Black Church Figures You Should Know:
Why the series?
Historical Theology and Church History in the African American context is rarely celebrated. That is a very sad occasion. There is much we can learn from the rich tradition of the African American church. When we do, it affirms the great doctrine that all men are created in the Image of God and it kills the great sin of intellectual racism.
What about the series?
A few things must be noted about our list. First and foremost, please be aware that appearances on the list do not automatically confirm theological content and biblical orthodoxy. Please consider each figure in light on proper biblical interpretation and refer to our statement of beliefs when in doubt. Secondly, this list is nowhere near being exhaustive in scope or content. We are barely scratching the surface and this is merely the tip of the iceberg. We considered appearances on the list by surveying several avid supporters for their considerations based upon the figures of significant impact, rich content, and historical significance.
George Lisle - First Black Baptist Preacher and Missionary
George Lisle (or Liele), sometimes called George Sharp, was born a slave in Burke County, Virginia in 1750 to parents Liele and Nancy. He was sold to Slave master in Georgia, Henry Sharp, who was a British Loyalist that served as an officer during the American Revolution. Sharp was also a deacon of Buckhead Creek Baptist Church. It was there, in 1773 while listening to his pastor Matthew Moore preach, that George Lisle came into the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
After being baptized, George found compassion amongst other slaves and began to read hymns and encourage them. Upon noticing George’s zeal for God’s Word and his ministerial gifts, Buckhead Creek Baptist Church licensed George to preach 1773, making Lisle the first Black licensed Baptist preacher in America. Subsequently, in order to use his gift more freely, Henry Sharp granted George his freedom from slavery. This propelled Lisle to also eventually become the first Baptist foreign missionary.
George Lisle spent two years preaching to slaves on plantations along the Savannah River in Georgia and South Carolina. After Henry Sharp died during the Revolutionary war, it is said that Sharp’s heirs tried to re-enslave George Lisle and would have done so had it not been for British officer. Also during that time, Lisle gathered a group of new black believers in Savannah, GA and formed what is believed to be the first black church in America as Lisle served as the first appointed elder and preacher.
At the close of the Revolutionary War, Lisle traveled to Jamaica as the indentured servant of English officer Col. Kirkland. Accompanying him was his wife and four children. Upon arrival, he began preaching in the street. Eventually he organized a Baptist Church starting out with 4 other people. Seven years later he’d baptized 500 converts and by 1791 the church purchased 3 acres of land in Kingsland. In 1793, the first dissenting church in Jamaica was built, which brought persecution to him and his followers.
In spite of a law in Jamaica from 1805 to 1814 forbidding preaching to slaves, Lisle continued to preach. It is said that by 1814, Lisle’s efforts produced about 8,000 converts in Jamaica, earning him the name “Negro slavery’s prophet of deliverance.” Lisle died in Jamaica in 1828. However, by 1887 the number of Jamaican churches had grown to a membership of 31,000.
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