ATLANTA (FOX 5 Atlanta) - Pastor Jamal Bryant is a man with a clear vision for how he plans to lead and uplift a local church with a complicated past.
The Baltimore-based preacher has moved to the metro area to take the helm as senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in south DeKalb County.
The announcement came in November from the religious leader known for his dynamic sermons, social activism and unconventional approach to evangelism. He leaves behind Baltimore's Empowerment Temple A.M.E. Church, which he founded 18 years ago. Under Bryant's leadership, the congregation grew from 43 people to more than 10,000, becoming a staple in the community.
The third-generation pastor sat down with FOX 5's Marissa Mitchell for his first Atlanta television interview before he delivers his inaugural sermon Sunday at New Birth. He discussed his decision to move from his home to lead one of Georgia's largest megachurches.
"This has been a rollercoaster ride of emotions, leaving a church that I founded... and then abruptly leaving with a three-weeks notice..." Bryant told Mitchell. "But I really felt this was time for me to shift and take on a new challenge. I really felt like I was obeying the voice of God."
Bryant isn't new to metro Atlanta. He graduated from Morehouse College before obtaining another degree from Duke University.
He looks forward to bringing his signature brand of ministry to New Birth, which selected him from more than 100 applicants for the senior pastor position. But the church, which remains widely-known in the state and nationally, has seen its share of successes and struggles over the years. Bryant succeeds the late Bishop Eddie Long, who died of cancer early last year. Long's final years were wrought with controversy after sexual abuse lawsuits surfaced. He denied the allegations. But many members left the pews following the claims. The church brought in an interim pastor after Long's death before hiring Bryant.
"Here's a strong and resilient people that went through losing their own pastor to death, going through a transitory pastor who didn't stay and now entering a pastor that they don't know," Bryant stressed. "Through my own life experiences, I think God was positioning me for this hour to lead a church, quite frankly, through trauma and through grief."
Bryant doesn't shy away from his own controversies. In fact, he has spoken candidly about infidelity while he was married to his now ex-wife, Gizelle Bryant, who is a featured cast member of “The Real Housewives of Potomac” reality show. Bryant has five daughters.
The pastor admitted he is aware of critics who believe his past could hinder his ability to lead the church. But he addressed the issue directly after Mitchell asked for his reaction to those comments.
"Who else could help lead a church through scars and pain, if you have never done so yourself?..You have to live through some things in order to address it and meet it. Through my own life experiences, I think God was positioning me for this hour."
Bryant said, through it all, he looks forward to shaping and fulfilling his own legacy at New Birth. He also expressed plans to build on its property moving forward.
"We are getting ready to take this city back by storm to really make sure that the real authenticity of our gospel isn't lost in the sanctuary but can find its way to the street corners," Bryant added.