By Tobin Perry
ALPHARETTA, Ga. – The North American Mission Board (NAMB) has named former Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Fred Luter as its new national African-American ambassador. Through that new role Luter will focus on involving more African-American churches in the SBC. He will also encourage more African-American churches to plant churches.
“We still have a lot of lost souls out there who aren’t in anyone’s church,” Luter said. “One of the primary messages I’ll have for pastors is to encourage them to have compassion for the lost. If we’re going to be successful in church planting, that has to happen.”
As part of his new duties, Luter will speak on behalf of NAMB throughout the year and represent the entity at a variety of SBC events. Through those events he’ll be sharing NAMB’s goal to increase the number of African-American churches in the convention from 4,000 to more than 5,000 in the next five years.
Luter will continue to serve as senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans. In 2012, he became the first African-American to be elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention in the organization’s 167-year history.
“I am overjoyed to learn of Dr. Fred Luter’s appointment,” said K. Marshall Williams, pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pa., and president of the SBC African-American Fellowship. “I am sure that God will use him to assist our churches in realizing that we can do more for the Lord as unified kingdom citizens of the Southern Baptist Convention. The National African-American Fellowship, SBC, will pray for Dr. Luter, as he embarks on this great ministry and mandate from the Master.”
“One of the primary messages I’ll have for pastors is to encourage them to have compassion for the lost. If we’re going to be successful in church planting, that has to happen.” – FRED LUTER
Luter noted that Southern Baptists have made progress involving African-American churches since his early days in New Orleans. In 2013, NAMB reported that African-American church plants had increased by 82.7 percent from 1998 to 2011.
“We’ve had a lot of African Americans plant churches and a lot of African-American churches to join the SBC,” Luter said. “But as the old saying goes, ‘We’ve come a long way, but we’ve still got a long way to go.’ We’ve made progress, however, it’s not where we think it should be. Hopefully, this is something that will kick start that and get it to where it needs to be.”
NAMB president Kevin Ezell expressed hope that Luter’s role will help focus attention on the continuing need for more ethnic SBC churches.
“Brother Fred loves our convention and our convention loves him,” Ezell said. “I don’t know of anyone who would bring more energy and enthusiasm to this role. I am grateful to him for lending his name and his efforts to this cause.”
Luter noted that much of the growth in the SBC in recent years has come from ethnic churches.
“But this is an opportunity to reach out to people in our cities and towns and help them understand that there’s still a percentage of African Americans out there who are lost and still need direction,” Luter said. “Hopefully, we can give them a place to connect.”
Luter began serving at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in 1986 when it had only 50 members. Before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, the church had become the largest SBC congregation in Louisiana with more than 8,000 in attendance. In the aftermath of Katrina, Luter rebuilt the church and grew it to nearly 5,000 people in attendance by the time he was elected SBC president in 2012.
At the time of his election, fellow pastor David Crosby of First Baptist Church of New Orleans, noted Luter was, “the only mega-church pastor I know of who has had to do it twice, and he did it against the trends and against the odds.”
Luter and his wife, Elizabeth, have two adult children, Chip and Kimberly.
Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.