ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Nearly 60 African American denominational workers, spouses and supporters convened at the Renaissance Orlando Resort June 11 to hear words of encouragement on “Mentoring African American Denominational Servants in the 21st Century.”
Emmanuel L. McCall, pastor of Christian Fellowship Church, College Park, Ga., recounted to the African American Denominational Servants Network a promise he had made to the Lord many years ago while pursuing a master of divinity degree at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.
As the only African American student enrolled at the time, McCall himself was mentored and nurtured by a Louisville pastor, Garland K. Offutt, the first African American graduate of Southern. Grateful to Offutt, McCall promised the Lord he would help others in ministry whenever he was given a chance. McCall later began working at the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) in the area of cooperative ministries with National Baptists.
McCall, the first African American to have a national assignment within an SBC agency, observed, “The strategies and structures that used to hold the SBC together are no longer in place. Mentoring was a lot easier because you moved from association to state convention to national, and the three worked together in developing comprehensive plans and strategies. That’s not happening now, so I’m at a loss to describe what denominational life is going to be. Nobody knows.”
McCall attributed the inability to speculate on the future of denominational life, in part, to “a silent press” within the SBC. “There was a time when whatever was happening at whatever level in boards and agencies and meetings, you knew about it. You don’t hear anything now: what decisions are being made; where they are being made; who’s making them.” He added, “Only God knows, how decisions affecting the denomination are being made today.
“Many of those who might be conferred with have been silenced. So, where the denomination is going, I don’t know. And most of the folks who will be in the [Orange County] Convention Center this week don’t know,” McCall said.
He acknowledged that some present likely would disagree with his observations. But, he reasoned, “That’s because you’re inside of an agency and you’ve got to be loyal. I’ve discovered there’s life after denominational service.”
Having returned from a two-week mission trip to Liberia only the day before, McCall advised, “If you think your denominational position is in jeopardy, just remember that the same God you believed called you is that same God who knows how to place you” in a new place of service.
To suggest how mentoring might occur amid changes within the SBC, McCall cited a book titled, “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spenser Johnson, to help raise awareness of the need for persons to adapt to change for the sake of survival. McCall offered network members insights he had gleaned from the book, including, “Enjoy change. Savor the venture. Enjoy the taste of new cheese. But then be ready to change quickly again because the cheese is going to keep moving.”
McCall concluded his address by offering six suggestions to the network for mentoring in the 21st century:
1) Be aware of people who may be developed into potential denominational servants. Expose them to meetings and events that will develop their potential. With the suggestion he cautioned, “It is dangerous, even suicidal, to appoint people to positions before they are ready.”
2) Expose potential persons to the best opportunities for training and development.
3) Denominational servants must listen, especially to pastors and laity because “the real work is being done by individuals in local congregations.” Additionally, he advised, “Listen to those who disagree because there’s always a kernel of truth” in dissenting voices.
4) Remember that only servanthood in denominational service will survive. “If you want to have a reason for being,” he advised, “equip the local church for its mission and ministry.”
5) Maintain your dignity and freedom in Christ.
6) Don’t let a denominational position rob you of your soul. “As a denominational servant, I always spoke my conviction,” he reflected.
“No matter what people may say about me,” he concluded, “they cannot say that I sold out. In my 50 years of ministry, I’ve learned what God can do. Keep your soul.”
Following his address, McCall was presented with the inaugural Emmanuel L. McCall Servant’s Award, to be given to denominational workers who have made contributions to African American work and/or race relations within the Southern Baptist Convention.
Prior to McCall’s speech, several awards were presented by workers from the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board.
Other matters addressed at the network meeting included the executive committee’s report, presented by executive director Sid Smith of the Florida Baptist Convention. The following three recommendations were adopted unanimously by the body:
— Develop an Internet site containing information on membership, history, officers, mentoring and general information.
— Establish a website committee.
— Encourage the collection and preservation of African American Southern Baptist history within all SBC entities.
The luncheon meeting, attended by denominational workers from at least 10 states, was facilitated by the network’s president, Kenneth Weathersby, church planting professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and director of the Nehemiah Project there.