An Open Letter to (My Fellow) Megachurch Pastors
Dr. James Emery WhiteJames 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.
- 2012 Jan 19
It is an amazing privilege to lead a large and growing community of faith. We love the church, have given our lives to its expansion, and now find ourselves in one of the vanguards of its expression.
Ours is not an easy role to fill. We face the caustic pens of bitter bloggers, misunderstanding from the media, criticism from fellow pastors in our home towns, and the expectation to walk on water. We are not in a fish bowl; we are in a petri dish. Stuart Briscoe once wrote that the qualifications of a pastor are the heart of a child, the mind of a scholar, and the hide of a rhinoceros.
All to say, we need that hide.
But I am greatly concerned for the reputation of our role, particularly of late. Celebrity status has rained down on many of us, and it is a great responsibility to steward - as is the size of the congregations we lead. Some of that stewardship has come under fire, and in some cases, deservedly so.
It’s not simply the moral failures that have made the news, but our egos, attitudes, book content and conference addresses, and public actions which are creating increasing cynicism from both Christians and non-Christians alike. Further, more pastors are achieving megachurch status at a younger age than ever before without the traditional time to gain a few years of wisdom under a more senior leader.
As a fellow pastor of a church with thousands in attendance on any given weekend, and nearly thirty years of pastoral experience, here is my humble plea to us all:
1. Let us give up the cult of personality. The church is not about us. Jesus is who we are trying to make famous, not ourselves. We are not rock stars, and should never act like we are – or let others treat us that way.
2. Let us maintain a strong hold on historic Christian orthodoxy in our writing and teaching. Let us not become infected with false doctrine, for when we sneeze, a great many people can catch cold.
3. Let us end all publicity stunts that seem desperate to gain any and all media attention, particularly those that trivialize the reputation of Jesus. Further, let us stop shameless acts of self-promotion, as if our churches were our personal marketing or public relations firm for books, conferences and messages.
4. Let us be above reproach financially, which at the minimum means annual outside audits that are made available to any and all we serve. Let us gratefully accept salaries that reflect the “double” honor of our role, but avoid the grasping greed of the world, or living lifestyles of the “rich and famous” that would shame the cause of Christ if made public.
5. Let us submit ourselves to proper leadership accountability. Yes, we are to be freed to lead, but there is nothing in biblical leadership that legitimizes a style that is either autocratic or dictatorial.
6. Let us refrain from seeing every criticism of our leadership as a personal attack, thus leading us to demonize every detractor. Sometimes our critics are being dissentious and divisive, and should be confronted. Sometimes we are just plain wrong and deserve admonishment.
7. Let us remember that our church’s health and success has very little to do with raw numerical increase, number of sites/buildings, or annual giving. We are more than a corporation.
8. Let us stop comparing and competing with other large churches through lists and rankings. The goal is not to be largest or fastest-growing. Such lists do not affirm any church’s worth or character, much less our own.
9. Let us speak the truth of Scripture to the moral issues of our day, but stay away from politics proper in regard to overtly aligning with a particular party. We are not first and foremost Republicans or Democrats, but Christians, standing prophetically over all parties.
10. Let us maintain our spiritual vibrancy by refusing to believe our press reports. We are not the fourth member of the Trinity. Our position does not automatically make us more spiritual, or more wise, than anyone else. Further, our position does not entitle us to cut corners sexually or financially as if we are somehow above the moral law.
11. Let us remain humble and teachable in spirit, understanding that we can learn from anyone – not simply our large-church peers. Pastors with vastly fewer numbers than ours have much to teach us.
12. Let us remember that the largest pastoral crown in heaven will probably go to a bi-vocational pastor in a small town of 5,000 with an average attendance of 50. And that pastor will deserve it.
So many of you are my friends, and I love you dearly, pray for you faithfully, and defend you loyally. Please take this to heart in light of the great task we share.
James Emery White
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 is What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Baker). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.