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Black network to spotlight church planters

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
PHOENIX (BP)--With 600 church planters of African-American heritage added to the rolls of the Black Southern Baptist Denominational Servants Network last year, the network's annual meeting this year will focus on how the organization encourages its members professionally and personally.

The network will meet at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 12, at Canaan Missionary Baptist Church in Mesa, Ariz., 931 S. Stapley Drive in Mesa, a Phoenix suburb about 20 miles east of the Phoenix Convention Center, site of the 2011 SBC annual meeting.

"The North American Mission Board counts these African-American church planters as missionaries; this makes them denominational servants," said Jeffrey Curtis, president of the Black Denominational Servants Network and a black church relations consultant with LifeWay Christian Resources.

"Tom always said that you have to learn to read the menu," Curtis said. "You have to understand how the denomination works in order to contribute to and benefit from being part of it. What better way to understand the SBC than to connect with and network with black denominational workers? And for our part, as the Black Southern Baptist Denominational Servants Network, we want to be sure these 600 or more black church planters across the SBC have all the encouragement -- both professionally and personally -- that they need to be a transforming agent for their churches and communities."

On Saturday, June 11, the network will host 80 or more church leaders for an 8 a.m. "Recharging Your Sunday School" seminar at Canaan to be led by Elgia "Jay" Wells, Charles Grant and Curtis, all from LifeWay.

"This seminar will help church leaders understand the purpose of Sunday School for church growth," Curtis said. It's not limited to people who live in the Metro Phoenix area, he added. "No matter what part of the country you're from, you'll get a great deal from Recharging Your Sunday School. We'll be leading it in an African American context."


Sunday's Black Denominational Servants Network meeting will begin with a meal prepared by members of Canaan Baptist, where Sherman Fort has been pastor for 21 years.

With a theme of "Rebuilding the Walls," members of the network -- encompassing about 800 black denominational workers across the nation -- will discuss the need and role of an executive director. Sid Smith, founder and executive director of the network, died in April 2009.

"One of the things we realized was that we definitely need an executive director, someone who can dedicate a significant amount of thinking, energy and time to the network," Curtis said. "We're looking for someone who can keep the work of the network on the front burner.... It's not a paid position; we cover travel expenses and other related costs."

The network's nominating committee, which is developing a list of candidates to serve as officers for the next two years, also is seeking a potential executive director.

One evidence of the need for an executive director is that the network will not publish a 2011 edition of The Journal of African-American Southern Baptist History, Curtis said. Plans were made last year to work with CrossBooks, an imprint of LifeWay Christian Resources, in the publication, but working denominational servants couldn't find enough time to complete the project this year, Curtis said.

"That's one of the reasons we need an executive director, someone with the time and expertise to do it, and do it well, along with everything else," Curtis said. "Dr. Smith left big boots to fill."


The network's annual awards will be presented at Black Church Leadership Week, July 18-22 at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, N.C.

The network's annual session each June is a time for fellowship, mutual encouragement and networking, Curtis said.

"We always have a good time at the Black Servants Network's annual meeting," Curtis said. "It's a joy to sit back and relax on a Sunday afternoon with old friends and new friends, and at the same time to set in place some things that will benefit all black denominational servants for the coming year."

Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press

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