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Christianity Today Profiles Woke New Lead Pastor At McLean Bible Church

Back in September, David Platt stepped down from the role as the lead pastor at McLean Bible Church in northern Virginia, and Mike Kelsey was installed as the new head of MBC. The church will now function with a plurality of leaders with Kelsey being first among equals. Mike Kelsey was the pastor who told Jennie Allen that he wanted to “torch all white people” in a clip that went viral. Despite this, Kelsey is debatably less woke than David Platt.

Christianity Today ran a profile of Mike Kelsey titled “At McLean Bible, Mike Kelsey Is Reimagining the Multiethnic Church.”

Over Kelsey’s 16 years preaching and pastoring at McLean, he watched the nondenominational congregation and its leadership grow more diverse as DC did. Across five locations, McLean counts members from over a hundred countries now. There were answered prayers, lessons learned, and moments of unity along the way, but it didn’t come easy. His wife remembers that even just a handful of years ago, people were saying Kelsey could never lead the church.

From the start, Kelsey experienced the culture shock of the megachurch setting. He felt the sting of congregants who dismissed Barack Obama’s election to the White House, the pressure of preaching boldly amid a string of high-profile Black deaths and the Black Lives Matter movement, and the tension from internal church conflict spurred on by debates over race and politics during the pandemic.

“I didn’t know any of that coming in. All I saw was the lights and relevance and shorter services, and I didn’t know any of the more substantive benefits and beauties, or challenges and difficulties, and the disconnect” that came with multiethnic ministry, said Kelsey, recalling how he received an email complaint comparing him to Al Sharpton the first time he preached on race at McLean.

Evangelicalism has long been plagued with wokeness that was advanced under the guise of a “multiethnic church” placing an undue diversity standard on churches whether or not they were feasible. Kelsey also addressed the “torch all white people” video.

The disagreements at McLean also played out on social media amid the evangelical debates around critical race theory and liberal drift. Critics circulated a clip of Kelsey referring to the impulse to “torch” white people during a podcast discussion about experiencing anger in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing.

“It was intensely cut out of context, but I wish people could see the whole thing. I use slang in a way that could be easily misunderstood or intensely distorted, but the point I was making is, when it comes to racial issues, a lot of Black people have to fight the urge to be controlled by anger instead of being controlled by the Holy Spirit,” he said. “I know what that feels like, but as a follower of Jesus, Jesus doesn’t give us permission to hold anybody in contempt.”

Kelsey said he learned a lot from that situation, and the church learned a lot from the debates and discussions that came up over the past three and a half years.

While it’s true that in context, Kelsey’s comments were not as bad, there is still the unmistakable fact that he expressed frustrated consideration for torching all white people that cannot be overlooked.

During an interview with CT, Kelsey kept bringing up names of fellow pastors as examples of people he had learned from or went to with questions.

Early on at McLean, he said, a friend of his dad’s connected him with Bryan Loritts, who also had experienced being the first or only Black pastor on staff at a majority white church. Loritts advised him to examine his calling, love his flock, and be willing to see his assumptions about white evangelicals challenged.

Kelsey views Bryan Loritts as a mentor. Loritts is a pastor at The Summitt Church, the home of JD Greear, another woke church. He gets a quote in the article.

“Diversity is becoming more of a pronounced and felt need. I am constantly inundated with requests from well-intentioned white leaders to help them find ‘Mike Kelsey.’ On the other hand, things feel far worse. My own father, when he retired from his church in 2021, said things were as bad now racially within the church as they had ever been in his lifetime,” said Bryan Loritts, teaching pastor at The Summit Church in North Carolina.

“The pandemic, 2020 election, Donald Trump, Ahmaud Arbery / Breonna Taylor / George Floyd, outcries of CRT/woke, etc.—if they have not widened the divide, certainly it has made it feel as if the divide has widened.”

Mike Kelsey concludes the article.

“I would love to have all kinds of Republican and Democrat movers and shakers in our church and have them all feel the equal weight of the call to discipleship. I would love for all kinds of different ethnic groups and racial groups in our church to bring their full selves into our church,” he told CT. “When it comes to politics and race and all those things, we still want to lean into that. We still believe in a diverse, multiethnic church, just not at the expense of truth, justice, and holistic discipleship.”

Overall, everything in the article points to the conclusion that Mike Kelsey was chosen to lead MBC based on race. “While both carry the title of lead pastor, Kelsey serves as the primary leader of the team, focusing on reaching the next generation in a secularizing, diversifying context.” Perhaps David Platt is tired of waking up white in a city that ain’t, even though McLean Bible Church is located in the rich suburbs of DC, and he sees embracing wokeness as the sole means of maintaining the megachurch that he took over.

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One Response

  1. Workers of iniquity. They wickedly conflate and promote diversity of standards, morals, and ethos in the name of diversity of skin color and ethnicity – standards, morals, and ethos that are often at odds with God’s word. Then point the finger of blame at those who hold to God’s word as the cause of the conflict and disunity.

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