To anyone who is reading this and pastors a tiny congregation: if you feel or are made to feel as though you aren’t as “effective” as others, allow me to encourage you. What makes a church effective is that they are making disciples and teaching the gospel with clarity in and out of season. The congregational smallness is irrelevant. Love and feed the sheep.
Today I write with a heavy heart. I’m annoyed. I’m angry. And this article will be more of a rant as I vent through anger. My family and I are members at Coral Ridge Presbyterian church where the senior pastor is Tullian Tchividjian. We have many elders. A few weeks ago, the elders told the church that Pastor Tullian was going to take a sabbatical for some time in order to tend to family issues. They assured the church that this wasn’t a matter of disqualification, and they’d keep us updated. Today was that update. Apparently, Paul Tripp flew down to counsel Tullian and his wife, and Paul walked away from it finding no reason to disqualify Pastor Tullian from the preaching ministry. However, a few days later, Tullian resigned, disclosing that he had in fact had an extramarital relationship. Needless to say, we are in a fog. It was a punch to our guts.
I break the law to not commit adultery every time I desire someone other than my wife. I break the same law of God that Tullian broke when he did what he did. And Christ has bled and died for those sins. Tullian needs that reminder daily. So do I. Unfortunately, those physical actions are a hydrogen bomb to the relationships that they compromise – whether it’s church family or blood. He has built much through Coral Ridge. The clarity of law and gospel coming from Coral Ridge is absolutely rare in a state and country that loads upon congregants’ shoulders lists of Christian obligations and guilt. It has made him enemies who regularly hurl the accusation of antinomian (someone who is anti-law) in his direction. Tullian isn’t anti-law. Rather, he has always taught a high view of the law, teaching it in its proper context – as that which kills us if we seek to throw ourselves upon it for assurance rather than the merits of Christ. But now that he has done what he has done, it only gives those antinomian accusations more weight. I can’t imagine what might be coming his way. And he needs to know that his horrifyingly deep relationship-destroying actions are washed clean by the finished work of Christ on behalf of all those who place their trust in Him.
We are each and every one born sinful and loving sin because of the disobedience of Adam and Eve. God said not to do something and they did it. And the curse that befell them has befallen all of us: death, because that is the penalty for breaking God’s laws. People die. We will all die. And upon our deaths, we will each be judged, answering for those laws we’ve broken. But on the cross where Christ was crucified, God was pouring His wrath for law breaking upon Christ. He was punishing Him instead of law breakers so that, on that day when He judges everyone, Christ’s perfect life and payment for sin would stand in place of those who believe in Him. In turn, our wretched lives won’t be counted against us. And Christ truly did die and was buried. But He didn’t stay dead in that grave. Three days later, He rose from the dead. And those who place their faith in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins will also be raised from the dead bodily. That’s the great news.
My family and I came to Coral Ridge over a year ago. The message coming out of Coral Ridge was and is a breath of fresh air. Tullian preached the distinction between the law and gospel Sunday after Sunday, but it wasn’t exclusively his message. He was only delivering what the Bible plainly teaches. That message still remains at Coral Ridge. At the time, we were accustomed to hearing the gospel at churches we’d been to before. But these churches had a habit of not making the message free enough, as though we might become rampantly wicked if the freedom of the message wasn’t calmed down with some law. So, we’d hear the gospel, and it would be taken away with a “but you’ve gotta.” That wasn’t happening at Coral Ridge, and we decided we needed to be there. Our kids love it too. But there was one big issue: would we know the pastor? Sure, we could know many of the elders, but what about Tullian?
It wasn’t that we wanted to know him as a result of being starstruck. Rather, this guy was preaching Sunday after Sunday to a flock entrusted to him by God. Granted, my wife and I both came from small churches. I’d been raised going to a small Baptist congregation that met in a double wide. My wife, who came to faith later in life, did so within the confines of a small Presbyterian church. In both cases, our pastors were easily accessible. I realize life gets busy for everyone. Normally it’s the result of the demands of work. But when your work is the business of the gospel, and overseeing Christ’s flock, being easily accessible seems like something that should be part of the vocation. Sure, Scripture doesn’t explicitly say, “Be easily accessible.” But I can tell you, that knowing the pastor and being able to ask questions of him and freely made such a huge impact on my personal love for the gospel and ministry. What’s the point of having 5 services (not that Coral Ridge has 5, but for the sake of the argument), and 20 elders, at one place if these people aren’t cared for individually? if they aren’t texted or called daily to simply talk or ask how they’re doing or feeling or if they need prayer? If they aren’t asked why they’ve not come to church for the last 5 Sundays? I oftentimes wonder if there is any church discipline at these churches. I doubt it. How could any elder really know if I wasn’t having an affair with my dad’s wife (like the man in 1 Corinthians) or if I wasn’t a drunk or in a homosexual relationship or a junkie? They don’t know. They’d have to hear it from others.
I don’t want to be presumptuous or speculative, but I can’t help but think that such an environment only feeds that sickening desire within us to have renown. Let’s face it, we live in a culture that can arguably best be described by the phrase, “Cult of Personality.” I admittedly was hesitant to go to Coral Ridge, and have oftentimes been hesitant because I’ve wondered if that had something to do with it. Whether it’s the latest celebrity vocalist or someone like Perry Noble, Steven Furtick, Troy Gramling, Joel Osteen, you name it – the cult of personality is everywhere. It’s their sinful inclination to be worshipped and our sickening sinful inclination to worship anyone other than God. I love Coral Ridge, but as much as I hate to say it, we are probably going to look elsewhere because we just don’t really want to be there. It really is painful. And I think we need to find something smaller, with pastors who don’t seem inconvenienced or too busy to talk to you.
To anyone who is reading this and pastors a tiny congregation: if you feel or are made to feel as though you aren’t as “effective” as others, allow me to encourage you. What makes a church effective is that they are making disciples and teaching the gospel with clarity in and out of season. The congregational smallness is irrelevant. Love and feed the sheep. You don’t have 1 million Twitter followers? Who cares. Find 5 or 10 or 20 people to whom you can absolutely be self-giving. 5 people matter too. People aren’t numbers. They have been created in God’s image and need someone of integrity and obedience and scriptural sobriety to oversee them. The times that I had taught in the past were so unbelievably precious to me because of their small size. Staying up with the congregations and fellowshipping at homes or even at churches. That was so so so valuable and unforgettable to me. Just iron sharpening iron without any sense of time, and leaving the place feeling like I could fly. Ugh, man. It’s so sad to see how many Presbyterian elders here in the South FL Presbytery don’t go to the Presbytery meetings every few months. I’m not even an elder, and I’ve gone on a few occasions and LOVED the camaraderie of these men who have given their lives to oversee God’s people. I’ve LOVED worshipping together with these men, and listening to discussions over issues that they’d currently been dealing with. I’ve spoken to elders from various PCA churches while at the Presbytery meetings, and they’ve lamented the fact that many of the elders from their own congregations never show and seemingly just don’t care to go.
I really hope Tullian doesn’t do what Driscoll has done, and get back into ministerial work within the next month or two. He needs to stay home and mend relationships with his family and repair the damage done. He needs to mend relationships with those people who really looked up to him. I also think he needs to also really consider his reputation before all of this – as a “celebrity” himself. I think he needs to consider what the office of overseer means, and what it means to care for the sheep. And most importantly, Tullian needs to know that God the Father treated Jesus Christ as though He committed all of Tullian’s offenses and transgressions so that Tullian would be treated as though he had committed Christ’s perfect obedience to the law. Despite never knowing him, my wife and I and parents and many of our friends have grown to love Tullian so much. I didn’t write this article jovially. I’m heartbroken. Today is Father’s Day here and we just don’t really feel like doing anything. We are totally bummed. Just totally bummed.
Read a news article on this here.