NASHVILLE, Tenn. Tullian Tchividjian, a 36-year-old grandson of Billy Graham, has been chosen as the successor to D. James Kennedy, founder and longtime pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who died in 2007.
Tchividjian, son of Graham's daughter Gigi, attended Coral Ridge as a child and was enrolled in the church's school, Westminster Academy, until he dropped out at age 16 and embraced the party lifestyle of south Florida, according to a news release March 16.
At age 21, Tchividjian accepted Christ and then graduated from college and seminary with honors. He led a large Presbyterian church in Tennessee for two years before returning to Fort Lauderdale to start New City Presbyterian Church, which has grown to 650 people in just over five years.
"His hair is spiky, his beard sometimes scruffy, his skin tan," an Associated Press article said of Tchividjian's contrast to Kennedy. "He offers a classic prodigal son story of youthful forays into drugs, then his return to the fold. He has said he wants people to know what Christians are for as much as what they are against, and has rejected the idea that politics is the most important way to change the country."
With Tchividjian's new assignment, New City will merge with Coral Ridge, a congregation of 2,200 members. Tchividjian will be the second pastor, following Kennedy's 47 years in the role. Graham preached the dedication sermon for the church sanctuary in 1974, and 91 percent of the congregation voted to call his grandson as pastor.
"I consider it a great and high honor to follow such a giant in the faith. As different as some may think Dr. Kennedy and I are, our theological commitments are the same and our hearts beat with the same driving passion," Tchividjian said. "Indeed, what he came to do in the 1950s -- reach the people of south Florida with the Gospel and transform the world -- is exactly what I have been seeking to do ever since I moved back home to start New City in 2003."
Tchividjian will not oversee the church's radio and television ministry, Coral Ridge Ministries. He will focus during the first months on merging the two congregations, which will worship together on the Coral Ridge campus starting Easter Sunday. The merger also means New City will alter its affiliation from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church to the Presbyterian Church of America, two denominations that Tchividjian said are theologically similar.
The new pastor acknowledged that he seems like an unconventional choice to succeed Kennedy.
"I think that at first glance it would seem that he and I were very different people," he told AP. "But what I've discovered in this process is that we have more similarities than differences. He was a man of his time and I'm a man of mine."
Tchividjian and his wife Kim have three children, Gabe, Nate and Genna.