By Bob Allen
A “new day” for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship global missions will begin a “new conversation” about how to better integrate missions into all areas of CBF life, the Decatur, Ga.,-based Fellowship’s new global missions coordinator said at a press conference April 30.
“Together, we need a new conversation that integrates the congregational side of CBF life with the missional side of CBF life, such that we are all leaning together in the same direction,” said Steven Porter, the former director of Touching Miami with Love now teaching at Baylor University. He was announced Wednesday as the newest member of the CBF leadership team.
CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter called it “an important day for CBF.”
“This endeavor is so central to CBF,” Paynter said of global missions. “Missions is central to our identity and to our ministry. So leadership in this area is not something that just is a matter of staff concern, but it’s a matter of prayer and concern about every aspect of the greater Fellowship.”
For Porter, the conversation about being a faithful Christian witness in the 21st century starts with listening.
“In a new day for CBF global missions, I believe we begin with listening,” Porter said. “I think we need to listen to our partners around the world, to our field personnel, to our state and regional partners, to the staff.”
“There is wisdom in the room — in many rooms around the world and around this country,” he said. “If we want to lead a new conversation on mission that better integrates the congregational side of CBF life with the missionary side of CBF life, then it behooves us to listen carefully to one another, so that that conversation, rather that vision, emerges organically from the movement itself rather than being imposed somehow by fiat from the top down in Decatur.”
Porter said it is essential that a shared vision for mission “is owned from the start by our congregations and our larger constituency around the world.” That’s because of three major global shifts “that we need to ponder and take seriously if we want to be faithful in leading CBF global missions into a new day.”
The first, Porter said, is “the recognition that we now live in a global church.”
“Scholars for a long time have noted that there is a massive shift to the global South in the past century, in terms of Christianity and how it’s spread around the world,” he said. “For me, that raises the wonderful and exciting possibility of partnering with collaborators — whether they are people from the Baptist World Alliance or other Christians outside of Baptist life — who are already engaged in their own communities in different parts of the world. I think there is great opportunity for us to collaborate more effectively and more extensively with the global church.”
Along with the rest of global Christianity, Porter said, CBF congregations have also changed.
“This isn’t news to people who are active in the Fellowship, but we talk about mission, and we view being engaged in mission, in different ways than we did a generation ago,” he said. “I think we need to continue to watch, pay attention to, that conversation on the missional church as it evolves in new ways.”
Finally, Porter said, the communities in which CBF churches find themselves have also changed. Porter said it’s common to discuss cultural and religious diversity in major metropolitan areas like Atlanta, but those conversations are also going on in places like where he lives, Waco, Texas, where “there are pockets of cultural diversity that invite us to think in new ways about what mission might look like through our congregations.”
“It may very well be that in the coming days, the conversation that Cooperative Baptists have about mission becomes as much about receiving missionaries as sending them,” he said. “That’s an exciting prospect and one that I suspect most of our congregations haven’t thought a lot about. But if we want to be a faithful witness to God’s good news in Jesus Christ in the midst of diversifying communities, then we need to think about the ways in which we might tap the skills, expertise, passion and life of Christians around the world to help us reach our own neighborhood. And that’s really exciting to me.”
Porter said he has a few ideas about how such conversations might “lead us to do a few things strategically.”
“The first would be to narrow our focus, to emphasize that we should do a few things with excellence, a few things really well,” he said. “And if we narrow our focus, I believe that will help deepen our capacity.”
“And as we deepen our capacity, the third thing that follows from that, is that we’ll expand the power of our impact on God’s kingdom in the world,” Porter said. That, he said, “feeds very conveniently our new emphasis on advocacy at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as well as it feeds the life of the very congregations that are the heart and life of the CBF.”
Paynter said an advisory search committee sought “someone who had actually served as a field personnel, who understood missions from the ground up, but also had a vision and the training and the capacity for future visioning and understanding missiology for the 21st century.”
“It was clear on the committee that we weren’t going to settle for one or the other but were looking for the right combination in both areas of strength,” Paynter said.
Linda Jones, missions coordinator for CBF of North Carolina who chaired the search panel, said Porter’s resume quickly rose to the top of many interested and qualified candidates both inside and outside the CBF fold.
“Steven comes with a strategic mind and a willingness to listen and be a collaborator and to build teams,” Jones said. “He especially comes with the passion for CBF missions.”
“Just as the search committee that was made up of people who have a passion for missions and a passion for our future, we believe that Steven is the right person at the right time for CBF to lead us into that future, with passion, with strategic thinking, with organizational skills and a collaborative spirit,” she said.