The congregation of New Destiny Christian Center on Sunday welcomed Paula White, the new senior pastor chosen to succeed founder Zachery Tims, signaling her acceptance despite objections raised by some.
“God brought us together for a purpose. None of us imagined this moment,” the 45-year-old White told the half-full church in her first sermon Sunday, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel.
The board of directors of the megachurch in Apopka, Fla., declared last Thursday that White would be the new senior pastor to replace the late Tims, who died in August. That same day, Tims’ ex-wife, Riva, announced that she had filed a lawsuit against NDCC, which she claims is her “heritage and legacy.”
Riva Tims’ supporters had held protests earlier, but on White’s first Sunday no one walked out of the service or showed any displeasure with the new pastor, who comes from Without Walls International Church that she co-founded in Tampa with her former husband Randy White.
“I’m not asking you to like me,” Orlando Sentinel quoted White as saying during her first sermon. “I’m not asking you to love me or respect me, because I’ll do the work to earn that. I always ask people to give me one year of your life and I promise you will be changed.”
White also told the congregation she would continue the founder’s vision to build a church that helped people in trouble find success in life. “I recognize I have great shoes to fill,” she said. “The founder of this house was a great man of God. I’m humbled, I’m honored, I’m crying to the Lord with happy tears.”
In its announcement last week, the board of directors affirmed its belief that White will “continue to make New Destiny a church for all people, reaching out to the hurting and the lost by touching lives and helping individuals overcome the disabling challenges of life.”
White rose to prominence as a preacher, motivational speaker, author and TV personality after co-founding what is now Without Walls International Church with her now ex-husband and starting her own ministry. She left Without Walls after her 2007 divorce but returned to lead the Tampa church at the request of her ex-husband. Currently, she is still the lead pastor at Without Walls.
Riva Tims, mother to four children her late husband left behind, helped co-found the 8,000-member NDCC in 1996. The pair divorced in 2009 after Zachery Tims reportedly had an extra-marital affair. Riva Tims eventually founded her own church, Majestic Life Ministries, in Orlando.
Tims is challenging the appointment of White as the new senior pastor in her lawsuit. She claims she is the “real mother” of NDCC and that church by-laws make her the heiress apparent to New Destiny, a claim that church administrators deny.
Zachery Tims was found dead in a hotel room in New York City in August. The cause of his death has not been made known to the public. He was 42.