Q. What makes your church unique?
First Baptist is unique in a number of ways. The thing that makes it most unique is its commitment to education in the community. First Baptist is the oldest African American Baptist church in Charlotte. It was the place where early educators came in our community. At one time it provided what was called the “normal school” for African Americans. It was the only place they could go for further education beyond grade school. So we’ve attracted educators. We’ve had a commitment to education, and our ministry is centered around that.
Q. What is the church’s vision?
Our church logo says “Making First Things First.” What we mean by that is, how do you develop a Christian worldview to where you see the world with its challenges and opportunities through the lens of Christ? Doing so allows one to see a world, not just the difficulty, but a world of potential and possibility and a world that has the ability to change for the better in a moment’s notice. Those changes always take place because of people who have been used by God and are committed to the process.
Q. What are the church’s beliefs?
Our core beliefs, as a Baptist church, begin with scripture. Beyond scripture we talk about the Baptist Covenant. The Baptist Covenant was once known as the New Hampshire Confession, which goes back to the middle 1600s. It is a theological thesis that lays out what Baptist congregations believe. We’re very committed to that. Beyond that, we are committed to the whole process of developing people into full discipleship.
Q. What ministries and programs are offered?
We have a variety of programs within the church, but also through our Community Services Association. The church offers missions and evangelism opportunities, such as working with Habitat For Humanity, feeding at the uptown men’s shelter, Project Angel Tree and others. Beyond those programs are the normal things like Vacation Bible School, Sunday school and youth activities. Then we have adult programs as well through our missions and through our men’s ministry. Through the Community Services Association, which is a separate nonprofit, we run a summer camp that has about 120 to 125 kids. It is an academic and cultural-enrichment camp where kids learn violin, piano and voice, computer technology. In addition to that, the high school kids are involved in a flight camp, where at the end of the program, they actually fly a plane. We have seniors who take computer technology classes. We run a number of health screening programs, everything from blood pressure to cholesterol. We do health education as well.
Q. What are the greatest strengths of the church?
I’d say probably the greatest strength of the church has been the capacity for its people to endure. From 1867 to the present, the church has had its own set of challenges, and it has found the capacity, time and time again, to overcome those challenges, to succeed and move on to the next thing, to ensure that this ministry continues to provide a Christian witness in the community.
Q. How do you foster spiritual growth for individuals in the church?
When a person unites with our church, we carry them through an orientation process. We seek to identify each person’s spiritual gifts. Scriptures are very clear that all of us have at least one, if not multiple, spiritual gifts, things that are endowed and given to us through the power of the Holy Spirit. I think the struggle is that very few people recognize and fully understand what they are. So part of our initial assessment deals with identifying those spiritual gifts. The second part is what we call a “Shapes Profile,” which looks at an individual’s personality and how they’re geared and how they are wired to do ministry. And so by looking at personality, character and shape, and then also looking at spiritual gifts, we can identify what ministries those persons may be best suited for. If we don’t have the ministry that suits a person’s gift and shape, then we have some conversations around what it would look like to create one. In fact, the Community Services Association came as a result of this whole assessment process. We saw skills and gifts that people had, particularly around organization and running programs, that we didn’t have ministries for, programs that were community based as opposed to just church-based. It allowed us to plug those persons into those areas.