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Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Dr. James Emery White

Dr. James Emery White's weblog

What does a leader do? The answers (and books) are endless. But there are five things every leader must do for the organization they lead, not least of which when it comes to the church.

1.      Uphold Core Values

Every organization has a set of core values (At least, I hope they do.). It is the leader’s job to uphold those values. To make sure they are followed, honored and embraced. If a core value is “excellence,” then that value is only as real and formative as a leader makes it by upholding it throughout the organization. 

At Meck we have 10:

  • The Bible is true and the catalyst for life change.
  • Lost people matter to God and, therefore, they should matter to us.
  • We aim to be culturally relevant while remaining doctrinally pure.
  • It is normal to manifest authenticity and to grow spiritually.
  • We want to be a unified community of servants stewarding their spiritual gifts.
  • Loving relationships should permeate the life of the church.
  • Life change happens best through relationships.
  • Excellence honors God and inspires people.
  • We are to be led by leaders and structured biblically.
  • Full devotion to Christ is normal.

My job is to uphold all 10; celebrating when one is fleshed out, admonishing when one is not.

2.      Cast Missional Vision

If there was one task almost universally affirmed for a leader, it is casting vision. But not just any vision – it must be the casting of missional vision. If we’re taking a hill, you need to define where the hill is and why it is worth taking.

Meaning: “Here’s the target on the wall. Here’s what we’re trying to do.” 

On a more personal level, casting missional vision is helping individuals see how they are contributing to the vision in ways that expand their own vision about their investment.

It’s walking up to a person serving in the nursery and saying: “I’m so glad you’re serving. Thank you. Because of you, there’s a young couple in the service able to explore what Christ can mean for their lives. That’s what you’re doing.”

3.      Create Unity

The Bible teaches that the number one requirement for becoming a pastor is leading your own personal family well. Why? Because the church is a family. Almost every organization would be served by being led as if it were a family. The question is whether it is a functional family or a dysfunctional family. The answer lies in whether the “parent” does the hard work of keeping everyone unified relationally. 

A good leader works to bring parties together, work through conflict, and create open lines of communication. I’ll never forget a time when my two daughters were at a relational impasse at the tender ages of 8 and 6. Susan sat them down, brought them together and helped them talk it through. It ended, if I recall, in a time of prayer.

My wife is a good leader. My daughters are close friends to this day. 

That is the goal organizationally.

4.      Give Permission

Only a leader can give permission. This isn’t about control, but the privilege of turning people loose. A leader enables people to develop their gifts, chase ministry dreams, take risks and explore new ventures. In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote in the New Testament letter of Ephesians that the job of a church leader is to equip people for ministry. A leader clears the way for people to follow paths of God’s design and leading. 

Going further, a good leader sees things in people and encourages them to explore things they never dreamed of for themselves. So it’s not simply permission, but provocation. It’s putting your arm around someone’s shoulders and saying, “I see you doing this,” or “I think you could make a difference here.” 

5.      Develop Other Leaders

I don’t know if I have ever read this statement (I can’t believe it would be original to me), but I believe it to the core of my being: “Only a leader can develop another leader.” 

Which means that developing other leaders is one of the indispensable things a leader must do. At Meck, we’ve developed an entire Leadership Development Program through which we take 100 burgeoning leaders annually. It’s a one-year program that requires reading six books, attending three seminars (on leadership, mission and values, and the personal life of the leader), attending a three-day retreat (covering a course on systematic theology), cohort gatherings, engaging the annual Church & Culture Conference, and more. 

Sound robust? It is.

It’s also one of the most important things I do.

So there are five things a leader must do. There are many more, of course, but these five?

All are musts.

James Emery White


About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

The Christian faith is known as an orthodox faith. It is appropriately concerned with orthodoxy, meaning “right thinking.” This is often juxtaposed against an emphasis on orthopraxy, meaning “right practice.”

And it is precisely these two dynamics – belief and practice – that most define a religious faith. For example, Christianity is a belief-oriented faith in the sense that we believe individuals are saved by faith, not by works. We are connected by creeds more than practices, confessions more than rituals. While this is truer of Protestants than Catholics, the Catholic Church would still rank what is (or is not) believed as more important than what is (or is not) practiced, at least in terms of what constitutes an “unbeliever.”

Not so in highly orthopraxic communities, where what you believe is secondary to how you live or what you do. In fact, in many settings, what you believe does not matter at all. It is something you live out rather than believe in.

Yet the Christian faith, at its best, must contain both. It values orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and does not see them at odds with each other. Orthodoxy should result in orthopraxy. In fact, orthodoxy without orthopraxy, as the New Testament book of James reminds us, is dead.

Why do I bring this up? Because there is an increasing tendency within many Christian circles to value orthodoxy alone, to the point of overlooking gross misconduct in terms of pride, arrogance, deceit and abuse among doctrinal peers. Or, to put forward a Christian faith that is entirely cerebral without being personally spiritual.

That is not the Christian faith, much less the true dynamic of Christian orthodoxy.

I was invited to be a part of a theological task force during the Amsterdam 2000 gathering initiated by Billy Graham. The goal was to develop a fresh statement of evangelical faith, akin to what was famously produced at an earlier such gathering at Lausanne in 1974 under the leadership of none other than the legendary British evangelical thinker, author, pastor and leader, John Stott. Stott, who wrote such classics as Basic Christianity, carried the tongue-in-cheek title of “Pope for Evangelicals” around the world.

But now, it was on to the “Amsterdam Statement.” Led by J.I. Packer and Timothy George, the early formation involved small groups gathered around tables to capture key distinctives and smooth over various tensions.

I was asked to lead one of those table discussions. The discussion started robustly and soon hit a bit of a snag over an aspect related to worship. 

Then, a latecomer arrived and took his seat at my table. 

It was John Stott.

It was beyond comical to attempt to help “steer” the conversation in such a way that I might assist someone like Stott to gather his thoughts and contribute to the wider conversation. The only reasonable course of action was to defer to his presence, ask for his insights and then write down everything he said and submit it for publication.

He would have none of it.

He simply listened quietly for some time to the conversation on the nature of the church and its role in the world. Should we evangelize, or serve? Offer the gospel, or a cup of cold water? After much discussion, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind sharing his thoughts. He then offered, in a matter of a few sentences, the most brilliant distillation of the discourse with an added word or two that made any additional conversation unnecessary. 

I recall his first words, “It would seem to be that we must embrace both orthodoxy and orthopraxy.”

He was right.

He’s still right.

So what is the great danger of orthodoxy?

It isn’t orthodoxy, of course,

… but embracing orthodoxy alone.

James Emery White


About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Worldview Matters

A recent survey of practicing Christians was, to say the least, enlightening. By “practicing Christians,” the study included those who self-identify as Christians, attend church at least once every month, and say their faith is very important in their lives.

They were asked to rate their agreement or disagreement with various statements.

Nearly 1 in 3 practicing Christians agreed with the idea that “if you do good, you will receive good, and if you do bad, you will receive bad.” In other words, the idea of karma.

28% believe that “all people pray to the same god or spirit, no matter what name they use for that spiritual being.” Welcome to New Age thinking.

27% believe that “meaning and purpose come from becoming one with all that is.” Can you say Hinduism?

Wait… it gets worse.

1 in 5 believe that “meaning and purpose come from working hard to earn as much as possible so you can make the most of life.” Can there be a clearer statement espousing raw materialism?

23% believe that “what is morally right or wrong depends on what an individual believes.” Yes, that is raw postmodern relativism.

Overall, the study conducted by Barna Group and Summit Ministries claims:

  • 61% agree with ideas rooted in New Spirituality
  • 54% resonate with postmodernist views
  • 36% accept ideas associated with Marxism
  • 29% believe ideas based on secularism

I do not believe these “practicing Christians” are purposefully jettisoning Christian ideology for another worldview. The better answer is simple ignorance. They do not have a firmly developed Christian worldview and, as a result, have ideas without an anchor. They simply sit on top of the cultural ocean, drifting with the tide.

So what is meant by worldview?

The term itself is from the German Weltanschauung (literally: “world perception”), but the definition goes beyond just a set of ideas by which you judge other ideas. Rather, it is, as Gene Edward Veith has written, “a way to engage constructively the whole range of human expression from a Christian perspective.” Or, as Jonathan Edwards – arguably the greatest intellect America has ever produced – once contended: the basic goal of any intellect is to work toward “the consistency and agreement of our ideas with the ideas of God.” 

Consider the worldview questions posed by Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey based on creation, the fall and redemption: Where did we come from and who are we? What has gone wrong with the world? What can we do to fix it? How now shall we live? 

Reflect on the response to the first and most foundational of these questions – “Where did we come from?” There are a limited number of answers at our disposal: we came about by chance (the naturalist contention); we don’t really exist (the Hindu response); or, we were spoken into existence by God. Even if one makes more obscure suggestions, such as Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking who intimated that we were seeded here by another race of beings from another planet, one would then have to account for their existence. 

So for the Christian, the answer to “Where did we come from and who are we?” gives a foundation for thinking that no other answer gives. Because we were created, there is value in each person. There is meaning and purpose to every life. There is Someone above and outside of our existence who stands over it as authority. 

This is the power and force of a biblical worldview, and how it cuts through the cultural morass of clouded thinking. It is just such a worldview that allows prophetic voices to ring loud and clear, such as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s voice who penned these immortal words found in his jailhouse correspondence:

“... there are two types of law: just and unjust... A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out harmony with the moral law... Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.”

King’s argument was based on the worth of a human being bestowed by God regardless of what other humans might have to say. King laid claim to a law above man’s law. No other worldview would have given King the basis for such a claim.

And from such a worldview, the world was changed.

So rather than simply denounce those “practicing Christians” for embracing ideas in opposition to the faith they claim to embrace, consider another investment of energy:

... introducing them to the worldview that goes with their faith.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Morgan Lee, “Many Practicing Christians Agree with Marxism (and Other Competing Worldviews),” Christianity Today, May 10, 2017, read online.

Gene Edward Veith, “Reading and Writing Worldviews,” in The Christian Imagination: The Practice of Faith in Literature and Writing, ed. by Leland Ryken.

Jonathan Edwards, “Notes on the Mind,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards: Scientific and Philosophical Writings, edited by Wallace E. Anderson.

Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, How Now Shall We Live?

Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can’t Wait (Letter from a Birmingham Jail).


About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

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