By Shannon Baker
LAUREL, Md.—As president of the National African American Fellowship (NAAF) of the Southern Baptist Convention, elected this past June, Byron Day sees unity as his presidency’s greatest goal.
The pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Laurel, Md. said he also believes the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network has the same goal.
Organized during the June 1994 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando, Fla., NAAF (formerly the African American Fellowship of SBC) held its first official meeting at the Tangelo Baptist Church. The keynote speaker was the Reverend Fred Luter of the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church of New Orleans, La.
The organization’s founding purpose was three-fold, Day said: “One was to work in harmony with the SBC, to fulfill the Great Commission and support the Cooperative Program.”
The second purpose, Day said, was to sensitize the convention and its entities to the concerns of the African American community.
Thirdly, it was founded for African American churches to help one another in evangelism, church planting and also church growth and development.
Even now, Day shared, NAAF still seeks to “encourage a spirit of fellowship and cooperation among the predominantly African American churches” while helping the SBC gain a better understanding of African American churches “because there are some things that are different culturally.”
He added, “We also want to encourage all of our African American churches to participate and support in the programs of the SBC—to be involved in everything, to serve in advisory capacities within the SBC and to really encourage appointments of African American people in leadership, staff, boards and other areas within the convention.”
Day referenced how, since the 2011 SBC annual meeting in Phoenix, Ariz., four ethnic advisory councils—African American, Hispanic, Asian, and a multi-ethnic group featuring multiple ethnicities—have been appointed to help the SBC Executive Committee, NAMB and other SBC entity leaders more fully understand and appreciate the perspectives ethnic churches and church leaders bring to the common task of reaching the nation and all nations with the Gospel.
“We certainly want to continue to encourage our entities to pursue that in terms of hiring, in terms of the SBC looking like who we really are, that we [as a convention] look a little bit more like heaven,” Day said, adding he’d like to see more churches in the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware involved on the national level.
But Day has an even more important goal for his presidency. He hopes to pursue unity as a primary goal—“unity among the African American churches and also unity within the SBC,” he said.
“We want to have more of our churches involved, united, and working together and partnering together, networking together to do the work of Christ—to help build the Lord Jesus Christ’s Kingdom,” Day said.
But he is very clear. He wants to see more unity among all ethnic churches, not just African American churches.
“This is a critical time in our country as we face and deal with cultural issues and racial issues, if we’re going to be honest about it,” he said. “Everything that is happening—from Colin Kaepernick not standing up for the flag and all of this; it’s obvious it is something that touches everybody.
“And I personally never thought 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr. that we’d have to be dealing with these type of issues but nevertheless they’re here. And so part of the reason we exist is to help be that consciousness in the SBC and when others look at the SBC.”
Day pointed to Jesus’ prayer in John 17: “That we might be one even as He and the Father are one that the world might know that He is the only true God.”
“We have a golden opportunity to show the genuine love of Jesus Christ, that we can be one regardless of our race, regardless of our ethnicity,” Day said. “The SBC has an opportunity to demonstrate [that love] but we’ve got to be intentional about it.”
Day says, if nothing else, NAAF seeks to be the voice that reminds the convention that it needs to pursue the Great Commandment as well—“that we love one another as Christ loved the church,” he said.
“The key to bringing unity is to get to know one another. You really don’t know anyone until you spend time with them, talk with them, sit across the table,” said Day, who served as past president of the Network, chairman of its Order of Business committee, and on other committees.
“That’s one of the things we did with the Network some years ago. We had dialogue. We had white pastors and black pastors sit at the table and share with one another and get to know one another. I think there has to be some way that we have to pursue that.”
Day said he thinks the leaders of all ethnicities are going to have to get together to get around the table and talk and share and be honest with one another.
“I think the BCM/D is a lot further along than we are nationally,” said Day. “And I think the evidence is our recently elected executive director,” Kevin Smith, elected as the executive director on June 7, 2016.
“Yes, he’s an African American, but he was elected because he’s the best man for the job. That’s all African Americans are asking. Give us a fair shot. Consider us.”
But Day cautioned, “We can’t assume. I think we assume that everything is better because we elected an African American executive director. That’s good, that’s great, but there’s still a lot of work to do in the pulpit.”
Day acknowledged he’s not in many Caucasian brothers’ pulpits to know what they think about the issues and whether they say, “Hey guys, we need to be more sensitive.” But he’s encouraged by what he’s seeing by some.
Accordingly, he will urge pastors to do pulpit exchanges and to partner together with churches of all ethnicities to do evangelism, outreach or something along those lines.
He also suggested churches embrace the communities that they’re in, even if they are transitioning, and reach across cultural lines.
“Again, this is going to take great intentionality,” he said.
How can we pray for Day as he leads these intentional efforts? “That God would give me strength in all of these leadership roles that God honored me to have—in terms of senior pastor of a local church as well as president of NAAF,” he answered.
“I need prayer also that God would keep me focused, holy and clean in balance all of that as well as balancing family.”
For his church, Day asks prayer for what a lot of local churches need: faithful workers who love God and want to serve Him and are willing to follow leadership as you find in the Bible; that they would be faithful to their roles; and that the church will be a faithful witness in their community.
“We are trying to do more out in the community and be a more faithful witness for our Lord not just in word but more in deed, demonstrating and showing the love of Christ,” he said.