Getting pastors to play a bigger pastoral role is important to the growth and influence of the 4th District Baptist Association, said the association’s new moderator/president.

“It starts with the pastors,” said the Rev. Rene Brown, who was elected last month. “That’s what we’re going to have to deal with. Their role is more than preaching.”

The 4th District includes about 200 predominantly black churches in the six-parish area around Baton Rouge. Brown, pastor of the historic Mount Zion First Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, replaces the Rev. Jesse B. Bilberry. Brown assumes the five-year term Jan. 1 with an installation service set for Jan. 8 at Mount Zion.

Brown, who has led the 4th District’s Pastors Division, said there’s a difference between preaching and pastoring.

“We have a lot of preachers, but we don’t have a lot of pastors,” he said. “Pastors have a passion for the work, the complete work. That has to do with discipleship; that has to do with evangelism; that has to do with care for the people. All of that constitutes their pastoral role.”

Preaching is just one aspect of pastor’s role, Brown said.

“We have some of the greatest preachers in the country in our state and in our city and in our convention,” Brown said. “But, that’s one small piece. We have to find a way to hear the heart of the people and develop programs and plans that are going to meet the needs of the people.”

Church attendance is falling and not in just the black community, he said.

“When people are not able to do what they want to do, they cast off restraints, the Bible says. They do what they think, what is right in their own eyes,” Brown said. “We can’t do. We have a blueprint called the Bible, … We’re going to have to find a way to get the emphasis off of money and material worth, prosperity and all of that, and get back to the basic tenets of the faith, and that’s going to take a major shift.”

Making that shift won’t be popular, Brown said.

“(People) are looking at that and saying our churches aren’t producing. We got one on every corner. And we’re not even producing disciples … We’re producing conventions. We’re producing churches,” he said. “But we’re not producing disciples.”

Brown, 50, said the 4th District raises its share of money with a majority going for buildings and programming, but, he said, ministry must be at the forefront.

“What you have to have is ministry. If you build ministry, then buildings will come. If you build ministry, then people will come,” Brown said.

Pastors and churches are not only challenged to lead in spiritual matters.

“Too many of our people are struggling in some areas I think the churches can do better in providing services,” he said. “The spiritual part is primary but the other side of that equation is we got to do things that will help our communities to do better, not just our churches but our communities.”

That involves creating opportunities.

“The biggest thing is we haven’t taken advantage of the economic development opportunities the association provides for our churches,” he said. “I want to be able to build on that. That’s probably the first component. The second thing, I want to be able to create better opportunities to strengthen our churches to get some of the administrative things done that churches need to have in relation to benefits and things of that nature.”

Brown said the 4th District has to do more.

“I believe we’re going to have cross-over denominational lines and racial lines,” he said. “We going to have to do both. We can’t just be just black Baptists.”

Brown, who grew up in the northeast Louisiana farming community of Newellton, seems confident but humbled by the opportunity to lead the 4th District.

“I honestly believe God gifted me to do this. I think it stems from my upbringing in the country. I have a farming background … planting seeds and raising crops to planting seeds of the word raising people,” said Brown, who has a bachelor’s degree in plant and soil science from Southern University, completed graduate work in crop physiology from LSU and has a doctor of ministry degree in church administration from Virginia Union University.

“There’s a burning in me that wants to see people do well. I hate to see people not live up to their potential. It drives me. It just drives me,” Brown said.

He said Bilberry was one of the people who asked him to consider running for the president’s post. Brown’s parents worked in the same school system as Bilberry.

“When I was born, Pastor Bilberry knew me. To see him at the convention over years … to serve with him and to follow him, I have no words for it,” Brown said. “I find it an honor to follow such a great man. Not just him but Charles T. Smith, who was my pastor when I came back here and then Pastor (Leo) Cyrus. These are all great men that I’ve known over the years. It makes you realize that it’s not anything you’ve done but it’s everything that God has done.”

Transforming lives of addicts

Drug addiction has never been an issue in Martin Britt’s life. But he’s committed to helping people and families dealing with substance abuse problems.

“Addiction affects every single family,” said Britt, a pastor and certified addictions counselor in Mississippi. “You have the addiction yourself or you have a family member who does or you have a friend who does. My passion really is getting out and going into the community and areas and helping people start programs.”

Britt is leading a Transformed by Grace workshop from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Graceworks Church, 16131 La. 44 in Prairieville. Britt said the free workshop is for addicts, their family and friends.

Britt said one of the Scriptures he likes to share at workshops is Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

He said it helps addicts to transform their minds as well as their body.

“When people get out of addiction, they usually relapse back because they don’t find their purpose in God,” he said. “So there’s that empty void there where the substance filled before. But if they keep seeking God and get in mentorship and keep growing in God’s word, they will discover in every case they have an amazing call on their life. … One thing addiction does is it takes away hope. If they get an idea in their mind that they will be always be an addict, they will never be any different.”

Britt, the brother of WAFB news anchor Donna Britt, was an assistant manager at a grocery chain when he was called to the ministry 20 years ago with visions of being a missionary.

“There was something inside that told me there was a place for me to teach the word of God,” he said

Two years later, Britt started working at the Home of Grace addiction recovery center in Van Cleave, Mississippi, where he said he helped more than 10,000 men and women during more than 15 years.

Britt, 55, has also been a pastor and worked as a counselor, including a short stint in Baton Rouge, before returning to a small Mississippi church in 2012. He has been assisting churches from Louisiana to Florida with their addiction recovery programs, training and support groups.

“My passion is not really pastoring per se. I’m really kind of filling in for a small senior church. My thing is being really able to get out and help churches,” Britt said. “That’s really where I put most of my focus. They understand that I’m a missionary at heart.”

The Transformed by Grace workshop at Graceworks will focus on people in the recovery process as well as educating the families.

“A lot of families actually wind end up enabling them instead of helping them get out of addiction sometimes,” he said.

Britt will also discuss brokenness and the stages of change and take questions. A lunch will also be served.

Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Terry Robinson can be reached at (225) 388-0238 or email trobinson@theadvocate.com.