NAAF President Dr. Marshal L. Ausberry, Sr. Responds to SBTS Report on Slavery & Racism

As President of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention, I commend Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Mohler’s commissioning the study and releasing the internal report on the history of slavery and racism at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is clear leadership akin to the men of Issachar. (1 Chronicles 12:32 (ESV) 32 Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do…) Dr. Mohler clearly understands the times and knows what to do!

I am sure that Dr. Mohler understands that he will face backlash in some corners. A leader does not stick his finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing to make a decision. Instead, a true leader makes a decision knowing the right thing to do and does it!

The reporting of the study should not surprise anyone! The history is the history! The Mother seminary of the SBC marches in lockstep with the SBC. The history shows that the Seminary as an institution reflected the political and social culture of its time. It is perplexing how otherwise godly men could miss the mark so badly. But, when culture and politics have such an unmerited influence, the reaping is the result of what has been sewn. Southern Seminary is not by herself, many institutions of that era were swimming in the same river of prejudice, racism, and elitism cloaked in the sheets of the idea of manifest destiny.

My hope is that the release of the report will not cause dissension or divisiveness. I hope that the report will facilitate healing and a sober recognition of how far we have come as a people. While we still have ways to go, we truly have come a mighty long way! We needed this history to be documented, as stinging and troubling as it is, because as someone has said, “If we do not know our history, we are apt to repeat it!”

For Southern Baptists, we embrace the message of reconciliation. When we are wrong we don’t hide it, we admit it, and move not to repeat the past, but to make a better future! We must learn from the past. As brothers and sisters of every hue, we can be reconciled to one another because of Jesus Christ!

Jesus Christ is our great reconciler. We reconcile to each other because that is the picture of Christ reconciling a sinful world to Himself. Southern Baptists have a golden opportunity to show the world how we can make peace with our past, and truly love one another, because the love of Jesus Christ binds us together. The history of the Seminary is like an antibiotic and a vaccine. As an antibiotic it kills the lingering infection of racism and as a vaccine kills a recurrence of the disease!

We have the advantage of history because we can look back and wonder, “How did those otherwise godly men miss the mark so badly?” When we allow the culture and politics to become idols, we always miss the true interpretation of the Word of God!

Again, I commend Dr. Mohler for commissioning and releasing the report on the history of slavery and racism at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I pray that it will be used for the betterment of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Dr. Marshal L. Asbury, Sr.
President, National African American Fellowship, SBC
December 15, 2018

Dr. David Hankins Announces Retirement

Dr. David Hankins, Executive Director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, has announced his retirement effective June 30, 2019. This newest announcement comes in the wake of a number of other recent highly visible SBC personalities stepping aside from leadership positions for various and sundry reasons.

Many people might know that Dr. Hankins and I have had our disagreements over the years but I wish he and his family nothing but the best as he transitions on to a new chapter in his life. Dr. Hankins was a faithful pastor, is a gifted speaker, and cared very much for the Southern Baptist Convention. I have said on numerous occasions, he has been one of most powerful men in the SBC for the last couple of decades.

His absence leaves a significant void in the Louisiana Baptist Convention. I am very hopeful that as the LBC moves forward, we will find a leader who will unify our convention, will encourage a big-tent mindset, will be deliberate in bringing various and diverse voices to the table from around the state and will help to lead our state further toward a 50/50 split as we seek even greater cooperation with our SBC entities.

You may find the full story at Baptist Press.

The Missing Emphasis in SBC Life: Local Associations

Throughout the vast majority of my pastoral ministry, if I were to think about SBC life, I would first think about the local church and then the national entities. I’d think about the Annual Meeting, the notable pastors, the entity heads, denominational strategies, the Cooperative Program, Lottie, Annie, and all of this work that we do together. I’d consider the state conventions too, especially my own, and then I’d think about my local association, primarily quarterly when we’d have our executive meeting, which was always over lunch. I participated, but I didn’t put a huge amount of effort into it. When I thought about the SBC I thought small (local church) and big (national entity) and not too much in between.

State Conventions have gotten a lot of attention over the past decade since the Great Commission Resurgence called for more Cooperative Program money to go the national entities like the IMB, NAMB, and our seminaries to train future pastors and leaders. So, many state conventions down-sized. That is good and I supported that, but I also support state conventions and think that they often do great work. I think there should be a middle ground there. Through Disaster Relief, church planting, children’s homes, colleges, and all kinds of other ministries, our state conventions play a prominent role in SBC life.

With 5 entity head positions open and SBC President JD Greear rightly calling for a day of prayer and fasting on Monday, October 8th for these search committees, we are also right to be paying attention to what is happening at top level leadership in the SBC. It is really important and I don’t want to take anything away from that.

But, with all that said and with a need before us of church planting, church revitalization, church health, discipleship, evangelism, local missions strategy, cooperation, and so much more that the local church cannot do by itself, have we missed the greatest tool before us that Baptists have devised to accomplish these things? Historically, before we ever had national entities or state conventions, we had local Baptist associations. Beyond the local church itself, the association is the fundamental organizational grouping of cooperative Baptist life. Yet, we often neglect it.

Do you ever hear a young minister aspiring to be a Director of Missions? Perhaps, but often not. If you step back from it, it seems like it would be an incredible job – to direct missional effectiveness for a network of churches across a region. The Montgomery (AL) Baptist Association where I live and serve has an incredible DOM in Neal Hughes. He is a former Montgomery pastor and NAMB VP who came back to Montgomery to lead our association in planting churches, reaching the lost, being healthy, making disciples, and addressing areas of great need and division in our city with a gospel witness. He is doing a great job and lives and works as a local missionary every day. If every association had a Neal Hughes as DOM, the SBC would be in a very different position, I think. (As a disclaimer, I’m on staff with Neal as a Missional Strategist for the MBA, so he’s my boss, but I’d say this even if he wasn’t.)

The truth is, though, I’ve met quite a few DOMs who share Neal’s heart for evangelism, church planting, church health, church revitalization, and global missions. I’ve met DOMs across the South who are really laying their lives down to do great Kingdom work. But, I’ve also met a lot of pastors who tell me that their association is basically not functioning. I’ve met DOMs who are past what we would consider retirement age, and while their hearts are good and their love for the Lord is genuine, their energy is declining. They need help, encouragement, and support. They can’t do all that is required by themselves and they need people to hold up their arms. And, unfortunately, there are other associations where there is division, lack of vision, and no energy at all. It becomes a monthly minister’s lunch with whoever shows up. That is a shame.

What if we refocused our energy, effort, resources, and some of our most gifted leaders on local association leadership? The Bible Belt is rapidly dissipating and the South has become a mission field. Did you know that the South grew by 21 million people between 2000 and 2015? At the same time, between 2000 and 2017, Southern Baptists have lost 1 million people. We are going backwards while our primary region is exploding in growth. The South is by far the largest region of the country and would encompass the 12th largest nation in the world and the world’s 3rd largest economy by itself. And, immigrants from all over the world have flocked to the South over the past two decades.

Almost half of all first generation immigrant growth in the United States the past 2 decades occurred in the US South, where we have the vast majority of SBC churches. While there has been significant reaction against that politically and culturally, have we considered that God might sovereignly be at work here? In Montgomery, for example, the IMB visited us a few years back and told us that we had an Unreached, Unengaged People Group (UUPG) living in Central Alabama – the Mixtec People from Southern Mexico. They came to us by the thousands over the past 20-30 years. The Montgomery Baptist Association adopted that people group missionally (I have been closely involved in this work over the past 4 years) and we have now planted a Mixtec church in our city with a pastor, baptisms, new believers, and disciples being made. The IMB no longer calls the Mixtec “unengaged,” in part, because of the work our local association is doing.

In the midst of this incredible era of opportunity, how much more could local associations LEAD out in church planting, missional strategy, engaging immigrant and refugee people groups with the gospel, love, and good deeds, and in church revitalization? While I’m happy for the work our national entities and state conventions do, it is sometimes easy to fly at the 30,000 foot level. But, we already have local associations all over the country who are doing great work on the ground and could be doing so much more if they had the resources and focus that some of our other levels of cooperation have had. And, we have many associations that desperately need to be revived and refocused.

Could it be that associational cooperation on the local level is the missing emphasis that could help revitalize older churches, reach the lost (including immigrant groups), develop new leadership, be the ground floor for racial reconciliation, plant new churches, and be a spring board to reach the nations in North America and around the world? There is always competition for dollars and when you have state conventions and national entities constantly needing funds, I know it is hard to stretch offerings. But, what if we saw a strong association as the FIRST thing that our local church focused on instead of what is often an afterthought?

At the MBA we always talk about “doing more with less.” There is no area of SBC life that I’ve seen a dollar go further than in the incredible work of the Montgomery Baptist Association. I know that this is the case elsewhere as well. As both a pastor for many years and now a staff member at our association, I’ve seen it from both sides. And, while I know that associations across the SBC are not all that they should be, what if they were strengthened and became local missions agencies with the purpose of helping the local church reach their region for Christ?

What are some of your ideas? I’d love to see the mission work and church strengthening of the local association grow into one of the strongest aspects of SBC life. How much healthier would we be if this focus was strengthened? How much more leadership could be developed? How could we better reach areas that still have strong churches but are quickly seeing the overall churched population dwindle?

I think there is a lot of good work being done here and a lot of potential for even more. I’ve talked with others about this who agree. I’d love to see a renewal of strong associational life in the SBC that helps bring local churches together to reach their region and grow stronger together. It can be done. What is stopping us?

 

BREAKING: Dr. Chuck Kelley Jr. Announces His Retirement from NOBTS

This morning during the Founder’s Day Chapel Service on the campus of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), Dr. Charles “Chuck” S. Kelley Jr. announced he will be retiring from his role as the seminary’s eighth President effective July 31, 2019.

Dr. Kelley was elected President of NOBTS on February 23, 1996 taking office on March 1 of that year. At the time his retirement begins he will have served approximately 23 years as president of NOBTS which will make him the longest tenured president in the school’s 100 year history.

Photo by Van Payne. Courtesy of Baptist Press.

Dr. Kelley responded to God’s call to preach the gospel as a senior in high school and upon graduation he attended Baylor University. He was ordained to the ministry on February 2, 1972 at First Baptist Church of Beaumont, Texas. Dr. Kelley married Dr. Rhonda Harrington Kelley, his high school sweetheart, on June 21, 1974.

Upon completion of Dr. Rhonda’s Master’s degree at Baylor the couple moved to New Orleans so that Dr. Chuck could begin the Master of Divinity degree program at NOBTS. He completed his M.Div. in 1978, specializing in biblical studies, and began the Doctor of Theology degree program, with a major in preaching, which he completed in 1983.

Throughout his years of service to the Lord and to the Southern Baptist Convention Dr. Kelley has been well known for his heart for evangelism, his love for our cooperative work and his work in statistical analysis of SBC trends. His highly respected research and his many books and articles have been a blessing to the Southern Baptist Convention.

Among numerous other items, some of what I believe to be Dr. Kelley’s key contributions during his tenure include: (1) His pivotal statistical research on plateaued and declining churches, (2) His leadership in keeping the campus of NOBTS in the Gentilly area of New Orleans when others were encouraging a move to the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain, (3) His early leadership in making long-distance theological education available through on-line and other delivery methods, and (what maybe most importantly to me) (4) His leadership, encouragement and rebuild-determination in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In the coming weeks and months many wonderful things will be said about the Kelley’s regarding their faithful service. My family and I deeply love and appreciate Drs. Chuck and Rhonda Kelley. What I will most remember about my president is his heart for the lost and his desire that all men would come to know the saving power of Jesus Christ. Thank you, Dr. Kelley, for your faithfulness to Jesus, your great compassion for his bride and your love for our School of Providence and Prayer.