RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP) -- Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter exhorted African American believers to heighten their denominational involvement while also seeking spiritual renewal as he addressed the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference at the LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center.
"They [many SBC leaders] fully expect me to nominate more African Americans to serve on SBC boards and committees," Luter said in voicing his commitment to Southern Baptist diversity.
"Brothers and sisters, I'm excited about that," he said.
"But let me be clear. You and your churches must be involved in the Cooperative Program and your local associations for me to do that. It's the way the SBC operates."
Luter, pastor of New Orleans' Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, told the 1,200 attendees at the conference, also known as Black Church Week, they must first be fully renewed by God before they can expect to be fully utilized by God.
"There are things the Lord requires of you and expects of you if you say 'Here am I, Lord; send me,'" said Luter, who preached twice during the July 23-27 gathering at the North Carolina conference center.
"There's not a day that goes by when we are not sifted and tried by our tormenter," Luter said. "None of us are exempt from attacks of the enemy. You can be single, saved and satisfied. You can be widowed and wonderful. You can be an upstanding usher or a devoted deacon. No one is exempt. There is no education or vocation which exempts you. The enemy will do all he can to attack the minds of the sons and daughters of God.
"If you are going to be victorious, faithful to God and go where God sends you, you must have a renewed mind," Luter said, drawing from Philippians 2 to describe how a renewed mind prepares a believer for a life of victory and obedience:
-- A renewed mind should help you think about your Christ (Phil. 2:5). "In other words," Luter said, "when I think about the goodness of Jesus and all He did for me, my soul shouts."
-- A renewed mind should help you think about your choices (Phil. 2:7). "Jesus didn't allow His heavenly position and reputation to affect His earthy responsibilities," Luter said. "If you want God to send you, you need to have your decisions and choices pleasing to your heavenly Father."
-- A renewed mind should help you think about the cross (Phil. 2:8). "Every time we take the Lord's Supper at Franklin Avenue, it is an opportunity to turn our attention and remind us about the cross and the anguish He went through for us," Luter said.
Among the highlights of the Week were 40 professions of faith made during the CentriFuge camp held concurrently for children and youth.
Black Church Week has been held for nearly 20 years and is the foremost opportunity for leaders and laypeople from predominantly African American congregations to join together for fellowship, study and worship.
Individuals from 27 states attended the conference with breakout training sessions led by nearly 70 leaders from LifeWay Christian Resources, Southern Baptist churches, the International and North American mission boards, state conventions and SBC seminaries.
Jeffrey Curtis, LifeWay's program director for the week, said the annual gathering serves as a vital connection and often a starting point between African American congregations and the SBC.
"Black Church Week is such an important event because it helps create an awareness of who LifeWay is and the many biblical solutions and services we have for urban and black congregations," he said. "Also, the week creates a better understanding of who Southern Baptists are and the scope of the Southern Baptist Convention."
Each year approximately half of the attendees are first-timers, Curtis said.
"We hear it repeatedly each year that they weren't aware there are African Americans serving with the International Mission Board. They didn't know the work of NAMB or SBC disaster relief. They didn't know about the six SBC seminaries and how the Cooperative Program works [for supporting national and international missions and ministries]," Curtis said. "Awareness is huge, not just for LifeWay but for the SBC."
NAMB President Kevin Ezell greeted the attendees via video and expressed his excitement at the increase in ethnic church plants. More than half of the SBC churches planted in North America last year were ethnic congregations, he said.
Russ Rankin is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources. For information on the 2013 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference, July 22-26 at Ridgecrest, go to www.lifeway.com/africanamerican.
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