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Pastor Jamal Bryant talks ministry, looking for the 1 sheep that's lost

Jamal Bryant
Jamal Bryant |

Pastor Jamal Bryant of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Georgia is a third-generation pastor who says his calling is to be “an ambassador to the unbeliever” by finding that one sheep who’s lost.

And the notoriety he’s garnered in the secular world since his ex-wife became a reality TV star has introduced people to him who wouldn't otherwise be watching Christian television.  

Bryant’s path into ministry wasn’t a straight route. After graduating from seminary, he became the national youth director for the NAACP, where he worked for six years before changing course to pastor his first church.

“Our responsibility is not to preach to the Church but to those who are lost. And that’s who I believe my responsibility and my assignment is to,” Bryant said, adding this his role in ministry is to “make everyone feel special.”

It’s that mindset of seeing individuals as one’s brothers and sisters in Christ that led Bryant and his church to distribute food to 800,000 people during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. The church also provided thousands of turkeys to families during the Thanksgiving holiday.

“The role of ministry is, ‘how do I make everybody feel special?’ Bryant said.

“And so I’ve adopted a philosophy here at the church that my grandmother gave me who raised 10 children in the projects of New York. She said it is not charity when it’s family. So we’re not doing people a favor. See those people as your cousins, as your extended family. As a consequence, we fed 800,000 people in the pandemic because we weren’t doing charity; we were feeding our family. When you operate in that mind frame, it really keeps you with a pure heart and clean hands."

Serving, he said, has become an effective evangelism tool to reach people for Christ and fulfill the Great Commission.

In the interview, Bryant was candid in speaking about his past, including having a child out of wedlock, going through a divorce and battling depression. “Most people when they’re preaching they talk about Paul but never themselves,” Bryant said, sharing how God can use any vessel. He said as a believer, “Christ’s grace is sufficient.”

He stressed that church leaders who seek “public affirmation will never operate successfully in servitude.” Bryant said he serves with and among his flock to help maintain a sense of humility, even as he becomes a nationally recognized figure who aspires to continue the work of civil rights leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

Bryant says he’s also keenly aware that the fame that comes through social media and the internet is a double-edged sword.

“The catapults to the success of my ministry has been the internet,” he said. “However, the silver bullet of the assassination attempts of my ministry have been in that. So I can't curse one and love the other. I understand that's what comes with it. You know, I have grown to live with it.”  

Bryant is leading his church as a pastor who's single. But being the son of parents who’ve been married for 52 years and grandparents who were married for 70 years, he “values” marriage and “esteems” the union. He said he wants to one day be married again.

“I don’t think that you can effectively operate at this level single," he said. "I think that’s part and parcel of what is necessary to lead at this level is to have balance and a grounded family life."

When asked by this reporter where he sees ministry going over the next 10 years, Bryant warned church leaders across America to catch up with technological trends to reach people where they are. Bryant's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church has two in-person Sunday services a month and two online-only services each month.

“Church will never be like what it was in 2018 or ‘19," he said. "The overwhelming majority of people are embracing the whole notion of being hybrid. If it takes 30 days to create a habit and people have been out of church for 19 months, the reality is a great number of people are not returning. Not because they don’t love God, not because they’re not committed to the church, but they’ve found a way to praise God in their pajamas and eat pancakes at the same time.”

Bryant said pastors have no alternative but to make adjustments to meet this new reality.

“They’ve got no choice," he stressed. "The reality is, think about it: the majority, 76% of people, now do their Christmas shopping online. So it is only the church that doesn’t understand the trends that are happening. Culture changes every four years; church culture changes every 20, so the average church is 15 years behind schedule. The average church is excited they’re on Facebook, but all their children are on Snapchat. So we’re going to have to evolve and push to where technology is.”

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