Josh Harris leaves pulpit to attend seminary

by Lynde Langdon
Posted 1/26/15, 04:20 pm

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.”

Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital’s managing editor and reports on popular and fine arts. She lives in Wichita, Kan., with her husband and two daughters. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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  • Tess8
    Posted: Fri, 04/15/2016 05:54 pm

    Josh,I only know you through I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Stop Dating the Church. Both have influenced me greatly specifically because you seemed so intent on taking God seriously in how you made decisions. Your honor, love, and desire to obey God engendered deep respect in me for you. I have friends who were deeply impacted by the Sovereign Grace situation--so I have an inkling of the turmoil. But, please--it seems to me, albeit from afar, that your love for Jesus has been your driving force. That has made you His instrument. If that is changing--great. But, please don't doubt that He has been using you.

    Posted: Fri, 04/15/2016 05:54 pm

    Josh, I think the degree will help. Good luck with the ministry thing -- I hope it works out better for you than my own dating/social life did after my parents read your book. :P

  • DaRev
    Posted: Fri, 04/15/2016 05:54 pm

    Josh.. You hava been through a really rough couple of years. Part of that struggle  (if not most of it) resulted from a serious misunderstanding of church governance at SGM. With al of that said, all of the evidence points to the fact that God called you to the pastoral ministry. You submitted to the authority placed over you, and your ministry has born substantive fruit rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Your willingness to step back and evaluate what the Lord has done through you is a good thing.. But PLEASE - do not think that seminary is going to be the answer. Too many have gone through seminary without a call on their lives and killed churches. If seminary were the answer that would not happen. And as I recall there 11 guys with no seminary training at all that the Lord used to start this entire thing we call the church. I know the argument is made that they we "seminaried" by Jesus during His 3 years of earthly ministry - but that experience was not the experience of going off to some insulated place - It was an active vibrant application of what the Lord was teaching them "as they were going" (and that's what you have been doing!). Josh - if you need a break - if you need a sabbatical - If you want to "go off to the  mountain top to pray" - I get that.. But the truth is, after all that you have been taught, I am convicted that the only reason you should go to seminary is to teach there..  Just sayin'