Sharing. Collaborating. Networking. If I were to summarize the CBF Task Force Report to the General Assembly, specifically about the Ministries Council, then those would be some of the buzzwords that keep rising to the surface. The idea is this: Many of the resources that church and ministries are seeking may be right here among us in CBF. We just need avenues to be able to share with one another. We need to be more vocal about who is doing what ministries well, and we need to harness the power of cooperation.
This has long been the model for CBF missions. What this Task Force proposed is that we start doing it for our church ministries, our Bible study curricula and worship resources. It is a recognition that as we move forward, we are developing as a fellowship beyond unity of shared missions to unity of witness and a particular Baptist way of doing things.
They said, in short, we have many creative and innovative ministries that we are doing well right here. We also all have something we could do better and need some help getting there. Let’s start talking to one another about it.
We started this process in a tangible way during the Task Force report by giving an ‘offering’ of names and places and ministries that we think are doing excellent work. Today, I’d like to add a few more suggestions to keep the conversation going. Here are some of the ministries that I want to offer up as models of creative ministry already happening among us:
1. The Divinity School Experience (CBF NC, Winston-Salem): For two years, CBF North Carolina has offered a “Divinity School Experience” at their annual General Assembly. They create a separate registration process for anyone attending a CBF NC partner theology school and reserve hotel rooms for divinity students to come. At the assembly, there are specific events designed to give face-to-face interaction to divinity students with one another and with important people within CBF NC. In its first year, this included a question and answer session between students and the staff of CBF NC. This past year, it included a forum where students brainstormed ideas for a potential break out session at the upcoming assembly that will also be led by students. This experience has created an avenue for students to feel an immediate sense of connection to the work of CBF in the state.
2. The Fellowship Garden and The Hell’s Kitchen Farm Project (First Baptist, Elkin and Metro Baptist, New York): We are increasing our awareness as Christians of the spiritual nature of food and the justice issues it raises. The way food is grown and access to healthy food are important issues that the church is learning anew. These two projects are excellent models of how farming and food ministries are a way to serve communities. They bring people together for common work, offer healthy food to those who would not have access to it otherwise and give a unique witness of the church to the community. These projects show that this is an urban and a rural problem. It is one way churches can find a niche for serving the hungry.
3. Friday Church (Highland Baptist Church, Louisville): Every Friday night, through a partnership with Wayside Christian mission, AA groups are bused in from downtown to the sanctuary of Highland. A sanctuary normally filled with sacred music and ordered liturgy is transformed into place of laughter, praise music, clapping, and the biggest hugs you’ve ever had in church. AA groups are welcomed into the very heart of this church and given their own place to feel the touch of God’s grace on their lives. It is a time of sharing and conversation where these addicts come to one another with honest humility and speak of the reconciliation they need. After worshipping together, they break out into their groups throughout the church for regular meetings. And if you ask Joe Phelps, he will tell you this happened all by accident – but I’m not sure I believe him. Or maybe it is a testament that all good things happen by accident.
4. Summer Communities of Service (Alliance of Baptists and United Church of Christ): Admittedly, this one falls outside of CBF but it is a good model nonetheless. SCOS is a shared initiative of intentional service, much like Studentdotgo. Its purpose is to partner with ministries and young people for a summer of service in locations across the country. It is a uniquely interdenominational effort. The two groups do not demand a syncrestic theology nor do they sacrifice their particularities. Rather, they share resources in a significant show of unity and tell the particularities of their tradition to a different group of young people who want to serve every summer in places like Chicago, New York City, Buloxi, and Charlotte. As difficulties of declining members and revenues continue to cut across all denominations, it may be time for CBF to look beyond themselves and even beyond other Baptist groups to the wisdom that may be found in other Christian groups.
These are four of the models of ministry that are generating much energy in Baptist life. I offer them because I have been transformed by them and have hoped that others might catch similar visions for doing the work of God. I believe that these are some of the ideas that will make their way into the wealth of resources gathered by the Ministries Council and they are ideas worth sharing.
The critical piece of this structure for resources is that it will only be as good as our willingness to contribute and help one another. Can we cooperate on many more facets of ministry alongside of global missions? I hope so. Now that I’ve started, what are the creative ministries you have to share?