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Southern’s Boyce students help start 18 black churches

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–When Willie McPherson, director of the Home Mission Board’s black church extension division, identified 17 U.S. metropolitan areas with at least 400,000 African Americans, he knew what to do, and he turned to his co-worker, Robert Wilson, to get it done.

In 1995 Wilson in turn contacted Bob Johnson, dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Boyce Bible School, with an idea for a pilot project. Boyce trains ministerial students unable to enroll in graduate theological programs because they do not possess an undergraduate degree.

“He asked if we could develop a fast-tract program for training black church planters,” Johnson recounted. With the dean’s support, Wilson began working with the Boyce staff to design six one-hour courses to be offered in the pilot project. Six states embraced the idea, and in January 1996 Wilson began coordinating the classes through Boyce’s off-campus center in Atlanta.

During Boyce Bible School’s off-campus center directors’ meeting in Louisville, Ky., March 13, Wilson reported that students in the six pilot projects had planted 18 churches. “It cost us about one-third of the money to plant those congregations as opposed to the traditional method of planting churches,” said Wilson, associate director of the HMB black church extension division.

Wilson knows something about church planting. After earning his master’s degree in Christian education from Southern in 1982 and a master of divinity in 1984, Wilson became the first black man appointed by the SBC to plant churches on the West Coast.

“Many African Americans do not go through academic training because of the hoops they have to go through,” Wilson said. But he noted many men called of God are sitting in local churches who, with theological and church-planting training, could help reach blacks throughout America.

“All six courses were contextual to starting African American churches,” Wilson said. The students in the project were tied to a mentor and remain “in covenant for two years with the state convention and the black church extension division,” Wilson explained.

Wilson tied in with Boyce Bible School and others to find laymen who could serve as bivocational pastors starting African American churches in specific communities. As a result, 18 churches were started in Houston, St. Louis, Atlanta and several other cities. Once the churches were started, the pilot project “provided a great support system,” Wilson said.

“Many times students go through five to six years of course work that is then not transferable,” Wilson noted. By attending Boyce Bible School classes in Louisville, in one of its 25 off-campus centers or in the pilot project locations, students get accredited course work and are able to work toward an associate degree.

“We need flexibility to do these kinds of institutes,” Wilson said. “Now we’re working with Boyce to extend the pilot project to five years.”

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  • David Porter