Last night, I posted the news that Tullian Tchividjian had taken a position as Director of Ministry Development at Willow Creek Presbyterian Church* in Winter Springs, FL. In June, Tchividjian stepped down from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church after admitting marital infidelity. More recently, his status as teaching elder was removed and he announced less than two weeks ago that he had filed for divorce.
Reaction to the news on social media was mixed but often critical. Earlier today, the Christian Post posted an article led by the question, “Too Soon?” Blogger Tony Arsenal called on the Presbyterian Church in America’s South Florida Presbytery to suspend Tchividjian from Communion and to investigate the pastor of Willow Creek Presbyterian, Kevin Labby.
(UPDATE: Arsenal has retreated a bit from his prior position with a post well worth reading.)
Is it too soon for Tchividjian to return to church work? To facilitate conversation on the matter, I briefly interviewed Willow Creek Presbyterian Church’s pastor Kevin Labby via email. Labby addresses some of the social media questions flying around and offers his rationale for Tchividjian’s new position. Labby’s answers follow my questions in bold print.
What is your reply to the critics who think it is too soon for Tullian Tchividjian to re-enter ministry?
I think it would be helpful and important to clarify a few things. First, the South Florida Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) deposed Tullian from what we Presbyterians call the office of teaching elder (what most American Christians would label “pastor”), but did so without further censure. He was not excommunicated. Since his deposition did not include excommunication, Tullian is not precluded by our church polity from serving on a PCA church staff per se. His deposition simply means that he cannot do so as a teaching elder.Second, the position offered to Tullian does not involve responsibilities unique to the office of teaching elder (or pastor). His work will be as a support staff member.
Thirdly, Tullian is not new to our church family. He and his family attended Willow Creek years ago, during his seminary studies. He has friends here, and so his re-entry into our community during this difficult time seems quite appropriate and natural. We simply want to care and help provide for him and, by extension, his family.
Finally, I understand that some might disagree with the timing. We sense genuine confession and contrition from Tullian, and are eager to welcome him to Willow Creek. We want to see the process of repentance continue in the context of a loving church family. We believe that it is important for the church to demonstrate faith in the reconciling power of the gospel by running toward those pastors caught in public scandal, not away from them.
What does the Director of Ministry Development do?
Tullian followed a founding pastor at Coral Ridge, as did I here at Willow Creek – although I did so on a much, much smaller scale. We believe that he can be of great assistance as our leaders work together to shape Willow Creek’s vision, organization, and processes for its next season of ministry. As a significant part of this, Tullian will be helping us strengthen our connections with mercy ministries in the local community, helping us strengthen and better coordinate our efforts to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, comfort the weary, and provide other forms of mercy ministry.
I suspect the reaction to you is mixed. What are you hearing from folks?
Candidly, the response within our church is overwhelmingly positive, even excited. Of course, some have questions like those you’ve asked. I think those questions are not only natural, but healthy. The reaction on social media and the like is predictably mixed. As people approach me with questions, I’ve tried to do my best to answer them as quickly as possible. Most of those dialogues have been very helpful, a good evidence that the body of Christ can work through even difficult things like this with Spirit-born graciousness and respect toward greater unity.
Thank you for your time. I hope that this is helpful and answers questions that people might have about our decision and desire to love Tullian and, by extension, his family during this difficult time.
Readers, what do you think?
*No relationship to the megachurch near Chicago.