By Kara Witherow, Editor
Never stop learning; never stop growing.
Personal mantras of South Georgia Conference pastors Revs. Reggie Williams and Antonio Sutton, their mindsets have trickled down into their respective congregations.
That’s why the two pastors and their churches – South Columbus United Methodist Church and Howard Chapel United Methodist Church – have chosen to take part in South Georgia’s Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century, or SBC21, initiative.
Designed to strengthen African-American congregations of The United Methodist Church and help them become more effective in mission and ministry, the SBC21 program links successful congregations and pastors with congregations that are in search of new ideas and revitalization.
A year-long program, the SBC21 initiative is lay and clergy led. The participating congregations engage in a rigorous application process during which they develop goals and objectives and analyze and reflect on their strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities.
During the year, the congregations and pastors are paired with trained coaches who walk alongside them and provide leadership and support. Regular coaching sessions help keep them focused and on track.
South Columbus UMC is a strong, growing, vital congregation, but senior pastor Rev. Williams believes that there’s always room for improvement. He sees being coached and mentored by a seasoned ministry veteran as something to be embraced.
“I’m always in need of coaching,” he said. “Not from the standpoint of someone telling me what to do, but to number one, be a sounding board, number two, be a source of wisdom, and number three, hold me accountable to do what I say I’m going to do. So that’s always good.”
As a congregation, by participating in SBC21 and working with their coach, Dr. Richard Stryker, III, senior pastor of River of Living Water United Methodist Church in the North Alabama Conference, they hope to enhance their vision of ministry and set attainable, tangible goals for discipleship.
“I hope that we become even that much more vital, that we become, maybe, a center within the conference where people come and learn and that we can be a beacon of light for other congregations. Not just African-American congregations, but all congregations,” Rev. Williams said. “We want to take our ministry to the next level and there is so much room to grow – not literally, because we’re running out of room – but in terms of the things we could be doing. There’s always room for growth and there are a number of things we can and will improve in.”
Rev. Antonio Sutton has served as Howard Chapel UMC’s pastor for nearly two years, but before being appointed to the church he was active at South Columbus UMC and able to learn and glean wisdom from Rev. Williams, Rev. Denise Walton, and the late Rev. Joe Roberson.
He and the Howard Chapel congregation seized the opportunity to learn from another seasoned ministry veteran, Rev. Chris Campbell from the North Carolina Conference, through their participation in the SBC21 initiative. For them, their involvement is about mentorship, leadership, learning, and modeling the behavior and practices of leaders and congregations who have been where they are and are now where they want to be.
“Even though I know that I am empowered to do God’s work through the Holy Spirit who lives in me … it’s foolish to not reach out for help if it’s available,” Rev. Sutton said. “I understand that having proper mentorship will assist me in becoming better in anything that I do.”
Rev. Sutton, who served in the Army prior to being called into pastoral ministry, isn’t afraid of change, and has challenged the congregation to consider fresh ministries, to challenge the status quo, and to explore new experiences.
“We can do better! I’m not satisfied,” he said. “It’s about constantly pushing people and reminding them – you are more than a conqueror. Do you believe what the scripture says? You are more than a conqueror!”