Last week, I shared about two oft-forgotten, black Christian missionaries from early America. These stories were from the distance past. Today I’d like to share about two African-American leaders within the church from the much more recent past (so recent, in fact, that we might just call it the present.)
I suspect that these are stories that many of you have not heard and faces that you do not recognize (…and at least one name that you can’t pronounce.) Even still, these men and their commitment to Christ and His church are yet another great reminder of just how big and strong God’s kingdom is.
Try to pronounce his name and you’ll probably be confused. Consider his story and ministry and you’ll undoubtedly be grateful.
Thabiti (pronounced: tah-bee-tee) Anyabwile (pronounced: ann-yah-bwee-lay) is the Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church in the Grand Cayman Islands. (Think Caribbean.) What is even more beautiful that the sandy beaches and warm sunsets of this island, is the fellowship and ministry of Thabiti’s congregation. FBC Grand Cayman is not large by today’s giga-church standards, however it is healthy and strong. This is due, in large part, to the shepherding of its pastor.
Thabiti Anywabwile has not always been a pastor. In fact, he has not always been a Christian. His former occupations include bookstore owner and basketball coach. His former religion was Islam. As a teenager, Thabiti became a Muslim of the militant, Malcom X variety. He confessed, “The more I read from [Malcom X] the more I grew angry at white people.” He took comfort in the religious activities of Islam, but he never found forgiveness or freedom from guilt.
During Ramadan, of his sophomore year in college, Thabiti was reading passages in the Koran about Jesus. This piqued his curiosity, so he began to read the Bible. Over a period of weeks, God’s Spirit revealed to Him that, not only was Islam false, but that Christianity was true. He repented, trusted in Christ and soon answered God’s call into ministry.
Today, Thabiti is a prolific author and first-rate expositor. (Last September, I heard him preach what, in my Christian experience, is still the greatest sermon that I have ever heard.) He has authored 6 books and countless articles. You would do well to read his blog, devour his books and listen to his sermons (and while you’re at it, learn how to pronounce his name.)
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- Read Thabiti’s excellent blog here.
- Listen to Thabiti’s sermons here.
- (Here is the AMAZING sermon I referred to in the article.)
- Buy Thabiti’s books here.
He preached his first sermon standing on a humble street corner in New Orleans. Today, he stands in the pulpit of the largest congregation in all of Louisiana. Fred Luter’s ministry at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, however, has not always been a fairy tale story.
Franklin Avenue Baptist Church was on death’s door. The economy and community surrounding the church was in sharp decline in the mid 1980’s. The church was without a pastor and without hope. Given how much the area was struggling and changing, few candidates even applied for the position. Before long, word spread that there was a street preacher on the Lower Ninth Ward who was, himself, a local boy that might just be interested. Though he had no pastoral experience, Fred Luter was called in 1986 to become Franklin Avenue’s pastor. By God’s grace and the faithful preaching of the Word, Franklin Avenue’s dry bones soon came to life. The congregation began to add new members – first by the dozens and soon, by the hundreds. It seemed that the church’s growth, under Luter’s leadership, could not be hindered; that was until 2005.
In 2005, Franklin Avenue met Hurricane Katrina. Like many congregations in that region, not only was the church’s building buried beneath nine feet of water, but Luter’s congregation was scattered. Overnight, the members of his church were uprooted and relocated throughout the southern US. At a time when many pastors fled and churches were forced to close their doors, Luter, trusting God, refused to quit. For two years Franklin Avenue held its services in a sister church’s building at 7:30am.
During this time, Luter led his flock to greater efforts in evangelism and missions as he continued to preach God’s Word. In addition, Luter drove all over the South finding pockets of his congregation living in temporary housing. Though his church was spread out over several states, Luter continued to shepherd them as best he could. In time, Franklin Avenue’s building was rebuilt and his congregation slowly trickled back into the area. Despite the Job-like experience of losing it all, Franklin Avenue has also experienced the Job-like blessings after the fact. Today, Franklin Avenue is more than 7,000 people strong.
Fred Luter is not just a local church pastor, he is also a leader among Southern Baptists. In 2001, Luter made history within the SBC, becoming the first African-American to preach the keynote Convention message. In 2011, he was honored, likewise, to become the first Black leader to serve as the Vice President of the SBC. If that was not enough, Luter is poised to make SBC history once again. When our messengers gather in New Orleans this June, Luter is slated to be nominated for the office of president of the SBC. For a convention whose beginnings were rooted in the pro-slavery movement, this would be a God-given, grace-infused milestone for us.
I, for one, hope that Fred Luter is not only nominated but I’m praying that he wins by such a large margin that the runner-up is buried beneath nine feet of paper ballots. Southern Baptists will benefit from his leadership and guidance, not because he is black man, but because he is a godly man. Fred Luter is the kind of faith-filled, Word-preaching, sinner-loving, Christ-honoring, kingdom-minded man that deserves to be leading the SBC into the future. May God grant us the privilege of Luter’s leadership.
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- Listen to Fred Luter’s sermons here.
- Here is a recent article about Luter’s upcoming SBC nomination.