Charlie Dates to Succeed Retiring Chicago Megachurch Pastor; Will Lead 2 Churches

By Sarah Einselen
Charlie Dates James Meeks
Nationally known pastor Rev. Charlie Dates is set to succeed Rev. James Meeks next year as senior pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Chicago. (Video screengrab)

Nationally known pastor Rev. Charlie Dates is set to succeed Rev. James Meeks next year as senior pastor of Salem Baptist Church—one of Chicago’s biggest megachurches.

Meeks, a former state senator, founded Salem Baptist 38 years ago. He announced Sunday he’ll preach his last sermon to the 10,000-member church on January 8, 2023.

The 65-year-old has been a pastor for 42 years and said he feels like he’s “got 42 more years in me.” But Meeks added he’s learned from King David’s life “when it’s time to come off the battlefield.”

“It’s time for Salem to move forward,” he told his congregants. “It’s time for Salem to have younger leadership . . . We need new ideas. We need new opportunities. And God has blessed us with our own son” as the church’s next pastor.

Dates, 41, is senior pastor of Progressive Baptist Church—a position he’ll keep, despite assuming the pastorate at Salem. In a video message to Progressive, Dates said the two churches will stay distinct, though he’ll pastor them both.

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“I’ll be here every Sunday and through the week as I normally am,” Dates said. But he added God is extending “our platform and our reach to the point where I’ll be able to provide pastoral leadership for both churches. I’ll become senior pastor of both the Salem Baptist Church of Chicago and remain that at Progressive.”

Dates’ new role will mean others will take on some of what Dates does now at Progressive, he said. Dates added that the transition will start in January 2023.

“We are not merging the two churches and Salem is not absorbing Progressive,” Dates said.“ Salem has its own kind of DNA, Progressive her own . . . . I have, by the grace of God, the DNA of both churches.”

Dates graduated from Salem Baptist’s Christian school, which has since closed. He was also on staff at Salem Baptist for five years as Meeks’ preaching assistant before becoming Progressive’s youngest-ever senior pastor at age 30.

In a video posted Monday, Meeks called Dates “the greatest preacher in our nation.”

“The Bible says one man planteth and another man watereth, and God giveth the increase,” he said in the video, with his wife Jamell Meeks, director of Salem’s women’s ministries, at his side. “. . . I believe now that the time has come for me to yield to a younger person.”

Both Meeks and Dates also have a connection to the Moody Bible Institute. Meeks serves on the Moody Bible Institute Trustee Board, and Dates has worked as an adjunct professor there. Both have spoken at Moody’s annual Founder’s Week conferences.

Dates also is an affiliate professor at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Texas and at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois, according to his bio. He also teaches at Wheaton College and has delivered chapel sermons at various institutions, including The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Progressive Baptist Church, a century-old historically Black congregation, was briefly part of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). But the church left in 2020 after SBC leaders rejected critical race theory en masse.

That was the last straw for Dates, he wrote in a column for Religion News Service. Dates explained he saw rejecting CRT as part of a continuing “heritage of dangerous conservatism.”

Salem Baptist is one of several megachurches whose pastors are passing the baton. Vance Pitman resigned in December from Hope Church in Las Vegas to lead the SBC’s national church-planting organization. And Saddleback Church founder Rick Warren is retiring this September.

Sarah Einselen is an award-winning writer and editor based in Texas.

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15 thoughts on “Charlie Dates to Succeed Retiring Chicago Megachurch Pastor; Will Lead 2 Churches”

  1. Marin Heiskell

    I ADORE Charlie Dates. I had the privilege of not only hearing him preach as a guest speaker at my church, but also meeting him after a singles event hosted by Progressive. In just our brief 15 minute interaction, he really ministered to me as he correctly sensed I was going through a season of loss that was challenging my faith. His wife Kirstie also followed up to pray with me and further encourage me.

    Charlie has also led Progressive in being a very “put faith into action” church here in the Chicago Black community. As I am contemplating leaving my current evangelical church, Progressive is on my list of places I’m considering and praying about for a new church home, and a lot of it is due to the Dates family.

    I just only pray he does not become spread too thin by leading two large churches. But what a blessing to the members of both congregations.

  2. I’m still surprised Charlie Dates wasn’t forced to step down after he publicly used a racial slur against Virgil Walker on social media last year. Pretty sure there were no consequences whatsoever for him over it. Just goes to show that even in this day and age, after all that’s happened, megachurches still value butts in the seats and the almighty dollar over holding celebrity pastors accountable for their actions and character.

    1. Gus Chiggins,

      Wow, I never knew this, did TRR ever do an expose’ of this incident? Hmm. Yeah that’s in bad form. Cancel culture is wrong… but shouldn’t we have heard something about it at least?

      And, yes, nothing good ever comes out of megachurches and rock-star “pastors”. If tons and tons of people love them and how they make them feel… that’s pretty much a sign that they are doing the *opposite* of the Great Commission.

  3. So he is going to pastor two large churches in addition to teaching at several colleges. I don’t need to be Einstein to understand that with all these jobs he is not truly doing any of them full time. I wonder how many of them provide full time paychecks.

  4. Tricia Russell

    “Meeks called Dates “the greatest preacher in our nation.””
    That is a concerning statement.
    While I do not know much about Charlie Dates, it has becoming increasingly true that the higher you rise the harder you fall.
    The mega church concept is already troublesome. Now we have 2 churches thinking only one particular man can lead them. Who thinks a half a pastor can shepherd a full church adequately?

    1. Marin Heiskell

      I can’t speak much about Salem Baptist Church (other than it’s known in the Black community here in Chicago due to its sheer size), but I do know Progressive.
      Progressive was around WAY before Charlie Dates; it was not founded or based on his teachings alone. The average member was around before Charlie (he’s been there ~10 years) and knows he’s not the only one who can lead them. And while Progressive is a large congregation (around 1000 members), it doesn’t come close to Salem (which has about 10,000). And Progressive only has one location.
      Perhaps I need to know what’s defined as a megachurch?

    2. Brian Patrick

      Tricia Russell,

      “That is a concerning statement.
      While I do not know much about Charlie Dates, it has becoming increasingly true that the higher you rise the harder you fall.”

      Amen to that–even if the pastor in question is the Godliest guy on the planet to start with, which is seldom if ever the case.

      “The mega church concept is already troublesome. Now we have 2 churches thinking only one particular man can lead them. Who thinks a half a pastor can shepherd a full church adequately?”

      Again, amen to that. Chuck Smith himself, who started out as every kind of salt and light, found himself tempted by the limelight as he got bigger and bigger, and we saw more and more of his flaws as time went on.

      99% of these megachurch icons and celebrities were nowhere near as righteous as Smith to start with, and only continue to deteriorate from that starting point, with time and fame.

      I will admit to knowing very little about Charlie Dates, but what Gus Chiggins posted is extremely concerning. Would a right-wing famous pastor like Voddie Baucham or Rob Jeffress be able to get away with using racial slurs???

      There is a HUGE problem with “adoring” a pastor–any pastor, even a truly great one. I like my pastor; I don’t love him. That would just be weird. Preachers and teachers are there to instruct and shape us much like secular, academic teachers/professors. Respect and admire if they are capable, yes. Adoring sounds like it’s crossed the line into idolatry–something a lot of these guys at bare minimum do nothing to discourage, and a few outright seek.

      1. Marin Heiskell

        Brian –
        I adore Charlie Dates BECAUSE of how he and his wife PERSONALLY ministered to me when I needed it. Not because of a sermon I heard from a distance or book that I read. And I have loved various pastors like family; some have ministered to my family for DECADES, and have baptized, married, counseled, and even eulogized GENERATIONS of my family. I think that’s a blessing, especially when I see a lot of superficial relationships between pastors and their flock. (I can’t imagine having NEVER met your pastor one-on-one).
        It’s one thing to adore someone you don’t have any personal relationship with. But there is nothing wrong with loving those who I do have personal relationships with, and have really left an impact on my faith, family, and heart.
        And I don’t even go to Progressive, which is less than 15 minutes from my home (closer than my current church home). If I idolized him, don’t you think I’d have followed him to his church YEARS ago when I first me him? It just isn’t where God has me in this season of my life (yet). I go where God leads me – not Charlie Dates.
        If that’s idolatry to you…we can disagree.

        1. Tricia Russell

          Marin –
          It is good that you were ministered to personally by your pastor. That is exactly what I am objecting to though – the fact that there is no way he can minister to 11,000 people in the way that he ministered to you. Something is lost when a pastor becomes distanced from 99% of his church

          1. Marin Heiskell

            I completely understand your concern, Tricia. I do pray Pastor Dates is not spread too thin and that he has the support needed to lead such a large flock effectively.
            It actually makes me think of Moses, who was advised on how to make leading the growing number of Israelites more manageable by placing them into groups and delegating. So it is Biblical for a leader to have a large flock.
            I think that there is a place in the body of Christ for large and small churches alike; I have been a member of both at various points in my walk with Christ, and can speak to the benefits and challenges of both. I just hate to see us automatically dismiss a pastor, church or ministry due to size. I’ve seen healthy and unhealthy churches of all sizes.

  5. Brian Patrick

    Marin Heiskell,

    “Brian –
    I adore Charlie Dates BECAUSE of how he and his wife PERSONALLY ministered to me when I needed it. Not because of a sermon I heard from a distance or book that I read.”

    My response to the above is that that kind of filling of your personal needs, i.e. fellowship and personal friendship, could have been met by a holy man of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or any other world religion–or by a secular counselor or self-help advocate. None of that is contingent upon Biblical Christianity (indeed, you say it’s not because of a sermon or book, meaning theology I assume).

    “It’s one thing to adore someone you don’t have any personal relationship with. But there is nothing wrong with loving those who I do have personal relationships with, and have really left an impact on my faith, family, and heart.”

    There’s a danger when the person idolized has a position of power and authority, particularly in a religious sense. I see the Pauline example in the Gospel of teachers/leaders being figures that we seek and respect for guidance and direction and boundaries, and not necessarily the same functions that friends and family (in or outside of the church) perform. When we make one man or woman our everything, bad things are bound to happen.

    If Charlie Dates indeed used a racial slur (just last year), that does call into fitness his ability to do any of the above. What kind of repentance did he show and how has he made amends?

    1. Dates called him an “Uncle Ruckus” on twitter, which is a derogatory slur used to describe a black man that embraces the “whiteness” of society instead of resisting it. He also told him he’s still willfully acting like he’s a slave because he rejects CRT. Dates’ response to the controversy was that it’s not racist because it’s between black people. I just checked and you can still see the tweet for yourself, he refused to delete it.

    2. Marin Heiskell

      Brian –

      I’m not sure I understand your point. I didn’t say Pastor Dates was the ONLY person who could minister to me; I don’t have anyone in my life like htat. And I’m not sure how bringing up “holy men” of other faiths comes into it – I was at a Christian event seeking Biblically-rooted ministry, and that’s what Pastor Dates and his wife provided.

      I don’t idolize Pastor Dates, nor is he my everything. I would caution ANYONE who makes ANYONE their everytying – including a spouse or child.

      I don’t see anything wrong with loving those who Christ calls us to love, which includes our brothers and sisters in Christ (that includes pastors). I also understand how a personal relationship strengthens that love; that is the importance of us having relationships in the body of Christ. Perhaps you are taking on a worldly definition of love?

      I don’t know anything about Pastor Dates using a slur – I haven’t heard anything about it, nor do I know anything about the context, response, or outcomes. (Perhaps due to my rarely being on social media for my own sanity). So I’m not in a position to speak on that.

  6. Also, while there are many people in the comment section who rightfully call him to repent over it, there are plenty of others, including names such as Lecrae and Kyle J Howard, who tweeted their approval of his use of the slur.

    1. Josh Harrels,

      Thanks for the extra info here. Just, wow. Sad, but not at all surprising. True authentic faith is going to be limited to a tiny remnant in the last days; the separation of wheat and tares is being done as we speak. With no repentance of any kind and such bald-faced pride in his sin, it bears questioning whether Dates ever had a regenerative, salvific transformation in his heart to begin with.

      Marin Heiskell,

      From your posts (especially the prior one to this), it almost seems like your biggest qualification for a pastor is whether he or she makes you feel good; warm and fuzzy. That is absolutely a legitimate human need but I just don’t see it as within the job description of a servant-leader of men in the Epistles. Shouldn’t a competent, strong, wise pastor stir and challenge his flock, make their complacency seem uncomfortable?

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