Editors' Note: In a season where every day seems to bring a new assault on traditional Biblical views, there are nonetheless a whole new generation of young pastors preaching orthodox biblical Christianity and seeing their churches grow exponentially because of it. The Christian Post has picked but a few of scores of pastors enjoying the favor of God in this way, in an effort to find out what about the Gospel resonates in today's generation.
Pastors interviewed are under 40, most, but not all, in urban settings and are attracting Christians over a wide age spectrum, including millennials and Generations X and Y. These pastors uphold traditional biblical views of family and morality, yet attract young people and are gaining national reputations.
Today we spotlight Dharius Daniels, 34, pastor of Kingdom Church in Ewing, N.J., which has a second location in Burlington and is home to 6,100 members. Kingdom Church is a non-denominational independent congregation that is multi-generational and predominantly African-American.
Pastor Dharius Daniels, married with two young boys, says his heart beats for the so-called "nones," the growing segment of the U.S. population, aged 18-29 and upward, who remain unaffiliated with any specific religion.
He confesses that it is harder now than it was eight years ago when he founded Kingdom Church to grow a congregation, and that he is "clueless to the causes."
"I can see the results, I can see what we're dealing with, but I don't know why that's the case," he told The Christian Post.
Is it because millennials and Gen Xers have it harder than the generations that came before them?
Daniels said he does not know if the issues younger generations face are necessarily any different.
"Let's say for example, let's throw something out like purity. When you talk about young adults, you have to throw that out. So let's talk about purity. I don't think purity is a new problem, but I do think the period in history that someone lives in can make it more challenging to maintain that virtue," he suggested.
"It's one thing to get in your car, go to the other side of town and see somebody. It's another thing when you live in an age and you can just lay in your bed and do sexting. I'm not saying purity is a different problem, but I am saying that because of the time period that a person lives in definitely can exacerbate certain issues. When certain things are just more accessible it becomes difficult to manage. When you live in a period in history where there are certain images that you wouldn't' see on television now that are normal on television, that's going to impact people differently and make it more difficult to handle living according to Biblical standards."
The Princeton educated son of a pastor from Mississippi insisted, however, that his stance has always been the same — "These issues are not new."
"It was worse in Corinth, so as immoral as we may think America is, we have nothing on Corinth," he said. "So these challenges aren't new and so the same principles that Paul taught to the people in Corinth are some of the same principles that we can learn from today. That's the way I approach it with this generation, 18-35, 18-40, that's my passion, that's what my heart beats for."
Below is an edited transcript of Daniels's interview with The Christian Post:
CP: You are experiencing success gathering people to orthodox Christianity in a generation increasingly opposed to it. How would you explain this?
Daniels: We were when we started, and we are now very much aware of some of the brand complications that Christianity has, specifically here in America. Because we were aware of that, it's not something we ignored. We acknowledged it. We try to honestly and consistently communicate that to our members, whether it's from the pulpit or whether it's the way we do our website, or whether it's brochures or our videos. What we've tried to do, honestly, is to distinguish ourselves from the tribes within Christianity that don't necessarily reflect the values of the founder of our faith. For us, we know there are brand complications but what we're trying to do is re-present as close as possible — we know we're not perfect on this — a Christianity to people that's consistent with the founder of our faith. We don't believe people's issue necessarily is Jesus. We think their issue is with a religion that doesn't represent him.
So if anyone would say 'I don't know all the reasons why we've been blessed to see so much growth …' If somebody backed me in a corner and just made me give a reason, then I would say yeah that's the reason, that we are doing everything that we can to be honest and not to ignore and not to defend representations of Christianity that don't represent Jesus. I think sometimes churches try to defend stuff that we can't defend. There's just some stuff that's just not like the founder of our faith. I don't think we should judge it, we should acknowledge it to be very honest with our congregations about it, let them know that what we're trying to do is re-present to you a Christianity that is consistent with the founder of our faith.
We've found that people never had a problem with Jesus, never had a problem with Jesus. To me that says a lot, that culture loves Jesus but doesn't love the Church. What does that say about the Church? You could say that sometimes we're not like Jesus.
CP: Are you an expository preacher? An exegetical preacher? What kind of preacher are you?
Daniels: I'm not going to say I do it all, but I do all that you listed. It just depends. I've done expository, where I've preached through books of the Bible. On Wednesdays, I preach books of the Bible. On Sundays, I do topical. Sometimes when I do topical, I do expository and exegetical. It kind of really depends on what's on my heart in terms of the content that I'm delivering and then what's the best way to present that.
CP: How do you do practical application?
Daniels: One of the ways that I try to do it... Let's go back to living a life (that looks) like Jesus, because ultimately the big question is, practically, what does that look like? How do I try to teach our congregation to do it? What I try to do practically is I try to take these age-old Scriptures and take a present-day contemporary situation and show how that age-old Scripture can speak to how we're supposed to handle or manage a contemporary situation. So let's look at John 8 at this woman caught in adultery, for me an example of the way I would approach that would be, let's look at this woman and now ask this question: who could this woman be today? … Anybody who had a private moral failure that has become public knowledge, this woman could represent. So it could be the politician whose latest scandal came out, it could be the preacher whose moral failure becomes public knowledge, it could be your co-worker, etc. Then I'll ask: what of the stones? We know what stones were then, but what are things we throw now? So the stone could be anything that causes injury to that particular person. It could be a Facebook post, it could be a tweet. That's an example of the way I try to approach teaching people practical application.
CP: How do you set up your church to keep the practical application going, and make sure your congregants bear fruit?
Daniels: Kingdom Academy, that's probably going to be the primary way. What Kingdom Academy is, it's an umbrella term that kind of describes our disciple-making strategy. Again, we believe primarily you're going to reach the most people from the pulpit. As much as we like to get people in groups and in-home Bible studies, we try to do that as best we can, but in all likelihood most of the people you reach are going to be reached through the preaching experience.
Kingdom Academy is disciple-making groups and there are a number of different tracks. Some tracks are basic tracks, basic Christianity stuff and some other tracks are more advanced. But we have another track that we really customize, it's our "103." What we try to do with that particular track is, again it consists of a number of discipleship groups, we try to do two things: we try to make sure that those classes address practical issues that people live with in our context. An example would be, in our context which is a predominantly African-American congregation, what you're going to have statistically is a large amount of single-parent homes. For us, we would say if someone pastors in Princeton, their "103" may not look like that. But for us, that is a practical issue. What we do is, we have classes that are intended to help people practically walk through some of those issues. If you have fathers that aren't involved in the lives of their children, we kind of use those classes for brothers to discuss some of the impediments that you run into…
We have that for a number of different areas. We have it for single mothers, we've got it for singles and dating. Some of the material we have to customize, others like singles and dating we don't have to customize, there's material out there like Dr. Henry Cloud's Boundaries in Dating, we use that material. Then there are times when they customize certain classes, like what we're doing in September. In September, I'm teaching on stewardship. Well they've got classes that they're customizing. We've partnered with one of the banks here and they've got financial literacy training that they're going to do at our church during the same month that I'm doing this series. That's an example of how we try to supplement what's coming across the pulpit through our small discipleship groups.
CP: What about the hard places, ones where society is really come against Christian beliefs, how do you maintain orthodoxy there?
Daniels: I think that's a great question. I'm going to say this, and normally I wouldn't say this because it's a bit controversial. I'm going to say that for a church to do that, orthodoxy has to be a priority for them and for a number of churches, I'm not sure if it is. I think they see something like that as an impediment. So certain hot-button topics that are just extremely controversial, in the name of grace or tolerance they won't address it because somehow they assume that not addressing something that's really inconsistent with Biblical orthodoxy is in the best interest of people because you're not offending anyone.
But I believe that truth is in the people's best interest. So if you believe the truth sets free, if you believe the Scriptures are God's blueprint to human flourishing, to people's best life, the life that Jesus died to give, I feel like it's almost ministerial malpractice for you not to teach truth. It's almost arrogance parading itself as humility. It's almost like you're suggesting that 'I know better than God when it comes to this area and this is something I don't need to talk about it.' But the Scriptures talk about it because it needs to be talked about. Our teachers here try to view it through that lens, that this is God's blueprint to your best life. We're not beating you across the head with orthodoxy, but...when culture starts talking about these issues — this is what's disturbing to me — it seems like as culture gets louder, the church gets silent in the name of tolerance. But what happens is, when you're silent and culture's talking, culture is discipling. So we'll have people in our churches worshiping, they're worshipping in our churches, but they're being discipled by culture because we won't do truth. That helps give me the courage and our teachers the courage not to shy away from certain issues. I did a teaching called "Truth and Justice," and I challenged when all of our partisan allegiances take precedent over our Christianity.
CP: How do you keep the Bible in one hand, preaching orthodox theology, but balance that with being relevant to the young generation and engaging the culture?
Daniels: For me, it starts from my perspective. For me orthodoxy is for the purpose of orthopraxy. It's not right doctrine just for right doctrine; it's right doctrine for right living. So if a preacher's or pastor's goal is always right living and I think they're message becomes a balanced message because your end-game is right living. When you see it that way you automatically become practical. You'll look at a message and say 'what does God want them to know in this message, and what does God want them to do?' That's the question that I ask and it's what I challenge our teachers to ask themselves.
CP: What is the balance between evangelism and edification (discipleship) when you're preaching to mostly saved people in the congregation?
Daniels: First of all, I believe the separation of evangelism and discipleship is an unbiblical separation. I believe the purpose of evangelism is discipleship. When I read the Great Commission, Matthew 28:19, I hear 'go make disciples.' We aren't winning them just so that we can get them into heaven, and I think sometimes we treat it that way. Heaven is important and it's real, but salvation isn't like a "get out hell free" card. It's not a destination, it's a door that leads to a new life under new management. For us, we know we can't form them until we win them, so let's go win them. As we're forming them, we try to teach them, and we do this through our Kingdom Academy and I teach an evangelism series maybe every other year, that as I'm being formed spiritually, part of my spiritual formation is understanding my responsibility to be a witness. So evangelism doesn't become that thing that the church does or that thing that the ministry does. It becomes just as germane to Christianity as prayer is. I'm a Christian so I pray, I give, I worship, I witness. In Acts 1:8 Jesus said you'll receive power when the power of the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you'll be witnesses. I don't see how anybody grows a church nowadays without doing that, because it's harder to do it now. We started the church eight years ago and it's harder to do it today than it was eight years ago.
Read previous articles in this series:
An Inside Look at a New Generation of Pastors: Levi Lusko (Pt. 1)
An Inside Look at a New Generation of Pastors: Matt Chandler (Pt. 2)