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Black emerging leaders gather for lunch

Charles Grant, second from right, executive director of Black Church relations at the SBC Executive Committee, honors leaders during the Black Multicultural lunch June 14 in New Orleans. Honored were Nathaniel Bishop Jr., left, lead pastor of Forest Baptist Church, a historic African-American church in Louisville, Ky.; Adron Robinson, senior pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills, Ill.; and Erik Cummings, right, lead pastor of the New Life Church of Carol City in Miami. Photo by Josselyn Guillen

NEW ORLEANS – As senior associate pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, and son of the church’s senior pastor and former SBC President Fred Luter, Chip Luter was well-known and highly regarded in New Orleans, but in 2015 God called him to a church in Tampa, Fla., where he was a nobody without reputation.

Luter spoke of this dichotomy at the third-annual Black Church Emerging Leaders Luncheon Tuesday, June 13, during the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting.

“It was a white building but not a white church,” Luter told the 70 or more gathered. “We were not known in the community. The only way to reach them was to go to them.”

Attendees heard from Erik Cummings Sr., pastor of New Life Baptist Church of Carol City in Miami, as well as Luter; Michael Byrd Sr., pastor of Faith Community Bible Church in St. Louis; and Keny Felix, pastor of Bethel Evangelical Baptist Church of Miami. Together the men spoke about “Sharing the Mighty Works of God” based on Psalm 145:4.

After Charles Grant, associate vice president of Black Church relations and at the SBC Executive Committee, welcomed attendees to the lunch hosted by the SBC EC and partners, Willie McLaurin, the EC’s interim president and CEO, spoke.

He encouraged his listeners to participate in what God is doing through the SBC, by giving to missions through the Cooperative Program and by voting for this year’s slate of leaders.

“We will be voting on over 400 leaders,” McLaurin said, including all trustee boards as well as entity officers. “Nine of the 83 who presently serve on the Executive Committee are African American, as are three of the seven officers.”

He invited his listeners to join in on an upcoming vision trip to Jamaica. “We can go faster alone but further together,” McLaurin said.

Cummings served as president of the Florida Baptist Convention, is a trustee of the SBC Executive Committee, and serves on the Committee on Convention Events and Strategic Planning.

“Three things help you navigate the Southern Baptist Convention,” Cummings said. “First, your presence. Opportunities to serve come based on your presence.

“Second, your participation. We’ve got to engage in these [various SBC] events. Your voice matters. Let it be heard in communion, not just concert. You cannot lead where you do not go. Third, perseverance. The task requires stick-to-it-iveness. Speak up and speak out. At times you’ll be like Jackie Robinson,” who, in 1947, was the first to break the color barrier in major league baseball.

“The comfort zone is where dreams go to die,” Cummings continued, before quoting 2 Timothy 1:7 – for God has not given us a spirit of fear …. “It’s going to cost you something, your time, your effort, and you will not always have consensus … but dream big, work hard, be confident, and your confidence should come from the Lord. Be faithful and fruitful as God moves you up.”

Felix spoke of unity and humility, and a passion for evangelism. “Any church that survived the pandemic, God is moving in it.”

Byrd, who planted Faith St. Louis seven years ago, said he became Southern Baptist by accident, but now, having been taught how to do biblical ministry and discipleship, is fully engaged with the SBC’s commitment to supporting pastors and leading in missions.

“The generational divide is a bigger division than the racial divide,” he said. “We are not working to see our name in lights but to see Him glorified.”

SBC entity partners also spoke, including Mark Croston, national director of Black Church Ministries for Lifeway Christian Resources. He gave a copy of his latest book, Big Results Leadership, to each attendee. “My job is to come alongside you,” Croston said. “I want to help you be successful.”

Jason Thomas, African American Mobilizer at the IMB, provided statistics: “Of the 3,521 IMB missionaries, fewer than 30 are African American,” yet George Liele was the first Baptist missionary to go to another country. He went to Jamaica in 1783, a full 10 years before William Carey left for India.

Byrd closed the gathering in a prayer of humility for God’s grace.

For more information about Black Emerging Leaders, see sbc.net/about/black-church-relations. The website includes a PowerPoint presentation on “Navigating the SBC,” and four videos showing the voice, values, vision and vow of navigating the SBC.

“Emerging leaders,” Grant told Baptist Press, are those men who are “kind of new” in the SBC and who have a desire to grow in involvement. An emerging presence is developed through relationships, he said.

Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.