Pastor Mike White is senior leader of The Tab, one of the oldest and largest Black Pentecostal churches in Lewisham.
He is also one of Britain’s most well-known Black church leaders, due to the thriving congregation he leads, his TV ministry and visible presence on social media. In the latest development in The Tab’s ministry, Pastor White recently moved his congregation into a 900-seater building.
He spoke to Keep The Faith about moving into a new build, attracting millennials to church, the importance of social media, and his plans for Christmas.
KEEP THE FAITH (KTF): How did you feel when your congregation moved from your building on Algernon Road to your new 900-seater building?
PASTOR MIKE WHITE (PMW): ‘Move In Day’ felt like a monumental moment for our church family and indeed for our community. We marched from our old location to the new, along the High Street, while singing and celebrating! The comments from those who marched with us suggest that it became for them a powerful symbol of what it means when people unite together behind a vision, and remain consistent and patient while waiting for that vision to come to pass. We felt overjoyed as we entered the building, which had in effect been hidden behind hoarding while the works took place internally to rebuild and completely renovate what had been a dilapidated, semi-derelict building.
KTF: What are some of the features/attributes of this new building, and what kind of work do you still have to do so that it meets The Tab’s requirements?
PMW: Once fully completed, the building will feature more rooms for us to expand many of our community initiatives, which include, among other things, our food drive for those most in need; our life skills classes, and recovery classes. The building will also feature a café, serving both the public and those attending events. Like most establishments and faith communities emerging from lockdown, we are currently focused on regathering for main services, which so far have been a blessing for many people. The 900-seater auditorium and the atrium features have provided us with more space to be able to worship and reconnect with each other socially.
KTF: The Tab has long been one of the most well-known churches in Lewisham, and remains so. What do you think your dad, Bishop Leon White, a pioneering Windrush Generation church leader, would say about this development if he were still here?
PMW: I’d like to think that people like my late father and the amazing people from that Windrush Generation would look and say that their labour was not in vain, as they instilled in those of us who are their children and grandchildren firm foundations and spiritual principles on which we are able to stand, build and become what many of them dreamed of and believed God for.
KTF: Now that you’ve moved into the building, how are you aiming to continue to have impact on the lives of the people in Lewisham and beyond?
PMW: The Tab is very focused on continuing to expand on all we currently do to positively impact the community, and the building will be a tool to help us accomplish those goals. Once the building is completed, one of our key aims is to build more partnerships with organisations from within the borough who are already doing phenomenal work in areas that connect with our ethos, but who often do not have access to the quality facilities and human resources that we may be able to help with, and so our community impact strategy will be more about transformation through collaboration.
KTF: What are the main challenges you face as a Black 21st Century church leader in an urban area?
PMW: I absolutely love being in an urban context. The diversity and energy of the city is incomparable. However of course there are many challenges – far too many to mention here. But a challenge that I think is a positive one and unique to my being (as you mentioned) a Black church leader, is that it is important to consistently offer a counter narrative to what is often a eurocentric interpretation of Scripture, which some people from my ethnic community have sometimes seen as off-putting. The challenge I thoroughly enjoy is to try and help those people to understand that the God of the Bible is truly the God of the oppressed.
KTF: It’s evident that you preside over a large number of millennials – a group that all church leaders want to reach. What, in your view, are the unique qualities millennials bring to a church?
PMW: The Tab is a multi-generational church, which is actually one of the things I love most about us as a church family. The millennials in our church are often drawn because of that multi-generational aspect, as it represents family, and that authentic sense of family is a big thing that people are looking for today. I have found one of the many unique qualities millennials bring is that of being more cerebral, and therefore they greatly appreciate information not just inspiration, especially when it comes to preaching or teaching.
KTF: Social media seems to play a major role in the life and witness of your church. What inspired you to utilise social media, and what impact has using it had on your ministry and the lives of people who’ve seen it?
PMW: The traditional ‘platform’ in a church is a stage from which a service is conducted or the Gospel is preached, however today, social media is the ‘platform’ which every ministry that is serious about positively impacting this generation in a relative and relevant way must engage with. We are serious about presenting the Gospel message regarding the person and principles of Christ to this generation, and we have found that social media platforms amplify the message exponentially.
KTF: Christmas is fast approaching. What does Christmas mean to you and your family?
PMW: For my family and I, just like many other families, Christmas is a time for being intentionally generous, not just in terms of giving of gifts, but rather in giving of time for family, friends and loved ones, laughing and enjoying the atmosphere of love, all while reflecting on the ultimate gift of God’s Son given to us for salvation. We also love to serve others, having previously volunteered to serve Christmas dinner at shelters. I can testify that Christmas season is a great time to be able to practically make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate, and there is no greater feeling than helping in some small way to bring some light to the lives of others.
KTF: How will you be celebrating the Christmas season?
PMW: I will be celebrating Christmas by doing whatever my wife tells me to do! She is the boss during that season, and we as a family just follow her instructions. But it’s always a great time, with family celebrating to the soundtrack of laughter.
KTF: Finally what special Christmas message do you have for Keep The Faith readers?
PMW: As we close the year and emerge from lockdown into what we pray will be some sense of normality, I would encourage your readers by borrowing from the repeated phrase that appears in the nativity story: “Fear not.” We first hear the Angel Gabriel say this to Mary, and later the shepherds hear the same statement, “Fear not.” It’s almost as though God is sending the message of “Fear not” before they hear good news, because He wants earth to know that fear hinders the miraculous because fear hinders faith. If we are going to keep the faith and hope of a blessed and brighter tomorrow, then in the coming months we must guard our minds from words that forge fear, and rather feast on that which fuels faith.