The African American Baptist Pastor And Church Government: The Myth Of The Dictator -- By: James Jenkins

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 02:1 (Spring 2004)
Article: The African American Baptist Pastor And Church Government: The Myth Of The Dictator
Author: James Jenkins


The African American Baptist Pastor And Church Government:
The Myth Of The Dictator

James Jenkins

Director of African American Ministries
Louisiana Baptist Convention
Church Development Division
P.O. Box 311
Alexandria, LA 71309

James Sullivan asserts that congregational government has always been the way of life in Baptist churches.1 This is true when the context of Baptist is Anglo Southern Baptist. When the African American Baptist church—including the traditional mainline National Baptist, the Full Gospel Baptist, and the emerging African American Southern Baptist—is examined more broadly, one will find a church government that is a cultural hybrid of congregational authority and historical necessity. Although church government in both African American and Anglo Southern Baptist churches are democratic, it must be understood that “the black church has its own way of being democratic.”2

A myth exists that African American pastors exercise unlimited dictatorial power over congregations. As with many myths, there is a strand of truth on which this idea is built—in the African American Baptist church the pastor is expected to exercise a great degree of control over every facet of church life. The power exercised by the African American pastor is that authority delegated to each pastor by the congregation as it seeks to express God’s sovereign authority

over the life of the congregation.3 The degree of control that the pastor has, however, is still subject to the will of the congregation. In this way both Anglo Southern and African American Baptist churches are congregationally governed—the difference is the extent of control.

African American Baptist Church Government

The church polity of the historic African American Baptist church is best termed as “congregational-sanctioned pastoral-government.” The position of George McCalep, an African American Southern Baptist pastor, notes that the voting of a church for a pastor represents and typifies the practice of congregational-sanctioned pastoral-government: “The only vote on a person should come when the church votes to discern the will of God in the calling of a pastor. Afterwards, other methods and procedures should be established to select leadership positions.”4

Since 1926, the stated polity of the National Baptist Convention—the largest African American mai...

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