Missouri Baptist Convention elects first black president

Pastor Nelson oversees and hopes to expand Lincoln University campus outreach 

Pastor Jon Nelson preaching on a Sunday morning at Soma Community Church in Jefferson City, Mo. Jan. 24, 2021. (Photo by Mar’Che Boggess)

By: Mar’Che Boggess/The Clarion

JEFFERSON CITY— Local pastor Jon Nelson, of Jefferson City’s Soma Community Church, recently made history by being elected as the first Black president of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC). The organization is a network of 1,800 Southern Baptist churches that aims to equip and train individuals to live the Christian mission. I recently sat down with him to discuss his presidential duties, love for Lincoln University’s campus, and more. 

The Clarion: How does it feel to be elected as the first Black president of the MBC?

Nelson: Overwhelming, I could not believe it. For the first time in over 180 years, an organization that has a very tumultuous history chose me to be their face to the world. I said when I stood up in the pulpit that day that I am my mother’s wildest dream.

The Clarion: What do your duties consist of as president?

Nelson: The organization is a bottom-up organization. I represent everyone, I am not in charge of everyone, which makes my role a touch different from most presidents. I sit on multiple boards, I appoint people to positions, and I get to do things like this and talk on behalf of the convention to everything from a school newspaper all the way to the governor.

The Clarion: What do you hope to accomplish in this next year as president?

Nelson: Our convention is aging. I want to help us move toward a new generation. There are a lot of younger pastors and leaders in this state and I want them to be involved. Many of them aren’t aware of the opportunities our convention has. For example, the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home works with sex trafficking victims and specializes in foster care and adoption.

There are many people in the millennial and Gen Z generations that are extremely passionate about those things but don’t know that we have entities that do that already. I want them to know that they can use them for the Kingdom of God.

The Clarion: Racial reconciliation is near and dear to you. How do you plan to continue to bridge that gap in this role?

Nelson: The Southern Baptist Convention and the Missouri Baptist Convention both have a sordid history when it comes to race. Too many times we’ve been on the wrong side of it. The Gospel speaks extremely clear to these events.

I endeavor, not to be the token, but the ladder that others get to climb to get to that position to also represent all of us.

The Clarion: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received since being in this role?

Nelson: I’ve had many of the past presidents tell me to enjoy my time. My wife has told me over and over when I doubt myself, “God put you here and you’re built for it.” 

The Clarion: How does taking on this role inspire you to better serve Lincoln University’s campus?

Nelson: I talk to students daily that have ginormous aspirations. I just want to tell them to serve locally. So many times they want to be president or congressman, which isn’t a bad thing. What they don’t realize is the most effect they’re going to have is at the local level. So many people tell me “you’re the president now,” and I tell them “I’m still a local pastor, I’m still on campus.”

I want to inspire people to know they can do these things and still be themselves. I think of Rev. Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church who was just elected as a senator of Georgia. He’s served the community well and his influence has grown because of his faithfulness to his local community. I endeavor to be that faithful. 

The Clarion: What inspired you to plant a church near Lincoln University’s campus?

Nelson: My mom. She and my grandmother were students here. I heard stories and grew up around this campus. I remember coming to the building we serve in now and hearing about how many lives were changed.

After a lot of fighting with God, to be honest, we planted a church here and served a campus that didn’t seem to have those Christian communities I heard so much about growing up. It broke my heart because we had so many students, and still do, who leave the university with a great education and opportunities, but not Jesus.

We want them to leave with both. For the last five years, we’ve endeavored to have a church that reaches into the campus and the community and says “We love you both.” 

The Clarion: What’s your favorite thing about serving LU’s campus?

Jon Nelson: By far and away, the students, they keep me young. I’m constantly having to learn what’s important to them. It opens my eyes constantly. Aside from that, I love the liveliness. We bought a house near where the parties happen.

We’ve been around some of the best and worst events around this campus. We did that purposely because the students bring life to the local community. We love being a part of that. 

The Clarion: What’s your favorite thing about pastoring Soma Community Church?

Nelson: The diversity. We’re not a Black church, we’re not a white church. We’re a church that endeavors to cross racial, socioeconomic, and cultural lines. Myself being a half-Jamaican and half African-American man, who was born in Kansas City and grew up in the country, I don’t fit. But yet, God has built me in such a way that I can reach across those lines and bring people closer to Him.

The Clarion: Aside from being a president and a pastor, what are your favorite roles?

Nelson: Husband and daddy. I tell people all the time my order in life is: loving Jesus, loving my wife, and loving my babies. That’s my world. Being a pastor and a president is cool, but they’re not as high on my list. 

About The Clarion News

Campus and community news produced by journalism students at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo.
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