One-on-One with James Meeks on Going to Back to School


Meeks is pursuing an M.A. at the Wheaton College Graduate School.

Ed: You’ve been a pastor for many years—and a remarkably successful pastor at that. We often joke that you’re the Christian godfather of Chicago, and yet you’re wanting to pursue more theological education. Can you tell us why?

James: Ed, for 39 years—and this is the 40th year I’m going to be a pastor—I have encouraged many people to go back to school and finish their education whether that be a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate.

Every single year, I have parishioners come to show me an additional degree and they always tell me, “Pastor, if it were not for that message that you preached on going back, starting over, trying your best, I never would’ve gone back, so this degree is dedicated to you.” It started dawning on me that I needed to listen to my own preaching. It was over 40 years ago when I stopped pursuing a master’s degree. At that point in my life, it was just a timing issue.

I had just began pastoring, had recently gotten married and had a baby, so it was too many pressures at one time. I couldn’t drop any of the responsibilities I had on my plate and that meant school had to be the thing to go.

In all honesty, the master’s was always something that I thought I would quickly get back to, and 40 years later I happened to look up and discover that I had never gotten back to it. I knew right then that this was the right time and a good time to start that pilgrimage again.

Ed: How has it been jumping back into school while also pastoring one of the largest churches in the country?

James: One thing about being an adult learner is that the pressures are different. When iwas younger and in school, I believed that I would have to know everything that …

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