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Perkins to Black pastors: ‘We can’t win the race if we refuse to run’

Lyman Alexander, retired associational missionary in California, worships at the June 9 National African American Fellowship service at Martin University in Indianapolis. Photo by Sonya Singh

INDIANAPOLIS (BP) – National African American Fellowship President Gregory Perkins encouraged Black pastors June 10 to remain in the Southern Baptist Convention amid challenging times that may tempt them to quit.

“I know that it may be difficult serving in a Convention where you might not feel your whole person is valued,” Perkins preached at the George Liele Missions Banquet of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC (NAAF). “I know that you may be weary.

Dennis Mitchell, executive director of the National African American Fellowship (NAAF), gives an announcement during the NAAF annual business meeting June 10 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. Photo by Josselyn Guillen

“I understand that in this heightened political season where the pursuit of sound biblical orthodoxy is often conflated by nationalistic tendencies, it may seem easier, it may seem best to move on.”

Perkins drew his sermon from Hebrews 12:1, encouraging NAAF pastors to remember the faith of trailblazing African American Southern Baptists while relying on God to help them persevere.

“But when you think of the faith of our forefathers and foremothers,” he said, “I pray that their faith will give you the determination not to leave, but to keep running on.”

The banquet culminated NAAF’s slate of events in advance of the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting, including NAAF’s annual worship service June 9 at Martin University, a business meeting and an SBC presidential candidate panel and Q&A. (See a report on the panel discussion in Baptist Press’ compilation of three presidential panels held in Indianapolis.)

In the candidates’ panel, Perkins expressed a shared sentiment of many Southern Baptist Black pastors.

“It has not been easy to be an African American in the Southern Baptist Convention, and you should understand that,” Perkins told the candidates. “This election of SBC president is one of great consequence. Things are clear until the clarity adversely impacts you. Things make sense until what makes sense adversely impacts you.”

In his sermon, Perkins encouraged pastors to stay in the race because too many people have yet to hear the Gospel, and Satan would be pleased by the pastors’ withdrawal.

Hazel Coleman, left, of World Vision, and Theresa Lyons of Temple of Faith Church in Detroit, participate in worship during the National African American Fellowship banquet June 10. Photo by Josselyn Guillen

“There’s too much work to do. There are too many souls that still need to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Perkins said. “And the things that God did through Enoch, through Noah, through Abraham, through Jacob, through Isaac, through Joseph, through Moses, through a prostitute called Rahab, through (George) McCalep, though (E.W.) McCall … is the same God who desires to use you.

“We can’t win the race if we refuse to stay in the race.”

He encouraged pastors to remove any excess from their lives that hinder their progress or any distractions Satan might use against them, and to rely on Scripture instead of emotions.

“The greatest struggle, NAAF, is to not live through the lens of yesterday and thereby forfeit our tomorrow,” he said. “I know we have struggles in the SBC. We have struggles in life, but I don’t see nobody opting out of life.”

Business Meeting

In its June 10 business meeting, NAAF approved additions to its leadership team, ratified the extension of the term of the president from two years to three years, and heard updates on accomplishments and new initiatives.

A group of women enjoy the NAAF First Ladies Network event. The group was launched a year ago to encourage and support women in their roles as pastors’ wives. Photo by Lindsey Stumpf

NAAF is launching three educational initiatives that Perkins described as tailored to the specific nuances of African American pastors and churches, a preaching peer learning cohort with the Clamp Center for Preaching Excellence at Clamp Divinity School of Anderson University in Anderson, S.C., and an educational cohort under development with Liberty University.

Despite the value of multicultural congregations, Perkins said the African American church context is still needed.

“What we’re trying to do,” he said of the educational cohorts, “is partner with institutions to create channels of training and channels of learning so that you can be optimally equipped for the work (with which) you have been entrusted.”

More than 30 pastors are registered to attend the George Liele Mission trip to Linstead, Jamaica, June 20-25, the inaugural trip in the George Liele Global Initiative designed to equip pastors and congregations in serving countries in the African diaspora. Jamaica, Ghana and Ethiopia are targeted.

Newly elected are NAAF board members Bartholomew Orr, senior pastor of Brown Missionary Baptist Church in Southaven, Miss., affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board; Torian Bridges, pastor of Commonwealth of Faith Church in Redford, Mich.; and Christopher Waters, senior pastor of Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga.

Other new officers are Historian Dwight McKissic, senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas; Parliamentarian Lyman Alexander, a retired director of missions; and regional director Tyrone Barnett, senior pastor of Peace Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga.

Returning as officers are president Perkins; National Vice President Jerome Coleman, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Crestmont, Willow Grove, Pa.; and Executive Director Dennis Mitchell.

In an update on the First Ladies Network, a group NAAF launched a year ago to encourage and support women in their roles as pastors’ wives, network coordinator Pam Mitchell announced the leadership team of Kim Hardy, an author, speaker and wife of Dexter Hardy, founding pastor of Lifepoint Church in Marietta, Ga.; Robin Burns, wife of Anthony Burns, senior pastor of Jericho Church Without Walls in Milwaukee, Wisc., and Peggy Alexander, wife of Lyman Alexander.


Perkins, a Gateway Seminary alumnus, recognized at the banquet SBC Executive Committee President and CEO Jeff Iorg for his denominational service, noting his commitment to diversity and proclaiming him “the right man for such a time as this.” Kevin James, president of the California African American Fellowship (CAAF) of the SBC, also recognized Iorg for his support of the California fellowship.

While in California, Iorg served as an elder at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Ontario, a predominantly African American congregation. Iorg thanked NAAF CAAF and Mt. Zion family for friendship and support, especially as he transitioned from the presidency of Gateway Seminary to the SBC Executive Committee.

“I’m sometimes asked what’s it like to be an elder at an African American church,” Iorg said. “The answer is, (it’s) about like being an elder at any other church. We’re dealing with people,” he mused, “but mostly we’re trying to stay on mission. … Our agenda is the Gospel, and our purpose is the mission of the Gospel.”

He commended NAAF for its commitment to the Gospel mission as well, and requested prayers for himself and Southern Baptists as they try to continue on mission.

In other recognitions, NAAF honored James with a service award as he steps down as an at-large NAAF member, but continues in his CAAF presidency; John Rollins as he completes his service as NAAF treasurer; and Anthony Dockery, pastor of St. Stephen Baptist Church in La Puente, Calif., for his service on the SBC Executive Committee.

Sunday worship

Clinton McFarland, senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Atlanta, delivered the sermon in NAAF’s annual worship service at 6:30 in the Gathertorium at Martin University, the only majority African American university in Indiana.

Preaching from 1 Samuel 17:32-37, McFarland focused on “Giant-Fighting Faith,” recounting David’s unlikely victory as a shepherd in defeating the giant Goliath. He encouraged pastors and others to have faith like David’s, knowing that God is fighting their battles.

“They heard Goliath challenging them,” McFarland said of other Israelites who feared Goliath. “David heard Goliath challenging God. When they challenge you, and you are God’s child, it is not a challenge to you, it is a challenge to Him.”