Encouraging stronger churches to partner with declining churches and developing effective mentoring strategies to groom future missionaries, state convention leaders, and denominational employees were among the topics discussed at the first meeting of the African American Advisory Council May 29–30 at the SBC Building in Nashville, Tennessee.
Led by chairman K. Marshall Williams, members began the two-day meeting with an extended season of prayer. The group then discussed with Executive Committee President Frank S. Page ways the Convention benefits from participation of its thirty-five hundred cooperating African American churches, and how these churches can more fully participate in Convention processes.
Reading from Judges 2:1–7 in his opening devotional, Page noted three kinds of tears when the Angel of the Lord shows up—tears of regret, tears of repentance, and tears of rejoicing. He expressed gratitude for the “tears of regret” and “tears of repentance” that led to the Resolution on Racial Reconciliation adopted by the SBC in 1995. “That was good,” he said. “But we have to go far beyond that.”
He envisioned a time when “tears of rejoicing” will fill our eyes. “We are committed to a Convention that is a Kingdom Convention, that includes all ethnicities at every level,” he said
Page was joined by EC staffers Roger S. Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations, and Thomas Hammond, vice president for convention advancement.
Some of the top needs identified by Council members in the African American communities they serve include reaching men, leadership development in the churches, pastoral health (keeping him strong in all areas—spiritually, mentally, physically), missions training, church planting, evangelism, and discipleship. Members also discussed the need to encourage pastors and church workers by “connecting leaders with other leaders with whom they can more closely identify.”
James Dixon introduced a conversation on the “value of being valued.” He urged Page to share with other Convention leaders the urgency of making Koreans, Hispanics, other Asians, as well as African Americans “feel like they belong” in the SBC. A. B. Vines added it is hard to feel valued when one does not feel “respected at the table.” The most visible place this can occur, he added, is if the faces on the platform of the SBC annual meeting truly reflect the broader face of the Convention’s churches.
The group agreed that the number of African Americans serving on staff at Convention entities has declined over the past decade. In response, Mark Croston and Terry Turner reminded the group of the many victories they have experienced over the past half century. Agreeing that he would like to see greater intentionality among SBC entity heads to hire qualified African American candidates for denominational positions, Croston urged the Council not to forget the progress that has been made since the early 1960s. Currently, four states have an African American president of the state convention, elected by the messengers in their respective states.
Frank Williams called on the Council to keep prayer as the priority that overshadows its work and the work of the Convention. He noted, “Lucifer will not sit back. We must pray while we do these other things.” He enjoined the members to see themselves as missionaries to the SBC, to present themselves in such a way that “we are valued not just as equal partners, but as equal persons,” cooperating for the ultimate purpose of reaching the nation for Christ.
Concerned that racism continues to be a problem in American church life, Marvin Parker suggested that developing a curriculum on racism would reap spiritual rewards. Other members suggested holding classes in our churches on racism and discussed the value of the SBC hosting a nationwide conference to address the deep wounds racism has inflicted on the conscience of the Christian communities in America.
Roscoe Belton urged the Council to encourage fellow African American pastors to participate in events sponsored by the state conventions. Leroy Fountain, with NAMB, and Mark Hammond, director of missions in Los Angeles, one of the largest associations in the nation, both added that one of the most significant ways individuals can impact churches with a Kingdom perspective is through denominational employment at the state convention or associational level. Kevin Smith added that “the closest brother-to-brother, sister-to-sister relationships” take place through the state convention and in the local association.
Keith Jefferson with IMB encouraged churches to provide scholarships for high schoolers and collegians to participate in missions projects. He observed that “when young people serve two weeks, it becomes easier for them to serve two months in the summer, then two years [as a Journeyman], than as career missionaries.”
During its final session, Ken Weathersby, joined by Kim Hardy, Dennis Mitchell, and Chandra Bennett, led out in discussing a number of strategies for communicating the stories and accomplishments of African American churches and church leaders. These included setting aside one day each month to communicate with one another through social media, linking up websites more effectively, having a stronger Baptist Press presence, and carrying stories through LifeWay’s magazines that highlight the contributions of African American churches. Mitchell suggested “a big, red Easy button” on the SBC.net home page that would point to resources for ethnic churches and church leaders.
The Council closed its meeting with gathered prayer around Page, asking God’s wisdom, protection, and guidance over him in these strategic days of Convention advancement.
Members participating included:
• K. Marshall Williams, chairman, senior pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;
• Roscoe Belton, senior pastor/teacher, Middlebelt Baptist Church, Inkster, Michigan; president, Michigan Baptist Convention;
• Chandra Bennett, editorial team leader, adult ministry publishing, LifeWay Christian Resources;
• Mark Croston, senior pastor, East End Baptist Church, Suffolk, Virginia; president, Baptist General Association of Virginia;
• James Dixon, senior pastor, El-Bethel Baptist Church, Fort Washington, Maryland; president, National African American Fellowship;
• Leroy Fountain, national coordinator, church mobilization group, NAMB;
• Mark Hammond, director of missions, Los Angeles Southern Baptist Association;
• Kim Hardy, speaker, author, church planter/pastor’s wife, Marietta, Georgia;
• Keith Jefferson, African American mobilization strategist, IMB;
• Dennis Mitchell, senior pastor, Greenforest Community Baptist Church, Decatur, Georgia;
• Marvin Parker, senior pastor, Broadview Missionary Baptist Church, Broadview, Illinois;
• Kevin Smith, senior pastor, Watson Memorial Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky; assistant professor of Christian preaching, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary;
• Terry Turner, senior pastor, Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church, Mesquite, Texas; president, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention;
• A. B. Vines, senior pastor, New Seasons Church, San Diego, California; vice president and president-elect, National African American Fellowship;
• Ken Weathersby, NAMB presidential ambassador for ethnic church relations; and
• Frank Williams, associate pastor, Bronx Baptist Church, and interim pastor, Wake Eden Community Baptist Church, both in Bronx, New York; president, Black Church Leadership Network of New York.
Roger S. Oldham is a member of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee.