Knowing vs. Doing

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Thursday, October 20, 2016

Knowing vs. Doing

I was speaking at a conference for pastors recently when, backstage in the green room before I was going to speak, a person jokingly asked, “So are you going to tell them how to reach lost people and grow their church?”

I had been traveling all day and didn’t have a lot of emotional gas in my tank. Still, I was surprised that I didn’t just laugh it off. 

I found myself responding quite seriously.

“Yes, I am. So are the other speakers here. The problem isn’t with pastors knowing what to do, it’s that so many of them won’t do it. Or won’t be allowed to do it.”

The awkward silence in the room was heavy. 

“It’s true,” I continued. “There are so many churches to learn from that are growing. It’s really no secret what to do, or how to do it. The problem is that people come to these events and walk away without the courage or the freedom to do what they’ve heard.”

Then I added, travel fatigue clearly showing, “It’s very frustrating to me.”

Everyone in the room nodded their heads in silent agreement.

Hear my heart.

Having courage is hard. So many pastors feel that if they were to try to lead their church in ways they know would lead to growth, it would mean the loss of their job.

And they have bills.

And they have children.

So before you judge, put yourself in those shoes.

Then there’s the freedom element.

Before you blast away at lay leaders in lay-led churches who want to vote on buying paper clips and seem intent on “keeping things the way they are,” they are also the same ones who have often seen a long line of pastors come and go… and the ones perennially left to pay the bills and keep the church afloat.

So why even bother to go ahead with my address?

That’s easy.

For the few who can, or will, take the content and run. 

For the fearless leader who will say, “Job be damned.”

For the lay leaders present who may just say, for the first time, “Maybe this isn’t about me.”

For the young leader who, like me when I was young, needs a fresh vision cast for all that church could be, should be, and will, by the grace of God, be.

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that we live in a culture full of people who don’t want to feel sick, but aren’t willing to do what it takes to get well.

It doesn’t work medically.

It doesn’t work ecclesiastically, either.

It’s the old “knowing vs. doing” conundrum. Lots of people know, few do. But to truly know is to do; to believe is to behave. 

So for the few who are willing to do what it takes,

…I’ll keep saying yes to just about any invitation I get to lay out, as best I know,

…what to do.

James Emery White

About the Author

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, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit, 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