by Robert Earl Houston
It is customary at the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. that when the Nominating Committee comes forth, they always present the prognosis of elections. “Next year, 55% of our elected officers will change.” It helps the convention to prepare for the turnover. I’ve come to say that within the next year, it is possible that all four of our traditional national baptist conventions AND the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship will change leadership.
NATIONAL BAPTIST CONVENTION, USA, INC.
Dr. Julius Scruggs of Alabama was elected President in 2009 and several ministers have declared or exploring runs to challenge him in 2013, if he decides to seek re-election. The election will be held at their annual session in New Orleans in 2014.
NATIONAL MISSIONARY BAPTIST CONVENTION OF AMERICA
The NMBCA has actually been operating without a President since the death of Dr. C.C. Robertson of Dallas. In a controversial move, the Executive Board decided to postpone the election until the annual session next month in San Antonio. The current Vice President, Dr. Nehemiah Davis, is acting president and is being challenged for the post by Rev. Dale Jay Sanders, Sr. and Dr. Samuel H. Smith, Sr. of Louisiana and Texas, respectively.
PROGRESSIVE NATIONAL BAPTIST CONVENTION
Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore, Sr. is the current, tenured President and will complete his two terms in 2014. As of this writing, the only declared candidate is Dr. James C. Perkins of Detroit. At least four men are running for the office of 2nd Vice President including a layman. Their election will be in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
NATIONAL BAPTIST CONVENTION OF AMERICA, INC. INTERNATIONAL
Dr. Stephen John Thurston of Chicago, IL has served since 2003 and will lead the convention into Memphis for the 2014 annual session. At present there is at least several declared candidates: Dr. Samuel Tolbert of Louisiana, which means that for the first time in NBCA history, a President will seek re-election against a Vice President; and Dr. George Brooks of Nashville, who has served as Congress President.
FULL GOSPEL BAPTIST CHURCH FELLOWSHIP
Bishop Paul S. Morton, Sr., who is now the leader with more tenure than all four of the traditional convention presidents combined, has lead FGBCF since 1994, meaning that he has 19 years of leadership. He recently announced the name of his successor – Bishop Joseph Warren Walker of Nashville, who will begin his tenure in 2015.
It will be interesting watching developments of this passing of the torches.
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
Convention politics is a ruthless animal. I don’t care which national baptist convention or methodist or COGIC or apostolic or any Christian or non-Christian group – when you get people together who worship together flawlessly, once the worship is over, human nature kicks in and a political atmosphere can easily divide what a spiritual atmosphere has produced.
Last week in Louisville, (and weeks beforehand), the talk of the nation was the transition of leadership in the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship. Bishop Paul Sylvester Morton, Sr., International Presiding Bishop (IPB), had previously announced his “retirement” in 2015 and his desire to name his successor in 2013 in order that the new IPB could “learn the ropes” and that there would be a seamless transition. Literally, Bishop Morton would be IPB one day and there would be a new IPB the next day. It was a grand plan that apparently the Bishop Council approved.
Unfortunately, politics kicked in.
From laypersons to Pastors to Overseers to Bishops – camps started forming. There were all kinds of names being bandied about – because the initial word was that Bishop Morton would hand-pick his own successor. Even pastors and denominational leaders who didn’t “have a dog in the fight” were speculating on who would succeed the charismatic IPB from Louisiana/Georgia. Names were floated and scenarios were drawn:
– What IF Bishop Morton called Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer and asked him to return to Full Gospel?
– What IF Bishop Morton decided to look outside of the Bishops Council?
– What IF Bishop Morton chose a leader of a smaller group and sought a merger?
Names were thrown around at will and then as Louisville drew closer the talk settled down to two names: Bishop Neil C. Ellis of Nassau, The Bahamas and Bishop Joseph Warren Walker, III of Nashville, Tennessee. I have met and worshipped with both men and have respect for both of their ministries and they are both trailblazers in their respective areas.
Bishop Ellis’ native country is The Bahamas, which is recently (within 50 years) set “free” from the Colonial rule of Great Britain, but still retains a strong influence which means that worship is along the line of Anglican (Church of England) worship. That style of worship is not a typical U.S. baptist worship, but lends itself to a more sedate worship. He broke the mold at Mt. Tabor Full Gospel Baptist Church and his ministry literally changed a generation of worshippers there. In Full Gospel he rose through the ranks and, in my opinion, is one of the top 5 preachers in Full Gospel.
Bishop Walker, a native of Shreveport, Louisiana, is a mega-pastor in Nashville of the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church that was “in the hood” – right by Fisk, Meharry and Tennessee State Universities and “blew up.” Everyone in Nashville is aware of the growth of that 28,000 member plus congregation. Although they relocated the main worship centers to three different areas outside of the original property, they continued a commitment to that neighborhood and has a standing room only worship on Wednesday afternoons for the College and community, they maintain mission work in that area, and have strong ties to TSU and provides transportation, food, and ministry to the students. Of course, like Ellis, they both have national TV ministries. For the last few years he has given directions to the Pastors Conference.
The camps had compelling arguments, which were actually articulated by one of the transition team leaders during his lecture about “How to Transition Your Ministry:”
If you choose Bishop Ellis it would have been a sign of continuity. He has been one of the prime forces in assisting Bishop Morton in theme selection and the flow of the Conference. He would have taken a very strong stance on spiritual issues and he was very familiar with the protocols of the Conference since he helped author many of their protocols and marketing strategies.
If you choose Bishop Walker it would have been a sign of change. He has the largest congregation in the Fellowship and he has had direct dealings with the younger pastors and has been instrumental in assisting many of them with transitioning their congregations from traditional baptist settings to Full Gospel. Because he is familiar with mega settings, he would have been able to tap into the process of Conferences and is used to seven figure budgets.
And then it happened. Bishop Morton called together the Bishops Council who went into sequestration to deliver to him a name. Bishop Ellis did something that no one saw coming.
He took his name out of the process.
Before a packed house at the Louisville International Convention Center and before a national television audience (unfortunately the naming of the IPB was not televised because the speaker after Dr. Jamal Harrison Bryant decided to take up 40 minutes of time and bumped the most important moment of the week off of the air), Bishop Ellis explained that during the meeting, he voluntarily withdrew his name from consideration because the politics of the choice had wearied him and grieved him spiritually. He said that because of his love for the organization, he would rather move out of the way in order to keep the unity of the body. To a stunned crowd, who sat there, some with bowed heads, some with tears, Bishop Ellis became the epitome of humility and showed that he doesn’t just talk the talk, but he walks the walk. In the words of a friend, “he became St. Ellis” to me.
Bishop Ellis has become for all denominations and even for local churches, especially pastors – Exhibit A.
What has happened to us that we are willing to either split or allow the rumors of splits to go on without reprimand, that we would allow ourselves to become bigger than our purpose? I’ve been preaching for 35 years and a student of black baptist history and I’ve seen it on all three levels – Nationally, States (Regions), and Districts, when politics has ripped apart our organizations and after 133 years of National Baptist history not one convention owns a hospital; not one state convention operates a hotel; not one District runs a seminary; not one convention has a stand-alone retirement program; not one State has a national TV broadcast; not one District has (to my knowledge) a child development program, like momma used to say in most cases, don’t have two red nickels to rub together.
We have leaders that are only concerned about their election or re-election. I’m a State President of a state body in Kentucky, which I never campaigned for, and I’m not looking for nor am I campaigning for re-election. I’ll tell you why – hell, this is not easy. It’s a drain of your time. It’s a drain of your resources. It’s a drain of sometimes having to reset a group. It’s a drain of your family time. It’s a drain of your work with your church. It’s not an easy task. And the higher you go, where the group is larger and larger – unfortunately many times the selected man is not the most godly man. Or the leader becomes what he previously campaigned against.
I’ve seen candidates for convention leadership waste resources with buttons and pins and billboards and sheets and middle of the night stuffing of door entries with campaign flyers while being in hotels in cities where no evangelism was done in that community by the group because the priority of a convention overruled the priority of the Savior. I’ve seen conventions waste more money on getting someone elected as leader and then report a paltry sum of money was given to missions, education and evangelism. I’ve seen “Survivor” styled alliances formed. I’ve seen national convention split over personality instead of scripture, power instead of ministry, and it’s left us with four badly battered national baptist conventions which numbers that can’t even draw the attention and calendar of the President of the United States to a meeting. Several groups have gone to court about who will be their next leader, and attorneys have gotten paid well for perpetuating the fight which is costly and winds up putting brother vs. brother. It’s ungodly and has turned off generations of preachers of all ages.
But Bishop Neil C. Ellis stood, flat-footed, measured, and not emotional – but spiritual. He gained a national dialogue about humility. For all the talk of those who were going to leave FGBCF if Bishop Ellis became IPB saw first hand that if he were selected, he had the integrity, spirituality and love for the fellowship that was worthy of following. He never raised his voice. He never turned it into a “look at me” moment and he didn’t use that precious time to make it a platform for self-grandizement. He stood there, before the world, and declared that he is Exhibit A for humility and that a Convention is not worth losing your soul over.
On Wednesday evening, Bishop Ellis asked a question of the FGBCF that I want to amplify in this discussion. What happened to the people of God praying? Praying is the ultimate act of humility. In prayer you have to humble yourself beneath the almighty hand of God. Maybe the reason why many of us are not humble is because we haven’t submitted ourselves fully to God. Bishop Ellis showed us all that humility is not a catch phrase – it’s a lifestyle.
Bishop Neil C. Ellis is Exhibit A. I pray that others of us who want to climb or are climbing in leadership will pick up that same spirit.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME.
by Robert Earl Houston
LOUISVILLE, KY – 20 years ago several charismatic baptist pastors organized what many traditional baptist convention leaders dismissed oft-hand, the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship. I remember having reservations about my local district association which decided to teach an entire week “against” their foundational statements and structures. There were many National, State, and District leaders that went on the record and/or in private discussions that said “(Bishop Paul Sylvester) Morton and them ain’t going to last ten years.”
I was in attendance at the very first session of the Fellowship in New Orleans and to be honest – I had some doubts but time has told the tale. I remember sitting way up near the top of the New Orleans Superdome and never having seen that many black baptists gathered together in one spot. The worship was unlike anything I had ever seen. Nomenclatures were used that I had never heard before in the Baptist Church – Bishops, Overseers, Tiers of Leadership, Presiding International Bishop, a Policy and Procedures Manual, Protocol – and a plethora of terms never used among us “good baptists.”
There was a sound from the music ministry that hadn’t been heard or seen before. There was jubilation. There was movement. There were keyboards and hammonds and drums and horns and then, praise and worship – which is now a staple in most of our churches. That act alone was amplified at Full Gospel.
Twelve “founding fathers” – many of them who were supporters of the traditional baptist conventions – stepped out and stepped away to partner with Bishop Paul Sylvester Morton, pastor of the St. Stephen Baptist Church, New Orleans. Joining Bishop Morton was Bishop Odis A. Floyd (who had folded his Free Spirit movement in with Full Gospel) of Flint, MI; Bishop Larry D. Trotter of Chicago; Bishop Carlos L. Malone of Miami; Bishop J.D. Wiley of New Orleans; Bishop K.D. Johnson; Bishop Larry D. Leonard of Houston; Bishop Kenneth Robinson of Little Rock; Bishop Kenneth Ulmer of Los Angeles; Bishop Fred Caldwell of Shreveport; Bishop Robert Blake of New Orleans; Bishop Eddie Long of Atlanta; and Bishop A.R. Williams. (Sorry I don’t have all of the hometowns for the Bishops). These men constructed a new structure – from scratch. Gone were District Associations, District Congresses, State Conventions and State Congresses, gone were even national “conventions.” They even had the “nerve” to change the administration of a national group of predominantly black baptists from a democracy to a theocracy.
“It’ll never work”
“It don’t take all that”
“All they want is a collar and a title”
The answer from Bishop Morton and the Founding Fathers was simple – “Baptists have a right to choose.” While denominational leaders cursed them, the Fellowship grew. Younger pastors, who had no allegiance to the historic conventions or who saw no value in the conventions, left in droves. This was also around the time of the demise of Bishop College – where young seminarians were introduced to and received support from the National Baptist Conventions. Even pastors who questioned the necessity of supporting conventions where denominational leaders were not responsive or appeared concerned about them personally but were too engaged to operate corporately – that pastors and their congregants. Nobody wants to be a member of a convention and the leadership act as though they don’t care about empowering or encouraging the local pastors.
20 years later, Full Gospel is still around. Vibrant. Alive. They met this week in Louisville in their annual 6 in 1 Conference – a Pastors Conference, a Men’s Conference, a Women’s Conference, a Youth Conference, a Young Adult Conference and a Worship (Music) Conference. When I parked my car at the Galt House – something impressed me. I saw license plates from literally all over the country. Bishop Neil C. Ellis announced that he led a delegation of 500 persons from The Bahamas, who paid over $750 each to attend the Conference. Inside the hallway I saw something else – pastors from the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., and the National Baptist Convention of America, along with pastors from other baptist and non-baptist traditions. Even with Bishop Morton preparing to retire as International Presiding Bishop in 2015 . . . the Fellowship will, no matter who’s in charge, will survive.
I saw young pastors, adult pastors, and elder pastors.
I saw singers and recording artists.
I saw an exhibit hall that offered resources that outweighed hats, shoes and suits.
I saw resources from colleges to insurance to information.
I saw giving on a level without brow-beating and coercing.
I saw corporate sponsorships coming from the likes of McDonald’s.
I saw a technical savvy like I’ve never seen before.
I saw youth and children stopping and praying for each other.
Full Gospel is open to all. There is no such thing as women being in subservant or secondary roles. There are pastors who don’t have women in ministry, but they aren’t protesting the vision of Bishop Morton, by allowing women to serve, preach and teach.
What you don’t hear are the chaotic reports, the excuses for dwindling attendance, the motions and seconds, and you don’t hear any pastor bashing – it is never tolerated. The people are taught to honor the men and women of God at the pastoral level. I have been strengthened this week, I’ve been encouraged this week, and I’ve been helped this week.
I don’t know about the four traditional conventions – but I think the paradigm has been challenged by Full Gospel and maybe the order needed a good holy kick. I predict that we may see, in this generation, either consolidation of some of the tradition conventions or in order for them to survive – a drastic change is in order.