Led by chairman K. Marshall Williams, members began the meeting with an extended season of prayer. The group then discussed with Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, ways that the SBC benefits from participation of its 3,400 cooperating African American churches, and how these churches can more fully participate in convention processes.
Page, drawing from Judges 2:1-7 in his opening devotional, noted three kinds of tears when the angel of the Lord shows up -- tears of regret, tears of repentance and tears of rejoicing. Page expressed gratitude for the "tears of regret" and "tears of repentance" that led to the SBC's 1995 Resolution on Racial Reconciliation. "That was good," he said. "But we have to go far beyond that."
Page envisioned a time when "tears of rejoicing" will abound. "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, during the meeting.
Some of the top needs identified by council members in the African American communities where 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 initiated a conversation on the "value of being valued." He urged Page to share with other convention leaders the urgency of making Koreans, Hispanics and 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, Vines added, is if the faces on the platform of the SBC annual meeting truly reflect the broader face of the convention's churches.
Council members agreed that the number of African Americans serving on staff at SBC 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. Croston, agreeing that he would like to see greater intentionality among SBC entity heads to hire qualified African American candidates for denominational positions, urged the council not to forget the progress that has been made since the early 1960s. Currently, four states have African American convention presidents elected by the messengers in their respective annual meetings.
Frank Williams called on the council to keep prayer as the priority that overshadows its work and the work of the convention. "Lucifer will not sit back," Williams said. "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 benefits. Other members suggested holding classes in churches on racism and they discussed the value of the SBC hosting a nationwide conference to address the wounds racism has inflicted on the conscience of America's Christian communities.
Roscoe Belton urged the council to encourage fellow African American pastors to participate in events sponsored by the state conventions. Leroy Fountain of the North American Mission Board 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 of the International Mission Board 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 , than as career missionaries."
During the advisory council's 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 presence in Baptist Press 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 homepage that would point to resources for ethnic churches and church leaders.
Participating in the African American Advisory Council May 29-30 meeting were:
K. Marshall Williams, chairman, senior pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church, Philadelphia, Pa.
Roscoe Belton, senior pastor/teacher, Middlebelt Baptist Church, Inkster, Mich.; president of the Michigan Baptist Convention.
Chandra Bennett, editorial team leader, adult ministry publishing, LifeWay Christian Resources.
Mark Croston, senior pastor, East End Baptist Church, Suffolk, Va.; president of the Baptist General Association of Virginia.
James Dixon, senior pastor, El-Bethel Baptist Church, Fort Washington, Md.; president of the National African American Fellowship (NAAF).
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, Ga.
Keith Jefferson, African American mobilization strategist, IMB.
Dennis Mitchell, senior pastor, Greenforest Community Baptist Church, Decatur, Ga.
Marvin Parker, senior pastor, Broadview Missionary Baptist Church, Broadview, Ill.
Kevin Smith, senior pastor, Watson Memorial Baptist Church, Louisville, Ky.; assistant professor of Christian preaching, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Terry Turner, senior pastor, Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church, Mesquite, Texas; president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
A.B. Vines, senior pastor, New Seasons Church, San Diego, Calif.; vice president and president-elect, NAAF.
Ken Weathersby, NAMB presidential ambassador for ethnic church relations.
Frank Williams, associate pastor, Bronx Baptist Church, and interim pastor, Wake Eden Community Baptist Church, both in Bronx, N.Y.; president, Black Church Leadership Network of New York.
This article first appeared in SBC LIFE, journal of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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