Learn about, consider fervent evangelism of ethnics: William Burton

By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector

Editor’s note: You can hear William Burton discuss ethnic ministries during Episode 4 of Radio B&R, the  official news podcast of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.


Jana Guy of the Arabic Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, participates in an activity of a children’s Sunday School training conference on Jan. 21 in Murfreesboro. The conference was led by Vicki Hulsey, right, of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board staff. Looking on is Amira Abdul-Sayed of the Arabic Baptist Church of Tusculum Hills Baptist, Nashville.

BRENTWOOD — Ethnic Baptist churches associated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention have nearly doubled in number — to about 200 — in the last 18 months.

One of the most important groups being reached by the new churches are Arabic speakers, said William Burton, ethnic evangelism/church planting specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. Currently there are five Arabic Baptist churches in Tennessee.

“For me, that’s one of the most exciting things that we’re doing because that’s a group that’s obviously in the news. There’s a lot of fear, concern.”

What he has learned is that “when you introduce people” in the Islamic culture “to the love of Christ there’s a great receptivity. We have some great Arabic-speaking pastors now who are speaking out and planting churches.”

Other new ethnic Baptist churches in the TBC include Hispanic, Korean, Burmese (from Myanmar), Zomi (from Myanmar), and African.

These ethnic congregations are non-traditional in several ways, said Burton. They worship in another language besides English, come from different cultures, and embrace evangelism and church planting to reach others with the gospel.

For example, one new Baptist congregation meets in a beauty shop during the afternoons, another meets in a Mexican restaurant, and one in a library. In other words, they are “people-driven” rather than “building-driven,” he explained.

What can Anglo Baptist churches learn from ethnic Baptist churches? They need to emphasize evangelism, said Burton, an Anglo himself though he has been a missionary in Venezuela through the Southern Baptist International Mission Board and was the founding pastor of several Hispanic churches in Morristown.

“The emphasis on evangelism among our ethnic churches results in the planting of new congregations,” explained Burton.

Objective_3_ICON_new_church“We evangelize to plant churches; not plant churches to evangelize,” he noted.

The ethnic people are another reason for the great growth, Burton stated. They are often first generation Christians in their families who have a “passion, zeal, the love for the gospel, the love for Jesus, the concern for their neighbor to know Christ. … They live for Christ. They live for evangelism. They live to tell the story. So they don’t have all of the distractions that we tend to have as Anglos now.”

Burton tells the ethnic Christians “we’re not multicultural. There’s one culture and it’s the Christ culture. We may be multiethnic but we’re monocultural because when we accept Christ, our culture becomes Christ.”

Other key elements of the ethnic church planting boom

Driving this TBC church planting movement besides evangelism is the strategy of the TBMB staff of 1-5-1 Harvest Plants, explained Burton. 1-5-1 Harvest Plants are off-campus efforts (outside the four walls of the church) geared toward people who don’t know Christ as their Savior for the purpose of sharing the gospel, discipling people, and starting churches.

Churches which embrace this strategy make a commitment to start no less than 1 plant in the next year, making an effort with the Lord’s help to reach, win, and baptize 5 people through each plant, with the goal for each plant to start 1 plant by the end of the first year.

A supporting factor in the ethnic church planting movement in the TBC are the 11 Harvest Fields Training Centers of ethnic churches or Baptist associations for ethnics operating across Tennessee, he added. There are five Harvest Fields Training Centers for Anglos and African Americans, but ethnics are leading most of them. At this point most of the ethnic training centers are led by Hispanics but that is the largest ethnic population in Tennessee, said Burton.

The 17 ethnic training centers are led mainly by pastors of local ethnic churches. The centers have really developed over the past two years, Burton cited. Students must be involved in personal soul winning and church planting. Another factor driving the successes is the recommendation that each church planter first seek help from a mother church.

Each church has a DNA and in the Harvest Fields Training Centers, that DNA, if it emphasizes evangelism and church planting, can be implanted into young men and women which leads to natural multiplication, explained Burton.

Ethnic pastors who learn of the Harvest Field Training Centers more often than not say, “Hey, we want to be involved in that,” and start a center, he continued.

Final thoughts

Most of these efforts wouldn’t be possible without the cooperation of Tennessee Baptists, Burton reported. Churches sup-
port the TBMB financially by giving through the Cooperative Program and the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions, said Burton.

“That cooperation, that’s who we are as Baptists, … that makes it happen. The ethnic church, they may have the human resources; they have the passion, the zeal. They don’t always have the financial resources to do some of the things they need to do and that’s where we come along to help. …

“I’m so proud of my ethnic friends who are seeing many come to Christ through planting new churches,” stated Burton.