Monday, September 21, 2009

Is a 2/3 Vote a Win?: The Conflict at Coral Ridge

I have watched from a distance, mostly with occasional curiosity as I have not had the time for fascination, the goings on at the newly rebooted Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

If the name of the church sounds familiar, it probably should. It is the megachurch formerly pastored by the late D. James Kennedy, who you've probably seen on television at some point. He also authored the Evangelism Explosion material.

The short version of the story ongoing is this:
Kennedy passed away, leaving Coral Ridge without a pastor. They moved to merge with New City Presbyterian, an innovative and growing young church pastored by Tullian Tchividjian, a relatively young guy (he's early 40's, so he's not exactly a whippersnapper, but "young" compared to Kennedy) with connections to Tim Keller and other respected guys in the Reformed and evangelical world. (His first book Unfashionable bowed late last year, I believe.)

Let me put the conflict in this frame: D. James Kennedy preached the gospel of America. Rarely did I turn on one of his sermons and not see him preaching against liberalism or some such thing. He was one of the founding members of the Moral Majority and was a leading voice in the Christian war on culture.

Tullian is . . . well, not that guy. And he began preaching the gospel.
He also did some irksome things like stop producing new episodes of Coral Ridge's television show and stop issuing invitations at the end of sermons.

And as can happen when a younger church merges with an older, more established church, conflicts arose. The specific conflicts centered on a group pretty much led by Kennedy's daughter who began pushing for Tullian's ouster from the church.

Here is an excerpt from the news story linked at top to give you a sense of the flavor of the conflict:
Dissidents such as Jim Fisola, who is banned from the church, said they feared that longtime members such as himself were losing influence among the community.

``God bless young people that he's brought over, but you've got to understand they've been meeting in a cafeteria or the high school,'' said Fisola, a Coral Ridge member for 19 years.

``They are now in a [multimillion-] dollar edifice, and they didn't have to work for it,'' Fisola said. ``. . . This man doesn't have the experience or the maturity to lead."

Kennedy's daughter and her brigade of rabble rousers were initially banned from church premises after handing out literature criticizing Tullian on church grounds. Classy.

They stand primarily on the shaky ground of "This isn't how we've always done it."
People who invest time and money and tradition into buildings and programs learn to cherish those buildings and programs very deeply. (Some of us call that idolatry, but what do I know?) And then of course this group has their former pastor's daughter on their side. And she has been playing the "This isn't what daddy would have wanted" card.

By the way, Tullian Tchividjian is not without cultural Christian heritage as well. He is the grandson of the one and only Billy Graham. If that ain't the "My preacher daddy can beat up your preacher daddy" trump card, I don't know what is.

So it's just yucky.
And it came to a head yesterday as the church finally got around to voting. Tullian "won" with a 2/3 vote in favor of retaining him as pastor. A few on Twitter were asking if this was really a win. If you were being called to a church, for instance, and 1/3 of the people didn't want you there, would you go? I wouldn't.

But Tullian is already there. And there is that tricky thing called a calling.

I'm glad the vote landed in his favor, and I'm praying some people find repentance, that all involved are praying hard, and that Tullian's life and ministry at Coral Ridge bears nothing but undeniable fruit for the gospel in the years to come.


Vince said...

Wow. I don't get why this kind of thing happens all the time. Maybe I will understand when I'm 70.

Jared said...

"They're in a fancy building they didn't have to work for."

How is that not the older brother talking to his dad about the prodigal's welcome?
"You mean, you're just giving them this stuff they didn't earn?"

And New City Pres isn't even a prodigal!

Drew said...

Excellent bit of news to share, despite the tradgedy of it. I just recently discovered Tchividjian and I like what I've heard.(see interview w/ Michael Horton at White Horse Inn, like to read his book Unfashionable. Just recently discovered your blog too and would like to read your book also. I am neither Young nor Restless, but I am Reformed and I like what I see in persons like yourself, Trevin Wax and Kevin DeYoung, just to name a few. I know there have been criticisms of the YRR(see Carl Trueman, The Namless One (article) at Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals), but critics forget that they were young and zealous once. God in his Sovereignty can mature young preachers like your self, and I trust He will.

Press on. Phil. 3:14

I have a nephew who may be moving to Nashville and we have recommended Element as a possible church home for him.

Doug said...

That's too bad. I keep coming back to the fact that no one is afraid of the evangel so much as evangelicals. Sad.

salguod said...

I better understand the push back on is 2/3 a win on Twitter. I initially interpreted it as a church goer vs. a pastor. The implications are much different, obviously.

My initial thoughts were that if this church with it's famous pastor and size and resources felt that a merger was the proper way forward, it says a lot about what was build under Kennedy's tenure. If a church cannot survive the loss of it's pastor (especially with the size that it seemed they had), then perhaps it was built on something temporary rather than permanent. The parable of the house on the sand / rock comes to mind here as does Paul's statements on the fire showing what our building was made of.

I wonder if any of the 1/3 are asking themselves just what they had stood for all these years if the removal of a man has seemingly swept it away?

jason said...

Weird...tried to leave this earlier and it must not have posted.

My first thought when I saw this was we are seeing a church split about to happen. I can't see where 1/3 of the folks not wanting the pastor is going to help them grow in the long run.

Ken Stoll said...

had no idea. I dear friend of mine was (or is) a Kennedy disciple (not to say he is not a Jesus disciple 1st)... found this post and your commentary very remiscient of my own journey.

Jared said...

My initial thoughts were that if this church with it's famous pastor and size and resources felt that a merger was the proper way forward, it says a lot about what was build under Kennedy's tenure.

Salguod, I am not informed on all the details, but my understanding is less that they sought a merger but that they sought Tullian as their new pastor, and rather than outright leave his previous church, he sought a merger.

Could be wrong about that, but I doubt Coral Ridgers saw the merger as a way to help themselves; they likely saw it as a way to help New City.

I guess they got more than they bargained for. :-)

Brian said...

From what I've heard about Tullian it seems like he's doing the same things at the big fancy place that he did while meeting in the lunch room. Ya gotta wonder, didn't Coral Ridge know what they were getting?

Let's pray they can work it out.

Brandon said...

I would imagine that the majority of the church's desire to have Tullian come be their pastor was centered more around the fact that he is Billy Graham's grandson than that he is a gospel-centered preacher.

Jared said...

Brandon, do you have evidence that that is the case?

Ken Stoll said...

Jared, I think Brandon was just speaking from his experience with mega-chruches in general (if he has any?)... not sure if he has any evidence as you ask for. I think he was speaking from an opinion side more than a factual side...maybe we should think more before we comment?

Erik said...


Thanks for the brief summary of what has been happening down there at Coral Ridge. I don't have any clever comments or 2 cents to add other than I'm glad to see Tullian take a stand and preach the gospel of Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria Jared.

Jason said...

Churches are weird animals. You don't have to be at a mega-church to see that. Small churches can be just as weird and complicated as the big-ones. If you get a chance, look at a churches by-laws and that will show most of the quirks in a church.
But now for this situation. I wonder if either group knew what they were getting into. CR should have known what kind of guy Tullian was(style wise). And Tullian was probably familiar with CR and may have or may not have let them know what to expect with him as pastor. This is a newsworthy event because it is a famous church, but it happens all across this country. Hey, but what do I know, I am just a bi-vo pastor.