Scott Sauls resigns from Nashville's Christ Presbyterian: 'The most merciful thing to do'

Scott Sauls serves as senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee.
Scott Sauls serves as senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. | Christ Presbyterian Church

Scott Sauls has resigned as senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, after the congregation voted overwhelmingly to accept his resignation amid allegations of an unhealthy leadership style.

On Sunday, hundreds of members gathered at the Christ Presbyterian flagship campus to deliberate on the decision to release Sauls from his role as the leader of the three-campus congregation, where he had served for 12 years, The Tennessean reported. 

"We had hoped to continue forward and help with CPC," Sauls said, reading his resignation letter to the congregation. "But we now believe the most merciful thing to do is step aside so the church can seek new leadership and we can seek the Lord's will for whatever comes next as well."

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"It has been an honor serving this community," Sauls said. "We're going to miss you. We wish you the best, and we love you."

After Sauls read his resignation letter, the congregants and elders engaged in a Q&A session followed by the vote, adhering to guidelines set forth by the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the denomination to which the church is affiliated. Ultimately, the congregation voted 517-122 in favor of accepting Sauls' resignation, constituting an 81% majority.

In May, Sauls was placed on leave from his role as lead pastor following an investigation into his leadership conduct by Christ Presbyterian and the Nashville Presbytery. The investigation was initiated after a group of former church staff members sent a letter raising concerns about the pastor's behavior.

At the time, Sauls publicly acknowledged his wrongdoing in a video message to Christ Presbyterian members and apologized to the congregation in a video message for his unhealthy leadership style that caused harm to both his staff and the church.

However, he made it clear that he had not been involved in any sexual scandal or substance abuse. 

"I verbalized insensitive and verbal criticism of others' work," he said. "I've used social media and the pulpit to quiet dissenting viewpoints. I've manipulated facts to support paths that I desire."

"I am grieved to say that I have hurt people," he said. "I want to say to all of you that I am sorry."

Sauls shared a different confession during an executive session with the Nashville Presbytery. The contents of this latter confession have not been disclosed publicly by either the presbytery or Christ Presbyterian elders.

A Nashville Presbytery group oversaw Sauls' compliance with the terms of his disciplinary action, which included participating in a month-long residential counseling program, as revealed by Sauls during Sunday night's meeting, according to The Tennessean.

The special oversight group recently recommended lifting Sauls' suspension but Sauls made the decision to resign. Sauls did not specify which decision was made first.

As a final step in this process, the Nashville Presbytery is scheduled to convene on Tuesday to decide whether to officially "dissolve" Sauls' call, The Tennessean reports. 

Sauls, who is married with two daughters, previously served as the lead and preaching pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City alongside Pastor Tim Keller. He has also planted and pastored churches in Kansas City and St. Louis, according to his bio.

A well-known speaker and author, Sauls has authored six books, many of them touching on topics including joy, shame, anxiety and depression. His 2022 book,A Gentle Answer, offers a vision for how Christians can practice gentleness in a culture largely defined by outrage and cynicism. 

In a 2018 interview with The Christian Post, Sauls stressed the importance of pastors having accountability and warned that church leaders often become more susceptible to isolation and moral failure as their ministry grows.

"The bigger your church becomes, you begin to have more fans and admirers than you do actual friends," he said. "It's really important to be surrounded by people who are close enough to you, that they can express concern with you and your character and help steer you toward Christ. Pastors need to welcome this kind of friendship, community, and accountability."

Sauls also posited that oftentimes, pastors who are propelled to the spotlight have extraordinary gifts but questionable character.

"And that's why we see a lack of humility and sometimes even a moral collapse, even among well-known pastors," Sauls explained. "Staying anchored in the truth and the simple ordinary aspects of daily faithfulness, I think, is much more important than chasing spectacular sermons and spectacular worship events."

"It's much better," he added, "to be shepherded, led, and pastored by a person with average gifts but a beautiful character than it is by someone with incredible gifts but average or below average character."

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