Pastor James T. Meeks is the founder and pastor emeritus of Salem Baptist Church of Chicago. Under his leadership, the church grew from under 200 to about 10,000 congregants. He also led Salem in the building of the House of Hope, a $50 million, 10,000 seat community and worship center. Salem has distributed 30,000 Bibles to residents, and has provided every prisoner in the state with the Bible on cassette, among many other community initiatives. Meeks is the author of “How to Get out of Debt and Into Praise” and “Life-Changing Relationships.” Meeks successfully ran for Illinois state senator in 2022. He served three terms, where his major focus was on educational equity.
How do you grow a church? Sheep make sheep, says Pastor James Meeks. A life in Christ is transformational at its core, and a transformed life can’t help but be a shining light so that others can see their good deeds and glorify the Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
In Today’s Conversation podcast with NAE President Walter Kim, Pastor Meeks describes how that truth played out in Salem Baptist Church of Chicago’s exponential growth. He reflects on his decades of pastoral ministry proclaiming and demonstrating the good news, including very creative community initiatives.
They also discuss:
- How the Word of God is foundational to transformed lives;
- How every Christian can be equipped for ministry outside the church’s four walls;
- What it looks like to pass the torch to the next generation of leaders; and
- How to deal with the burdens of ministry.
Read a Portion of the Transcript
Walter: As a pastor you study the Word, have it as part of your life, you preach it, you teach it, but for those who attend your congregations over the years, how did you encourage people to get the Word into their lives — the everyday Christian that’s in the workforce, in their neighborhood, at home? What does it mean for that person to be equipped in the way you’re talking about?
James: People ask me all the time what’s the secret to growing the church from 193 to 10,000. Our secret has been the simplicity of the Word. Paul said, “I didn’t come to you with great wisdom; the only thing I had was the Word.” The only thing that any church really has is the Word. God has blessed us at our church to be able to take the complicated book called the Bible to put it into bite-sized pieces so that the common person … the Bible says the common man heard him gladly. That’s what we should all be after.
A person — whether degree or no degree, young or old — they understand the essence of the gospel, the message. When people understand the message of the gospel, then they take that message and apply it to their life. Once applied to their life, then they get a chance to see this really works. So, they come back next week and say, “Pastor, I need more Word so that I can have more application.” If we teach people application — how to apply the Word to what they are going through — they will find out that it’s right and that it works. They’re not going to abandon that Word come hell or high water.
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Today’s Conversation is brought to you by Calvin Theological Seminary.