Recently, Tullian was interviewed by Christianity Today about the challenges, wounds, and heartbreaks he experienced as the new pastor of Coral Ridge. While the situation is unique, the things Tullian experienced are, sadly, not unusual for a pastor called to lead change.
Read the whole interview HERE.
Some of the reasons you were opposed seem trivial. You didn't wear a robe, like Dr. Kennedy did. You weren't political enough from the pulpit. Was there something beneath those objections?
Not preaching politics was a big one. But yes, I'm sure there was something underlying those complaints. Part of it may have been an old-fashioned power struggle. There were people who had been in places of power under Kennedy who felt that this was their church, and they should be in charge of running it. I think some of them probably saw in me a young guy who would be wide-eyed by coming here and would basically do whatever they said. What they underestimated was that we had prayed and thought hard about what God wanted this church to be, and we were very determined to get there.
What was your initial reaction to the resistance?
Well, we expected it. But it's one thing to talk about war and another to be a soldier on the ground when the bullets are flying. It was hard. It was the first time in my life where I was leading a church where I knew many people didn't like me.
Things started blowing up pretty quickly because there were things that had to change immediately. There were issues on staff that had to be addressed immediately, dangerous things. Yet if you're not in the know, all you see are these changes taking place. To some it looked like we were just being disrespectful, that we were bulls in a china shop. We were coming in as the guest and taking over. So there were a lot of those kinds of accusations. They weren't accurate, but we couldn't disclose all the reasons we had to make the changes.
It was tremendously uncomfortable coming to worship every Sunday morning during that time not knowing who liked you and who hated you. There were people in the choir who, when I would stand up to preach, would get up and walk out. People would sit in the front row and just stare me down as I preached. It was extremely uncomfortable. People would grab me in the hallway between services and say, "You're ruining this church, and I'm going to do everything I can to stop you." I would come out to my car and it would be keyed. Some people would stop at nothing to intimidate.
They put petitions on car windows during the worship service. They started an anonymous blog, which was very painful. Here we were trying to build consensus and there's this anonymous blog fueling rumors and lies. The blog almost ruined my wife's life. Anonymous letters were sent out to the entire congregation with accusations and character assassinations. It was absolutely terrible.
Did you ever question yourself and think, Was I really called here?
Oh, definitely. The shelling got so bad I thought to myself this was a huge mistake. Two churches are ruined now. I could hardly eat, had trouble sleeping, and was continually battling nausea. I felt at the absolute end of myself. In the summer of 2009 when we were in the midst of this, my family and I left to go on vacation. On the first day of vacation, I went out on the balcony of a cabin we rent, looking over the Gulf of Mexico. And I finally just unleashed all of my fury on God. What have you done? I've been trying to keep a stiff upper lip and play the role of martyr for truth. But bottom line is, I'm mad. I've done everything you asked me to do. I put my baby, the church that I planted, on the altar. I didn't want to do this in the first place but I submitted and did it. And this is the payment I get from you?
But then I started thinking, why does this bother me so much? Yes, I have people writing nasty things about me, lying about me, spreading rumors about my team. They're after power. And they're not getting it, and these are the tactics they're using. But why does that bother me so much? I remember saying to God in that moment, "Just give me my old life back." And he said, "It's not your old life you want back. It's your old idols you want back. And I love you too much to give them to you."
I opened up my Bible. In the reading plan I was following, it so happened that the day's passages included the first chapter of Colossians. As I read those verses, my eyes were opened. My true situation came into focus. I'd never realized how dependent I'd become on human approval and acceptance until so much of it was taken away in the roiling controversy at Coral Ridge.
In every church I'd been a part of, I was widely accepted and approved and appreciated. I'd always felt loved in church. Now, for the first time, I found myself in the uncomfortable position of being deeply disliked and distrusted, and by more than a few people. Now I realized just how much I'd been relying on something other than the approval and acceptance and love that were already mine in Jesus.
I was realizing in a fresh way the now-power of the gospel—that the gospel doesn't simply rescue us from the past and rescue us for the future; it also rescues us in the present from being enslaved to things like fear, insecurity, anger, self-reliance, bitterness, entitlement, and insignificance. Through my pain, I was being convinced all over again that the power of the gospel is just as necessary and relevant after you become a Christian as it is before.
When that biblical reality gripped my heart, I was free like I had never felt before in my life. It gives you the backbone to walk into a room full of church leaders and say "this is what we're going to do and this is why we're going to do it, even if it gets me thrown into the street."
There is a fresh I-don't-care-ness that accompanies belief in the gospel. Whether you like me or not doesn't matter, because my worth and my dignity and my identity are anchored in God's approval. Christ won all of the approval and acceptance I need.