Calling him "the greatest young preacher in our nation today," Rev. James Meeks announced Sunday that Pastor Charlie Dates of Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago will succeed him as leader of the 10,000-member Salem Baptist Church of Chicago when he steps out of the role in January 2023.
Meeks, who is now 65 and served three terms as a state senator, told his congregation that he will preach his final sermon on Jan. 8, 2023, just five days before the church's 38th anniversary. Meeks and his wife, Jamell, founded the church in 1985. The congregation has grown into one of the largest black churches in the city.
"It's time for Salem to move forward. It's time for Salem to have younger leadership. It's time for us to bring in new families. It's time for us to bring in young people. We need a new vision. We need new ideas. We need new opportunities," Meeks told his cheering congregation. "And God has blessed us with our own son who has agreed starting January 15th, 2023, to be the next pastor of the Salem Baptist Church of Chicago."
Dates, 41, is a graduate of Salem's now-closed Salem Christian Academy. Meeks recalls meeting Dates when Dates was in the 5th grade. Dates also served on Salem's ministry team for a while before leaving in 2011 to serve as the leader of Progressive Baptist Church.
In 2020, Dates, married with two children, was among a number of black Christian church leaders to cut ties with the Southern Baptist Convention over a statement from the denomination's Council of Seminary Presidents denouncing racism and critical race theory.
In a video of the announcement, Meeks said after he and his wife fasted and prayed about the succession of the ministry, they felt confident in selecting Dates.
"Charlie is called, and I believe all ministry starts with a calling," Meeks said. "Not only is he called, but he is qualified or educated. He's trained to fight the giants that we're dealing with today. It is going to take an academic mind and a saved heart."
Meeks' retirement comes at a time when many longtime church leaders have been transitioning out of leadership as they contend with dwindling attendance and other ministry upheavals laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this month, Saddleback Church co-founders Rick Warren and his wife, Kay, named Andy Wood of Echo.Church in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife, Stacie, as their successors, starting in September. Warren announced his intention to retire last year after over 40 years of ministry and began the search for "the next-generation pastor."
Meeks and his wife say they don't want to stand in the next generation's way.
"We believe now that the time has come for us to step aside, for us to yield to new younger leadership," Meeks said. "We want to see our church be vibrant. We want to see our church grow. We want to see younger families come to our church and the last thing that we want is to stand in the way of that."
In accepting the role, Dates said he sees Salem Baptist Church of Chicago as a global church. He shared a vision of revival.
"I sense God ... performing a work of His Spirit that connects Salem to churches that need revitalization. Our city and our nation need the black church to be her best and brightest self and now is the time for churches to be strong," he said.
"The Kingdom work is never to stop with one generation. It's to multiply in every generation and right now the church in Chicago needs fresh dynamic trained Gospel fire leaders. And I think we can develop a platform, a pipeline to invite those who feel that burden of call to grow them and to release them to do that," he added. "We can multiply that in evangelism, in discipleship, in educating our kids in reducing violence, shutting down liquor stores and opening up new opportunities to help rescue families and that's the church being the church."