I believe Western civilization is at a crossroads. I have no idea where it will go long term. The Christian consensus has been lost and the influence of Islam is rising. It is doubtful that the Europe of 2050 will look anything like the Europe of 1950. Demographics alone will almost surely guarantee a radically different future. America, on the other hand, remains highly religious but with less and less understanding of what the claims of Christ really mean. While I am not a futurist I do know that the changes we are passing through are huge.

What I find particularly tragic, and quite often write about in these posts, is that the church is also at a crossroads. God’s truth remains. His Word will not pass away. But judgment begins at the household of God. God’s Word speaks of warnings and of hope. It also warns us of judgment, both remedial and final. Nations come and nations go but the church will remain. In some contexts the church flourishes while in others it is in decline or retreat. In America it is clearly in decline and much of the time in spiritual retreat. At such moments God confronts his church with her sins. He withdraws the showers of blessing (Ezekiel 34:26). The rains of his righteousness are withheld (Hosea 10:12). When this happens we find ourselves in what the prophet called “waterless pits” (Zechariah 9:11). One of the most obvious evidences of this state of things can be seen when churches become centers of conflict rather than centers of refuge and blessing. When Christians protest and fight each other the world has every right to say, “What is this all about?” And we, the righteous, should grieve and ask God to grant us repentance and trust.


I was reminded of this judgment on the church when I read the news about Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) voting to retain their new senior pastor in a specially called congregational meeting last Sunday, September 20. 

Pastor W. Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy Graham, became the senior pastor of the famous church six months ago after an extensive process was followed to call him as successor to the late D. James Kennedy. Tchividjian promised, in his pastoral call, to set the church on a different path from that charted by the late Dr. Kennedy. He has done precisely what he, and the elders, said that he would do. (The elders have been strongly supportive of their pastor.) Tchividjian, 37, refuses to preach politics. He would much rather preach on a specific biblical text than on topics in the news. He also prefers contemporary music (drums, etc.) to organ music and podcasting to broadcasting.

Tchividjian’s ministry was attacked almost from the beginning. No surprise here since a core of the church was likely to feel betrayed by his call. Some people wanted the same music and the same type of sermons that had heard for years from Dr. Kennedy. Six church members, including Kennedy’s daughter, Jennifer Kennedy Cassidy, began to stir up conflict. They went so far as to hand out protest fliers outside the church on Sunday morning. These members were banned from the premises for their actions. This led to a September 9 petition to call for Tchividjian’s removal as pastor. A member of the national governing body of the Presbyterian Church in America was brought in to moderate a members-only meeting held last Sunday.

In the church meeting ten people spoke for the pastor’s removal and ten for retaining him. The critics said he had failed the legacy of Dr. Kennedy and altered the church’s traditions, such as calling for people to come to Jesus at the end of every sermon. (This is particularly odd since this is a Presbyterian church.)

The ten supporters argued for retaining the pastor because attendance is increasing and the congregation should stay united. The Miami Herald reported that Tchividjian did not attend the meeting but in his early morning sermon he warned the church against choosing to honor one man instead of choosing to honor God. He issued a written statement which said, “My family and I thank the Coral Ridge family for standing behind us and supporting me as your new pastor. Change is difficult for any institution but it is especially difficult for a church which has known only one pastor in its 50-year history and I understand that.”

The final vote was 940 to 422, to retain the pastor. The margin was thus 69% to 31%. Several things stand out in that count to me. First, there are about 2,000 active members of Coral Ridge. That means that over 600 did not come to participate in the meeting. That does not speak well of the past or the present. Second, the opposition was very active in getting out the vote. My guess is that they will have very little recourse in the future thus I hope they will leave, or change their approach promptly. A church of any size, with 31% of the people wanting the pastor to resign, is in deep trouble. If these people stay and continue their effort to remove Tchividjian they will succeed in destroying this church over time. Remember, no church, regardless of its legacy, will survive spiritual breakdown over time. Most of the greatest and grandest churches in Christian history are gone today. Many, like the Hagia Spohia in Istanbul (formerly Constantinople), are just museums.

Finally, I hope all of those who participated in this meeting will seek the Lord above all else. The effort to remove the pastor is thankfully over. Get back to the mission of Christ and stop the fighting. If any in the leadership of this flock read my words I plead with you: Get your perspective back and pursue the kingdom of God. Let this skirmish go and begin meetings for prayer and healing now.

Tomorrow: Lessons from the Coral Ridge Controversy

Related Posts


  1. Bob Thompson September 22, 2009 at 7:28 am

    Fascinating and sad. I was called to my congregation on a 71% vote. The circumstances were quite different, but sixteen years later the congregation has almost quadrupled in attendance and the unity has been strong. The problem is that our freedom of religous choice in America breeds personal arrogance. We all think we’re right in the specifics of our theology, ethics, and priorities – if we’re wrong, we are free to change our minds. Local churches are simply places where we gather with those who are as right as we are – or “right enough” to tolerate weekly fellowship and cooperation. Let’s be honest. If Jesus or Paul had followed James Kennedy, there would have been issues. Hopefully Pastor Tchividjian can reach out to all, whether or not they voted for him, and just love them for who they are. And those who voted against can live out the doctrine they profess as Presbyterians – that God has his hand in this vote, even if it was close. The body of Christ in our day and time needs to choose humility over arrogance, submission over stubbornness, unity over competitiveness. Bob Thompson, Pastor, Corinth Reformed Church, Hickory, NC

  2. Ed Holm September 22, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    I took a class with Parker Palmer and Scott Peck some years ago about consensus based decision making. With consensus a group makes a decision that all can support and will not undermine. This takes time and is often a painful exercise for a community to achieve the type of transparency where everyone can honestly state their needs and desires in the process of decision making. In democratic models it seems that the losing side of a decision works on undermining the winners so that they might prevail in the next election. This is much like what happens in our national politics.
    It sounds like this is what is happening at Coral Ridge. I am not convinced that the democratic model is the best one. I have been in churches where pastors were selected by means of a committee making recommendations in some cases and actually making the decision in others. In neither case has the community every come together to be part of the process of discernment and decision making. Perhaps with a community of 2000 or 500 consensus cannot be accomplished. Perhaps smaller communities with more intimacy hold a better chance. In any case to immediately work to undermine the decision of the body seems to be very much against the principles set forth in Scripture.

  3. Ed Holm September 22, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree with Bob

  4. Daniel Stoddart September 23, 2009 at 5:17 am

    “…God has his hand in this vote, even if it was close.”
    Except that it wasn’t close at all. 69% to 31% is not a draw by any means, even though I agree with John completely that any church where that many people want to oust the pastor is in big trouble.

  5. Ethan September 23, 2009 at 8:10 am

    Thanks for your thoughts on this matter. I think I can tell you something about the 600 or so members who didn’t show up to the vote. I am one of the members. I grew up in CRPC, and my parents and little brother are also still members and weekly worship service attenders.
    The problem is that I’ve been living in Scotland for the past year and trying to get my membership transferred for months. With a large church, it is understandable that keeping members accountable is going to be difficult. However, you can see that the membership numbers are skewed.
    Regarding the vote, yes there were the “6 Dissenters” and others who wanted to keep the traditions of DJK alive. However, there are many that I know that loved the call of Tullian and were very excited about what he was going to do with CRPC. But since he has taken over, many have said he has completely changed and that his behavior has not been reflective of the pastor of a flock. So this issue goes well beyond the (very!) vocal minority. If you take away the 700 or so New City members that voted, you have less than 300 original CRPC members that voted to retain Tullian.
    I pray that these problems may be resolved, but I also have a feeling it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

  6. k.darrell September 27, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    I know nothing of the situation, so I can’t act like the new guy is right or wrong, but I recently heard Tim Keller tell a story about how D. Martyn Lloyed-Jones said some of the most difficult people in a church are those that experienced God a certain way and still expected God to act in that way. For Jones, it was individuals that experienced God in the Welsh Revival and were convinced that God works through x, y, & z, because that is what he did back then. Don’t know if that totally applies to this situation, but…

  7. edward lugar October 1, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    refering to the “600 or so members who didn’t vote etc.”.
    there was not 700 or so new city people that voted. many had not transfered over,that was another one of the complaints voiced. some stayed out here as crpc is alot farther away. and some are worshiping at the new coastal community church who took new city’s spot at monarch high.
    only crpc active members where allowed to vote, and no new city people voted in the first vote to bring tullian on.
    the petition signers claimed to have around 400 signed petitions and thats what they turned in. after the second vote they had about the same number with 422.
    some of us here feel if the other 600 to 800 members had voted he probably would have gotten very close to the original vote.
    we have a new member class going right now with 192 people in it. and not all ex new city members. i think one of the reasons this came about so fast was with their numbers not really growing and with so many new attendees coming in to the church services, classes and the mid week dinner etc. who were enjoying the preaching,worship and fellowship, they felt they had to do something right now because they would only
    become less and less of the majority as time went on.

  8. Ron Lowe October 6, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    I find this news to be very disturbing. I am a musician, and I have visited there at Coral Ridge. It seems that very little has been said about the musicians and choir members that have left. They worked very hard, and were noted to having one of the finest music programs around. The concert series has been cancelled that brings in thousands from all over the country. How said that Coral Ridge’s famous organ will be history now. I suppose the pipes will be taken down, and big screens put in their place! What a shame !! A big history is now gone..why not just close the doors.

Comments are closed.

My Latest Book!

Use Promo code UNITY for 40% discount!

Recent Articles