Dr. James Emery White

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Sinful Leaders

There is only one kind of leader.

“Sinful.”

I’ve often told folks at Meck that a sinner has to lead the church, so I might as well be honest about it, and to make sure they know that’s what they’ve got. To fail to do so would only add “deceit” to my list of sins.

Now, by “sinful” I don’t mean disqualifying patterns of public sin. Yet non-disqualifying sin abounds.

Don’t get me wrong. 

The vast majority of pastors are good people. 

Very good people. 

They have deep consciences and wrestle with their sins and inadequacies more than anyone needs to point out for their benefit. 

But yes, they are sinful.

Which means sinful people have to lead the church. Not formerly sinful, but currently sinful. 

So what does that mean for the health and well-being of the church?

Four things come to mind:

1 – You need to be a sinful leader who is continually seeking forgiveness and striving for repentance. The Bible is full of habitual sinners, often in the same areas over and over again, but what marked God’s ability to use them tended to be their equally habitual contrition.

2 – You need to be a sinful leader who does not boast about things you have neither achieved nor maintained. Notice my language. Every leader will have to teach biblical truth about virtues they do not maintain. What is key is that there is not the heartbeat of hypocrisy which boasts as if you are above the fray.

3 – You need to be a sinful leader who works diligently to protect your life from the kinds of public sins that would shame the church and hurt her witness. Ask the family of any pastor to name that pastor’s sins, and they could. And no pastor would ask that such sins be excused. But what is essential is that the sins of that pastor are not the kind that will find their way into the news. I’m not talking about a cover-up, I’m talking about a wise-up. To be “above reproach” does not mean to be “above sin.” It means to live in such a way that you fight the hardest, and are disciplined the most, against the sins that are most prone for public display. And you do it not for the sake of your reputation, but for the sake of the church. 

4 – You need to be a sinful leader who knows that it is only by the grace of God you are able to sustain another day of leadership. So you lean on God, depend on God, drink deeply from God. You know you are a sin-stained, sin-soaked person, so you pray like a drowning man to God for rescue. In other words, your sin leaves a deep mark of humility.

So let’s recap:

You have a sinful leader.

Pray they are the kind of sinful leader God wants.

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.

Family or Store?

On Halloween, a member of our church’s staff came to our door to trick-or-treat with her three kids.

It was their 17th straight year.

Her oldest son is taller than me and stopped dressing up long ago. In fact, he drove the family to our house.

The daughter is probably on her last year (she dressed as Katniss Everdeen – that should be a hint).

The youngest may have a couple more years in him. Tops.

Their mother has been a part of the church for even longer – twenty-two years, to be exact. She was actually at Meck’s very first service on October 4, 1992, and was the very first person to become a Christian through our services.

For whatever reason, it made me think of two different ways of viewing a church: a family or a store.

If church is a family, then you relate to it as a son or daughter, mother or father, brother or sister. Deeply biblical ideas, I might add. When the Bible talks about Christian community, these are the metaphors it falls back on.

If a church is a store, then you are nothing more than a consumer. There is a retail outlet and a customer, a provider and a receiver.

It strikes me that these are the two ways that people can view a church.

Family...or store.

If it’s a family, they stick with it. Work through it. Stay in it. There are deep blood ties. It’s not about what you get, but what you give.

If it’s a store, then it’s a consumer decision. Who has the best prices? Most convenience? Quickest access? 

The great danger, of course, is when churches intentionally posture themselves as “stores” in competition with other “stores”. This is not only biblically misguided, it is theologically heretical.

And will not serve in the long run.

Open the front door wide, to be sure, but never fail to remember that who you are at your most foundational level is “family.”

And make sure you help people become that family.

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.

Counsel from Thirty Years

Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of my wedding to Susan.

Thirty years.

Long by some counts, short by others.

But a milestone.

So what would someone who has been married thirty years tell others who are more on the front end of things?

Five things came quickly to mind:

1.    Marry an authentic follower of Christ. An authentic follower of Christ is not perfect, they are just in a relationship where they are intimate with God through Christ, and Christ is continually being formed in them. I don’t ever have to concern myself with Susan’s values, much less her truth-source. Most important of all, the deepest parts of our lives – the spiritual parts – are shared. It truly allows two to become one.

2.    Marry your best friend. I’ll be brutally honest. I don’t have many friends. Lots of acquaintances, but few real friends. Susan is my best friend, and there is no one I would rather be with, travel with, talk to…you get the point. Why is this important? As the years go by, it is the friendship that will matter the most.

3.    Cherish her. That means you appreciate her, care for her, prioritize her, and make it clear that she is the love of your life. I’ve seen the failure to do this lead to the demise of countless marriages. It is also at the heart of developing your heart for her. As is often said, you don’t feel your way into acting, you act your way into feeling.   

4.    It’s the little things. I’m a morning person. So, every day, I bring coffee to her bedside when I wake her up. Then I go to the gym for my workout. She has an omelette waiting for me when I come back. This.Is.Every.Day. It’s special to us both. And over the years, you learn that it’s the little things in a relationship that often matter the most.

5.    Pray for her. I can’t remember when, but one day it came to me: who will pray for Susan if I don’t? Lots of people love her, but I am her husband. It’s my responsibility to pray for her…daily. So I do. I don’t know that I’ve ever told her that (now she knows). But it’s a privilege. When you pray for someone – faithfully, regularly – it makes a difference when you then rise from your knees and (in my case) bring her coffee. You interact with someone differently when you just prayed for them.

There’s a lot more I could say.

My wife is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, and ever will see. 

(She’s pretty on the outside, too.)

My wife is the wisest woman I’ve ever listened to. She is salient and clear, insightful and direct, challenging and gracious. Her intellect stuns me. She doesn’t think this of herself, but it’s true.

My wife is the kindest woman I’ve ever met. Genuinely, sincerely, kind. Particularly to me.

My wife is the most child-friendly, child-loving person on the planet. Hands down. It’s her sweet-spot, gift, and calling.

And last, but not least, my wife is the most grace-giving person to her husband that I can imagine. I’m a sin-stained, sin-soaked, sinner. No one sees it more than her. Yet she loves me, encourages me, prays for me, forgives me, protects me, defends me, accepts me…

All to say, I married a saint.

My only sadness is that when we get to heaven, I may not see her much. She will be so close to the throne of Jesus that people like me may never get close enough to catch a glimpse.

But I thank God for thirty up-close years on earth.

(Happy anniversary, honeybabe).

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.

Blind Spots

Every organization has them. Even ones that pride themselves on how intentionally they try to avoid them.

Like Meck.

When such areas are exposed, it’s a little embarrassing, but also very appreciated.

Our latest expose happened just last week. A friend of mine, Thom Rainer, wrote an article about an informal Twitter survey he conducted on what drove people away as first-time guests.

The number one answer – yes, the number one answer (prepare yourself) – was “stand-and-greet” times.

I kid you not. I’m still shaking my head.

Now granted, as Thom himself notes, it was not a very scientific survey. 

But…

Meck is all about first-time guests. And we do a pretty good job at it (over seventy percent of our growth comes from the previously unchurched).

And every week we have a “stand-and-greet” moment! (We actually have called them “seat-and-greet” times because it was done right before sitting down after a time of standing.) 

We’ve done it for years. And to be honest, for as much innovation as we’ve continually, ruthlessly brought to the weekend services through careful cultural study in terms of missional effectiveness, this one has never been evaluated. It’s just seemed such a short and innocuous moment.

But hating it came up more frequently than unsafe/unclean children’s areas, a bad website, a bad or boring service…even unfriendly members!

(Which tells you that stand-and-greet has nothing to do with elevating a church’s perceived friendliness.)

Here were some of the reasons given for the intense dislike:

1.  Many guests are introverts. "I would rather have a root canal than be subjected to a stand and greet time."

2.  Some guests perceive the members are not sincere during the time of greeting. "In most of the churches it should be called a stand and fake it time. The members weren't friendly at all except for ninety seconds."

3.  Many guests don't like the lack of hygiene that takes place during this time.  "Look, I'm not a germaphobe, but that guy wiped his nose right before he shook my hand."

4.  Many times the members only greet other members. "I went to one church where no one spoke to me the entire time of greeting. I could tell they were speaking to people they already knew."

5.  Both members and guests at some churches perceive the entire exercise as awkward. "Nowhere except churches do we have times that are so awkward and artificial. If members are going to be friendly, they would be friendly at other times as well. They're not."

6. In some churches, the people in the congregation are told to say something silly to one another. "So the pastor told us to tell someone near us that they are good looking. I couldn't find anyone who fit that description, so I left and didn't go back."

7. Not only do some guests dread the stand and greet time, so do some members. "I visited the church and went through the ritual of standing and greeting, but many of the members looked just as uncomfortable as I was. We were all doing a required activity that none of us liked.”

Wait. It gets worse. At least for me.

I had never, ever heard even a whisper of discomfort with this part of our service. Not a single first-time guest response card over Meck’s twenty-two years of existence had ever conveyed a dislike for those few moments.

So I sent out a quick email to a relatively diverse eight or ten of our staff – just a little sample survey of my own – to get their thoughts on the matter.

Wow.

Every one of them said they hated it.

They all said it was awkward, uncomfortable, and had nothing to do with what makes Meck have such a friendly atmosphere. One even wrote, “I am a complete extrovert and I still find [doing] this odd.”

Another wrote, “When I first attended Meck, despite the fact that I had a relationship with Christ, I did not want to approach anyone. I did not want the attention. I wanted to fly under the radar. I intentionally sat in the back, in the furthest corner from other people.”

And another added, “I completely agree with this article. It's awkward, artificial, and breaks the flow of the service. I've always dreaded this part of the service when I visited churches…it just seems to make new guests feel like outsiders.”

Why hadn’t this surfaced before?

Well, isn’t that what a “blind spot” is about? Something you don’t see? And if you don’t sense something, you don’t even think about asking about it. 

That’s why a wide range of reading, continual learning, and an open, humble spirit is critical to the ongoing health and vitality of any enterprise. 

So yes, it’s official.

No more “stand-and-greet” times at Meck.

Now I’m off to find the next area where I’ve been near-sighted.

I just hope it’s not with the message.

James Emery White

 

Sources

“Should churches have stand-and-greet times?,” Thom Rainer, Baptist Press, Tuesday, November 4, 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: 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.

About Dr. James Emery White

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.

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