Tullian Tchividjian has a new pastor, Kevin Labby at Willow Creek Church, and a new job there as Director of Ministry Development only weeks after stripped of minister credentials
Tullian Tchividjian has a new job at Willow Creek Church. While some are applauding this new development, many are not. Here is his new job listing at Willow Creek website:
Director of Ministry Development
We’re so delighted to welcome Tullian Tchividjian to the staff of Willow Creek Church. A graduate of Columbia International University (philosophy) and Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando (M.Div.), Tullian is a best-selling author, having written seven books on the gospel of Jesus Christ and its liberating implications. Most recently, Tullian served as the senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and founded Liberate, a ministry devoted to connecting God’s inexhaustible grace to an exhausted world. He loves the beach, loves to exercise, and when he has time, he loves to surf. He’s also a huge fan of both the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Heat. (Source)
My observation is that people are having great difficulties with Tullian Tchividjian for a few reasons:
- he has not stepped away from a public platform for a season of reflection and repentance since he was confronted about his adultery
- he snubbed his former elders’ accountability and restoration process by seeking refuge with a friend and his church
- he is now in a ministry position too soon after being confronted about his adulterous affair while serving as senior pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church
Kevin Labby is the senior pastor at Willow Creek, a Presbyterian church, in Winter Springs, Florida. Here is part of his bio where you can see Pastor Labby’s favorite people (I bolded key names):
Some influential voices in Kevin’s life include Martin Luther, John Calvin, Tim Keller, Steve Brown, Tullian Tchividjian, Nancy Pearcey, Steve Childers, R.C. Sproul, Elyse Fitzpatrick, Jerry Bridges, Francis Schaeffer, Robert Farrar Capon, Brennan Manning, Abraham Kuyper, Paul Tripp, and others. In his spare time, Kevin enjoys spending time with his family, reading, plunking around on his guitar, finding a reason to have lunch at Four Rivers Smokehouse, or cheering for the Buffalo Bills and the Orlando City Lions. (Source)
For the first time, Tchividjian publicly announces Kevin Labby as his pastor:
Friends who Give Close Friends Grace
Doesn’t it make sense why Tullian Tchividjian would find shelter at Willow Creek with a pastor who has been his friend? I know of another celebrity pastor who took shelter at his friend’s church when he was going through his own personal sin. It must be okay for celebrity pastors to do this, but common folk aren’t afforded that kind of “grace.” They stay at their church during the restoration process.
Let’s look at more important connections: Paul Tripp, who is Tchividjian’s close friend and personal counselor during his marital crisis, is scheduled to speak at Willow Creek in February 2016 (Source). It’s like one big happy family at Willow Creek.
It’s clear that Tullian Tchividjian is also well-loved by the folks at Key Life ministry. In fact, the founder, Steve Brown had a lot to say about Tullian and their relationship in an article describing his thoughts since the scandal went public:
You see, I love Tullian…I love him a lot. I’ve known him since he was six years old and have prayed for him daily for most of his life. He is a former seminary student of mine, and I have known and loved his family (both on the Tchividjian and Graham side) for much of my adult life. Tullian’s late father, who I miss very much, was a close friend.
At the Steve Brown’s ministry website, KeyLife.org, all three men, Tchividjian, Paul Tripp, and his new pastor, Kevin Labby, have articles published or participate in interviews. These three men minister in the same circles. Key Life organization and Steve Brown also participate with Tchivijian’s Liberate conferences, the most recent called Key Life Pastors Pre-Conference at Liberate 2015.
One interesting note, Tullian Tchividjian is listed under the Guest Author category at the Key Life website. I stopped counting at 15 articles/interviews for Tullian Tchividjian. But Paul Tripp is listed as a Key Author, and he has only one article listed. I searched the Wayback Machine and found a screenshot from March of 2015 which lists Tchividjian under the heading of “Authors,” so obviously they have since revised their website to differentiate between “Key Authors” and “Guest Authors.” But what’s interesting is Tchividjian’s name is now under the less prominent “Guest Author” heading even though he is one of the most prolific contributors at the site. Also, since the March 2015, they have added Paul Tripp to the new Key Author lineup (he was not listed at all previously).
Why are these connections a noteworthy? Because these folks are good friends with Tchividjian. There’s nothing wrong with having good friends, but there is something wrong when the same friends are also in
business ministry with Tchividjian. And it is a problem when they can use their celebrity platforms to speak out publicly and defend Tchividjian and his image (Steve Brown: here, Paul Tripp: here), but do not give an ear and a public platform to Tullian’s wife, Kim Tchividjian. Emergent leader/pastor Tony Jones also did this with his ex-wife. He was able to get his prominent Emergent leader friends to publicly vouch for him, while his ex-wife, Julie, was publicly scorned.
Pastoral Vows and Presbytery Church Order
Yesterday, after news was broken about Tchividjian’s new job at Willow Creek, T.L. Arsenal wrote An Open Letter to the South Florida Presbytery:
It appears as though Tullian has not only joined another PCA church in the area, but is now listed as a staff member at Willow Creek Church.
I cannot fathom a circumstance where the Presbytery that was “committed to continuing to offer him pastoral care” has advised or sanctioned him being on staff in a church two weeks to the day of having deposed him.
In an article by Carl Trueman, Trueman reminds us of vows Presbyterian pastors take:
Tchividjian is, or at least was, a Presbyterian pastor. That binds him by solemn vow not simply to teach certain doctrines and to live in a certain way but also to act relative to his sin according to certain principles and processes. When he finds himself delinquent in doctrine or life, he should report himself to his Presbytery and place himself under its discipline and pastoral care.
There are safety checks for pastors within PCA. These processes are designed to help come along side those who have fallen in sin and need to come to restoration:
The elders at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, where Tullian Tchividjian previously served as senior pastor, released a public statement in which they clearly said they are going to be coming alongside Mr. Tchividjian:
Several days ago, Pastor Tullian admitted to moral failure, acknowledging his actions disqualify him from continuing to serve as senior pastor or preach from the pulpit, and resigned – effective immediately.
We are saddened by this news, but are working with and assisting Pastor Tullian and his family to help them through this difficult time, and asking people to join us in praying that God will bring restoration through this process and healing to all involved.
Tullian Tchividjian, when he made a vow to become a pastor, knew the guidelines, yet it appears he has abandoned those whom he had previously submitted, and has left Coral Ridge entirely and moved to Willow Creek, his friend, Kevin Labby’s church.
Do you suppose Kevin Labby has contacted the elders at Coral Ridge to discuss this important church discipline issue?
Do you suppose Kevin Labby has contacted Tullian’s wife, Kim to talk with her to hear her side?
Spiritual Response vs Business Response
When we look at this case in a spiritual sense of a church and its elders at Coral Ridge making efforts to bring restoration to a fallen leader, we see that Mr. Tchividjian has completely prevented that from happening. He has interfered and usurped the Biblical process of accountability by elders, a process by which he took a vow when he became a pastor, and sought shelter from a friend.
However, when we look at this case in a business sense, it makes perfect sense. Do you see how many followers Tullian Tchividjian has on Twitter?
Many people will freely give grace and disregard a Biblical restoration process in order to see and hear from their favorite celebrity pastor. (Since Tchividjian is no longer a pastor, he might want to change his Twitter handle: @pastortullian.) But regardless, whether Mr. Tchividjian was stripped of his credentials or not, people have already forgiven him and still see him as pastor without making sure he has fully repented and properly restored.
Willow Creek, by the way, made a video announcing Tchividjian’s new job and Warren Throckmorton has posted an update on his article that they have since removed it:
Willow Creek shows poor discretion in how they have handled this. If they wanted to give Tullian Tchividjian a job in a non-ministerial position, fine. They could have done it without any fanfare. But by promoting Tullian publicly, now his fan base knows where to find him: at Willow Creek church. There are benefits to hiring Mr. Tchividjian with his fan base, but I’m not sure those benefits are spiritual – – at least right now, so soon after his fall.
Here’s a bit of related satire I found on Twitter. Click on the image to enlarge:
Narcissistic attention whore finds a pimp to prop him back up and they turn the house of God into a spiritual brothel. Jesus wept. ~Michael Newnham (after hearing about TT’s new job at Willow Creek)
Update: Sept 2, 2015 – Warren Throckmorton updated his link to say that the video at Willow Creek was removed because it was someone’s family account.
Related articles (must read!): Anatomy of an Evangelical Scandal, by Janet Mefferd
Update 3/24/16: For some reason, I found this blog post in draft mode when it had previously released. Because of the ongoing case with Tullian Tchividjian, I thought it was important to release it again in case people are searching for more info on this story. Sorry for any confusion. ~ja