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Church planter dreams big for South Roebuck areacomment (0)

May 19, 2011

By John Evans

Pastor Jerome Bell leads a small congregation at South Roebuck Community Church — his wife, Hope, and daughter, Iman.

But Bell, who took the helm of the new church plant in March, has anything but small dreams for its future. He hopes to one day lead a congregation that serves as a model for racial harmony among believers.

“I know in my heart that God has called me to lead this congregation to be a house of prayer for all people,” Bell said.

The church is being planted by South Roebuck Baptist Church (SRBC) in response to the area’s shifting demographics. While the South Roebuck area was once predominantly white, it is now transitioning, with an influx of young black families seeking better schools for their children, Senior Pastor Chris Crain said.

The Birmingham Baptist Association church’s mostly elderly, white congregation worships in a traditional style that has not been effective in reaching either the area’s black residents or younger generations more interested in contemporary worship.

“Basically what we feared as we were developing this (church-planting) plan was that if we did nothing … and kept on existing as we were existing here at SRBC, eventually this congregation we have here now would pass away and leave a spiritual vacuum in this community,” Crain said.

To avoid the fate of other traditional churches that have closed their doors, in 2005, South Roebuck Baptist’s members approved a plan to plant two churches that would form a “community of ministries.” The church plants, while meeting as separate congregations, would still technically be part of SRBC, sharing resources and staff.

In 2007, the church sent 16 members to start North Valley Church in Margaret, designed around a contemporary style of worship with children and younger adults in mind. Next it decided to plant South Roebuck Community Church to better minister among the area’s cultural diversity.  

In October 2010, South Roebuck Baptist called Bell, who had previously served as pastor of a multiethnic church in Albuquerque, N.M., and served on staff with Huffman Baptist Church, to head its second church plant.

“We wanted someone who has flexibility and love for all people, not to mention superior expository preaching skills,” Crain said. “That, for us, was the No. 1 criteria, that this church planter had to be someone who did not preach politics or personal opinion but preached the Bible faithfully, and we found that to be true concerning Jerome.”

While Bell doesn’t have a core group of families with which to start, he can count on support from Baptist organizations, including Birmingham Association, the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions and the North American Mission Board.

Furthermore SRBC is pouring itself into the effort, helping to provide his salary and conduct community outreach events to spread the word. The church also runs a day care where many of the families Bell hopes to reach drop off their children.

“I have a lot of positives on my side right now because of the prayerful vision of South Roebuck (Baptist) and leadership of Pastor Chris,” he said.

Bell spends his time doing what he loves: building relationships and sharing God’s Word with the community. He hopes the Lord will draw a group of committed believers to meet for weekly Bible study — the beginnings of a church.

“I pray that He brings me in the right path with people who He wants to be a part of this vision of creating a house of prayer for all people, that when they hear what we’re desiring to do, there’s a compelling desire God births inside of them to be part of the work,” Bell said.

Crain looks forward to South Roebuck Community not being a strictly black church but embracing all cultures. It’s a vision Bell wholeheartedly supports, pointing to the church in Antioch in Acts 13 that included a diverse group of leaders.

Mike McLemore, executive director for Birmingham Association, has high hopes for South Roebuck Community and nothing but praise for Bell.

“He’s well-qualified, well-trained, well-connected in terms of the black community and well-respected,” McLemore said.

Bell, who calls his work a “burdensome joy,” feels privileged to be given the task.

“Even though I may feel some of the stress at times, ultimately it’s a joy knowing God has counted me faithful to be the one to serve in this season with my family.”

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