OKLAHOMA CITY (BP) — Pastor David Hooks remembers the talk in the small town of Idabel, Okla., when he planted a church there in 2002. People wanted to know why he, an African American, was Southern Baptist.
“I had to tell the people of my church, ‘We’re not going for what we can get, we have a lot to offer,’” Hooks said. “Number one, this is where God is leading us, and I knew it was a God thing. But also, I had to make sure people understood that when we’ve got our hand out, it’s not for them to put something in it; it’s so that they can take out of our hand what we have.
“We have a lot to offer. And just in that area (Idabel), it gave us the ability to build some relationships.”
Hooks is the newly-appointed president of the Oklahoma African American Fellowship of the SBC, and since 2008 has pastored Bryant Avenue Baptist Church, a racially-diverse congregation in Oklahoma City with a pre-COVID average worship attendance of 100.
Hooks was one of 21 African American pastors involved in Southern Baptist ministry in Oklahoma when Walter Wilson became African American ministry partner with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma in 2017.
Wilson, tasked with increasing African American involvement in the state convention, believes ethnic inclusion is a key aspect of Gospel outreach.
“You have to realize we only serve one God, and we have to do this together,” Wilson said. “God set it up that way.”
Through intentional initiatives in cooperation with other leaders, Wilson has attracted an additional 52 African American pastors. Today, 73 African American pastors are involved with Oklahoma Baptists, and perhaps five more are petitioning to join, Wilson said.
“My goal is to have 100 African American churches participating, actually participating, with the convention by the end of this year,” said Wilson, who pastors Friendship Baptist Church in Lawton.
Todd Fisher, executive director-treasurer, appreciates the growth.
“The Lord is truly at work among Oklahoma Baptists, and one of the areas we see that is in the encouraging growth of churches connected to the Oklahoma African American Fellowship,” Fisher said. “I am deeply thankful for this godly group of pastors and leaders who are advancing the Gospel, and for my friend and brother Walter Wilson, who is doing remarkable ministry work.”
Wilson has encouraged African American participation by involving them in the work and ministry of the convention while offering initiatives that address pertinent needs.
“Inclusiveness was a big key,” Wilson said. “I planned to populate our committees and boards (with more African American males and females) … and they agreed with me, the convention did. You know, Southern Baptist life is driven by committees. We populated the boards.”
African Americans were attracted because they saw others who look like them at the table, Wilson said.
“The other part was just letting them know what we offer,” including affordable educational enrichment through the Robert Haskins School of Christian Ministry, where Wilson developed an African American educational track with Black teachers.
African Americans began seeking statewide office among Oklahoma Baptists, began attending conferences at Falls Creek, giving to the Cooperative Program and supporting more fully the work of the convention.