Famed Fla. Megachurch Votes to Keep New Senior Pastor

The famed Fla. megachurch founded by the late D. James Kennedy will not be dissolving the relationship with its new senior pastor following a high anticipated vote Sunday.

At a rare congregational meeting Sunday, members of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church voted 940-422 (69 to 31 percent) in favor of keeping the Rev. Tullian Tchividjian as the church's second senior minister in five decades.

While the margin of victory was smaller than the one in March (91 to 9 percent) that resulted in Tchividjian's election, the 37-year-old preacher thanked the Coral Ridge family for standing behind him and his family and for supporting him as their new pastor.

"While conflict is never easily resolved, this matter was handled in accordance with our denomination's guidelines and we now look forward to moving forward with the work I believe God has called us to do in this community," expressed Tchividjian, whose grandfather is the world renowned evangelist Billy Graham.

Sunday's vote had been called after more than 400 church members signed a petition calling for a congregational meeting to reconsider the church's decision to call Tchividjian to serve as its senior minister.

Those opposed to Tchividjian's leadership listed a number of reasons for the their new senior pastor's removal, including his alleged failure to present the Gospel clearly, his failure to raise awareness on current issues, and the replacement of CRPC staff with "less qualified staff members who are, however, 'loyal' to the new administration."

Many of the complaints – including the ones brought up in Sunday's closed-door meeting – centered around Tchividjian's inability or unwillingness to maintain the legacy of the church's late founder and the church's departure from long-standing traditions, such as the conclusion of every sermon with a call for visitors to come to Christ.

"We have seen a complete lack of respect towards the congregation and for long standing traditions that have been part of Coral Ridge's rich heritage for decades," stated a letter drafted late July by the six most vocal dissenters, which included Kennedy's daughter, Jennifer Cassidy.

"We were told many things that all sounded good at the time, but in fact those soothing words have largely proven empty and it keeps getting worse," they added.

Because the dissenters' petition was able to collect the minimum 100 signatures needed, church elders were required under their Book of Church Order to call for a congregational meeting for the purpose of conducting the business requested by the petitioners – namely to vote on whether or not to "amicably" dissolve the relationship with Tchividjian and the consequent merger of Coral Ridge and New City Church, the Margate-based church Tchividjian had founded in 2003.

During the meeting, church members in good standing heard from fellow members on why they supported or opposed the motion to dissolve the relationship with Tchividjian.

The meeting, which took place at 11 a.m. ET, was moderated by officials from the national office of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Coral Ridge's affiliated denomination, and concluded with a formal balloted vote.

Though Tchividjian did not attend the congregational meeting, the rising Christian leader warned the congregation during his sermon for an earlier service against choosing to honor one man instead of choosing to honor God.

He reiterated the sentiment in a statement following Sunday's vote, saying that he understands that change is difficult for any institution and " especially difficult for a church which has known only one pastor in its 50-year history."

However, Tchividjian pointed out, "Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church is not my church, and it wasn't Dr. Kennedy's church."

"It's God's church and I want to honor Him and carry on the legacy of Jesus above anything or anyone else," Tchividjian added.

The late Dr. D. James Kennedy, who founded Coral Ridge Church in 1960, was considered by some evangelicals as one of the Church's "truly significant figures." The conservative pastor and broadcaster had built a Christian media empire with his radio and television ministry, which eventually came to reaches more than 3 million people. He also wrote more than 65 books, was inducted into the National Religious Broadcasters' Hall of Fame, and developed the "Evangelism Explosion" ("EE") method of evangelism.

Since Kennedy's retirement in August 2007 and his death the following month, Coral Ridge had been in search of a new senior pastor to lead the more-than-2,200-member church.

The church's Pulpit Nominating Committee (PNC) eventually narrowed the list of more than 150 candidates down to Tchividjian, who, coincidentally, had attended Coral Ridge as a young man before straying from the path of faith at the age of 16 and returning again at the age of 21.

After a monthslong process that included careful consideration of Tchividjian's request for a church merger, Tchividjian was installed as Coral Ridge's senior minister during a special ceremony on Easter Sunday.

Since then, the church has reportedly experienced growth "in virtually every standard of measurement," including weekly attendance, financial offerings and new members. During the past six months, 300 new members have been added to the congregation and 192 people have registered for the next new members class, making it the largest new members class in the church's 50-year history. In the past year, church attendance has also reportedly doubled.

In an opinion piece that appeared in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Tchividjian said regardless of how Sunday's vote turned out, he was looking forward to meeting and serving more and more people in the months and years ahead.

"In the meantime, however, please bear with us as we grow and change together," he added.

In addition to being the founder of New City Church, Tchividjian is also author of a number of books, including his latest book, Unfashionable.

Tchividjian's mother, "Gigi' Graham Tchividjian, is the eldest daughter of famed evangelist Billy Graham.