News Articles

Calif. retiree Tom Kelly receives Black Southern Baptist Heritage Award

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–Known for his cleverly worded operating principles, Tom Kelly received the 2003 Black Southern Baptist Heritage Award during Black Church Leadership Week at LifeWay Glorieta (N.M.) Conference Center July 21-25.

The retired director of black church ministries for the California Southern Baptist Convention accepted the award July 23, presented annually by LifeWay Christian Resources to African American leaders who have made significant strides in the work of black church development in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Kelly’s principles — “the theology of presence,” “learn how to read the menu” and “God pays for what He orders” — are strategies he devised to move black churches toward higher participation in the SBC, two denominational leaders said.

“Tom helped us remember this simple principle — the theology of presence,” Dennis Mitchell, director of the North American Mission Board’s church multiplication team, said during an awards banquet. “In other words, if we’re going to have an impact, we’ve got to be involved. We’ve got to be present. He taught us we can sit on the sidelines and criticize what is not happening, or we can be on the inside making a difference.”

In presenting the award, Jay Wells, pastoral ministry specialist for LifeWay, recalled Kelly’s adage, “learn how to read the menu,” as one he emphasized when they worked together at the California convention.

“Tom said that before we order something, we’ve got to spend time reading the menu — understanding the policies, procedures and resources available to us,” Wells said, referring to black churches doing their research before joining the SBC.

Kelly retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1978 after 26 years of service. He spent a year (1978-79) as a satellite control development engineer for Lockheed Missiles and Space Co. in Sunnyvale, Calif., before deciding to attend Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., where he graduated with a master of divinity degree in 1982.

He joined the North American Mission Board as black church consultant for the greater Los Angeles area in 1982. In 1984, he became the California convention’s director of the department of black church ministries, where he served until his retirement on Jan. 31 of this year.

“During that time, Kelly was responsible for starting 270 African American churches,” Wells said. “He is known for his innovative and successful approach to church planting and growth.”

Kelly, in accepting the Black Southern Baptist Heritage Award, explained his third strategy — “God pays for what He orders.”

“If God ordered it, He’ll pay for it,” Kelly said. “He didn’t bring us [African American churches] this far to drop us or forsake us.”

Kelly said God raised him to be an “in-fighter.” That’s one of the reasons he joined the Southern Baptist denomination, he said, and encourages other African American churches to do the same.

“We can be more affective change agents from within than from without,” Kelly said.

Kelly believes black churches should join the SBC not only for the vast resources and benefits they will gain, but because they could become “team players” in the denomination.

“Southern Baptists — especially NAMB and LifeWay — have so many resources to offer the black congregation,” he said. Saying, “Old soldiers never die,” Kelly said he has accepted a position as African American volunteer mobilization specialist with NAMB, noting, “I hope to get more African American presence in statewide volunteer mobilization efforts.”

Described as a driving force in the Christian education movement among African Americans, Kelly has served as president of the Western Baptist Religious Education Association and the African American Denominational Servants Network.

Fannie, his wife of 48 years, joined him in receiving the award. Black Church Leadership Week is a joint effort of LifeWay, NAMB, the International Mission Board, the Annuity Board and Woman’s Missionary Union. The conference is designed to present an overall picture of what is available for African American churches in the SBC.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: KELLY’S CONTRIBUTIONS and HERITAGE AWARD.

    About the Author

  • Terri Lackey