First African-American president of 3,000 predominately Anglo southern churches says 'race doesn't matter'

by Vanessa Garcia Rodriguez, |
Tennessee Baptist & Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) -- Tennessee Baptists made history last week by electing Memphis pastor Michael C. Ellis -- the first African American to lead the Tennessee Baptist Convention in its 140-year existence.

Ellis, 54, was unanimously elected by 940 registered messengers from Southern Baptist churches across the state attending the TBC annual meeting Nov. 11-12 at Brentwood Baptist Church in the Nashville Area.

"I just happen to be an African American," he told Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the TBC's newsjournal, the Tennessee Baptist & Reflector. "Race doesn't matter. That's what I love about our convention."

Ellis was humble about the significance of his leading more than 1,000,000 inidividuals of 3,000, predominately Anglo, congregations in this southern state.

He said the role was just another opportunity to serve.

The founding pastor of Impact Baptist Church was ordained in 1991 and previously served as vice president of the state convention in 2012. He was nominated by a former TBC president, Fred Shackelford, who said Ellis "has what it takes to lead this convention well. He's faithful to the Word, he loves the Lord Jesus and he loves his church," according to Wilkey.

Ellis has served in other leadership roles including membership on the convention's Committee on Committees which identifies pastors and laymen to serve within the state organization.

Shackleford said in all these roles, Ellis "has proven himself as an excellent leader in our state."

Randy C. Davis, TBC executive director-treasurer, told WIlkey Ellis' election is "a monumental moment" in the history of the state convention.

"It's not the color of his skin that matters. It's the content of his heart," Davis said, adding that Ellis "has done an incredible work in the heart of Memphis."

An article by the Associated Press credits Ellis and Impact Baptist, which began in Ellis' home in 2006, with running Northaven Community Development Corp, a group renovates foreclosed homes to help families who rent into home owners.

Ellis retired from the U.S. Navy in 2001 after 20 years of service.

The Tennessee Baptist Convention is part of the Southern Baptist Convention, which elected its first black president, Fred Luter, in 2012. Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, served two terms and was the outgoing president of the national denomination this year.

Other newly elected Tennessee officers are vice president David Leavell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Millington, and second vice president Nathan Washburn, pastor of First Baptist Church in Greenbrier.