The new Alabama African American Fellowship held a kickoff banquet Monday, Nov. 14, the start of an effort Terrence Jones said he hopes will bring cooperation and collaboration in missions and ministry.
“We are here tonight for two reasons, and two reasons only — we want to advance God’s kingdom, and we want to do that together,” said Jones, pastor of Strong Tower at Washington Park in Montgomery. “There are problems facing our community that we need to be at the forefront of fixing. There are conversations we need to have to be the most effective in our communities. There are a lot of gifts and talents in this room that need to be shared with the group so that the churches can be strong and healthy together. That’s why we’re here.”
The AAAF group will be a state chapter of the National African American Fellowship in partnership with the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
The banquet, held at Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, brought together seasoned pastors of traditional churches and new church planters, something Jones said was by design.
“To me, our best route forward is to combine the wisdom of the generation before me that has so much experience of how to do things and how to persevere, with the creativity of the church planters who are coming behind us and doing fresh and new things,” he said. “There’s room at the table for all of us.”
Jarman Leatherwood, pastor of House of Hope and Restoration Church in Huntsville, said he felt that vision taking shape at the banquet.
“You could really feel the presence of God,” he said. “By the end of the night the fellowship and collaboration was evident as everyone pledged their commitment to advance our efforts all to the glory of God.”
Jones said the conversation about starting AAAF began months ago when Scotty Goldman, director of SBOM’s office of global missions, invited him and Leatherwood to lunch with an African American missionary who had been serving in Europe for 25 years.
“He’s been there 25 years, and he’s seen very few people who look like him to come see about him and join the work that he’s doing,” Jones said.
As the four of them talked over lunch, Goldman presented the opportunity for eight African American pastors from Alabama to travel to visit the missionary on a vision trip, with the majority of the cost covered by SBOM.
“We’re going to be able to see the work that this brother is doing on the ground and how we can put our heads together and come alongside him for future trips and future opportunities,” Jones said.
Then in August, Jones and Leatherwood assembled a steering committee to begin talking about what it would look like to have a NAAF chapter in Alabama and continue collaborating for this type of work.
“We haven’t elected any officers, we’ve just been working,” Jones said.
At minimum, he and the committee hope AAAF will be a quarterly Zoom call with an annual banquet and other opportunities for resourcing and equipping.
“One thing I’ve learned during my short time here in the Southern Baptist Convention is the power of working together and not doing everything as an individual,” Jones said. “What we can accomplish together is so much greater than what any one of us could accomplish on our own, and our desire is that African American churches within the Alabama Baptist State Convention would work together in greater detail and more closely together and communicate with each other.”
As an example, he mentioned one resource churches could tap into — a mobile dental clinic offered by the North American Mission Board.
“One of the major issues in Alabama is that people can’t get quality dental care, and the health departments are backed up,” Jones said.
By working together with NAMB and in partnership with The Church at Liberty Park in Vestavia Hills, Jones’ church has given $140,000 in free dental care over the past several years.
Pooling resources can make a big impact, he said. “We want to see a great movement in the African American community, and we believe that the power to do it is in this room and in the churches that are not here tonight.”
Leatherwood said he and Jones are “grateful for the love and support of Dr. Rick Lance (SBOM executive director) and our State Board of Missions family for not only praying for us but encouraging us every step of the way.”
Through that partnership, “the love of Christ is felt in a very real way,” he said.
Also during the banquet, Jones and Lance presented AAAF’s first award for Significant Kingdom Impact in the African American Community in Alabama to nine individuals:
- Lemuel Taylor Jr., pastor emeritus of Highpoint Baptist Church in Eight Mile
- Willie Hinton, pastor of West Mastin Lake Baptist Church in Huntsville
- John King, church and community relations consultant for Birmingham Metro Baptist Association
- D’Linell Finley, Southlawn Baptist Church in Montgomery
- Charles Autery, pastor of Christian Way Baptist Church in Camden
- the late John Thomas Porter, retired pastor of Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham
- Willie Alexander, former longtime campus minister at Alabama A&M University
- John Davis, pastor of Winewood Baptist Christian Fellowship Church in Birmingham
- James Dixon, Birmingham native and pastor of El-Bethel Baptist Church in Fort Washington, Maryland
The Spirit’s agenda
Dixon also shared a message during the banquet from Acts 2:42 and talked about what fellowship should look like.
“I must declare to you that in order to encourage Kingdom growth through collaboration, we must create an environment for God,” he said. “God’s presence must be the centerpiece before there will be a divine collaboration. We must invite God’s wisdom, knowledge and understanding into the room — God Himself.”
Dixon said the Holy Spirit presents a different agenda than the world, and that agenda involves partnership and participation in a joint effort.
“The only way this is going to take place is for Christ to be in the center of the environment,” he said. “He has to be the main focal point, because it’s not about us — it’s about Him. God of glory is the power that works within the body of Christ.”
Ken Weathersby, mid-south region director for NAAF and an adviser for the AAAF steering committee, affirmed that message.
“We’ve heard a great word tonight about creating an atmosphere, an environment where more people will come to know Jesus through church planting, through missions engagement around the world. It’s about cooperation,” he said.
When NAAF started in 1993, there were around 500 African American churches in the Southern Baptist Convention, Weathersby said. Now there are nearly 4,000.
“That happened because of the Cooperative Program, working cooperatively together to be able to give the fuel that is necessary to plant the gospel in all communities,” he said.
Around 20 churches have committed to join the Alabama chapter so far.
To view more photos from the Alabama African American Fellowship banquet, click here.