Tullian Tchividjian knows all about filling big shoes. Not only is he the grandson of Billy Graham, but in 2009 Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) stepped into another pair of Shaq-sized sneakers. He succeeded the late James Kennedy as pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Tchividjian's church plant, New City, merged with the larger Coral Ridge, but the honeymoon was short-lived. Seven months later a group of church members, headed by Kennedy's daughter, circulated a petition calling for his removal. On September 20, 2009, Tchividjian survived a vote to remove him from leadership.
Today Coral Ridge has largely moved past the conflict and is thriving. Tchividjian's energy and enthusiasm (some Coral Ridge staffers call him "the tornado") belie the recent ordeal. Drew Dyck sat down with Tchividjian to discuss how he endured those dark days, what he learned, and how he found light on the other side.
Some of the reasons you were opposed seem trivial. You didn't wear a robe, like Dr. Kennedy did. You weren't political enough from the pulpit. Was there something beneath those objections?
Not preaching politics was a big one. But yes, I'm sure there was something underlying those complaints. Part of it may have been an old-fashioned power struggle. There were people who had been in places of power under Kennedy who felt that this was their church, and they should be in charge of running it.
I think some of them probably saw in me a young guy who would be wide-eyed by coming here and would basically do whatever they said. What they underestimated was that we had prayed and thought hard about what God wanted this church to be, and we were very determined to get there.
What was your initial reaction to the resistance?
Well, we expected it. But it's one thing to talk about war and another to be a soldier on the ground when the bullets are flying. It was hard. It was the first time in my life where I was leading a church where I knew many people didn't like me.
Things started blowing up pretty quickly because there were things that had to change immediately. There were issues on staff that had to be addressed immediately, dangerous things. Yet if you're not in the know, all you see are these changes taking place. To some it looked like we were just being disrespectful, that we were bulls in a china shop. We were coming in as the guest and taking over. So there were a lot of those kinds of accusations. They weren't accurate, but we couldn't disclose all the reasons we had to make the changes.
It was tremendously uncomfortable coming to worship every Sunday morning during that time not knowing who liked you and who hated you. There were people in the choir who, when I would stand up to preach, would get up and walk out. People would sit in the front row and just stare me down as I preached. It was extremely uncomfortable. People would grab me in the hallway between services and say, "You're ruining this church, and I'm going to do everything I can to stop you." I would come out to my car and it would be keyed. Some people would stop at nothing to intimidate.They put petitions on car windows during the worship service. They started an anonymous blog, which was very painful. Here we were trying to build consensus and there's this anonymous blog fueling rumors and lies. The blog almost ruined my wife's life. Anonymous letters were sent out to the entire congregation with accusations and character assassinations. It was absolutely terrible.
Did you ever question yourself and think, Was I really called here?
Oh, definitely. The shelling got so bad I thought to myself this was a huge mistake. Two churches are ruined now. I could hardly eat, had trouble sleeping, and was continually battling nausea. I felt at the absolute end of myself.