The Baltimore-based Empowerment Temple AME Church has terminated the services of lead pastor GJ Barnes for failing to file timely audit reports, which cost the congregation tens of thousands of dollars in fees levied by its mortgage holder.
Church officials did not immediately respond to calls for comment from The Christian Post Monday, but a spokesman for the congregation told The Baltimore Sun that a majority of their board voted to dismiss Barnes immediately on Aug. 4.
“Empowerment Temple solicits prayers during this time of transition,” a statement from Empowerment Temple leadership said. “The current and previous leadership have reached a fork in the road where it is best that we separate. We look forward to new leadership where we can continue to serve the community.”
Barnes, who has been heralded as an astute businessman who became a millionaire before he was 30, succeeded Empowerment Temple founder Jamal Bryant in 2019 after he moved on to become the senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Georgia.
Addressing his dismissal during a town hall with congregants last Wednesday, Barnes acknowledged that he had indeed been late with filing audit reports for 2020 and 2021 required by the church’s lender “out of my concern to be thorough and complete, not rushed.”
“People hear the word ‘audit,’ and they assume the problem has to do with financial problems,” he explained, according to The Baltimore Sun. “This wasn’t. It’s unfortunate that this spectacle has become a distraction, that an internal church matter has become the focus,” not the work of the church at large, he noted. He said that the church had been paying its mortgage on time.
Information previously shared on Empowerment Temple’s website described Barnes as a “visionary, leader, executive, intellectual, and servant” who served as “president and Chief Executive Officer for multiple national multi-million-dollar organizations.”
“Although he has been preaching for more than 20 years, his passion for entrepreneurship was realized at the age of 15 when he was accepted into the NAACP Regional F. Lewis Youth Entrepreneurship Institute. He would graduate and go on to become one of the youngest successful African-American entrepreneurs in the country,” the church boasted.
Barnes and his wife, Junetta, have faced personal financial difficulties in the past few years.
Maryland court records show the federal government recorded a lien against the couple of more than $1 million in a 2017 case now listed as closed. In 2020, the Maryland comptroller’s office filed a $273,000 lien against the couple in a case that has since closed.
The Empowerment Temple spokesman told the publication that the AME Church had offered Barnes a chance to start another church in its 2nd District, covering Maryland, the District of Columbia and adjacent states. But he declined, choosing to start a church of his own in violation of church doctrine.
Barnes said he would continue offering sermons on his personal website in preparation for what God wants him to do.
"We are grateful that God is still calling us to serve. God is still calling us to ministry," he said in a Facebook video.
Before joining Empowerment Temple, Barnes founded the Elevation Chapel in Owings Mills, which he led for about nine years.