fill the position.  The elders soon added their enthusiastic endorsement and in December 2015 the congregation approved calling PJ as lead pastor. 

As expected, a 10-month immigration process ensued, culminating with the Smyths receiving their visas in October 2016.  PJ and family arrived from Johannesburg December 22, 2016, and PJ was officially installed as lead pastor on January 29. 

[Above: P.J. Smyth] 

Early in 2018, tensions developed within the Board of Elders.  Outside leaders and church members were invited to help resolve differences related to preaching and polity, but in July the elders and P.J. decided to part ways.  The Board of Elders continues to provide leadership for the church and P.J. intends to plant a new church in the DC Metro region. 

Covenant Life continues to be an active, culturally diverse community of believers that exists to worship God, love one another and make disciples of Jesus Christ—the same goals cherished by those first 55 members who met in a basement.

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