March 6thand 7th a diverse group of Baptists from North America gathered in Philadelphia for the 50th anniversary of the North American Baptist Fellowship [NABF] of the Baptist World Alliance.
Using the title—FutureBaptists: A Collaborative Missional Movement—this gathering was more a conversation about the next 50 years than a memorial to the past 50. This was good. NABF strived to clarify its focus during its first 50 years. The next 50 years has an emerging focus expressed during this gathering.
NABF: The First 50 Years
NABF, which has almost 30 Baptists organizations as members representing almost two dozen of the three dozen organized Baptist denominations in North America, has always been in the shadow of the Baptist World Alliance. This was good until about ten years ago.
The first 40 years of NABF existence Baptists from North America took the primary—even majority—leadership in the Baptist World Alliance due to its relocation to Washington, DC from London during World War II, and the size of the Baptist resources in North America. However, in 1998 an effort was started by then BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz to imagine, plan, and structure the future of BWA as it moved into the 21st century as a truly world organization.
This resulted in actions still unfolding and maturing to increase the world participation in the leadership of BWA. This transformation was accelerated by the choosing of Neville Callam of Jamaica as Denton Lotz’ successor in 2007.
For more than ten years NABF laid the foundation for a leap forward in its activism and impact from the base of North America. What it lacked until now is a commitment to a clear focus for a collaborative missional movement.
NABF: The Next 50 Years
The overarching question the FutureBaptists Convocation dealt with in Philadelphia was, “What will characterize Baptists as a collaborative missional movement from the base of North America in the year 2064?” Twenty potential issues were identified. 500 people were asked to weigh in on these issues. The two days began with 12 prioritized issues. The Convocation ended with five issues rising to the top with three of those screaming out for immediate and significant emphasis.
In later posts I will go into more details about these issues. Here I will simply name them. Many details must be worked out before they can be stated with deeper conviction.
Before I list the top five I want to acknowledge a genuine surprise. We are going through a time in Baptist life in North America when many people talk about their favorite issue or cause. Then they seek to convince others to join them in their cause. With this in mind I thought this perspective would dominate our top priority issues with which to launch a collaborative missional movement. I was wrong.
The dominant answer was that unless Baptists discover effective ways for congregations to transform and renew, we will not have an effective grassroots base for missional engagement and social action. We need to energize congregations who desire to thrive. We must do this in collaboration with a broad cross-section of Baptists using our collective health and strength to address key congregational vitality and vibrancy issues.
This was a top priority for 80 percent of the people present for the FutureBaptists Convocation. This was unexpected. Yet the affirmation of missional engagement and social action through congregations rather than parachurch organizations is a powerful statement of collaborative ministry in the 21st century. Missional engagement and social action is not something others do for congregations. It is core nature of vital and vibrant congregations.
Along the way we will focus on four other issues: economic oppression and hunger, authentic and genuine evangelism that is about sharing faith and making disciples, addressing modern day slavery that is seen in exploitation and trafficking, and elevating and emphasizing women and ministry.
Did the FutureBaptists Convocation find the Holy Grail for a collaborative missional movement among Baptists from the base of North America? Certainly not. It did find a beginning point and next steps as networks are formed that enhance and undergird the various denominational expressions of Baptists throughout North America.
I invite you to connect with the FutureBaptists Champions Network. If you want to take a look at and perhaps connect with this grassroots network within NABF, click HERE and register for free.