An uncomfortable calling
by Belafae Johnson
MASCOUTAH, IL – My wife and I, along with our three boys, moved to Mascoutah in 2014, believing that the Lord had called us to start a church in a small southern Illinois town. I had not been introduced to the process of church planting yet. All I had was a burden for the lost and a yearning for a church to be a place of peace for those from various ethnic, social, and economic backgrounds.
For the next four years, the Lord moved in amazing ways. Quite honestly, he moved at first in ways I thought I wanted no part of—the prospect of our new church and me as a Black pastor becoming part of the Southern Baptist Convention.
My reasoning was rooted in fact and ignorance. What I knew about the Convention and its early history was enough for me not to join. But over the course of two years of praying, seeking, and building relationships, the Lord made it clear that I would be operating in disobedience if I didn’t yield to what he wanted to do for me and through me in the SBC.
The Lord placed Southern Baptists in my life who loved, cared for, and encouraged me, my wife, and my kids to the likes that I’ve never seen before. I met several church planters, including one man I hired at the company where I worked. It seemed accidental when I first encountered Nick Volkening. He was a student at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, looking for a job. He was also helping Rayden Hollis plant Red Hill Church. Nick gave me the book “Church Planter.” Today Nick pastors New City Church in Champaign.
We visited traditional SBC churches in some of the most rural and southern parts of this country. We found them to be kind and supportive. An older white couple, Steve and Shirley Ernest in Cunningham, Kentucky, took us into their home and hearts. The financial support of their church is amazing, but the respect they give me as a pastor and preacher is what brings tears to my eyes. I’m valued there!
On Easter Sunday of 2018, the Lord so graciously allowed Purposed Church to launch. Three years later, I’m still part of the SBC. Due to infighting, controversy, and at times downright divisive rhetoric, many Black pastors have wrestled with whether or not to stay. I must be honest, I am troubled too. At times I feel defeated by what I read and hear coming from the huge family that I’m a part of.
I have no ill will towards any of my brothers in Christ who made the decision to leave the Convention, but I must be clear: While I do not speak for all Black pastors, I desire first and foremost to be obedient to what the Lord has called me to. I want to be a part of the change that I want to see.
We face problems as a nation and as a denomination. Our Black brothers and sisters are hurting and fatigued by what we’ve had to endure simply because we were born Black in this country. And while I intentionally will not name specifics regarding discord in our denomination, words have become the bricks that are building a wall.
How can we preach from Ephesians 4:1-16 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 and continue to use our platforms and voices to cause division? Do we believe Galatians 3:28? “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
We serve the Jesus who tore down the wall of hostility to bring us to himself—all of us—in order for believers to be unified, to be of one mind and of one accord. I believe our convention should be a place of refuge and rest from the fighting.
It is my heart’s desire for the Holy Spirit to convict each and every one of us about our conduct and our speech. I pray that repentance becomes the cry of our hearts.
It’s my heart’s desire that we not think more highly of ourselves than we should. I pray that we lay down our preferences, so all our brothers and sisters feel welcomed and appreciated in all of our churches, at all of our conferences, and throughout our Convention.
It’s my heart’s desire that we become The Church that Jesus died for us to be.
If you desire to know how pastors who look like me feel, to learn how we are processing these events, I welcome you to join me in the humbling and hard work of seeking out and building relationships with Black pastors in our convention.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Belafae Johnson is planter and pastor of Purposed Church in Mascoutah.