Home Christian News Chicago Pastor James Meeks to Retire, Pass Baton to Rev. Charlie Dates

Chicago Pastor James Meeks to Retire, Pass Baton to Rev. Charlie Dates

charlie dates
The Rev. Dr. Charlie Dates. Photo courtesy of Charlie Dates

It’s time for a younger generation to assume leadership at one of Chicago’s largest churches. That was the message Sunday from the Rev. James Meeks, founder and longtime senior pastor of Salem Baptist Church on the city’s far South Side. Meeks, 65, founded Salem in 1985 and grew it from 200 to 10,000 members. In his June 19 sermon, he told congregants he’s retiring as of January 15, 2023, and the Rev. Dr. Charlie Dates will take his place.

Pastor James Meeks: ‘It’s Time for a Young Generation’

Meeks, who plans to stay involved with Hope of House, Salem’s philanthropic organization, is one of the latest longtime U.S. church leaders to step down. “You see many people who are guilty of holding onto positions too long,” he says. “All the old leaders stay in place and don’t open up and make room for new leadership.

“Everybody loves our old, respected leaders … but I want to set an example that it’s okay to give the next generation an opportunity,” Meeks adds. “It’s time for a young generation to come forward with new challenges facing us.”

Meeks has been active—and sometimes controversial—in the community. He served three terms as an Illinois state senator, was chairman of the state board of education, and ran in Chicago’s 2011 mayoral race. He opposed the legalization of gay marriage, called for a boycott over funding disparities at Chicago Public Schools, and once served as spiritual adviser to disgraced R&B singer R. Kelly.

In 1998, Meeks led a push to close 26 liquor stores in a 19-block radius near Salem. After the neighborhood went dry, Walmart opened a store. “The church actually changed the face of that community,” he says.

Rev. Charlie Dates Has Led Progressive Baptist

To choose a successor Meeks says he and his wife, First Lady Jamell Meeks, prayed and fasted. “There is a young man in our midst who is an exceptional preacher,” Pastor Meeks told congregants Sunday, calling Charlie Dates both “called” and “qualified.”

“He came out of our church,” says Meeks, “and it’s time for young people to step up and be given a chance.”

Dates, 41, graduated from Salem’s now-shuttered Christian Academy. In 2011, he became the youngest senior pastor at Chicago’s Progressive Baptist Church. Dates teaches at several universities and seminaries, including Wheaton College, and is popular on the speaking circuit. He and his wife, Kirstie, have two children.

Last month, Dates joined the Stetzer ChurchLeaders Podcast to talk about the need for solid Christian preaching during tough times.

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Stephanie Martin, a freelance writer and editor in Denver, has spent her entire 30-year journalism career in Christian publishing. She loves the Word and words, is a binge reader and grammar nut, and is fanatic (as her family can attest) about Jeopardy! and pro football.