By Clay Bailey
Rev. Michael Ellis, pastor of Impact Baptist Church in Frayser, was elected vice president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention on Tuesday, becoming the first African-American to serve in such an executive role for the group.
Ellis was elected during the convention’s annual meeting at Faith Baptist Church in Bartlett. He was the only candidate nominated from the floor.
In nominating Ellis, Dr. Mike Day, senior associate pastor at Faith Baptist, did not shy away from the significance of electing Ellis to the convention’s leadership role.
“The obvious is that if we elect Michael Ellis as vice president of this convention, we will be crossing a historic bridge,” Day said in his nominating speech. “We will be eclipsing a historic barrier in the life of this convention. We will be selecting leadership that is reflective of the diversity of the convention, the churches in which we serve, and the cultures into which we want to reach with the Gospel.”
Ellis’ selection comes less than six months after the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant religious body in the country, elected Rev. Fred Luter of New Orleans as its first African-American president.
According to the Impact Baptist Church website, Ellis, 52, retired after 21 years in the Navy and was ordained in 1991. He was serving as director of the Christian Sports Center for Memphis Athletic Ministries when he started Impact Baptist in 2006. The church, which is associated with Bellevue Baptist Church, has grown to about 1,300 members, according to church officials.
Ellis said the growth has come from the church’s outreach programs, where Impact has become part of the community.
“Our church is a place they can go to any day of the week, not just Sunday,” Ellis said of the community involvement. “So, the community has taken a sense of ‘This is our church.’”
That sense was highlighted by Day in his nomination speech. He called Ellis a man of prayer, a man of humility and a man of faith.
“The selection, the election of Michael Ellis as vice president of this convention is more than just a historic opportunity. It is an opportunity to elect a good man, a Godly man, a gracious man, a grateful man to an important position of leadership in this convention,” Day said.
Ellis, like Day, acknowledged the racial transition his nomination made. He recognized the significance of the move for the state Baptist convention, also saying he was humbled by the selection and praising God for putting him in the position. As for his race, he said: “It’s a reality.”
But Ellis also acknowledged that he hopes his selection is a step toward race not being an issue in future selections.
“I believe it is that type of historical step to where one day we’ll elect any race or individual in our convention,” he said, “and the race wouldn’t matter. That would be a wonderful thing for our country.”