President Donald J. Trump’s spiritual advisor and non-denominational televangelist Paula White officially stepped down as senior pastor of her Apopka, Florida megachurch, New Destiny Christian Center (NDCC). She has pastored NDCC since 2012 and made the unexpected announcement to her 10,000-member church on Sunday, saying:
All along I knew that God had said, meaning this, you’re a transitional pastor. Not meaning that I would ever leave Apopka or New Destiny as it was. Not that. But I knew that I wasn’t taking us into the promised land.
The Lord spoke to me very clearly and said if you miss this moment you’ll delay things. Do not miss this moment. So today I am officially installing Pastor Brad and Pastor Rachel as the senior pastors over city of destiny. Everybody stand up on your feet because this is God’s plan.
White then immediately installed her only child Bradley Knight and daughter-in-law Rachel as the new senior pastors over her multi-cultural, majority-black megachurch.
“Welcome to your new beginning,” White declared to standing applause.
Interestingly, White does not plan to entrust New Destiny to her son and daughter-in-laws’ hands entirely. Her new role is now “oversight pastor,” which will allow her to expand New Destiny Christian Center under the new banner “City of Destiny.” She aims to plant 3,000 church plants, be a “pastor to pastors,” launch a university, and, of course, continue Paula White ministries.
White is a controversial Christian figure. She has been called a prosperity preacher and criticized for her unquestioning public support of President Trump, which cost her church between 200 and 300 in members and $10,000 in weekly giving, as reported by The Christian Post. Critics have also questioned her personal life, including the purchase of a private jet, a condominium in Trump Tower, and three marriages.
Here, it is White’s decision to elevate her son and daughter-in-law as her successors that has me rolling my eyes, in all honesty.
Perhaps NDCC’s staff website is outdated, but the staff page lists Doug Shackleford as the executive pastor and Edward Boateng as associate pastor. Just this last month, Shackleford preached during at least two services (available on NDCC’s Facebook page), which tells me that he is likely still on staff. More interesting, White’s daughter-in-law Rachel Knight is listed as “Donor Relations Coordinator.” There is no mention of White’s son Bradley, although a 2017 Christian Post article identifies him as an associate pastor.
It’s not uncommon for Evangelical leaders to establish their children as successors to their massive ministries. Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, John Hagee to a degree, and others have handed the torch over to their sons.
Personally, I’m skeptical of this seemingly nepotistic trend. But at times it is difficult to critique a person’s decision without knowing all of the facts. Does it seem like favoritism to elevate an associate pastor and donor relations coordinator as senior pastors when, seemingly, there are more qualified church members on staff? To me, yes. But I can also understand that it is probably challenging to build a church or parachurch ministry and not want to choose your child, who you trust, as successor. But even for those who built churches and ministries from the ground up, the church is not theirs but belongs to God and entrusted to the congregation.
It’s good that children of famous Christian leaders want to do good works for the Lord. Great! And let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to bless their child and give them a hand up in life? That’s a parent’s natural instinct. So as a mother, I can honestly say that I would be tempted to do the same if in the same position. Who doesn’t want to see their child succeed? But as fallen sinners, we all want to do things in our own timing and according to our own fleshly desires.
Perhaps it is not for me to say or know if pastors who choose their children as their successors is a precarious trend. The flesh in me wants to call it nepotism. May God convict me if I’m wrong. But may we all be convicted of our own egos and the temptation to determine God’s plans for ourselves, always remember that our purpose is to further His kingdom, not our own.