A pastor who called out the Southern Baptist Convention for racism two years ago has stepped down from his Atlanta pastorate, saying his gifts for church starting do not translate to leading a larger congregation.
John Onwuchekwa made headlines in summer 2020 when he published an article explaining why his Atlanta church left the Southern Baptist Convention, even though the SBC helped fund the church start. He cited love and appreciation for many individuals in the SBC while saying the denomination as a whole has not escaped its slave-justifying past and is using the wrong methods to achieve spiritual goals — like driving a bus to Puerto Rico, he said.
“The SBC liked me,” he said then. “But I feel like they’ve failed people like me.”
Onwuchekwa had been a rising star in the SBC as a young Black pastor working in a denomination urgently trying to shed its racist origins while torn by widespread SBC support for Donald Trump.
The son of Nigerian immigrants, Onwuchekwa also embodied the mixed theological heritage common in SBC circles today, earning a master’s degree not from an SBC seminary but from the independent Dallas Theological Seminary, and being affiliated with The Gospel Coalition, a group of conservative Calvinist pastors.
In 2015, he and others planted Cornerstone Church in Atlanta’s West End, a predominantly Black community. The church grew and became a model for church starting and urban ministry. When the church needed a larger building in 2019, the SBC’s North American Mission Board offered a loan of $175,000 that just one year later became a point of contention when the church split with the SBC.
This all played out amid the first year of the COVID pandemic, during the runup to the 2020 presidential election and during the summer of racial reckoning across America.
Now, two and a half years later, Onwuchekwa has announced his departure from the pastorate. His last sermon at Cornerstone was Dec. 18.
He already had cut back to half time status with the church to allow more time to pursue other ministry interests, including writing and entrepreneurship.
Onwuchekwa told Religion News Service the skills he has that allowed him to start a church — gathering people together, setting a vision and getting the church off the ground — are not the same administrative skills needed to lead a larger congregation that is well-established.
“There was a mismatch between the church’s needs and my gifts,” he said.
While he loves preaching and teaching, the role of a pastor in a larger church requires much more than that, and those are not his gifts, he said.
Now, he intends to focus on speaking and coaching and leading the Crete Collective to plant new churches in Black communities. He also plans to work with Portrait Coffee, a coffee roasting company he and others started in Atlanta’s West End, RNS reported.
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