Sherrel W. Stewart is a freelance writer based in Alabama.
Some of them lead churches steeped in civil rights history. Others started their congregations from scratch. And a few have broken the glass ceiling in their respective denominations. Whatever their accomplishments, these 20 Christian ministers are at the top of their field. Click through to learn more about them.
Warnock preaches from one of the most historic pulpits in the country: Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. pastored the church at the height of the civil rights movement. Warnock, a two-time honoree on The Root 100 list, takes on social and political issues, notably donning a hoodie when preaching in honor of Trayvon Martin. He was also an outspoken critic of the death sentence in the Troy Davis case.
Price is pastor of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., a prominent church during the civil rights movement where four little girls were killed in a Ku Klux Klan bombing in 1963. This year, Price and his congregation have opened their doors to host several events commemorating the 50th anniversary of a pivotal year in civil rights history, while also trying to remain focused on the gospel.
McKenzie is the first woman to be elected a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. A biblical scholar and an author, McKenzie was also the first woman to pastor the Payne Memorial AME Church in Baltimore and is the first female bishop to preside over the Council of Bishops, the AME Church's executive branch.
Butts is pastor of one of Harlem's most influential congregations: the Abyssinian Baptist Church. He is also president of the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Old Westbury. In March, Butts was presented with the United Negro College Fund Shirley Chisholm Community Service Award for his commitment to education. The Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change High School and the Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School, both sponsored and supported by Butts' Abyssinian Development Corp., are just two examples of his leadership in education.
Caldwell, senior pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, has led that congregation for more than 30 years. When he started at the church, it had only 25 members. Today Windsor Village is the largest United Methodist congregation in America, with more than 17,000 members. Caldwell gave the invocation at the inauguration of President George W. Bush.
Walker, of Mount Zion Full Gospel Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., takes his ministry everywhere via the Internet. Under his leadership, Mount Zion, which is located on three campuses, makes ministry to college students a full-time mission. Each Sunday, buses from the church pick up students on 11 campuses in Tennessee and Kentucky. Before they leave church, students are offered a hot meal. When they graduate from Tennessee State University, Vanderbilt University or other area colleges, many of the students make Mount Zion their church home if they locate nearby. In addition to its college ministries, the church has programs for children, youths and seniors.
Boyd, who has been senior minister of Los Angeles' First AME Church for less than a year, is looking to continue some of the success he had while pastoring Bethel AME Church in San Francisco. Under his leadership, Bethel's assets grew from $12 million to $85 million. That church also established the Community Technology Center to help bridge the technology gap for seniors.
Butler became senior pastor of Word of Faith International Christian Center in Southfield, Mich., in January 2011 after his father, Bishop Keith Butler, stepped down. The elder Butler and his wife, Pastor Deborah Butler, founded the church in 1978. Today the church reports a membership of more than 14,000. It has established other churches in Uganda, Kenya and Pakistan.
Adams, of Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit, was educated at the University of Michigan, Harvard University and the Union Theological Seminary, and he has lectured on preaching at some of the most prominent institutions. His preaching style continues to draw worshippers, mixing old-timey rhythmic hooping with in-depth biblical knowledge.
The senior pastor of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., which Outreach magazine named one of the country's fastest-growing congregations in 2009, Coates is also a board member of the Parents Television Council and the National Action Network. A member of The Root 100's 2012 class, Coates is a vocal supporter of marriage equality and was involved in the successful campaign to legalize gay marriage in his state.
Luter, senior pastor at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, made history last year when he was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention. The sometimes controversial pastor is the first African American to hold that position. When he became pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist, the church, which had been a predominantly white Southern Baptist congregation, was in transition because of changing neighborhood demographics. Today the church has a majority African-American congregation and is one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in Louisiana.
Flake, of the Greater Allen AME Cathedral in Jamaica, N.Y., has helped grow the church into a congregation of more than 18,000 members, combined with a vibrant nonprofit corporation that serves the community. The church's most recent projects include completion of a $42 million senior citizen assisted living complex with 330 units. The church now has a total of 630 senior-housing units. Flake, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, has been pastor of the church for 26 years.
Evans became president of the National Black Church Initiative in 1992, working with churches and religious leaders across the country on issues of social and economic justice. The organization, which reports an affiliation with 34,000 churches across the country, has a mission that includes fighting health disparities, promoting financial responsibility and protecting babies from abuse and neglect.
Hurricane Katrina scattered Morton's congregation at New Orleans' Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Church in 2005, but he maintained contact with many of his members as he traveled across the country. After the storm, he passed the leadership of the church to his wife, Debra B. Morton, and he started a church in Atlanta: GSS Changing a Generation. Now, he says, Greater St. Stephen is one church in two states. Morton is also a gospel recording artist and an international television preacher.
Founder and senior pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Ga., Hale is known as a woman of vision and is recognized for her leadership, integrity and compassion. She established a mentoring program, Elah Pastoral Ministries Inc., in 2004 to assist in the spiritual and practical development of pastors and para-church leaders. In September 2005 she convened her first Women in Ministry Conference, a premier national conference with a focused mission to "develop, coach and mentor Christian women in ministry for the 21st century." Hale has been inducted into the African American Biographies Hall of Fame and the Martin Luther King Board of Preachers of Morehouse College.
Price founded the Crenshaw Christian Center in 1973 with 300 members, and now membership at the suburban Los Angeles church is reported to be more than 18,000. Price has led the church's growth through his radio and television broadcasts and through his books. In addition to education and outreach programs, the church, housed at the "FaithDome," established the Crenshaw Christian Center Ministry Training Institute. Price also founded the Fellowship of International Christian Word of Faith Ministries to foster and spread the faith message among independent ministries located in urban metropolitan areas of the United States. Price's son Fred Price Jr. has taken over senior-pastor duties, while Price is the center's chairman of the board.
Minister, film producer and entrepreneur, Jakes leads one of the nation's biggest mega-churches: the Potter's House in Dallas. The church began with 50 families who relocated from West Virginia to Dallas with Jakes. Today the church has more than 30,000 members, and its message is broadcast on stations around the world. The ministry employs nearly 400 staff members, including full-time finance, human resources, information technology, materials-distribution, public relations, publications and television-production departments. Jakes is also CEO of the Potter's House, a nonprofit organization that has produced four major national conferences: the Pastors and Leadership Conference; ManPower; Woman, Thou Art Loosed; and MegaFest. The ministry established the Metroplex Economic Development Corp., a nonprofit organization that seeks to remedy social and economic disparities and to bridge socio-economic voids existing in urban America.
If you are in Columbus, Ohio, on Sundays between 8 and 11 a.m., you can get a hot meal of fish and grits or maybe chicken and waffles at First Church of God, pastored by Clarke. In addition to the food served up in its Manna Café, the church offers a family fitness center and a full range of ministries, Bible studies and worship services. Clarke, who has led the congregation since 1982, has also served on the State of Ohio Victims of Crime advisory board and the Columbus Urban League board of directors. He is president and CEO of New Beginnings Christian Community Revitalization Corp.
Hilliard, of Cathedral International in Perth Amboy, N.J., has led the church's growth from 125 members in 1983 to more than 6,000 today. The church has three locations and 50 ministries serving three New Jersey areas: Perth Amboy, Asbury Park and Plainfield. Hilliard is the presiding bishop and founder of the Covenant Ecumenical Fellowship and Cathedral Assemblies Inc., serving as spiritual adviser and mentor for several pastors and churches in the United States and West Africa.
Daniels is the overseer of Spoken Word Ministries in Jacksonville, Fla., and is joined in ministry by her husband, Ardell Daniels. She is also founder of Kimberly Daniels Ministries International and World Bible College. A city commissioner in Jacksonville, Daniels is the proud mother of six children and is an author for Creation House Press; she has also self-published an autobiography, Against All Odds. Daniels combines her athletic ability and military background to promote discipline, endurance and deliverance for Christians.