Popular Pentecostal teacher Paula White announced two weeks ago that she is taking the helm of the megachurch that she and ex-husband Randy White founded 18 years ago.
Paula's willingness to become senior pastor of Without Walls International Church - a Tampa, Florida, nondenominational congregation that once boasted 20,000+ members - shows immense optimism on her part, because the question remains if Without Walls has a future, or if it should.
Without Walls' leaders have been accused of preaching a prosperity gospel that says God will bless believers by making them succeed in all things, including in finances. One article reports that Without Walls used to have over 23,000 members (including celebrities and world leaders) and received up to $40 million in donations annually. All the while, the Whites were allegedly purchasing expensive homes and buying or leasing costly cars and private jets. Last fall the church faced foreclosure by the Evangelical Christian Credit Union, and is rumored to be in serious debt.
In August 2007, the Whites announced they were divorcing after 18 years of marriage. Since then, church membership has dwindled: three services have been cut to two, and hits to Without Walls' website and Paula's personal site have dropped dramatically.
Then, in November 2007, Without Walls came under a Senate Finance Committee investigation into its and five other ministries' use of donations and financial records. Led by Sen. Charles Grassley, the ongoing investigation has looked into six nonprofit ministries whose leaders' wealth and lavish spending led the committee to question whether the nonprofits were misspending donations and keeping sound financial records. The Whites have claimed innocence, but have yet to provide the committee with all the required documents.
Now, Randy has announced that he is leaving the church due to poor health. Paula has been traveling for her various ministries since the couple's split, but agreed to lead Without Walls at her ex-husband's request. "The timing feels right for coming back to Tampa regularly, whether it's once a month or more often," Paula said in an e-mail to The Tampa Tribune. "Randy and I both needed some time to heal and I think the congregation did, too."
As The Tampa Tribune eloquently put it, "Rebuilding the church could prove harder than building it."
Randy recently stated that the church needs "a financial miracle."
Somehow, that doesn't seem like the right solution.