Coral Ridge Pastor Decision Rides on Church Merger Talks

Merger talks between representatives of the Florida megachurch founded by the late D. James Kennedy and the church of its prospective new pastor, Tullian Tchividjian, are still underway after nearly month.

The two sides have been spending long hours working out the details of the proposed merger of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale and Tchividjian's New City Church in Margate.

And according to Tchividjian, the structural and governance issues they are continuing to work through are the most critical.

"We've concluded that a real indicator on whether or not God wants us to move forward is dependent on how these things are worked through and worked out," said Tchividjian, New City's senior pastor and grandson of famed evangelist Billy Graham.

"I don't think I've prayed so hard and so desperately as I am now," he added.

The idea behind the merger came about after Tchividjian, 36, was tapped by Coral Ridge's Pulpit Nominating Committee (PNC) last month to be the church's new senior minister. The PNC had been combing for a pastoral candidate to recommend to the Coral Ridge congregation since the retirement of its founding pastor, the Rev. D. James Kennedy, in August 2007 and his death less than two weeks later.

The committee eventually narrowed down the list to 15 in May 2008 before finally settling on Tchividjian last month. But, as it turned out, Tchividjian said he would only join Coral Ridge if the rest of his church did as well.

"Only if agreeable terms on all of these fronts can be reached and those terms approved by both church sessions would Tullian formally accept the call and the two become one," New City officially announced last month.

"Legal matters, financial matters, ministerial matters, structural matters, and philosophical matters, will be among the list of things needing to be discussed and hammered out," noted the congregation of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). Coral Ridge is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).

On Friday, Tchividjian updated New City on the progress of the discussions, expressing optimism as well as a sense of urgency.

"We are discussing in detail everything that needs to be discussed: the good, the bad, and the ugly," he reported in his church's blog. "And, I'm super encouraged by the fact that we are speaking about these things openly and honestly."

Still, Tchividjian added, "[t]here is much to do ... so please continue praying for God's clear direction and fierce protection."

"It is your prayers that God is using to sustain us during this time," he told his congregation.

If agreeable terms can be reached and approved by the sessions of both churches, Tchividjian will accept the PNC's invitation and will preach at Coral Ridge.

After the sermon, the congregation will vote on whether to officially issue the call to Tchividjian to become the senior minister of the church. If the vote is unanimous or nearly so, the results shall be brought to the South Florida Presbytery, where the candidate will be examined for his views in all areas of ministry.

Once approved, Tchividjian will be installed at a special Service of Installation as Coral Ridge's new senior minister – its second in five decades.

Tchividjian has made it clear, however, that the current efforts are "not simply a formality to 'close a deal' that's already been made."

"All of us are willing to walk away at a moment's notice if God says 'stop!'" he stated.

Though Tchividjian was given 30 days to consider the invitation, he said Friday that more time was needed to sort through things. Wednesday, Feb. 18, will mark 30 days since the PNC announced their recommendation to Coral Ridge's congregation.

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