Anthony Carter has quickly and easily become one of my favorite people in the world. All who know him know him by that big smile, graciousness and genorosity, and an immense love for the Lord and His people. I first heard of Tony during a dinner conversation with Ken Jones, Tony Arnold, and another pastor in Washington, D.C. Someone asked, "Have you read Tony Carter's book, On Being Black and Reformed?" At the time I hadn't, but my ears shot straight up. I was intrigued. I went out, purchased the book, and devoured it. Tony has great passion for seeing biblical truth proclaimed everywhere, but especially in predominantly African-American churches. He's a reformer and I pray this interview encourages you.
1. Where are you from originally?
I was born and raised in Michigan, in the small rural and wooded community of Woodland Park. It is approximately an hour due north of Grand Rapids.
2. Were you raised in a Christian home? If so, what was your early church experience like? Tell us how you became a Christian?
I was raised in a nominally Christian home. By that I mean the Bible was there and we went to church every Sunday morning and evening. We were the proverbial church kids. My mother was the clerk of the church and directed the youth programs. So when the church doors were open we were there. However, outside of Sunday, little of Christianity was known or practiced. While my mother was in church every Sunday, I never saw my father in church one day of my life.
3. When and how did you decide to enter pastoral ministry? How long have you been in pastoral ministry?
Going into pastoral ministry really grew out of my growing conviction for the primacy of the church in God’s redemptive plan. Christ loves the church. I believe that those who love Christ should love what He loves. Thus, the pastoral ministry became more and more clear for me as I began falling more and more in love with the church.
4. How long have you been at your current church? Tell us about the church? And how has the labor gone so far?
Southwest Christian Fellowship was formed in 1985. I came to the church in 1991. My wife and I left for seminary in 1996. During my seminary years I served as an associate minister at Kingsway Baptist Church in Orlando FL. In 2001 we returned to Atlanta and began attending Southwest again. While we were in seminary, the church was a faithful supporter of ours. So, when the opportunity came to serve and give back to Southwest, it was a blessing to be able to do so.
5. You’ve accepted the necessary and wonderful role of serving as an associate pastor at Southwest. First of all, let me commend you and give God glory for men like you, who with humility and a servant’s heart are contented to use their giftedness as a co-laborer with faithful men in the gospel. But having said that, how is reform in a local church different from the associate pastor’s perch than it might be in a senior pastor’s position? What things must an associate keep in mind as he labors for reform?
Thank you. I remember reading what Spurgeon once said, “It takes more grace than I can tell to play the second fiddle well.” I don’t play second fiddle as well as I should, but whatever I am able to do, it is because of God’s grace. But to answer your question. Reform from my perch begins with support of the lead pastor. I have always felt that my first responsibility was to encourage the lead pastor in reform and preaching. I have frequently said that I don’t have to be the one preaching, as long as the one who is preaching is really preaching. Secondly, I have sought to discern between biblical truth and personal preferences. Personal preferences are not worth dying for, but biblical convictions are. Make sure that you are standing on biblical convictions and not personal preferences. Also, Robert Benson (senior pastor), as you know, is a most gracious and humble man. He makes it easy to serve with him because he genuinely seeks God’s glory and not his own.
6. How would you counsel other associate pastors who might be laboring alongside a man/men who are not reform minded?
The first thing to understand is that God already gave the church Martin Luther. If He wants another one, He’ll raise him up. Don’t spend your time presuming you are him. Commit yourself to people as much as you are to doctrine. I have found that those who are committed to people often find that those people are more open to being committed to their doctrine. Biblical doctrine is essential. Yet, we must make sure that people are seeing that these doctrines make a difference in our own lives before we can expect people to embrace them for their lives.
7. Have there been particular reform initiatives taken at Southwest? Tell us about those and how they’ve gone.
Indeed, there has been a truly gracious work of God in my life and the life of our church. It has not always been as smooth as we would have liked, but it has been a steady transition of important theological truths and their implications. One of the key elements was just getting the leaders to see that theology is inevitable. It also helps when you have written a book because people tend to know some of what you are thinking before you open your mouth. Nevertheless, we have had the pleasure of teaching through Grudem’s Systematic Theology twice. We took the elders and the deacons through the first class. Then we took our lay leaders and worship team through the next class. It proved to be the impetus for further reform, as we were able to frequently refer back to Grudem and have a common reference point for theological issues.
Also, exposing our worship team to Sovereign Grace Music and Worship Conferences has been great. While their music has a bit of a different taste than ours, it did show our team the need for a sound theological undergirding of our worship event. Reform in our worship has been most pleasing largely because of this exposure.
8. What fruit is the Lord bearing in the people of the church so far?
When you witness a Sunday School class on the Doctrines of Grace that is weekly filled to capacity and the pastors are not teaching nor attending, you know that there is fruit of God’s sovereign grace in the life of the church.
9. You also maintain an active ministry outside the local church. Tell us about those. What are you attempting to accomplish with those efforts? How do you balance efforts inside and outside the church?
Indeed, God has been gracious in giving me a ministry beyond Southwest. Frequently, my travels will take me away from my family and church, and yet like my family, I always take Southwest with me. Our church is very supportive of my ministry and will frequently allow my wife to travel with me by members of our church watching our 5 children for extended periods of time. It also gives me opportunity to expose people to the ministry of Southwest and vise versa. This has been most encouraging. And yet, with that, my itinerate ministry is third. First is my family. Second is my church. And third are conferences, retreats, and pulpit supply (My blog is somewhere down the list). With these efforts, I pray that in some small way I could cause people to see the truth of biblical, historical, experiential reformed theology. It has made such a difference in my life, I know it will make a difference in theirs.
And yet without a doubt, the only way I do what I do is because God has been gracious in giving me a wife who sees herself serving God by serving her husband and family. Robert is frequently reminding me how blessed we are to have wives like we do. I could not agree with him more.
10. As you look out over the African-American church, and the wider evangelical church world, what things encourage you?
I am particularly encouraged by God’s grace in giving us a spiritual uplift for biblical, substantial theology within this present generation. This is of particular excitement to me among African-American Christians. Thanks to brothers like yourself and those involved in the Council of Reforming Churches, God has been gracious in giving us a vision for the future that looks promising from where I stand. My children and grandchildren will have a legacy of Reformed Evangelical truth that is far more diverse than ours. Brother, it does not get any better than that!
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