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Diverse cooperation precedes historic Black leadership of Virginia convention

Wayne Faison (left), newly elected executive director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, and Herbert Ponder, the organization's newly elected president join for a photo at the BGAV annual meeting last month.

HENRICO, Va. (BP) – Wayne Faison, newly elected executive director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, was looking for a fulltime pastor’s post when he landed at the BGAV 21 years ago.

He found a particular “freedom” at BGAV that allowed him to be himself in a group focused strongly on missions.

“I could utilize my Black church leadership, all of my skillsets and things like that without necessarily trying to conform to a certain cookie cutter type of aspect,” Faison told Baptist Press.

“Part of that freedom is to give you the elbow room to allow God to kind of use you from your particular perspective, that you don’t have to try to change who you are in order to be accepted into the larger family of who we are as Virginia Baptists.”

Faison joins Herbert Ponder, newly elected BGAV president, in a historic first marked by the concurrent leadership of two African American pastors in the top BGAV posts.

For Faison, the historic moment is significant, but shouldn’t be such a leading narrative that it detracts from God’s work of building His church.

“You’re kind of in the in-between space where as soon as you make a big deal out of it, it devalues it,” Faison told Baptist Press of the historic moment. “But to just allow it to manifest itself in a powerful way, because it’s not anything you have to announce; you can just see it.

“But don’t minimize it. You have to honor the ethnicity. You want to highlight the fact that this is historic, but you also want to honor the fact that it’s just part of the trajectory of what God is trying to do,” Faison said, referencing Revelation 7’s picture of ethnic inclusivity. “It was a courageous opportunity for this to take place, so you want to embrace it.”

In the full-time post of executive director, Faison will continue as senior pastor of East End Baptist Church in Suffolk, where he celebrated eight years of leadership on Nov. 6.

Ponder points to an inclusivity that builds excitement for missions among diverse Baptists.

“I recognize this is a historic moment and I am just celebrating that I get to be a part of this, and I get to work with Dr. Wayne Faison and the other members of the executive board and the other officers. We’re mission-focused,” Ponder said. “I recognize that my position, my visibility, that people who see me can also see that they too have an opportunity to participate in this great work.”

Mount Tabor was the first African American church to affiliate with the BGAV when it joined in 1970. The congregation of 300 members cooperates with the Southern Baptist Convention while concurrently working with the Baptist General Convention of Virginia (BGCV), National Baptist Convention USA, Inc., the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., and Lott Carey missions.

“With both BGAV and BGCV, they’re both opportunities to do ministry and oftentimes they have different mission fields or mission opportunities,” Ponder said. “It’s exciting because people see what we are doing and they want to be a part of us and come alongside of us. Just because we’re trying to advance the kingdom, the Redeemer’s kingdom, just because they get to plug in.

“It’s just great that we get to do ministry and missions in two different venues, two different yards if you will,” Ponder said. “It’s just relationship building. We’re not in competition but we’re both just trying to do work.”

Ponder has worked in numerous capacities with the BGAV, including as clerk, a member of the mission board, a member of the initial executive board after a 2015 reorganization, and as first vice president. He was a member of the BGAV young leaders team early in his ministry.

“BGAV has been a tremendous blessing for me and our congregation,” he said. “I’ve been particularly involved from the very beginning. They’ve engaged me in training opportunities.”

Faison, who began with the BGAV in 2001 as a missions resource specialist, has established himself as an innovative leader, nicknamed “Captain Courageous” from his years as team leader of the Courageous Churches Team focused on church planting, evangelism, ethnic congregations and Christian community development.

Jonathan Adam Tyler, senior pastor of Farmville Baptist Church in Farmville, chaired the search committee that recommended Faison for the executive directorship.

“The search committee was struck by Wayne’s breadth of experience, his vision and spiritual maturity, his capacity for leadership and ministry, and a deep sense of the Spirit’s leading in his life,” Tyler told Baptist Press. “The committee has an immense sense of confidence that Wayne will serve faithfully and well as an innovative and effective leader for the BGAV.”

Faison is focused on fulfilling his calling to evangelism, which he said has not changed even as his positions have changed.

“That’s the season we’re currently in as an overall state association,” Faison said. “It is reaching the people, reaching our rural churches, reaching our 20- to 30-somethings with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“How do we empower our churches to reengage the next generation in a language that would be a connective tissue for them to be transformed, just like we were transformed when we accepted the Gospel? That’s my passion and that’s our calling as we move forward into the next season.”

Faison expressed humility for the opportunity to serve in the top post.

“I’m just getting my toe in the water. It’s definitely a different vantage point, a different viewpoint,” Faison said. “But as the Bible says, eyes have not seen nor ears heard what great things God has in store for me for such a time as this. And not just for me, but for us as Virginia Baptists.

“This is really a unique opportunity to show the grace of God as we move forward.”