The One-Person System Strikes Again

Many loudly proclaim “the Scriptures are our rule of faith and practice,” yet their actions reveal that in crucial areas they don’t really care what the Lord says. People say that they care what the Bible says about their personal lives, but what the New Testament says about Christ’s life in His body is, practically speaking, disregarded and pushed aside.

Only by turning a blind eye to the New Testament can we end up with a deeply entrenched system that flagrantly denies Paul’s crystal-clear remark — “the body is not one part, but many.” The way most churches are run gives the distinct impression that everything depends on one part — “the pastor” — not many.

All of this comes out openly once again in the case of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida. Their famous pastor died and it took a while to find a replacement. The church began to decline after his demise in 2006. “Church elders hoped that Tchividjian’s youth, vision, and name could revive the fortunes of the aging congregation.”

Do you see the pattern here — a pattern that is repeated over and over and over again in churches every day? The health of the church is put into the hands of one person and their vision. If that person dies or leaves, then another “senior pastor” must be found. It is thought that the welfare of the congregation centers on the presence of that one person.

So now Coral Ridge must look for another person to fulfill the many expectations deposited in the position of “pastor.” The church’s statement said, “While we do not yet know whom God will direct to lead our congregation in the near future, we trust the Lord’s guidance during this transition period, knowing He is our hope.”

There is already Someone to lead congregations, and His name is Jesus Christ. But the system’s focus on a human leader functionally negates the leadership of Christ. Do we care that Jesus clearly said, “don’t be called ‘leaders’ because you have one Leader, Me.”

The religious system solidly in place, fueled by “the pastor” as the linchpin, has profoundly wounded untold church members, clergy, their wives and their children (see Even Christianity Today editor, Mark Galli, confesses that pastors “are in a profession that is about as morally risky as they come . . . . American churches exalt and isolate their leaders almost by design . . . . most pastors have become heads of personality cults.  Churches become identified more with the pastor . . . . When that pastor leaves, or is forced to leave, it’s devastating . . . . [Your pastor] is stuck in a religious system from which few escape unscathed” (CT, August 8, 2011).

When will the Lord’s people rise up and say, “enough is enough”? There are 58 “one another’s” in the New Testament and zero about the central assumption behind how most churches operate — “the local church pastor is key — absolutely central — to everything we are and do as a church” (Ministry, 2010). The “one another’s” abound — love one another, encourage one another, wait for one another, accept one another, etc. But the New Testament has absolutely nothing to say about our emphasis on “the pastor” — the basket in which we are putting all our churchy eggs. ST 36 1-2 2009 Cover Pulpit

Is it any surprise that the visible churches are sick and filled with troubles when they turn a deaf ear to Paul’s words, “the body is not one part, but many”? In focusing on “the pastor,” the 58 “one another’s” go virtually untouched.

The Spirit is saying to the churches, “You need the life of Christ flowing through every part; you need gatherings where each and every one can bring a song, a teaching; you need body-life where relationships can be deepened and care expressed.” The Spirit is not saying to churches, “You need a new pastor to replace the one who just left.”    — Jon Zens, June, 2015

From Christianity Today — Tullian Tchividjian Resigns after Admitting ‘Inappropriate Relationship’

(UPDATED) Billy Graham’s grandson: ‘Welcome to the valley of the shadow of death…thank God grace reigns here.’

Bob Smietana
[ posted 6/21/2015 09:18PM ]

Popular pastor and author Tullian Tchividjian has resigned as senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.

A grandson of Billy Graham, Tchividjian cited “ongoing marital issues” as the reason for his departure from the PCA congregation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He said that his wife had an affair, and in response, he sought comfort in a friend and their relationship turned “inappropriate.”

Tchividjian’s name was removed from the church’s website on Sunday as rumors of his resignation began flying on social media.

He confirmed the news on Sunday in a statement to The Washington Post:
Last week I was approached by our church leaders and they asked me about my own affair. I admitted to it and it was decided that the best course of action would be for me to resign. Both my wife and I are heartbroken over our actions and we ask you to pray for us and our family that God would give us the grace we need to weather this heart wrenching storm.

On its website, Coral Ridge acknowledged that Tchividjian “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,” stated church leaders.

“The Leadership of Coral Ridge remain committed to promoting the transforming power of the Gospel,” the statement continued. “While we do not yet know whom God will direct to lead our congregation in the near future, we trust the Lord’s guidance during this transition period, knowing He is our hope.”

Tchividjian’s tenure at Coral Ridge had been troubled from the start. In the spring of 2009, the church named the then-36-year-old as its senior pastor. At the time, Tchividjian led a young church plant which later merged with Coral Ridge.

Founded by famed preacher D. James Kennedy, Coral Ridge had once drawn as many as 7,000 worshipers. But it had been in decline following Kennedy’s death in 2006.

Church elders hoped that Tchividjian’s youth, vision, and name could revive the fortunes of the aging congregation.

Instead they got chaos.

Within six months, a group of church members led by Kennedy’s daughter, Jennifer, called for Tchividjian’s ouster. Those dissidents were banned by the church. At issue were a change in worship style and Tchividjian’s rejection of culture war politics.

Tchividjian talked with Leadership Journal about the attempted coup in 2011:
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.’
Tchividjian had been absent from the Coral Ridge pulpit for several weeks prior to his resignation.

A prayer list from the church asked members to pray for Tchividjian and his family. Coral Ridge kept his sermons online, unlike what fellow Fort Lauderdale megachurch pastor Bob Coy’s church did after his own resignation for a “moral failure.”

On Sunday, Tchividjian posted this message on Twitter:
“Welcome to the valley of the shadow of death…thank God grace reigns here.”


  1. Jon, “you need gatherings where each and every one can bring a song, a teaching; you need body-life where relationships can be deepened and care expressed.” I do feel many large churches have small groups which accomplish this, so body life can happen in settings like this. Just my opinion.

    • Thanks, Greg! My questions are, Why waste so many resources on a “service” that focuses on the pastor and his/her sermon, when there is no basis for this in the NT? Why do we not practice a gathering of the body as contoured in 1 Cor 14 where everyone participates? Having a big pastor-centered “service” and small groups during the week does not deal with the glaring problem that the church is still fundamentally one-gift driven and one-gift dependent. That’s the elephant in the room not being addressed.

      • Jon,

        Thank you for your response, wasn’t expecting that. Towards your question you asked, I would say that from a modern evangelical standpoint yes there is an exuberant amount of time and energy wasted on rehearsing a service with many things including in that. I do not see this in other meetings of the Church of older traditions of the Church where liturgy is almost the same most services. Especially in the early Church AD 100-400 they had a very simple liturgy, gathering, scripture readings, eucharist (communion).

        It is no argument that there was leadership in the NT as well as early Church Fathers showing this, that submission to leadership was simply part of the Church gathering. The communion was given by the leader. Our only other option is to say that the Church apostastated by-in-large immediately after the apostles. Which personally does not make sense because they would have ensured the teachings and truths they were sharing would have been passed on.

        In my research and prayerful reading of the New Testament the Church in Corinth was carnal and had many difficulities. They were a group of an estimated 60 disciples who were not submitting to authority, wanting to follow different teachers, immorality (1 cor 5) and many other problems were happening. They were also abusing spiritual gifts above simply loving each other and serving each other and everyone wanted to share in a meeting in a selfish way. They even were against headcovering in 1 cor 11 and paul needed to tell them point blank that ALL the other Assemblies practiced headcoverings. They were misusing holy communion also. The teaching of 1 cor 14 is a corrective at their not willing to have leaders share in meetings and others as the spirit led. In that situation Paul said they could all share but in order, etc. I personally do not see the Corinthians Church as the “perfect” model and 1 cor 14 is not that model to find what the early church really met and did.

        That is just my thoughts and opinion. Maybe there is another elephant in the room now.

        • Greg, thanks for your further comments. I have time to respond to just a few of your points. First, every assembly has leadership. The ideal is to have Christ’s leadership come to expression through every part as led by the Spirit. I see it as shifting, floating, Spirit-led leadership. This actlessivity is not in the hands of a few, but invested in the whole community. So the issue boils down to, is the leadership in a group Spirit-led or human-led? This is why Jesus said, “Do not be called ‘leaders,’ for you have one Leader, the Messiah.”

          Second, you say, “Communion was given by the leader.” There is less than zero that would substiante this idea in the New Testament. It was a meal shared by brothers and sisters remembering the past, present and future of Christ. So your whole conception of church is based on a notion that has no NT evidence to support it.

          Third, church history validates from many angles that the visible, emerging institution that called itself church soon left the apostolic traditions. The clergy/laity distinction appeared around 150 AD and one-bishop rule was in place around 250 AD. Spirit-led organic life gave way to an increasingly human-led and rigid institution.

          Fourtly, the interesting thing about Corinth is that even though they had multiple issues, Paul never mentions “leaders.” He calls upon the community to deal with the issues at hand — and he is confident they have the Lord’s wherewithal to do so. It was never about submitting to the authority of “leaders,” but of listening to the voice of their Leader, Christ.

          I hope these brief thoughts will be helpful in some way!

          • In the West, we seem to be obsessed with ‘leaders’ and have lost our understanding of our own adult capability and commitments. For instance, we speak of political leaders. In democracies we do not have political leaders, we have political servants. Their job is to serve us by doing the job of government. In business we have leaders because shareholders are after a ‘messiah’ figure to save their investment, rather than looking for someone who can help people work together for mutual benefit; and so in the church; we’re after a single genius who will do the hard yards for us, and deny that we are a) adult, b) often mature Christians, c) can read and study and discuss, d) can self direct.

    • Jonathan Parks says

      Greg, would love your response to Brother Jon’s reply to your comment?

      Brother Jon, thankful to the Lord for your contributions to the body of Christ in bringing up many truths that those from the institutional church are in direct disobedience to. It amazes me when these people who claim to contend for the truth yet are in direct opposition to direct commands of Christ himself. I purchased numerous books you have written and was challenged by the truths you highlighted. Being a former pastor myself, they have been very helpful in shedding the truth to my former colleagues who still occupy the unbiblical pastoral roles.
      God bless you and your ministry

  2. Wholeheartedly agree! The whole traditional church system is broken, and personally I just don’t even bother to attend anymore. The ritual of it all, and especially the one-person-rule system just grates on me. The other sacred cow that irks me completely is the tithe. Don’t get me started.

  3. “There is already Someone to lead congregations, and His name is Jesus Christ.”

    Sadly, when I was part of an attempt to re-think the way we were ‘doing’ church, I was told, “Anything with more than one head is a monster.” I tried to point out that we already had one head – Jesus – and so it was we, ourselves, who were creating a monster. Guess who was ‘encouraged’ out of the church…

    • Sorry you had to go through that kind of (typical) experience. It illustrates how far people are out of touch with what it means for Jesus to lead His people. Thanks for sharing this!

    • the church system is broken…simply because it is a system…not a new creation man. I think the main problem is that the individual parts (or cells) are not seeking to be subject to the head. Individual submission/surrender to Jesus Christ is not a prescription for spiritual anarchy but cure for what ails us….”SYSTEMatic theology”. The difference between the creation of God (the body of Christ) and what man builds and creates is the difference between the embodies life of God and Frankenstein. I picture Boris Karloff shouting “He’s alive, He’s alive.” It (he) may be a form of life but not divine life.

      Until each of us comes under the Lordship of Jesus Christ…until each of us submits totally to “the head” ruling and reigning IN and OVER us, the only other way we can function together is as a well oiled machine – a contraption. We are constantly re-inventing, reimagining, and reforming the “church”: tweaking the machine but our “church” cannot and does not prevail against the gates of hell. It is only (to paraphrase Thomas A Kempis) an Imitation of Christ. Not the real thing. But after all that’s what religion is: the natural man imitating the things of God. What we call church is simply “religion” and which is nothing more than artificial life. Many of our so called “organic expressions” are nothing more than life in a test tube.

  4. Gordon Batt says

    I have disassociated myself from the old inhibiting way of ‘doing church’. I no longer recognise any appointed, chosen or ordained leadership positions or persons within the congregation, apart from Jesus Christ himself . The present cultural structure in our churches has become a challenge to and a denial of the Divine Rights of the Redeemer among his people. Pastors and the leadership team have too often become usurpers of His function. I greatly appreciate and am thankful for the giftedness of anyone in the congregation who by example leads me to worship more sincerely, to study the Bible more diligently, to witness to the Gospel more actively, and to share in fellowship more lovingly. These people are the real leaders…women and men, boys and girls, and all the wise and experienced older Christians in the congregation who are more concerned about following Jesus than they are about the edifice or the institution. Sadly, their gifts of ministry lie dormant, wasted and undeveloped because they are not structured to participate.
    It has not been easy for me to find such a spontaneous congregation where the priesthood and prophet-hood of all believers is practised, so I am now in the happy situation of being on the associate membership list of four different congregations. I am not locked into any one denominational franchise now but am free to prepare myself for the day I will dwell above with the saints universal. And what a lot of new friends I’ve made in the process of moving around. I have been enriched and enlightened by a variety of different Christian gifts and experiences. We may have a favorite restaurant, but do we always have go to the same place when we eat out ? So why not try something different ? You may discover a whole new world of fellowship and service to help you on your pilgrim journey to the Celestial City.

  5. There are friends that I have that are still engrossed into the IC. My desire is not to be engrossed into a church building, but to be engrossed in the body of Christ.

Speak Your Mind