Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The cult of personality in the pulpit

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (1Co 1:10-15)

We see this same thing today, perhaps even to a greater degree because of the interconnectedness we experience. We seek men to identify with, whether pastors or politicians or athletes. It is pretty easy to be a fan of men when you can click a button on Facebook. The latest example is happening in full light of the media at venerable Coral Ridge Presbyterian in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida where the successor to D. James Kennedy is dealing with some strife. Keep in mind that this news report is only giving us a broad overview of the situation, so we don't have all of the facts.

Internal divisions at Fort Lauderdale's Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church burst into the open this past weekend as six members were ordered to stay off the premises.

The six have called for the ouster of the Rev. W. Tullian Tchividjian, saying he is deserting the heritage of his revered predecessor, the Rev. D. James Kennedy. In reply, the Fort Lauderdale church has accused them of spreading rumors and disrupting church unity. Among the six is Kennedy's daughter, Jennifer Kennedy Cassidy.

This is some of the background behind these events....

"I'd be surprised if it didn't happen," said Lesley Northup, a specialist in religion and culture at Florida International University. "Change is inevitable with a new pastor. And change produces discomfort. And it's magnified in a highly publicized place, where both the predecessor and the current guy are well-known."

Tchividjian, 37, a grandson of evangelist Billy Graham, was elected March 15 as pastor at Coral Ridge, which had lacked a leader since Kennedy died in September 2007. But if he thought he had a mandate for change, the small but vocal coterie of critics has hotly disagreed.

They have mass-mailed accusations to congregants, accusing Tchividjian of heavy-handed tactics like downplaying the church's traditional service in favor of contemporary worship. They've criticized Tchividjian for replacing some Coral Ridge staff with his own people for and planning to sell land at the church's west campus "to make up for budget shortfalls."

Their recommended solution: a petition to put an end to Tchividjian's 4-month-old pastorate. More than 1,600 copies of the petition were mailed July 24 to church members.

Nothing like giving someone a fair shake. I mean he has been there a whole four months! In response, as mentioned, these individuals have been threatened with being charged with trespassing if they step foot on the grounds of Coral Ridge. The rationale for taking this extreme action?

The church sent the six a letter Aug. 4, saying that if they step onto church property, they'll be considered trespassers. A second letter Thursday, signed by Tchividjian, gave the rationale: "No church government can tolerate such an insurrection from those who will not listen to admonition, refuse all counsel and will stop at nothing until they have overthrown legitimate authority and replaced it with their own."

Church officials also visited the choir rehearsal on Wednesday night, telling the singers that if any of them signed the petition, they should consider resigning the group.

"I told them that it's not proper to be a worship leader standing behind this pastor while disparaging him," said Bill Ashcraft, a member of the church's governing board who also spoke at the meeting. "You can have differences of opinion. But it has to be done more politely than has happened here."

Something about all of that makes me a little twitchy. I am not sure that much of this is supportable through Scripture and it seems there is something with the way both sides are dealing with this (starting with the fact that there are sides to begin with). Maybe I am wrong.

I am not interested in taking sides here. I am also not accusing either Tullian or D. James Kennedy of creating a cult of personality. Nonetheless, that is what we are seeing here. The old guy did it this way. We liked it. The new guy does it different. We don't like that. Battle lines are drawn. Threats are made.

I don’t know much about Tullian Tchividjian other than he has a really hard to pronounce first and last name. I know he is generally well thought of in the evangelical world, especially the “young, restless, reformed” crowd. I also know he is a grandson of Billy Graham because virtually every article about him ascending to the head of Coral Ridge mentions it (it is mentioned twice in the referenced article). Finally, it is clear that he does things differently than Dr. Kennedy. So we have a relatively well-known and pedigreed minister replacing one of the most well known ministers in America, while at the same time merging Tullians's old church, New City Church, in with Coral Ridge. There is apparently quite a clash between the more traditional folks at Coral Ridge and the more new style evangelicals at New City. It probably was virtually inevitable that something like this would happen.

This whole thing sounds more like some of the corporate mergers I have been involved in: new management taking over, installing their own senior team, clashes in culture. When corporations merge, it is always a struggle to see who gets to form the new management team and one of the factors in exploring a corporate merger is whether or not the culture of the two organizations will mesh. Make no mistake, this is big business we are talking about. This is not some little fundie church in the woods. This is one of the biggies and with big ministries you get big headaches.

According to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, Coral Ridge Presbyterian church itself has revenue of $21,024,274 ( and shows a deficit as of June 30, 2008 of $-2,817,765) and the great Coral Ridge Ministries Media brings in $41,327,947. That is not chicken feed!

All of this is an example of what happens when the local gathering takes on a life of it's own, and the local church becomes identified with the pastor. The spirit and reason for gathering had been lost and what these folks are devoting themselves to is their pastor, their ministries, their distinctives. As these churches get bigger and bigger, they become progressively less about loving fellowship and more about belonging to something, of being associated with something. This takes on an extreme form in megachurches and in multi-site churches, where the voice coming from the pulpit is so cherished that it is preferable to listen to them being broadcast from another location rather than being in fellowship with one another.

The local gathering of the church shouldn't be focused on the clergy and the ministry. It should be focused on Christ and the fellowship of the saints in worshipping Him. When you start to look and act like a corporation, you should expect the sort of headaches on display in Ft. Lauderdale.

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Steve Martin said...

"The local gathering of the church shouldn't be focused on the clergy and the ministry. It should be focused on Christ and the fellowship of the saints in worshipping Him. When you start to look and act like a corporation, you should expect the sort of headaches on display in Ft. Lauderdale."

Amen and Amen!

You are spot on!

Anonymous said...

Sophomoric thoughts from a partly-informed source.

Better you know those involved to form opinions than relying on an AP report.

Arthur Sido said...


Thanks for your insightful comment. I am sure you noted that I said:

Keep in mind that this news report is only giving us a broad overview of the situation, so we don't have all of the facts.

Perhaps you would be so kind as to identify yourself and then you can inform me of where I am wrong or worse, sophomoric.

Anonymous said...

I am in the middle of this situation. I am from the New City Side. Tullian is a very spirit filled preacher. He does not glorify himself. He tries to make the focus on Christ. God has used Him to draw me closer to Him. Your read is pretty accurate.

We need a lot of prayer. I am trying to keep my eyes on worshipping God, but it is hard sometimes with all the infighting.
Please, pray for us.

A grieving daughter of God,


Anonymous said...

the problem at crpc is simply a power struggle. a vey small group of members w the $ have lost control now that Kennedy is gone and they want it back. they see the only way to get it back is to hire a new dictator. w a new dictator they can have control, money and the power! crpc has never been about being BORN AGAIN and seeing our lord in heaven. sorry to say a lot of people won't be going to heaven! they don't have a clue!

Suzanne said...

This is all about control and money and who gets to hold the purse strings.

The Kennedy family wanted a strawman in the pulpit so that they could continue to control the direction of the church and the revenues derived from continiuing to promote DJ Kennedy’s name.

I hope Tullian will withstand the fight and remain as pastor.

Rambutan said...

Arthur, you are nothing more than a GOSSIP COLUMNIST for repeating “news” that is none of your business!

Arthur Sido said...


Thanks for your substantive comment. Can you point me to anything factually incorrect in what I posted? If so, I would like to know.