On Sunday, a Southern Baptist megachurch in Daytona Beach, Fla., will have an empty pulpit. Instead, a videotape of the church's former pastor will be playing for the congregants as the church currently stands without a senior pastor.
Less than five months into his senior pastorship at First Baptist Church, David Cox resigned Wednesday as he read a prepared statement to more than 500 church members.
"Over the past several weeks, First Baptist Church has undergone a season of extreme duress and difficulty," said Cox in his statement, according to Baptist Press. "Given present dynamics and poised circumstances, I believe that any continued service and ministry here, on my part, would not be productive toward future growth and health."
While details of the "difficulty" at First Baptist were not disclosed in his statement or by church staff when called for comments, the Associated Baptist Press reported the controversy was over changes Cox instituted in the church's worship style, his spending habits and the resignations of many longtime staff members after he took the helm that former Southern Baptist Convention president Bobby Welch retired from in August of 2006.
Cox had served as co-pastor beginning in 2003 with Welch, who led First Baptist for 32 years.
At a town hall style meeting earlier this month, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Cox stood in front of congregants defending his job as church members vented frustrations over the renovated altar and misplaced priorities under Cox's leadership.
The altar was modernized with a hardwood stage, twin movie screens and music equipment, but no cross renovations that congregants saw as excess, especially as the church plans to move to a new church in some three years.
First Baptist the largest church in the area, with 4,000 members - is planning to build a new church off Interstate 4.
The congregation also complained about the departure of at least five staffers and questioned the salaries for Cox and other staff at the cost of many popular programs in the church. Congregants are also unhappy with Cox's use of the bestselling The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren and the more contemporary sound of music.
While some defended the changes in the church geared toward appealing to youth, many congregants had begun circulating a petition the first week of January to dismiss Cox.
At the most recent members-only meeting this week, Cox revealed that the personal stress and toll on his family has been "extreme" during the past several weeks.
Cox decided to step down as senior pastor and to further remove himself and his family completely from First Baptist's life in order to "bring healing and forward progress for the glory of God," he said on Wednesday.
"We are all praying that healing can occur and be ushered in quickly."
At the time of his announcement, he said he did not know what he and his family will do or where they will go. But he will stay in the area until May so his children can finish the school year.
In the meantime, First Baptist will be using pulpit supply and rotating preachers on Sundays, according to the church's administrative assistant Peggy Campbell. A search committee for a new senior pastor has not been formed yet.
Welch, who is now serving as pastor emeritus of the church, called the congregation to call for forgiveness, according to Campbell.
The church has planned for a "Homecoming Day" on Feb. 18 to call all the people who have branched out "to come back home," Campbell said. The event is being coordinated for the purpose of "healing our church and moving on," she added.
As the church goes through healing, Campbell expressed optimism for the future of First Baptist and affirmed the church's mission.
"We are united not in a man, but we are united in the cause of Christ and what this church is all about, and that's reaching people."