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Ellis first black pres. of Tenn. convention

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (BP) — Tennessee Baptists have elected the first African American president in the convention’s history – Memphis pastor Michael C. Ellis.

Ellis, pastor of Impact Baptist Church, ran unopposed and was elected unanimously by the 958 registered messengers during the TBC annual meeting, Nov. 11-12 at Brentwood Baptist Church. Ellis served as vice president of the state convention in 2012.

Messengers also adopted a report from the Vision 2021 Transition Team that moves the convention forward in its aim to reach a 50/50 percent distribution of Cooperative Program funds with the Southern Baptist Convention by 2018-19.

Ellis was nominated by a former TBC president, Fred Shackelford, who said he was “incredibly excited that we have this opportunity to do this long-overdue historic thing, but can I be honest with you?” Shackelford, pastor of Ellendale Baptist Church in Bartlett, then noted, “I don’t care what color Michael’s skin is. He has what it takes to lead this convention well. He’s faithful to the Word, he loves the Lord Jesus and he loves his church.”

In addition to serving as vice president, Ellis has served on the convention’s Committee on Committees and “has proven himself as an excellent leader in our state,” Shackelford noted. Ellis’ church in inner-city Memphis gives 7.2 percent of its undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program.

Ellis described his election as “another opportunity to serve” and said his status as the convention’s first African American pastor is not particularly noteworthy.

“I just happen to be an African American,” Ellis said, but acknowledged that his election is good for the convention.

“Race doesn’t matter,” he said. “That’s what I love about our convention.”

Randy C. Davis, TBC executive director-treasurer, called Ellis’ election “a monumental moment” in the history of the state convention.

“It’s not the color of his skin that matters. It’s the content of his heart,” Davis affirmed, paraphrasing a sentence from Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech.” Davis added that Ellis “has done an incredible work in the heart of Memphis.”

Ellis founded Impact Baptist Church with 20 members in 2006 in his home as an outreach of Impact Ministries of Bellevue Baptist Church and has served Memphis’ economically depressed Frayser section.

Impact Baptist Church has been a leader in baptisms among Tennessee Baptists, growing to 600 in Sunday worship within four years of its founding and becoming a leader in CP giving among majority African American congregations in the state, according to reports.

Ellis earlier served 20 years in the U.S. Navy, retiring in 2001 as a Navy Chief. Among his commendations was 1996 U.S. Navy Shore Sailor of the Year. SBC LIFE, the journal of the SBC Executive Committee, published this feature on Ellis in 2010.

Tennessee joins at least 22 other state conventions that have elected African American or other non-Anglos to their presidencies, including among others the Baptist General Association of Virginia, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and the Florida Baptist Convention.

(For a 2012 overview of ethnic participation in Southern Baptist ministry, written after the election of New Orleans pastor Fred Luter as the first African American SBC president, click here.)

Other newly elected Tennessee officers are vice president David Leavell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Millington, and second vice president Nathan Washburn, pastor of First Baptist Church in Greenbrier.


TBC messengers approved a 2014-15 budget of $34,250,000, which is $2,250,000 less than the current budget of $36,500,000.

The new budget allocates to TBC causes $19,841,025, or 57.93 percent, while directing to SBC missions and ministries $14,408,975, or 42.07 percent. Last year the SBC received 41.25 percent of Tennessee’s CP receipts.

When the budget was presented during the opening session on Nov. 11, Ron Stewart, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Knoxville, offered an amendment requesting that the “individual budget categories, as identified in the Vision 2021 report, be frozen at the percentage levels of the 2013-14 budget; that all Cooperative Program funds received in the 2014-15 budget year that are in excess of the 2013-14 giving level be designated to the SBC causes until such time as the distribution reaches the 50-50 level”; and “that after the 50-50 level is reached, all future CP funds shall then be equally distributed between the state causes and the SBC with the new percentages determined based on the dollar values for each entity at that time.”

Stewart described the amendment as “a better way to reach a 50/50 division without hurting some of our key institutions.”

Several messengers spoke for and against the amendment. Most of those for the amendment cited the need to not reduce funding for Tennessee Baptist institutions while those against the amendment cited the need for sending more funds to the SBC in order to fund more International Mission Board missionaries.

Speaking as a messenger from First Baptist Church in Sevierville, Davis said Cooperative Program giving has been in a general decline for the last 13-15 years, and encouraged messengers to adopt the budget as presented.

The amendment failed on a ballot vote — 402-173. The budget was then approved, with a ballot vote of 425-68.

Transition Team report

The approval of the report of the Vision 2021 Transition Team culminated a four-year process of that began in 2010 when Davis appointed the Vision 2021 Task Force.

Team chairman Chuck Groover, pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Mount Juliet, told messengers the team “sought God’s direction” to be faithful to the task the convention asked them to do. He stressed that the team was committed to getting to a 50/50 distribution of Cooperative Program receipts with the Southern Baptist Convention by the 2018-19 budget year.

“It is our prayer that our bold actions in 2010 and 2012 [when TBC messengers expressed a desire to move toward a 50/50 distribution of CP funds] will not be allowed just to become lip service,” he said.

Messengers overwhelmingly adopted the team’s recommendation of “Five Great Objectives” to shape the direction of the TBC through 2024, the convention’s 150th anniversary.

— Seeing at least 50,000 Tennesseans annually saved, baptized and set on the road to discipleship by 2024.

— Revitalizing at least 500 Tennessee Baptist churches by 2024.

— Planting and strategically engaging at least 1,000 new churches by 2024.

— Increasing local church giving through the Cooperative Program to 10 percent by 2024.

— Increasing the annual giving for the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions to at least $3 million by 2024.

The second recommendation called for “everyone invited to serve on the boards of TBC entities, on TBC committees, and in elected leadership roles in and with the convention, as well as Executive Board ministry staff, agree to enter a covenant of service in accordance with, and not contrary to, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.”

The recommendation passed with limited opposition in a show of hands vote.

The third recommendation presented by the Transition Team was an incremental plan to get to a 50/50 distribution of CP funds by the 2018-19 budget year. The vote on this recommendation was postponed until after the budget was approved; it subsequently passed with limited opposition.

The final recommendation from the Transition Team reduced the amount of funding from the convention for ministers’ retirement accounts. Concern was expressed that the reduction would be a burden for bivocational and single staff pastors but the recommendation was approved with limited opposition.

The 2015 annual meeting of the Tennessee Baptist Convention will be Nov. 10-11 at First Baptist Church in Millington.

    About the Author

  • Lonnie Wilkey

    Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector (baptistandreflector.org), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

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