Brad Braxton served as senior minister of the Riverside Church in Manhattan for nine months. Unfortunately, the only thing that was delivered after this period of time was a letter of resignation.
The Riverside Church located in Manhattan has been known as one of those “prestigeous pulpits” in our country. Through the years, several prominent preachers such as Harry Emerson Fosdick have used their position to influence their communities and public opinion.
From what I could tell, the conflict centered around Braxton’s compensation and the manner in which he was hired. It may have also related to his vision for the church and whether or not the congregation embraced that vision. Rather than continue fighting an internal battle within the church, Braxton opted to resign in order to give Riverside an opportunity to regroup and somehow move forward. I feel for him, in that he gave up a position at Vanderbilt University to move to New York. It looked like a good fit, and I hope he finds a landing place to continue ministry.
It’s never easy to see this kind of result take place in a church, yet this tumultous yet brief tenure certainly isn’t the first one to take place. I’m very sympathetic to Braxton in one sense, because he was “called” to this church under the impression that he was going to lead them and that members would follow his direction. On the other hand, he might not heeded warning signs that there was considerable opposition already forming to his pastorate. Perhaps those responsible for “vetting” Braxton did not adequately prepare the congregation for this move or go through the search process with as much clarity as they needed. Apparently, about 200 ministers and/or their resumes were reviewed in the search for a new pastor. You would think that after all this effort that their results would pay off. This was not the case, and Riverside is the latest in another episode of pastors and churches being at odds over vision, leadership, and direction.
Seeing the brevity of this tenure makes me think about “sacrificial lamb” pastorates. This is the kind when a minister follows a long tenured pastor and serves a very short period comparably, and then the one who follows enjoys a lengthy stint at that pulpit. Sometimes it hard for churches to deal with a transition of leadership, and it’s tough on those pastors and their families who live through that struggle.
From what I can tell, this seems to be another case of a pastor going to a new church without knowing the internal friction and polarities in place. It is an exciting but sometimes perilous decision to go to a new city, church, and community. No situation is perfect, no pastor is perfect, and no congregation is perfect. It truly is amazing to think that the Holy Spirit is still in the business of “calling out the called” and putting clergy and laity together.
I recall what one of my theology professors said about this relationship of pastors and churches. After a few years, the church realizes that their new pastor isn’t at all perfect and it begins to see some “warts.” However, the pastor begins to see that the church isn’t perfect and sees some warts as well. The challenge is to keep on loving each other with our visible and invisible faults to build the Kingdom of God. It’s not always easy to accomplish this feat, and there are legitimate reasons for parting ways after a brief tenure like Braxton’s.
Today I am thankful for all my preacher friends in their respective churches and wish them well. I’m also thankful for my own place of service and for the privilege of working in my corner of the ministerial field and for the church putting up with me “warts and all.”