Josh Harris leaves pulpit to attend seminary
Best-selling author Joshua Harris announced Sunday he is stepping down as lead pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md., to go to seminary.
Harris’ announcement comes after a season of turmoil at the church founded by C.J. Mahaney, who went on to create and lead a coalition of churches called Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). In 2012, Mahaney, SGM, Covenant Life, and others were accused of covering up sexual abuse in SGM churches. That lawsuit was dismissed on technical grounds. Then in 2014, a former Covenant Life member, Nathaniel Morales, was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison for abusing teenage boys at the church in the late 1980s and early 1990s when Mahaney was pastor there. Both Mahaney and Harris left their leadership roles with The Gospel Coalition amid the scandal.
Mahaney resigned as president of SGM in 2013. He is now pastor of Sovereign Grace Church in Louisville, Ky.
Under Harris’ leadership, Covenant Life withdrew from SGM in 2012. Harris talked about his relationship with Mahaney and SGM in his sermon Sunday after announcing his resignation.
“The plan was for me to be the pastor of Covenant Life with C.J. as the apostle over our church and our movement,” he said. “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.”
Harris earned notoriety as an author after his first book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, penned when he was 21, became a best-seller. Afterward, he met Mahaney and began training under him, eventually taking over Mahaney’s role at Covenant Life.
“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,” Harris said, describing his experiences as a “backwards life.” Now 40, Harris said he needs a time for reflection and study. He plans to attend Regent College, a graduate school of theology in Vancouver, B.C.
“I’ve had many people over the years tell me what God’s purpose for my life is,” he said. “But I’m learning that only Jesus can place a call on my life. I can’t live someone else’s plan for my life. I can’t even live my plan for my life. I need to live Jesus’s plan for my life.”
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