Bell to be first African-American
nominee for BGCT president
By Marv Knox
SAN ANGELO--Michael Bell, pastor of Greater St. Stephen First Baptist Church in Fort Worth and current first vice president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, will be nominated for president of the BGCT this fall.
If elected, Bell would become the first African-Ameri-can president of the state convention. He would succeed Albert Reyes, the first non-Anglo BGCT president.
David Currie, executive director of Texas Baptists Committed, announced he plans to nominate Bell for the presidency when the convention meets in Austin Nov. 14-15.
"Michael has a long, distinguished history of leadership, not only with our African-American churches, but with all Texas Baptists," Currie said. "He has served on many BGCT committees through the years as well as many leadership positions with the Texas Baptist African American Fellowship."
Currie called Bell's possible election a "historic moment in Texas Baptist history," noting Bell would become the BGCT's first African-American president, immediately following its first Hispanic president.
"This is important because the BGCT is a unique convention with many more ethnic congregations than any other state convention," Currie said. "Texas Baptists are striving intentionally to include all our churches--large and bivocational, urban and rural, ethnic and Anglo--in our united effort to 'be the presence of Christ in the world.'"
Although Bell's election would be historic, his race is not the deciding factor for his nomination, Currie added.
"I will not nominate Michael just because he is an African-American pastor but because he is a great Texas Baptist pastor who has demonstrated leadership and commitment for years. As we move toward our future as Texas Baptists, we need to move beyond labels to one united, cooperative family."
"I welcome any opportunity to serve our beloved convention," Bell said in response to Currie's nomination, adding he is enthusiastic about both the present and future of the BGCT.
Bell noted he respects, appreciates and feels challenged by "the rich legacy of our convention's unwavering commitment to missions and evangelism."
The BGCT has benefited from the leadership of its current president, Reyes, his predecessor, Ken Hall, and others who went before them, Bell said, praising them for how they "prayerfully and skillfully assisted our convention in navigating the waters of comprehensive and complex and global change."
Reyes and Hall particularly have presided over major change. During their tenures, the convention has adopted new mission, vision, values and priority statements and set in motion the most significant governance and organizational changes in five decades.
Firsthand experience leads Bell to champion the BGCT's focus on local congregations, he said. "For the past 20 years, I've been privileged to pastor a congregation of people whose focus and heart have been the gospel of Jesus Christ, who reveals God's love for all people and who by the Holy Spirit empowers us to live and to serve in love."
The potential for ministering to people in Jesus' name led Bell's church to increase its Cooperative Program contributions in recent years, he said.
Greater St. Stephen has helped fund its Cooperative Program increase by postponing plans to add a minister of education to the church staff, he said.
Bell's primary goal as president would be to strengthen the BGCT, he said.
"We've got to let people know Jesus is the gravitational center of who we are about--the core of who we are as Christians."
He also would place an emphasis on leading people to faith in Christ, he added. "I will work to help build and to grow our vision for evangelism--to help every congregation who wants the help reach and baptize at least 10 percent more people than they're currently baptizing. That's a doable goal."
Bell is vice chairman of the BGCT Christian Life Commission and has been president of the Tarrant Baptist Association African American Fellowship since 1994.
Greater St. Stephen First Baptist Church has 894 resident members and has baptized 47 new Christians in the last two years. The church has an average combined attendance of 320 at two Sunday morning worship services and about 95 at its Sunday evening worship service.
The church has increased its contributions to the state convention in 2004 and in 2005, giving $1,554 to the Cooperative Program for BGCT causes in 2003, $3,614 in 2004, and $4,420 through July of this year, noted Clay Price, the convention's director of research and information services. In 2004, it was the fourth-largest Cooperative Program giver for African American churches its size (100-400 in worship) in the state convention.
So far in 2005, Greater St. Stephen is the eighth-largest Cooperative Program giver among all BGCT African-American churches, Price added. Its giving in 2005 puts the church in the top 25 percent of all givers to the BGCT's Cooperative Program this year.
Bell is the executive director and founder of the Southeast Neighborhood Interest Coalition in Fort Worth. He also serves on several community boards.
He is a member of the Texas Baptists Committed board of directors and was chairman of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Committee on Represen-tation and Relationships. He has been a member of the CBF Coordinating Council and the Baptist Advisory Committee at Texas Christian University's Brite Divinity School.
Bell is a native of Marshall and grew up in Fort Worth.
He earned a bachelor's degree from Wiley College in Marshall, master's degrees from Howard University Divinity School in Washington and the University of Texas at Tyler, and a doctorate from the Interdenominational Theological Center and Morehouse School of Religion in Atlanta.
He has been pastor of four churches and also taught public school and at Brite Divinity School.
He and his wife, Mary Louise, have three children and three grandchildren.