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The Best and Brightest

Dr. James Emery White | Mecklenburg Community Church | Updated: May 29, 2012

The Best and Brightest

A recent article from The Atlantic was titled “Why Do Our Best and Brightest End Up in Silicon Valley and Not D.C.?” It was an interview with Bill Maris, managing partner of Google Ventures, the “height of tech uber-coolness” and the place where “the world’s best and brightest come hoping not only for money, but also validation as a truly cutting edge concern.”

The direction of the interview was intriguing: America’s wunderkinds once looked to politics to make a difference with their lives, but now they head to Google Ventures for start-up money. Why is that? And further, why don’t existing Silicon Valley leaders apply their innovation skills and “tech-hipness” to help solve public policy problems in obvious need of fresh thinking?

After making the usual observations about government being “slow and complicated,” Maris gets to the heart of the issue. It’s not about the money.  It’s about making a difference and doing something important. “I find this path I’m on to be a particularly leveraged way. Commercial enterprises, when they’re successful, tend to make big impacts in a way that non-profits sometimes have a more difficult time doing.”

It is difficult to argue with this assessment. Sadly, many automatically leap to the same conclusion when it comes to the church.

Every August, I meet with all of the summer interns at our church to talk about their experience. These are sharp young men and women. They are leaders in their high schools and colleges, serving as valedictorians and student government presidents, team captains and newspaper editors.

I ask them what they have learned from the summer, and one answer I can count on hearing is a fresh appreciation of the church as a place worthy of a life fully spent; the church as a place where someone could make a difference with their one and only life – maybe even the biggest possible difference; the church as the hope of the world.

This is real news to them. They live in a world where anyone who wants to give their life away in service have a difficult time thinking beyond the model of TOMS shoes, U2’s Bono as a musician-ambassador, or Teach for America. Or even worse, they actually equate the difference Apple has made in the world with their heart’s cry of making a difference with their life, as if the iPad is akin to ending homelessness.

I always seize this moment. I unashamedly challenge them to hold on to that thought and be open to God leading them to give their vocational lives to the church.

I tell them that they aren’t going to hear the church championed as a place to invest their life in many quarters, so I ask them to let me pitch the vision for it hard and fast.

And then I do.

At the very least, I remind them to never forget the unique nature and role of the church; that no matter what good they might do through the marketplace – and God certainly calls many, if not most, to that endeavor – don’t ever let it become a substitute for taking up at least some role in the church.

We’ve made the marketplace and money, technology and science everything.

But it isn’t. And there is one thing in particular it isn’t.

As I wrote in Christ Among the Dragons, a company is not the body of Christ instituted as the hope of the world by Jesus Himself, chronicled breathtakingly by Luke through the book of Acts, and shaped in thinking and practice by the apostle Paul through letter after letter now captured in the New Testament. 

A marketplace venture which offers itself on the New York Stock Exchange is not the entity which is so expansive with energy that even the gates of hell cannot withstand its onslaught.

An assembly of employees in cubicles working for end-of-year stock options and bonuses is not the gathering of saints bristling with the power of spiritual gifts as they mobilize to provide justice for the oppressed, service to the widow and the orphan, and compassion for the poor.

No technological breakthrough, no matter how much it adds to the quality of human life, can hold a candle to altering someone’s eternal destiny.

Yes, our culture needs people living out their faith with enormous missional intent in the context of Wall Street and Silicon Valley, Warner Brothers and NBC, Harvard and Oxford. And many expressions of the church can be maddeningly constricting to anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to move the chains down the field and score through more than a running game. Few are more aware of the dysfunctional nature of many churches than I am.

But I am tired of those who dismiss the church as if anyone with something substantive to offer, an intellect that can truly compete, a talent that can make something of itself, would be slumming to consider it vocationally.

Here’s the truth.

Nothing compares to the church. No business, no investment, no enterprise, no activity. It's the heart of God's plan, and the hope of the world.  It's the most dynamic, active, vibrant, forceful movement on the planet. It is the one thing we will give our lives to that will live on long after we are gone -- and not just for a generation or two, but for all of eternity.

So do I challenge everyone to consider giving themselves to the church, and at the very least, become an active participant?

Of course.

Why should the best and the brightest waste their one and only life?

James Emery White



“Why Do Our Best and Brightest End Up in Silicon Valley and Not D.C.?,” David Ewing Duncan, The Atlantic, May 2012. Read online.

James Emery White, “And What Do You Do?,” Read online.

James Emery White, Christ Among the Dragons (InterVarsity Press).

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is A Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying through the Christian Life (InterVarsity Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

The Best and Brightest