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ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) -- During my first year as president of the North American Mission Board I gained a deeper appreciation for who we are as Southern Baptists. It was my aim to get out and meet as many people as I could. As a result, in one year's time, I was able to visit the majority of the state conventions and spend time with the people there. The thing I was most thankful for was how diverse we are as a convention and how God is using that diversity to reach people of all backgrounds for Christ.
I am thankful for the early Home Mission Board missionaries who took the Gospel to the new territories of North America so the people there would have an opportunity to hear about Jesus and have a church to worship in. I recently heard the story of one of those early pioneers, a man named Paul James.
James was the pastor of the Baptist Tabernacle of Atlanta, one of the largest SBC churches of its day, who left his position there to move to New York City to start the Manhattan Baptist Church. James arrived in NYC in 1957 and by 1977 he had played a major role in establishing more than 100 new SBC churches in the metro area. The churches that James planted were among some of the first ethnic churches in the SBC, including the first Polish congregation established in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1963.
James also helped the SBC cross the color barrier. Keith L. Cogburn's book, "Like the Book of Acts," notes that in the fall of 1958 the Manhattan congregation welcomed its first black member, Chris Oswampke, a Nigerian student who had been led to Christ by Southern Baptist missionaries. James' commitment to New York City ultimately led to thousands of people having a relationship with Christ.
Paul James understood that Southern Baptists are a people who are unified by our passion for the Great Commission and our unwavering commitment to the inerrant Word of God. He understood that we could be "one" without being the "same." Southern Baptists from Mississippi to Montreal will look different and will have differing perspectives on personal and church life, but we are unified in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus as outlined in our Baptist Faith and Message.
As we move forward in 2012, the pioneer spirit of men like Paul James is what we as the SBC are going to have to embody. Not only will we have to be willing to venture into uncharted geographies, but we will have to adapt our methodologies to reach people for Jesus and plant churches among the growing diversity of people who call North America home.
The North American Mission Board stands ready to help all of our SBC churches, associations and conventions in the task of evangelism that results in new churches being planted. It is going to take us all working together as "one" if we are going to get the job done.
For more information on getting your church involved in church planting, log onto namb.net and click "Mobilize Me."
Kevin Ezell is president of the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board.