Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church
Visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary
Contributing editor to Leadership Journal
Sermons are broadcast daily on the radio program Godward Living
Graduated from Columbia International University in Columbia, S.C. and Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL
Married to Kim with three children
Tullian Tchividjian: Surprised by Grace
In March 2009, Tullian became the senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, FL, led by the late Dr. D. James Kennedy for 48 years. Thirty-five years earlier, Tullian’s grandfather Billy Graham preached the dedication sermon for the new church sanctuary back in 1974. Billy Graham was 55 years old, and Tullian was just 18 months old.
Previously, Tullian pastored New City Presbyterian Church in nearby Ft. Lauderdale, a church he helped plant in 2003. The church was thriving with over 700 in attendance. After Dr. Kennedy died, Coral Ridge approached Tullian on three separate occasions. The first time was for the pastorate position alone. The second time, the churches discussed the possibility of a merger, but New City backed away unsure of the complexities. Finally on the third time Tullian said, “We felt God could be doing something, and we should start asking about it.” The intricacies of the merger were worked on over the next few months with the committees from both churches meeting to discuss the details.
The merger joined different kinds of congregations: Tullian’s church, New City, known for blending traditional beliefs with modern methods, mixing hymns and contemporary Christian songs. Coral Ridge is an established, traditional, half century old church of 2,200 members with a weekly attendance of 1,800.
The transition did not go smooth. “I had never done anything like this before and it was absolute misery,” recalls Tullian. “There is no way an organization can go through that kind of transition without fallout. When you take any group where there has been one leader for 47 years and then bring in another leader to try and take it to the next level and into the next millennium, things are going to get complicated and difficult,” says Tullian.
As he stepped into the pulpit at Coral Ridge, Tullian preached a sermon series through the book of Jonah. The sermons addressed not only the unchurched, but also the need for change inside the church among Christians. He preached the series previously at New City Church. “Preaching through it the first time marked my preaching ministry forever. Preaching through it the second time saved my life,” shares Tullian. As he preached and prepared the Jonah sermons, he gained a much deeper understanding of the gospel and what it means for Christians. His new book, Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels, is a product of this very difficult time in his life.
“There were days when I wanted to quit and give up,” says Tullian. During the midst of his painful journey, Tullian counseled with his grandfather over the phone every week. Although his grandfather hated the fact that he was going through this painful season, Tullian convinced him that Coral Ridge was indeed a Godly appointment.
Tullian refers to the style and structural changes at Coral Ridge as an “extreme church makeover.” Although the theological foundation is the same – a conservative Presbyterian church with an evangelical outlook – there have been some changes. He has blended the past with the present. The church is now not as formal and not as political as in years past. The worship mixes both traditional and contemporary music. Tullian chooses to wear a suit and tie instead of a robe.
Church members that took exception to Tullian’s leadership left the church and started a new congregation, but the attendance at Coral Ridge now replanted and rebranded continued to rise.
His advice to pastors in a similar situation is: (1) Go in with realistic expectations; (2) Expect fallout; and (3) Find your significance/security in who you are in Christ – don’t worry about disapproval of people. He says God will sustain you in the midst of difficult times. He speaks from experience.
Tullian is one of Billy Graham’s grandchildren. He is the fourth of seven children of Gigi Tchividjian, the eldest daughter of Billy and Ruth Graham, and Stephen Tchividjian, a Swiss-American psychologist. Although he was raised in a Christian environment Tullian chose to rebel as an adolescent. At 16 years old, he dropped out of high school after being kicked out of many schools, was escorted off his parent’s property by the police and began to pursue worldly pleasure such as promiscuity, drugs, and alcohol.
“I was a sinful 16-year-old guy living in South Florida, and what the world was offering was much more attractive than what the Lord was offering,” recalls Tullian. "Just being from the family of Billy Graham does not exclude you from the same sort of temptations and appetites that anybody else would have as a sinner.”
At the age of 21, God turned Tullian around. Slowly, but surely Tullian started to love the things that he hated and hate the things that he loved. “God came to me and conquered me,” says Tullian. He then married, went to college, and then to seminary and ministry.
After seminary he went to serve a large church in Tennessee. Two years later, he received a call from a group of people in South Florida who had started to pray about starting a new church in the Ft. Lauderdale area. In 2003, Tullian and his family moved back home and planted New City Church.
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