SUWANEE, Ga. – Fred Luter’s election as the first African American president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was more than symbolic. For Frank Page, president of the SBC’s Executive Committee, it represents the future.
“I want our leadership to look like our convention,” Page said.
In meeting with Korean-American Southern Baptist pastors at the April 8-10 Korean Global Mission Conference, Page said his commitment to broader leadership has deepened.
“I think the day will come when we will see several ethnic groups involved as president of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Page said. “We will see more and more involvement on our entity boards.”
Photo by Jim Burton
Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, preaches during the April 8-10 Korean Global Mission Conference, with Sung D. Choe, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Tacoma, Wash., serving as translator. Sugarloaf Korean Baptist Church hosted the event.
Page recently learned from the SBC Committee on Nominations that Southern Baptists will have the largest number of Native Americans ever nominated to serve on SBC boards and key committees.
“I think we’re making headway,” Page added. “With every breath I have I’m going to encourage that.”
Of the approximately 45,000-plus Southern Baptist churches and church-type missions, about 10,000 are ethnic congregations. Percentage-wise, non-Anglo churches represent the fastest-growing segments within the SBC.
Ethnic diversity has long been a reality in the SBC, with people group studies indicating that Southern Baptists worship in more than 100 languages in North America on any given Sunday. Yet, secular media rarely report this long-standing reality.
“It’s not the caricature that the media likes to promote and even to laugh at,” Page said. “The reality is that we are extremely ethnically diverse. I am encouraging the brothers in meetings like this to become more involved at every level.”
Dennis Kim, senior pastor of Global Mission Church of Greater Washington, D.C., welcomes Page’s overtures.
“As I’ve observed for a long period of time, it’s changing,” Kim noted concerning the involvement of ethnic leaders. “I feel we are connected to the mainstream of the SBC.”
Kim represents the expanded leadership involvement that Page welcomes. Global Mission Church has started multiple churches in North America, plus one in South Korea that has up to 35,000 attendees each Sunday. In Silver Springs, Md., where Global Mission Church meets, the church has five Korean-language services and three English-language services each Sunday.
For Kim’s generation of Korean-American pastors, there is a strong sense of history that connects them to the SBC. Besides Southern Baptist missionaries who took the gospel to South Korea, Kim noted how Anglo churches gave or rented space to Korean church plants.
“We are indebted to American leaders and churches for their support for our own churches in America,” Kim said.
Sung Ho Kim, chairman of the Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches, also welcomes closer bonds to the SBC.
“We are trying to be closer to each other,” said Kim, pastor of Livingston Baptist Church in Dallas. “That’s want I want myself. Most of our Korean Baptist churches are very appreciative of the SBC.”
Page recognizes the need for intentional progress, and that progress may not be easy. Cross-cultural relations often results in misunderstandings. That’s why he is increasing opportunities for dialogue.
Already, Page has formed advisory councils among African American and Hispanic leaders. Working with Kevin Ezell and the North American Mission Board he leads, Page announced the appointment of an Asian Advisory Council in February, which held its first meeting April 11.
Page sees relationships as the key to growing a diverse leadership base. Rather than some type of quota system, Page prefers to “chart a course of deepening involvement.”
“I’ve asked our leaders to look for qualified ethnic brothers and sisters,” Page said. “Please be intentional to enlist those dear ones.”
Ethnic churches typically have not embraced the Cooperative Program (CP) at the same level as many Anglo churches. CP is Southern Baptists’ channel of support for state, national and international missions, education and other ministries. Instead, ethnic churches in the SBC often have directed the larger portion of their missions giving through their respective ethnic fellowships. However, Page found Korean-American pastors open to the CP challenge.
Pastors like Dennis Kim of Maryland have seen the benefit of investing through the Cooperative Program. Southern Baptists’ International Mission Board has appointed more than 51 individuals from Global Mission Church. CP and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering help support those families.
“I really appreciated the current leadership leading us toward the bright future to partnership,” said Kim of Maryland. “We feel joyful. It is a blessing.”
The Korean Global Mission Conference conference was hosted and organized by the Atlanta-area Sugarloaf Korean Baptist Church in Suwanee, Ga.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jim Burton is a photojournalist in Cumming, Ga., and bivocational pastor of Sugarloaf International Fellowship: An Intercultural Worship Gathering in Suwanee, Ga.)