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NAAF exec. dir. embraces diverse body of churches

DECATUR, Ga. (BP) — African Americans are uniquely positioned to effect societal change as members of the Southern Baptist Convention and should become fully involved in SBC life, newly hired National African American Fellowship Executive Director Dennis Mitchell told Baptist Press.

While tasked with implementing the vision of NAAF president Byron Day and the executive board, Mitchell plans to work to sharpen NAAF’s strategy in serving the more than 3,500 African American Southern Baptist churches, keep pertinent data updated and accessible, and effectively communicate among the churches that are diverse in their circumstances and struggles.

“We have a phenomenal story,” Mitchell said, “and a great opportunity to engage even more African American churches in NAAF. I believe that churches are like members of the body that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians when he says that God placed different members in the body…. Though they are different, they are all part of one body, and so they all bring something to the body.”

Mitchell was elected to the part-time, paid position during NAAF’s annual meeting June 13 in St. Louis after longtime denominational leader Elgia “Jay” Wells retired from the post he had held three years.

Mitchell, senior pastor of Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., sees value in the diverse characteristics within African American Southern Baptist churches.

“They are different sizes, they are different locations — inner-city, urban areas, growing areas, declining areas, large memberships, small memberships,” Mitchell said, “but usually one of those churches has … something they bring to the table. So I see these African American churches as pieces of a puzzle, so that everybody has something that can benefit the whole.

“Our communications and our networking has to be such that we can connect the dots, so that all of us can do more than any of us can do independently.”

Mitchell was ordained to the ministry in 1991 and has more than 20 years of denominational service, including Sunday School growth consultant with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, black church extension associate director with the SBC Home (now North American) Mission Board; senior division director of the North American Mission Board Church Planting Group, and pastorates including Central Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.

Now is a great time to be Southern Baptists, Mitchell told BP.

“I think the SBC is a great platform. I think this is a great time to be where we are, because of so many social and political changes,” he said. “If we sit on the sidelines and are not involved, we miss.” The SBC’s resolution in St. Louis that renounced display of the Confederate battle flag, “didn’t happen on its own. There was significant influence exerted by the presence of African Americans in this convention, and it was very positive.”

He considers encouragement a spiritual gift and is committed to encouraging NAAF churches to position themselves for input and impact as Southern Baptists.