by Robert Earl Houston
As previously noted, the election season of most of the traditional National Baptist Conventions is about to converge upon us beginning with the Presidential election of the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. International next week in Memphis, Tennessee.
The NBCAI will be first; Then in August, the Progressive National Baptist Convention will meet in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to elect a new president for a two year term; Then in September in New Orleans, Louisiana, the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. will elect a new president. Then in 2015, (if memory serves me right), the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America will vote.
The campaigns are in full-gear. I have a few observations after listening to some discussions and it boils down to one simple question:
“What happens if you lose?“
I would love to hear, for once in my lifetime, the losing candidate of a national baptist election to say these words: “I want to congratulate the winner and assure him and the convention of my loyal support.”
Unfortunately, in recent convention history a phenomenon has developed negatively. Let’s walk through it. I’ll use my name as an example, but remember, I have NEVER ran for National Office (and have no desire to):
Dr. Robert Earl Houston decides to run for national president. I then assemble a campaign team, including a campaign director, meet with various state leaders, raise (or borrow) money, then devote myself to running, showing up in various venues, and then conduct a campaign that may not be holy and always ethical. I may have to utilize some “bulldogs” in the trenches to try to deter, destroy and defeat the integrity of either the sitting president or those who are candidates as well – and yet be at arms’ length enough away that if my campaign gets called on it, I can say “I didn’t say that.”
Of course, I have to have a slogan. Let’s see . . . How about “Robert Earl for Prez” – that’s catching. I need a marketing strategy, website . . . oh yeah, gotta raise more money, because the cost of running for a national office can reach six figures. I have to make sure my wardrobe looks “presidential.” Gotta have a media team – to reach out to the younger pastors and to look hip (even though a national convention has not had a president under 40 since PNBC did so in the EARLY 1980’s) to this newer generation, I need a media coordinator, a “twitter-er,” a web designer, videographer, photographer, and maybe I need to release a “fresh rhema word” everyday to draw in younger preachers, because you know younger preachers value flash over ethics.
Then the day of the election comes and the delegates cast their votes. I make sure that the photographer takes the photo of me emerging from the voting station. I’m going to walk the hallways all day and prepare for the announcement along with my team. Of course, they are going to surround me at the microphone, current leadership be damned.
The announcement comes. My palms are sweaty, I step out just for a second so I can look great at the announcement. I sit there and then the announcement is made . . . I just lost.
Damn. After all that work, energy – matter of fact, I raised more money in running than the national convention raised in foreign mission giving and home mission combined. My slate of officers, where I promised some of the pastors intricate roles in the Houston administration, is now history. And I am pissed off that the collective convention could not see the vision that I saw for leadership. They’d rather choose the one who won by a legitimate vote instead of the one who had the great campaign, multi-media, twitter, instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube (after all of those commercials I authorized).
So, I get up, and signal for everyone following me to walk out of the hallway and we are not coming back. Let’s see how they do without me and all of the churches and pastors who have committed to me. Let’s see how much money they raise now. Let’s see how many mission projects get funded now. Resurrection of Bishop College? Won’t happen now. Because when we leave, nobody will come to the convention. The convention will be a hollow shell. And the new President and his campaign staff and convention leadership can all go to hell, as far as I’m concerned. I might even meet with my supporters later this week and maybe we’ll form a new convention or call it a conference or fellowship. THE END.
Even though the story is fictional, the reality is that this scenario lurks in the background and histories of all four conventions. Yes, it can happen in National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. Yes, it can happen in the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. Yes, it can happen in the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. and yes, it can happen in the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America. The truth of the matter is this – it has happened before and God help us if it happens again.
What any losing candidate should do is:
a. Swallow your pride and congratulate the winner, (shake hands, hug) immediately, on stage. Right now!
b. Ask to address the audience after the winner speaks and say to the body:
“Brother President elect. I ran for the office because I wanted to see substantive change in our Convention. However, I yield to the will of God, who has spoken through these voting delegates. I am disappointed, but above everything, I am a called man of God who understands that a three-fold cord is not quickly broken. Therefore, I want this convention and this President to know that we are not nor never been enemies. We are brothers who met somewhere at the cross. And I want all my supporters and delegates to stand and as the late Dr. A. Louis Patterson would say “Appreciatively applaud OUR president – I said OUR president. And we aren’t going anywhere. We shall support you and your vision for this convention, to be the best of our abilities.”
c. And the winner needs to consider utilizing people who supported the losing candidate in positions as well. Winning a convention and going to war with a segment of the convention doesn’t make sense. There are gifted people who supported other candidates – it doesn’t mean that just because they didn’t vote for you that they are less gifted or won’t support you as well.
Otherwise, we will not have to worry about the government or Southern Baptist or Full Gospel or American Baptist or GUF destroying us – we’ll do a fine job all by yourselves.
YOUR COMMENTS WELCOME
Why aren’t I excited?
In the history of African-American baptists this is the closest thing to a Super Bowl – the changing of the guard in all four major conventions within a short period of time.
This year, there are contested elections in the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. and the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. International. Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. will be electing a new chieftain, apparently without any opposition. And the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America will soon begin their process of elections within the next few months.
I should be giddy; I should be interested and involved; I should be watching with great interest.
So, why aren’t I excited?
I’ve come to the conclusion that the paradigm of our National Conventions are in great need of prayerful examination. Little has changed since the historic NBC/NBCA split of 1915. Basically the same structures are in place: There are women missionary unions (which are dying all over the country in favor of “women ministries” or localized names for ministries for the women); Most churches have some type of men’s work, but on a national level, it’s dying. Oddly, the largest auxiliaries in most of our churches, music ministry, are largely ignored in most of the conventions.
In most of the conventions, the Presidency is held by, what I believe, are godly men who love the Lord. However, they are shepherding conventions that are not stuck because of the infusion of new leadership, they are stuck because the constituency is just not there.
Let’s look at it. In order to be a participating member, the average convention will ask for at least $1,000 of annual representation. However, to get to the convention, with airfare ridiculously high and hotels that are making major profits for a room that, if you go to the convention to be active as a delegate you won’t spend more than 8 hours in the room. If the room is $200 per night, that means you are paying $25 per hour to stay in that said room (8 hours) – or consider it like this – you are paying the hotelier $8.50 per hour NOT to stay in your room.
Airfares are ridiculously high. All of the national conventions are losing members in the Western United States because of the $500-$800 round trip airfare to fly from Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Portland, Oakland, Sacramento, Fresno, Bakersfield, Orange County, etc. to go to the Midwest and Southern United States where most of our national meetings are held.
Many pastors struggle with asking a congregation to send them to the convention under these uncertain financial times. In this age of technology, is there really a need for a “Board Meeting?” In these times, is it really necessary to conduct business like we’re stuck in 1915. Why do we need a board of over 50 people to decide the work of a convention? Why is it that when you come to a convention you’ll hear either preachers who are not affiliated with your convention (which means there is a loss of support) or it’s the same one or two preachers who preach every year?
I told a joke once about a Board Meeting where a national president was presiding to make out a program. He said, “XYZ, do you want to preach?” the minister responded: “Yes sir, brother president.” “ABC, do you want to preach?” the minister responded: “Yes sir, brother president.” “DEF, do you want to preach?” the minister responded: “Yes sir, brother president.” “All right, we have made out our program, the Lord is pleased.”
I’m not sure.
What has happened to our conventions? I think we need to look at a few things:
a. Conferences are killing the conventions. Whether it’s a preaching conference or a family conference (i.e., MegaFest) – they are now being populated by the same folk that used to go to National Baptist Conventions. I went to the Pastors’ Conference sponsored by Bishop T.D. Jakes, and I ran into so many PNBC, NMBCA, NBCA, and NBCUSA pastors, that I’ve served with for years. The same is to be said of the preaching conferences that EQUIP pastors to do their most vital task – preach the word.
b. Conventions are no longer THE PLACE to hear great, challenging preaching. Before the advent of YouTube, you HAD TO go to the Conventions to hear the best in black preaching. Very few ministers were on or could afford national TV exposure in that day – so if you wanted to hear Caeser A.W. Clark, E.K. Bailey, E. Edward Jones, Stephen Thurston, Melvin Wade, P.S. Wilkerson, John H. Jackson, Gardner Taylor, and others – you had to go to the Conventions. But now, I can hear Freddie Haynes in the privacy of my church office. I can hear Paul Sylvester Morton while I’m flying on an airplane. I can hear Charles Booth via CD or DVD. Our greatest preachers are not being heard when you come to the Convention. Why is that???
c. Conventions are burning out those who support it. I’ve been in conventions since my pastor, the late Dr. A. Bernard Devers, MADE ME go to the Convention and I went to NBCA meetings in Denver and San Francisco. I’ve had the privilege of working on the staff of several national presidents and conventions. Even on a conference or two. But you begin to notice something: the workers aren’t coming back. When I grew up in NBCA, the Secretaries served for 20, 30, 40 years. The staff rarely, if ever, changed. Younger pastors manned the Secretary tables or were brought along and mentored in areas of the convention that interested them. But now, there is such a change because new presidents supply new staffers – and the old staffers stay home.
d. This is going to be painful – but we don’t need all of these Conventions and Congresses. We really don’t. We have, as of this writing, four major Black African-American Baptist Conventions, not counting those who are in Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship, the Global United Fellowship, Free Will Baptists, etc. We are stretched way too thin. By the time you have a District Association and Congress/Institute, a State Convention and Congress/Institute, a Regional Convention and Congress/Institute, a National Convention and Congress/Institute – you have financially tapped out your resources by giving to EIGHT DIFFERENT GROUPS. Most churches are cutting back or eliminating their participation not because they don’t recognize the historical significance of the convention, but literally the toll financially is too high.
e. The Presidential elections are depressing instead of exciting. I was from an era when Presidents rarely changed. It provided stability. However, there is, in my opinion, a spirit of rebellion that has permeated our elections. If Candidate A wins, Candidate B and all of his people stop supporting. It’s like winning a boxing match, but you lose some of your teeth and your eye. You can still function, but not look you could have. The personal attacks on leaders is so out of bounds. Run for the office, not trying to kill the person in office with slander and innuendo. This era of suggestion, innuendo . . . The Tea Party could be given a run for it’s money by how we conduct elections. Someone once said it takes about $100,000.00 to run for President of a convention. I don’t mind an election, as long as we remember that we’re brothers and sisters from the same cloth.
So what can be done to engender my enthusiasm or the enthusiasm of those like me? I’m not sure. But in economic times like these, some consolidation should be on the table. The world will not end if a Board Meeting were cancelled. The world would not end if two conventions could reunite (my personal plea for this would be the National Baptist Convention of America and National Missionary Baptist Convention). The world will not end if we pooled our resources for a named objective (i.e., Resurrection of Bishop College). The world will not end if we could look at the dias and see Vice Presidents or Presidents under 60 years old or General Secretaries in their 30s and 40s. The world will not end if we took advantage of the rapidly changing technologies and instead of going to the convention, let the convention come to you.
The world will not end if all of the conventions gave directly to Lott Carey and let that group manage our monies for missions. The world will not end if a Board of Directors were only 7 people strong instead of 100 people weak. The world will not end if the Pastor’s Conference went from preaching at me to teaching me techniques of how to preach when I get home. The world not end if we stop the parade of vendors who tell trinkets and bring in vendors who sell resources.
The world will not end if the Conventions went regionals and held group meetings every 2 or 4 years nationally. The world will not end if the Convention elected a Chief Operating Officer or some one well versed in Administration to run the conventions between meetings. The world will not end if a Convention made a bold move and held its annual session or board meeting on a cruise ship . The world would not end if it was completely electronic and we dispensed with the lanyards in favor of wrist bands. The world will not end if the President doesn’t speak every year. The world will not end if the Convention reached out to the West Coast and the Northeast Coast, instead of ignoring them. The world will not end if the Convention hired several psychologists and counselors and created a “safe space” for pastors and/or their wives to go for some type of private counseling.
Oh well, I could dream . . .
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED
by Robert Earl Houston
Where art thou? . . . (Genesis )
I’ve been “blogging” off and on for several years. Recently, I discovered a way to combine several of my enterprises, namely “Homegoing of the Saints” which puts a spotlight on those African-American pastors who go home to be with the Lord; the “Vacant Church List” which was the first listing for African-American Baptist pulpits online (and I’ve done it without charge or entry fee for years); and then I’ve put out several notices, etc. and developed a fairly strong following. Since being on WordPress since late last year, I’m approaching 250,000 visits. God be praised.
In recent years other pastors have been regularly blogging – H.B. Charles, Jr. has an excellent blog and leans heavily on preaching themes. Dwight McKissic has an excellent blog as well and he “gets after” Southern Baptist Convention issues and is one of the leading SBC bloggers. Kip Banks, General Secretary of the Progressive National Baptist Convention recently started a blog and there are other brothers out there blogging – but to my knowledge, that number is less than 25. Shaun King’s Shaun in the City is one of those mind-stretching blogs and he is very transparent in his church planting saga.
Where are the Black Pastoral Bloggers?
The purpose of this blog today is to encourage African-American Pastors to blog. Blogging is to participate in a form of social media that is more probative than a 140 word tweet or a quick flash on Facebook. It’s not expensive – there are free sites available and many internet providers are available so you can personalize the site even more with your own name (which I recommend).
The diaspora of African-American pastors should be reflected in the blogosphere. Pastors who are in the rural parts of the nation, I believe, are just as significant in their struggles, triumphs, etc. as those who pastor mega-churches. Those pastors who came before us carried to the grave pieces of wit, wisdom and experience that I know would have been a blessing to this generation. You can participate.
I would love to post and re-post articles that I’ve discovered from those of African-American hue. I think that our experiences are just as real and profound as MacArthur, Stanley, Piper, Stetzer and others. Matter of fact, I ran a search for “best pastor blogs” and maybe 1 or 2 blogs of people of color were even mentioned.
It’s because we have a story to tell that we’re not telling. We have great minds, great talents, great experiences that should and need to be heard.
I’m not a mega pastor. My congregation (on roll) is around 700 members or so. We don’t have one church in multiple locations. We have our issues like everyone else. But blogging for the pastor gives you a discipline in word construction, sentence structure, and analytical thinking that enhances your pulpit presentation. Trust me on that.
Just a word of warning – blog but don’t vent. Never take to the national stage your local church issues. If “Sister Sally” is kicking your tail in business meeting, don’t make her a national issue. If “Brother John” just cussed you out last week, don’t make him a national celebrity. In other words, be careful what you blog about – if it’s murky to you – it may leave room for a church member to misinterpret what you were trying to say.
I will make this promise to you – if you have a blog or know of a blog that will be helpful – I will make a link to it from my site – and if you have one, I hope you will do the same.
One final word – this is not to demean other races – that’s not my purpose. My purpose in this fast-changing African-American led church, is to encourage pastors (not laypersons, not associates) but pastors to share their views.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED
by Robert Earl Houston
I want to lift up the names of preachers who have made an impact in my life. This is part one of a series. These are not in any particular order . . .
DR. E.V. HILL, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – Dr. Hill was one of my favorite pictures. He was one of the first black preachers on national television and his sermons were profound yet simple; elegant but practical. He preached for our state convention, the General Baptist Convention of the Northwest, for several years:
DR. DONALD LEE PARSON, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – The first time I heard Dr. Parson, he was the guest evangelist for my home church in Portland, Oregon and from that first night, I was hooked. What a tremendous preacher and even now, some 35 years later, Dr. Parson remains not only a mentor, but a friend.
DR. ROBERT H. WILSON, SR., DALLAS, TEXAS – If you grew up in the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., you had to know and meet Dr. Bob – Dr. Robt. H. Wilson, Sr., who brought the Foreign Mission Board into the millions of dollars of donations and was one of the premier preachers. Impeccably dressed, he was the style standard for many young pastors and preachers.
DR. E. EDWARD JONES, II, SHREVEPORT, LOUISIANA – I was a child when I first heard “The Tall Angel” Dr. Jones. I still remember his sermon “A Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and to hear him and know him was a privilege. He remembers everyone by name (still don’t know how he does it) and don’t let him snap those suspenders while preaching…
BISHOP T.D. JAKES, DALLAS, TEXAS – Bishop Jakes has changed black preaching forever. What E.K. Bailey did for expository preaching, Bishop Jakes has done for a new style of preaching that mixes expository, extemporaneous and exegetical into a perfect blend of style and soul.
DR. A. LOUIS PATTERSON, HOUSTON, TEXAS – I am a sold-out A. Louis Patterson fan. Whenever he’s in the area, I make it my business to hear the Prince of Preachers. I remember the first time I heard him, I was mesmerized by his theology and vocabulary skills. I met him personally when I served as his Facilitator during the Bishop College L.K. Williams Ministers Institute in his class on preaching. I’ve never been the same.
DR. R.A. WILLIAMS, JR., LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – What I am as an expository preacher is the “fault” of this preacher. Dr. Williams, who I knew as a teenager, took preaching to a new level, mixed it with whooping (and he was the first to be non-apologetic for the craft) and blew my mind. For many years in Portland, at the St. Mark Baptist Church, he was the preacher we wanted to hear in Revival.
DR. E.K. BAILEY, DALLAS, TEXAS – Dr. Bailey and I met in Portland, Oregon when he did revivals at the Morning Star Baptist Church and I went to the early years of his conference in Dallas (I plan to return soon). He embraced me as a young pastor and every time we ran into each other, he always wanted to know how was I doing. I was with him at the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America shortly before his passing and a picture of him and I is one of my most precious photographs. He is responsible for black expository preaching being the standard.
DR. MELVIN VON WADE, SR., LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – Another one of the preachers that Dr. E.C. Wilder brought to Portland, Oregon. Manuscript Preachers love Melvin Wade because he has taught us that you can be expository, lyrical and poetic at the same time and still preach from a manuscript.
DR. GARDNER CALVIN TAYLOR, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK – In my mind, no list is complete without the Dean of Preachers. I’ve met Dr. Taylor on several occasions and he is one of the greatest black preachers to have ever walked in the land. From his humble Louisiana roots – he never personified New York preaching, he created it; he set the standard for preaching and humility as a way to climb high. I’m glad that he saw his dream in Nashville – all four of the major National Baptist conventions come together not once, but once again in Atlanta.