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Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Dr. James Emery White

Dr. James Emery White's weblog

I usually have several movies on my watch list. But one that I did not have on there, though I really liked many of the actors, was The Greatest Showman.

Not sure why it was low on my list. Maybe because The Last Jedi came out around the same time and I’m not a “go to a new movie every week” kind of guy. Maybe because it didn’t seem to have a hook that “hooked” me. Yes, P.T. Barnum was a fascinating historical figure, but it didn’t seem like a movie that was going to really detail his life. And while I really like Hugh Jackman, this wasn’t exactly Wolverine.

Then I got a text from my youngest daughter, Rachel. She RAVED about the movie. So much so that when she came in town on her birthday, she wanted to see it again with her brothers.

And THEY raved about it.

Okay, that’s a young mom with three kids loving it as well as two guy’s guys who would diss the Hallmark Channel for a re-run of Braveheart any day of the week.

Then, more than a few of our staff said: “Have you seen this movie? It’s great. You should see it.” 

More raving.

Which led my wife to ask, “Honey, will you take me to see The Greatest Showman?”

So I did.

And it was a good movie. I’m glad I saw it. It was moving, inspiring… just good.

And then I thought to myself, “Why did I see it?”

Only one reason:

Word.Of.Mouth.

And not just any word of mouth, but the word of mouth of those I liked, knew and trusted. Family, friends, people I work with, people who live nearby. And because it came from so many, I bought the ticket.

It reminded me – again – of the power of this for the church.

Michael Green wrote a treatise on the explosion of the early Christian church in the first century. Let me save you a few hundred pages of reading. His conclusion can be summarized in a single sentence: They shared the gospel like it was gossip over the backyard fence.

For more than 25 years, Mecklenburg Community Church has tracked why first-time guests come. Every first-time guest who lets us know they came are asked four questions in a follow-up survey:

  1. What did you notice first?
  2. What did you like best?
  3. How could we have improved?
  4. How did you hear about the church?

The #1 reason – for a quarter-of-a-century – has never changed. And there’s never even been a close #2. 

The #1 reason has always been: “Invited by a friend.”

So start talking about your church like a good movie. 

It’s the main way they will eventually buy a ticket.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church.


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.

Meck recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. A fellow pastor asked me, “What are the keys to a long tenure?”

It was a good question, and one (to be honest) I hadn’t reflected on. I immediately thought of the usual things such as prayer and spiritual vitality, but in truth, I had never thought about what it has taken to plant a church and then lead it for now more than a quarter of a century. That is a long time to lead a single community of faith. Today it seems like the news is littered with leader after leader falling to moral compromise, a lack of integrity with finances, or leading from pride and power. I just knew, from the beginning, that I had one church plant in me – kind of like one marriage, or one family – and I was going to plant it and then be faithful to it to the end. 

But when I reflected on his question, five things did come to mind:

1. Persistence and determination

One of my favorite quotes comes from a speech given in 1920 by then President Calvin Coolidge. He said:

Nothing in the world can take the place of perseverance. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

I wrote about this in an earlier blog titled “Give Everything but Up.” There is simply nothing that can take the place of hanging in there week after week, month after month, year after year – never abandoning your post or calling. Not because it’s easy. Not because you always want to. 

But because you are committed to being faithful.

2. Integrity

I once heard a journalist who had seen more than his fair share of scandals in religious leaders comment about a man who had served 20 years as pastor of a church. He said, “After two decades, if there was something to come out, it normally would have by now.”

He meant it as a compliment to the man’s integrity. But he was right. The longer you lead without scandal, the more it indicates there wasn’t any to come out.

And earning that is what makes for a long tenure, for nothing will end ministry faster than a lack of integrity, whether it is sexual, financial, or in the manner of how you lead.

Now, in saying this, I certainly do not mean to put myself forward as a man above other men. I’m not. I’m as sin-stained, sin-marked, as anyone. What I mean is that you have to be able to manifest the everyday kind of integrity that protects the longevity of your ministry. People close to me have seen more than their fair share of sin in my life, but they haven’t seen consistent hypocrisy or a double-life. They’ve seen consistent marital faithfulness, commitment to family, relational integrity, financial transparency and more. And the reason is because of intentionally introduced boundaries and accountabilities. 

It matters.

3. The hide of a rhinoceros

I believe it was Stuart Briscoe who once wrote that the three qualifications for a pastor are: 1) the heart of a child; 2) the mind of a scholar; and 3) the hide of a rhinoceros. I have always thought the hardest part of ministry is the “hide” part. But it’s also the part that, over time, can matter the most. 

Let’s state the obvious: ministry leadership is not easy. You are subject to abundant criticism, pointed spiritual attack, emotional depletion and more. Without allowing your heart to become calloused, you must find ways to keep your skin thick.

One of the key ways of doing this is to keep your emotional tanks filled. Most leaders are aware of their spiritual tanks and their physical tanks—not many are aware of their emotional tanks. My friend Bill Hybels has schooled me well on this in relation to his own depletions. Find out what puts gas in your emotional tank and then tend to it. Or else you will run out of gas in a way that leaves you empty for a marathon run in ministry.

4. Vision

I can’t imagine a long tenure in ministry leadership without a clear and compelling vision that leads the way and drives you.

There is much talk about vision and leadership. Sometimes I think it’s made far too complicated. Vision is simply a picture of the future. A dream for how you want things to be. A sense of where you are going.

Tom Watson was the leader responsible for putting IBM on the map during its heyday. When asked why the company had become so successful, he said:

“IBM is what it is today for three special reasons. The first reason is that, at the very beginning, I had a clear picture of what the company would look like when it was finally done.

The second reason was that once I had that picture, I then asked myself how a company which looked like that would have to act.

The third reason IBM has been so successful was that once I had a picture of how IBM would look when the dream was in place and how such a company would have to act, I then realized that, unless we began to act that way from the very beginning, we would never get there.

In other words, I realized that for IBM to become a great company it would have to act like a great company long before it ever became one.”

Throughout my leadership run at Meck, there was never any doubt of the picture in my mind—how a church that looked like that would have to act, and how we had to begin acting that way from the beginning.

We’re not there by a long shot – not simply in terms of size, but in terms of being a biblically functioning community – but the picture is crystal clear and one I still chase.

5. A phenomenal wife

This should have been first on the list. I can’t imagine doing ministry without a faithful, loving, supportive, loyal, “I believe in you,” committed, hard-working, selfless soulmate. Susan has been all that and more. Simply put, I married well. 

Really well.

James Emery White

 

Sources

The story of Tom Watson is found in Michael Gerber’s classic work, The E-Myth.


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.

Photo credit: Unsplash

Spiritual Road Rage

Road rage has become pandemic. People fighting, shooting – even killing – over such trivial things as lane access and speed limits, merging and parking. Social scientists are full of theories as to its rise: an increasingly polarized culture, racism, the availability of guns.

The more obvious answer, to my thinking, is the simple loss of civility. But a very particular loss. Road rage is the elevation of something that is, in fact, trivial to the level of enormity. You drive slow, I become enraged. You take “my” parking spot, it’s a fight. You cut me off, I pull out a gun.

I am noticing this pattern affect other areas of life. For example, the increase of spiritual road rage. This isn’t about someone driving in a way that you can’t tolerate, but someone thinking or living in a way you can’t tolerate.

David Aikman, in an editorial in Christianity Today, discussed how no attribute of civilized life seems more under attack than civility. He noted the extent to which certain Christians have turned themselves into the

“self-appointed attack dogs of Christendom. They seem determined to savage not only opponents of Christianity, but also fellow believers of whose doctrinal positions they disapprove. A troll through the Internet reveals websites so drenched in sarcasm and animosity that an agnostic, or a follower of another faith tradition interested in what it means to become a Christian, might be permanently disillusioned.”

I once read of a large church that made the news due to a problem with a persistently caustic blogger. A former member, he had become disgruntled over various actions of the senior pastor, and became further incensed that said pastor maintained the backing of the leadership. With nowhere to go with his frustration, and no means to lobby for his cause, he started an anonymous blog in order to wage a one-person campaign of accusation and bitterness. It quickly disintegrated on both sides to such a degree that suits and countersuits began flying freely.

What a God-forsaken mess.

But the article had links, which led to other links, and before I knew it, I found myself exposed in a way I had never imagined possible to the sordid world of the bitter blog—meaning blogs that seemingly exist for no other reason than to attack a particular Christian leader, church, ministry or movement. More often than not, the divides were over nothing more than a disagreement over negligible points of theology, varying philosophies of ministry or differing styles of leadership. 

When I started Mecklenburg Community Church in the early 1990s, I commissioned a survey through the Barna Research Group to ask unchurched people who lived in the surrounding community a simple but direct question: “Why don’t you go to church?” The leading answers fell into categories you might expect: “There is no value in attending,” “I don’t have the time,” “I’m simply not interested,” “Churches ask for money too much,” “Church services are usually boring.” What surprised me most was the strength of one response in particular—so strong it was the second most common answer for being unchurched, representing six out of every ten people: “Churches have too many problems.”

The assessment of the unchurched continues to follow suit—that the typical Christian community is inflexible, hypocritical, judgmental and just plain mean. Division and discord are perceived to be more present in church than in many other groups. Why would anyone want to become involved with something that, in their mind, is so obviously dysfunctional? As one man in the survey quipped: “I’ve got enough problems in my life. Why would I go to church and get more?”

Sadly, this is not new for American Christianity. I once read of a school president who was also an evangelist, who made it clear that if any faculty or student attended a certain fellow evangelist’s crusade, they would be fired or expelled. If they wanted to pray for the evangelist, he suggested the following words:

Dear Lord, bless the man who leads Christian people into disobeying the word of God, who prepares the way for Antichrist by building the apostate church and turning his so-called converts over to infidels and unbelieving preachers. Bless the man who flatters the Pope and defers to the purple and scarlet-clothed Antichrist who heads the church that the word of God describes as the old whore of Babylon.

So much for Bob Jones, Sr. of Bob Jones University and his relationship with the famed evangelist Billy Graham. I am sure Bob Jones, Sr., was a good and Godly man in many ways. Just not in this way. So while sentiments of this kind have been brewing for some time, what is new is the increasingly public nature of our vitriol, its widespread dissemination through the internet, and our growing comfort and even affirmation of its manifestation.  

As Francis Schaeffer observed toward the end of his life, it has almost become a matter of personal privilege, writing that,

“We rush in, being very, very pleased, it would seem at times, to find other men’s mistakes. We build ourselves up by tearing other men down... we love the smell of blood, the smell of the arena, the smell of the bullfight...”

We may be pleased, but we are not being Christian.

So whether it is theological road rage fueled by making tertiary matters primary, or methodological road rage fueled by building theological fences around personal tastes, we are simply modeling the ways of the world.

And the world – rightly – wants none of it.

After all, they already have enough problems in their life.

James Emery White

 

Sources

James Emery White, The Rise of the Nones (Baker).

James Emery White, Rethinking the Church (Baker).

David Aikman, “Attack Dogs of Christendom,” Christianity Today, August 2007, p. 52.

William Martin, A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story.

Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster


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.