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Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Dr. James Emery White

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James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.

[Editor’s Note: This blog was first published in 2012. It has received so much positive feedback that we have decided to offer it again.]

This is a blog with a very specific audience.  I know it may exclude some of you, but it may be healthy for you to eavesdrop.

This is for all the church planters and their volunteers on post-Easter Monday, struggling to make it from week-to-week, as well as the leaders and members of established churches which are anything but “mega” – well below the 200 threshold in terms of average attendance.

I don’t know how Easter Sunday went for you, but I have a hunch. 

It was bigger than normal, but less than breakthrough.  It was good, but not great.  Your attendance was large, but not staggering; worth being happy about, but not writing home about.  You are grateful to God, but now that Easter is over, there’s a bit of a letdown.  You wanted so much more.

It was, in the end, a typical Easter Sunday.

And you are normal.

When you lead a church, you can't help but dream, and dream big.  I think that’s one of the marks of a leader.  But for most, it’s not long before the dream comes face to face with reality.

When I planted Meck, I just knew the mailer I sent out (we started churches with mailers in those days) would break every record of response, and that we would be a church in the hundreds, if not already approaching a thousand, in a matter of weeks or months.

Willow Creek?  Eat our dust.  Saddleback?  Come to our conference.

The reality was starting in a Hilton hotel in the midst of a tropical storm with 112 dripping wet people, and by the third weekend – through the strength of my preaching – cutting that sucker in half to a mere 56.

Actually, not even 56, because our total attendance was 56.  This means there were fifteen or twenty kids, so maybe thirty or so people actually sitting in the auditorium. 

(As a good church planter, I think we also counted people who walked slowly past the hotel ballroom doors in the hallway.)

Yes, we’ve grown over the years. 

But that’s the point. 

It’s taken years.

It usually does.

I know the soup of the day is rapid growth, but please don’t benchmark yourself against that.  It’s not typical.  It’s not even (usually) healthy.  So stop playing that dark, awful game called comparison.  It’s sick and terribly toxic. 

Really, stop it.

I don’t care who you are, there will always be someone bigger or faster-growing, so why torment yourself?  Or worse, fall prey to the sins of envy and competition, as if you are benchmarked against other churches?

(Rumor has it the true “competition” is a deeply fallen secular culture that is held in the grip of the evil one.  Just rumor, mind you.)

The truth is that on the front end, every church is a field of dreams.  After a few months, or a year or two, it's morphed from a field of dreams to a field to be worked, and your field may not turn out as much fruit – much less as fast – as you had hoped.

That’s okay.

You can rest assured that it probably has little to do with your commitment, your faith, your spirituality, your call, or God’s love for you. 

I know it’s frustrating.  We’ve got a lot of the world in us, and thus look to worldly marks of success and affirmation.

But what matters is whether you are being faithful, not whether you are being successful.  You’re not in this for human affirmation, but a “well done” from God at the end.

Did you preach the gospel yesterday?

Then “well done.”

Did you and your team do the best you could with what you had?

Then “well done.”

Did you and your church invite your unchurched friends to attend?

Then “well done.”

Did you pray on the front-end, have faith, and trust?

Then “well done.”

Ignore the megachurches that tweet, blog and boast about their thousands in attendance.

Yep, even mine.

It’s not that we don’t matter.  We do, and we’re very proud of the hard work of our volunteers and the lives we have the privilege of changing.  There’s a place for us.

It’s just that you matter, too.

And you may need to remember that.

And perhaps most of all on the Monday after Easter.

James Emery White

 

Editor’s Note

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, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.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.

(Editor’s Note:  This blog was first distributed in 2005, and has been offered annually on or near Good Friday since that first publication.)

good (good) adj. bet’ter, best  I. a general term of approval or commendation 1. suitable to a purpose; effective; b) producing favorable results; beneficial

The amazing thing about Good Friday is that it was - and is - part of the “good” declared by God at creation.  “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31, NIV).  The fall was not good; sin, disobedience, suffering is not good.  But God’s purpose in creation, and the redemptive drama that ensued, was – and is – good.

Some would put God in the dock for placing such a burden on human life – that through our creation and giving us free will He knew the suffering we would experience.  What is less noticed is how God always knew of Good Friday.  In the rapture of creation, the cross loomed large.  Yes, there would be suffering, but none more so than for God Himself. 

C.S. Lewis writes:

God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them.  He creates the universe, already foreseeing – or should we say “seeing”? there are no tenses in God – the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up.  If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him.  Herein is love.  This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.

What an ultimate “good” this must have been; declared at creation, consummated on Golgotha.  But it wasn’t a good designed for God; there is no good to be added, or deficit to be addressed, in His being. 

It was a good for us.

Many books have come out of late portraying the heart of God toward us as a lover pursuing the beloved, a fairy tale where God is the prince, and we are the maiden.  “Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden,” begins Soren Kierkegaard, who first fashioned the popular analogy. 

The king was like no other king.  Every statesman trembled before his power.  No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents.  And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden.  How could he declare his love for her?  In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands.  If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist – no one dared resist him.  But would she love him?

She would say she loved him, or course, but would she truly?  Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind?  Would she be happy at his side?  How could he know?  If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her.  He did not want a cringing subject.  He wanted a lover, an equal.  He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross the gulf between them.  For it’s only in love that the unequal can be made equal.

Yes, this is the heart of God, and He is on just such a mission.  But the deeper truth lies in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.  We are not a beautiful maiden.  There is nothing becoming in us whatsoever.  Instead, we are desperately criminal, and the only rescue grace would bring would demand storming the Bastille in which we are rightfully held.  This is precisely what He did.  “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8-9, NIV).

And that’s an even better story.  And it’s the one story that the world does not already have, and most needs to hear.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition.

Lewis, C.S.  The Four Loves.

Hugo, Victor.  Les Miserables.

Kierkegaard, Soren.  Philosophical Fragments.

Editor’s Note

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, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.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 58-second cell phone clip of a Santa Monica teacher wrestling a student to the floor has gone viral.

Here’s what happened:

Mark Black was teaching science when he admonished a student for walking in and out of his classroom.  He soon learned that it had something to do with drugs.  When Black told the student he was going to call security, the student went up to Black and began to assault him.  Black, the school’s wrestling coach, responded with a series of wrestling moves and restrained the student on the classroom floor until security could arrive.

Initially, the student’s family was consoled by the district superintendent and Black was chastised and put on leave. 

Then came a flood of emails, coupled with an eruption on social media – fed by parents and students alike – expressing indignation over Black’s treatment and support of his forced reaction.  A rally was held on Sunday dubbed “Community Peace Gathering celebrating Mark Black and all teachers who step up for their students.”  Tens of thousands have “liked” a “We Support Coach Black” Facebook page.

It’s seemed to do the trick. 

This past week, police ended up arresting the student for possessing marijuana and a weapon (a box cutter) on campus, and threatening and using “force or violence against a school employee.” 

So what’s the real problem here?

As the Los Angeles Times reported, it’s become a symbol of everything that’s wrong with public schools:  “Defiant students. Overwhelmed teachers. Feckless administrators. Knee-jerk policies with no room for common sense.”

But those are symptoms, not the disease.

Here’s the disease:

Many public schools – including Los Angeles United campuses – aren’t allowed to suspend students anymore for what is deemed “willful defiance.”

If you’re a teacher, you might as well wave the white flag, because it is precisely the matter of willful defiance that shapes a child.  This is Parenting 101.  Children have to be disciplined, and the key to knowing when to provide that discipline is when you do not have mere childish irresponsibility (that’s a developmental issue), but when there is willful disobedience.

If you are not even allowed to address such defiance, then there can be no authority.

It reminds me of an interview with a juvenile court judge I once heard on public radio.  He said that in his court, he had seen violent juvenile crimes triple over recent years.  The reporter asked him why he thought that was happening.  He replied, "First, kids lost the admiration of authority.  Then, they lost respect for authority.  Now, they've lost the fear of authority."

Of course they have.  You can demonstrate willful defiance of authority without penalty.  To be sure, no one likes to see a teacher wrestling with a student on the floor.  But the problem wasn’t with the teacher.

It was with a culture that turns a blind eye to willful defiance.

James Emery White

 

Sources

“Uproar over classroom scuffle reflects a profession under siege,” Sandy Banks, Los Angeles Times, April 11, 2014, read online.

Editor’s Note

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, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.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.

I’ve written about the five “C’s” I look for when hiring staff or inviting volunteers into strategic leadership roles: competence, character, catalytic ability, chemistry, and calling.

But in various settings, I’ve found myself talking increasingly about the defining character trait of those who pass those five and grow with an organization; the defining mark of someone who truly succeeds.  I don’t mean the world’s definition of success, but those who make a mark for the Kingdom and who stretch out toward their full redemptive potential as an ambassador for Christ.

It’s teachability.

Not sure that’s a word, but it works for me.

It means someone who is, obviously, teachable.  This is more than being able to learn, but being willing to learn.  Eager to learn.  Desiring to learn. 

And what does it take to be teachable?

Humility.

The pride that keeps someone from being teachable is one of the most subtle forms of pride there is, but I’ve seen it take root and keep many people from developing into who and what they most needed to become.

So let’s tease this one out.

Here are a series of questions to ask yourself:

Do you

...eagerly seek counsel?

...have a sense of entitlement – that you should be given position, prominence or platform?

…fly across the country to give a sermon, but not walk across the street to hear one?

…automatically assume you pretty much know everything about what it is you currently do?

…put what you do before others for review?

…work to be genuinely open to new ideas and perspectives, as opposed to simply shutting down or arguing against them?

…look to be intentionally mentored and coached?

Notice what questions I didn’t ask.  I didn’t ask whether or not you are reading the most trendy titles, visiting the hippest websites, or availing yourself of the most cutting-edge blogs. 

You can do all of those things and not be teachable.

My questions were aimed at attitude.  At spirit.  At the humility necessary for teachability.

Because in the end, teachability isn’t about learning.

It’s about knowing you need to.

James Emery White

 

Editor’s Note

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, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones, is now available for pre-order.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.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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