By Jeff Brumley
Baptist John McIntosh knows it’s an honor to have been selected for the Bahamas Council of Bishops, whose members advocate for social justice and help establish churches across the island nation.
But he knows something else, too: He’s going to be even busier than he is now as a church pastor and coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of the Bahamas.
“It’s a mixed feeling,” McIntosh told ABPnews/Herald by phone. “It will be much more work.”
But also a good mixed feeling, he added, because his consecration in July will put him at the forefront of the spiritual, social and political issues facing Bahamians today — including an ongoing effort to legalize gambling.
“I am very against it,” he said. “That’s going to be one of my first fights within the council, because we are really against it — and I think Baptists as a whole are against it.”
A lifetime serving Bahamian Christians certainly got McIntosh on the council’s radar. But it was his leadership of the young CBF Bahamas that got him the nomination.
“One reason they asked me is they noticed the work I’ve been doing,” he said. “CBF has a lot to do with it … because of the work it’s led me to do with other churches and the council.”
‘It’s a big deal’
The council is made up of representatives from a variety of denominations on the islands. Some of them are actual bishops in their traditions; McIntosh said he will obtain the title after a consecration service in July.
The group works alongside the Bahamas Christian Council to advocate for political and social issues and to promote harmony between denominations in the Bahamas, he said.
McIntosh’s selection is a milestone for the Fellowship in the Bahamas, said Ray Johnson, coordinator of Florida CBF.
While Cooperative Baptists are not new to the islands, this marks the first time they’ve been accepted officially and organizationally by other faiths, Johnson said.
“They already had government recognition — allowing them to bank and take donations,” he said. “But this is more of a religious recognition that gives [McIntosh] some national clout in the Bahamas.”
McIntosh’s election also raises the legitimacy of CBF and Florida CBF throughout the Caribbean, Johnson said.
“It’s a big deal because it gives further importance to our missional partnerships,” he said. “It gives weight to them and will help us develop other partnerships on other islands.”
But even without all of those likely benefits, Johnson said McIntosh and CBF Bahamas have already yielded significant spiritual and humanitarian dividends in the islands and in the United States.
When Johnson joined CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter at the Bahamian Fellowship’s General Assembly last October, it was clear from the media coverage and comments from government officials that this group of Baptists is respected locally.
That’s in large part due to McIntosh’s role as coordinator. He’s also helped establish the organization’s theological institute for training pastors and lay leaders, which is now being established on multiple islands in the Bahamas.
Reciprocal mission arrangements between the island nation and the United States were forged by McIntosh, enabling Bahamian churches to visit the U.S. on mission trips. He’s also been the front person for CBF in disaster relief situations.
“In the past six months he’s really increased our visibility on the islands,” Johnson said.
‘A different ballgame’
A CBF official in Atlanta agreed McIntosh’s appointment to the council is groundbreaking — but then so is having a Fellowship affiliate outside the U.S.
Jim Smith, interim coordinator of global missions, said CBF’s practice is to discourage overseas churches from forming affiliates. Instead, they are encouraged to join existing associations or create their own, and then partner with the Fellowship.
“But the Bahamas is a totally different environment with CBF Florida being right there,” Smith said. “They’ve had these connections already — it’s been a different ballgame.”
CBF Bahamas’ rise to prominence is reminiscent of CBF’s early years, when it first started gaining recognition from international religious bodies in Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa.
“Those relationships are now deep and wide, and we are recognized as a missionary-sending organization,” Smith said.
CBF Bahamas was formed in 2011 and represents seven churches on various islands. McIntosh is pastor of New Hope Baptist Church on Abaco Island.
McIntosh reiterated that his place on the council will keep him busy and challenged, but added his career as a pastor and CBF experience has prepared him for many of the tasks, which are similar.
Like the Fellowship, the council helps train pastors, support new churches and help residents through disasters.
“I already work with the Bahamas Christian Council, but it’s not quite the same thing,” he said.
That group’s president, along with the vice president of the bishop’s council, will be leading the consecration service for McIntosh.
“It’s very prestigious,” he said, adding that goes for CBF as well as for himself.