Last December, during the public debate about Christmas, Without Walls International Church in Tampa, Florida, decided to take a bold stand. "To Hell with the Word 'Holiday,'" proclaimed a banner hung from the church's building near the Tampa airport. "Put Christ Back into Christmas."
"That was a great, great accomplishment for us," Without Walls's media-savvy senior pastor Randy White told Christianity Today. National news outlets, including CNN, descended on the church, giving Randy an opportunity to spotlight the church's position.
It may seem contrarian for a megachurch to be so outspoken and controversial, but Without Walls's feistiness is part of what has made it one of the country's fastest-growing congregations.
And while Randy's penchant for publicity might attract visitors, what keeps them coming is the 25,000-member church's ability to empower all sorts of people to succeed. Randy and his wife, Paula, host of the nationally broadcast TV show "Paula White Today," keep outreach to the down and out at the center.
Without Walls's Master Pastor Internship Program teaches people not only how to start their own ministries, but also how to live productive lives. "We get them acclimated back into productivity," Randy says, "[with] social skills, how to write a check, how to dress properly, grammar. We take it through every step that you can possibly take."
Maria Garves heard about the church while stationed with the Army in Bahrain. Upon returning to Tampa, she enrolled in the nine-month internship program. "It is the greatest thing I've done, aside from marrying and having children," she says. "I went 1,000 miles to find out I had the Holy Spirit in my backyard."
As part of the program, Garves was on parking duty the day she talked to CT. It is one of the many tasks performed by every participant in the program. "They have to work in the nursery and children's church, and in administration," says Randy. "They have to work alongside the janitorial staff, the associate pastor, the married ministry. We take them through every step that they would need to become productive."
Because of the program, Garves says, she has not only found her calling, but has also been given tools to be successful. Her inspiration is Randy and Paula, who have their own rags-to-riches story. As a child, Paula suffered sexual abuse, but she says her life changed forever when she was 18. While at a friend's house, someone told her he knew the solution to Paula's problems. He pulled out a Bible and introduced her to Jesus.
Right there, Paula says, "I knew what love was. I knew that Jesus was the Son of God. I wanted to spend the rest of my life seeking and serving God." She began to spend countless hours reading the Bible. Then God gave her a vision. "Every time I opened my mouth, I was preaching the gospel," she says.
She met Randy, the son of five generations of Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) preachers, while both worked with the T. L. Lowery Global Foundation. After a few years together, they felt God calling them to Tampa. "I made a bargain with God, because of the hurt and pain and shame that I had gone through," says Randy. Married at 17, Randy was divorced 13 years later. "I would come to Tampa if he would give me the rejects, the misfits, the drug addicts, the down-and-outers. We never wanted to just start a church per se. We wanted to reach out to people."
The Whites' methods have attracted some attention. Ole Anthony, founder of the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation, which runs a homeless outreach and also investigates ministry fraud, questions some financial and theological aspects of the ministry. Anthony is investigating the Whites based on allegations made by former business associates. He also believes the couple's $2-million-dollar home and extravagant lifestyle are inappropriate, and he has heard complaints that the Whites teach a prosperity message that runs counter to the gospel.
But prosperity-gospel charges aren't new to Randy. He explains, "We believe that [in order] to take a drug addict or a prostitute and get her back into society to be a productive person, we need to teach her how to become a businessperson. Because of that, we have raised up a lot of people who now own their own businesses and do very well for themselves, including Paula and me."
"Eleven years ago," Randy says, "we couldn't afford to pay the electric bills. When we deal with inner-city people, they can relate to that. We teach them to get out of that. We live by example."
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Without Walls International Church has more information about its ministries on its website.
More about Paula White Ministries is available from her website.
Our full coverage of the 100th anniversary of the Azusa Street Revival includes:
Pentecostals: The Sequel | What will it take for this world phenomenon to stay vibrant for another 100 years? (Mar. 24, 2006)
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