Tullian Tchividjian, grandson of Billy Graham, broke his silence for the first time Friday after having admitted to having an affair. In June, the senior pastor resigned from the pulpit of Coral Ridge Presbyterian, the high-profile mega-church in Fort Lauderdale.
Tchividjian served as the guest speaker who launched a new podcast series by Vanderbloemen Search Group, a major pastoral search firm in the country. The series, which will air every Tuesday starting Aug.18, will serve as a resource for pastors and church leaders.
He did not comment about the affair itself, but about himself in the resulting “broken and weakened condition.”
“What typically happens when a Christian leader falls is that they disappear and only reappear when they’re strong and shiny again,” Tchividjian told the Miami Herald Friday in a text message. Tchividjian, 43, has been married to his wife, Kim, since 1994 and they have three children. He started to tell his story of “grace, mercy and insecurity.”
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“No one ever sees [church leaders] in their broken and weakened condition. When we do this, we send the message that Christianity is only good for strong and clean people. But believe it or not, Christianity is not about good people getting better. It is, rather, good news for bad people coping with their failure to be good.”
Vanderbloemen Search Group’s CEO, William Vanderbloemen, told the Herald his plan to launch the podcast series didn’t go as he outlined.
“We planned on a much softer opening,” Vanderbloemen said. But when Tchividjian passed by his office, the game changed.
“He came to us for friendship and counsel and ultimately volunteered to do a podcast. So we did it. No script; it was incredibly powerful. It was rare that he was willing to open up this soon after he had resigned. I know that I make my plans, God makes his plans and then God’s plans win.”
Vanderbloemen said the series is “designed to help church leaders all across the world see how some of the best leaders in the world are dealing with the same problems they are dealing with.”
“It won’t always be about who has had the latest scandal and how do we learn from that, but it will help leaders run church groups and serve as a guide for how churches and pastors across the globe can recover from a crisis and how to have a succession plan in place.... The speakers let us into incredibly sacred spaces.”
Tchividjian was the fourth Florida megachurch pastor to resign after having an affair. David Loveless, head pastor of Discovery Church in Orlando; Sam Hinn, pastor of The Gathering Place in Sanford (brother of televangelist Benny Hinn); and Isaac Hunter, pastor of Summit Church in Orlando (son of megachurch pastor Joel Hunter) also resigned.
Tchividjian’s grandfather, Billy Graham, 96, was one of the most influential religious leaders of the 20th century and an adviser to many U.S. presidents.
His parents — his mother, Gigi Tchividjian, is Billy Graham’s oldest daughter — kicked him out of their home when he was 16. He worked in construction and waited tables at Chili’s. By 21, bored with the party scene, he prayed for God to lead him.
“I said, ‘All right, God, you take over,’” he said at the time. “‘You're the one who built me; you're the one who can fix me.’’’
Tchividjian got a GED and graduated from Columbia International University in South Carolina in 1997. He earned a divinity degree in 2001 from the Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. He founded New City Presbyterian Church in Coconut Creek in 2003 and built the congregation from a few to 400. In March 2009, he was tapped to lead Coral Ridge in 2007 after the church’s founder, Pastor D. James Kennedy, died.
While he had a rocky start — some feared he was straying too far from Kennedy’s conservative Christian views — he ultimately won the congregation’s support.
The day after Tchividjian announced his resignation on June 20, he posted this on Twitter: “Welcome to the valley of the shadow of death ... thank God grace reigns here.”
He told the Miami Herald that his Tweet reflects the very gospel he preaches.
“The message of the Christian faith is that because Jesus was strong for us, we are free to be weak,” Tchividjian said. “The gospel of grace, in other words, frees us to let people see us at our worse so that they can see God at his most gracious best. After all, this whole thing is not about us and our reputation and status and strength and competence. It’s all about Jesus and what he’s done, and who he continues to be for broken down ragamuffins like me.”
If you listen
Visit vanderbloemen.com/podcast every Tuesday starting Aug. 18 to hear a new podcast.