When Fellowship Baptists met in Greensboro in June for their General Assembly, they embraced not only change but a clear future for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. As CBF moves along in its third decade of life, the General Assembly expressed important changes for the organization.
First, there were changes in organizational structure that some would see as a shift from assured involvement to efficient governance. For 22 years, CBF has been governed by a large Coordinating Council made up of over 60 members. Although members were nominated and elected by the Fellowship each year, the recommendations to the nominating committee came from state and regional bodies, so the national council was actually a representative assembly.
The new Governing Board of twelve members (plus national officers) is more of an administrative body. This change in the way that CBF is governed may express a higher level of trust on the part of grassroots churches and members. When CBF began, there was a definite fear among many supporters of centralized authority. Adopting a new governance structure indicates a willingness on the part of many to “loosen the reins” a bit.
Second, Fellowship Baptists embraced Suzii Paynter as the new executive coordinator to succeed Daniel Vestal. Leadership has passed from a white male clergyman from Texas to a white female lay person from Texas. The changes in gender and ordination status are significant. The Fellowship was looking for a leader with specific gifts without regard to gender and that person is an experienced and gifted woman. Although the Fellowship loves and affirms its ordained leadership, the selection of Paynter reminds us that lay people are vital to any Baptist organization. Baptist bodies work best when lay and ordained leaders work cooperatively.
Third, many commented on the change in hair color among participants this year! Many young adults were present. This is a testimony to an intentional effort to involve a younger constituency by the national leaders, the efforts of the CBF-related seminaries to encourage their students and the growing number of alumni to attend, and the special emphasis for college age young adults through the Sessions program. This change is welcomed by all.
Change will and must continue. One area that deserves ongoing emphasis is increased racial and ethnic diversity in the Fellowship. At the Associated Baptist Press dinner on Thursday night, Dr. Molly Marshall of Central Baptist Theological Seminary asked, “Where are my people?” Marshall has led the seminary to increase ethnic diversity in its student body and came to the General Assembly directly from the American Baptist Churches Biennial which always exhibits great racial and ethnic inclusivity.
The Fellowship must become more diverse not as a growth strategy but as a realization that the culture in which we minister is more diverse. Will the Fellowship look like the society in which its churches and members live and minister or become an enclave detached from reality?
Change is good. If CBF is to continue to be a vital, effective organization, it must continue to change–to be more inclusive, to pursue new ways of cooperation, and to continue to embrace new means of communication. The 2013 General Assembly was a positive step forward.