NEW ORLEANS, La. (BP) – Pastoral transitions can be hard, and pastors need friends to walk alongside them in ministry.
These two truths have united pastors Chip Luter and Erik Cummings, who formed a friendship and mentorship over similar experiences related to their well-known fathers.
Chip is senior associate pastor at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, where his father Fred Luter is the senior pastor. He began his senior associate role at Franklin Avenue in March 2021, with the plan being that he would succeed his father as senior pastor upon the latter’s retirement.
This is the very same thing that Cummings did when he took over for his father as senior pastor of New Life Baptist Church of Carol City in Miami in the early 2000s. The friends met in 2015 while Luter was serving as a pastor in Florida and bonded immediately.
Erik had known Fred Luter a long time, so his relationship with Chip was, “an instant connection and instant family,” the younger Luter said.
“He was just somebody when I was serving in Florida that I could call as I was getting used to the state, the surroundings and getting acclimated to the local association and state convention.
“Then it just transitioned as I came back to New Orleans,” Luter continued. “Knowing Erik’s story of transition and the fact that he now pastors a church that his dad used to pastor, it just kind of really grew from there just through conversations of how to be faithful in this season in the second chair.”
“’Uncle Fred’ has been an inspiration for me for many years, pretty much my entire pastoral ministry,” Cummings said, referring to Chip’s dad.
“When Chip did come to Florida, he (Fred) let me know, ‘Hey, he’s coming, and I need you to make sure that you do all you can to make sure he’s alright.’ The relationship has definitely grown leaps and bounds since that. It’s been a blessing for me.
“When we started having these conversations, I mentioned to Chip that we were being prepared in Florida for possibly what would happen later. Once he went back to New Orleans, most of our conversations were about just the balance between the emotional and spiritual aspects.”
Cummings said although he ended up taking over for his father, he originally did not have aspirations to be a senior pastor.
Upon finishing college, Cummings returned home South Florida to help his parents prepare for the approaching Hurricane Andrew and ended up never leaving.
After several years working in radio and serving in various ministry roles, Cummings joined New Life Baptist Church of Carol City full time in 1996 as the associate pastor of youth and young adults.
Cummings’ father, Joshua Garvin, announced his plans to retire in 1998, but Cummings did not submit his name to the pastor search committee for consideration.
One day Cummings encountered the search team while they were meeting in the church building, and they asked him why he hadn’t submitted himself for consideration. He did, and he eventually transitioned to the senior pastor role in 2001.
Cummings said he learned much both from working alongside his father in ministry and later pastoring him before his death in 2002.
“The years of serving with him at those levels, I got the chance to see him function in the ‘boardroom’ so to speak in leadership and staff meetings,” Cummings said.
“It was really learning to navigate the line between ministry and home. Between pastor and staff and also between father and son. It’s a unique line because it takes an intentionality so you don’t blur those lines, and so that the mission remains the mission, but the dynamic and relationship between father and son remains the same.
“There were some unique approaches that we would have. There were times we got together and we never discussed ministry or the church, and there were times when we got together where our sole purpose was to discuss ministry and church. Those two years of pastoring him were unique also. When he got ill in that last year of his life I would visit him, just like I would visit other shut-ins.
“When I would sit and talk to him, I felt that was more profound and powerful than I could ever get in a classroom setting. Just the things he shared and the depth of what he shared.”
Similar to Cummings, Luter had served in ministry under his father as the pastor of youth and young adults at Franklin Avenue before going to serve as a pastor in Florida.
Luter began talking with his father during the COVID-19 pandemic about potentially coming back to New Orleans, and he would join as senior associate pastor in 2021.
“One of the things that was good that Erik helped me on was it’s always good when somebody’s gone through it before,” Luter said.
Cummings became a great sounding board because he’d experienced many of the same things Luter was experiencing.
“Erik would say, ‘Yeah, I go through this,’ Luter said. “There is balance between senior pastor and senior associate pastor, and then there’s father and son. Being able to navigate that really helps. It’s good to have good, wise counsel like Erik.”
Some of the practical ministerial advice Luter and Cummings have talked about include:
- Dealing with the emotions of having a parent that is also a supervisor.
- Allowing yourself to function in the ministry role you have right now.
- How to handle having a different perspective from your father on something.
- Not sacrificing the process on the altar of the goal.
Both Cummings and Luter have held various SBC leadership roles at the state and national levels.
Cummings has served as president of the Florida Baptist Convention and currently serves as a member of the SBC Executive Committee. Luter is heavily involved with the Black Church Emerging Leaders, a group of pastors who meet during SBC annual meetings and keep in contact throughout the year.
The two also spoke on the Cooperative Program Stage at the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans about the relationship between seasoned and emerging pastors.