Baptist leader: 'Be people of God'
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 12:00 AM
The president of the Southern Baptist Convention spoke about victory through the word of God last week at the Neshoba Baptist Association's Discipleship Training rally here last week, in what one pastor described as a historic visit.
Dr. Fred J. Luter Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Convention, spent over two hours at a packed New Bethel Baptist Church Thursday night.
He is halfway through his second and final term at SBC president.
Throughout the sermon Luter was energetic, using his animated way of speaking to draw applause, laughs and cheers from the audience. He urged Baptists to "be people of God" because that's the way to "victory."
Luter is the first African-American president of the SBC. He was elected in June 19, 2012, and reelected in 2013.
As the pastor of the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, La., Dr. Luter said he never pictured himself being named president.
"I had no idea when I ran that I would be unopposed," he said. "Usually there are several running but when I won I knew that God had to be involved."
Upon learning of his election, Luter admitted to crying saying "here is an African-American street kid that is now over the largest Protestant denomination in the country."
He noted that only 8 percent of the SBC is African-American.
Since taking office Dr. Luter has tried to visit as many small churches as he could.
"There are 45,000 Baptist churches across the country with 16 million members," he said. "I have had to turn down some appearances."
Many of the churches he's visited have less than 200 members and most have never had the SBC president to visit.
Luter visited New Bethel during the Neshoba Baptist Association's Discipleship Training rally, an annual event at the church, which hosted members of the 39 churches of the Neshoba Baptist Association.
He was first alerted to New Bethel last year when the pastor, the Rev. Kirk Pace, sent him an email inviting him to visit.
"There was no hesitation," he said. "I was in a position where if I could fit it in I would go."
Dr. Luter's visit was a first by a SBC president to Neshoba County, Rev. Pace said.
"I thought it was successful," Pace said of Luter's visit. "Everything went well and the crowd was receptive to Dr. Luter. It is great to see how well he was received by the people and how well he received them."
Pace said he was struck by how the president of the Southern Baptist Convention "took the time to shake the hands of everybody there. It really made an impression with me."
The crowd of about 300 was multi-ethnic with black, white and Choctaw Indian worshipers.
Though he arrived late, due to a misunderstanding on the time and GPS issues, Luter was still able to speak for over an hour.
"When I got there they had just got done singing the last song and were saving a seat for me," he said. "When I came in everyone applauded. It was a welcoming experience and I felt like a celebrity."
Luter has enjoyed his time as president, which will come to an end on June 1 in Baltimore, Md.
"I've been real excited to have the opportunity to go to places," he said.
To watch a video of the rally, visit the church's Youtube page at www.youtube.com/newbethelsbc.