The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is “crossing over” into a new era of growth and promise, Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley told participants in CBF’s General Assembly June 30.
In a report punctuated repeatedly by loud applause from the audience, Baxley said events of the past few years have allowed the 31-year-old organization to stop defining itself by what it is not and boldly proclaim who it is.
He received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his address, which was part report, part sermon and part pep rally.
The good news today, he said, is “we’re not wondering who we are or what we’re called to be or where we’re called to go.”
CBF has a clear mission and vision in which the mantra of “we’re not that kind of Baptist” no longer plays a part, he said. “We have started to cross over … by changing the way we are talking about who we are.”
“We have started to cross over … by changing the way we are talking about who we are.”
Instead, CBF is guided by “three aspirational words to describe our calling: Invite, equip, transform,” Baxley said.
CBF leadership is discovering new ways to serve congregations and their leaders, he said. “In these divided times we need to fix our eyes on Jesus. … (and) call congregations to a new way of equipping.”
That involves several new resources, he explained, as well as leadership from state and regional organizations. But it also involves new relationships.
“We are growing. We are growing outside the South. We are growing among Baptists of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, … new partnerships, additional leadership, … more collaboration. … We are not where we were anymore. We are stepping forward.”
This growth also includes “the amplification of CBF Global Missions,” Baxley reported. “We are not standing still.”
The $16.5 million budget adopted at this year’s General Assembly “includes the first substantial salary increase for CBF field personnel in many years,” he said to applause.
While CBF is crossing over, the truth is “we have not made landing yet,” Baxley confessed. “Do not hear this address as a victory lap.”
“Do not hear this address as a victory lap.”
Much work remains to be done to increase diversity and to live into CBF’s founding principle of affirming women in ministry, he said. “We have begun to grow as a fellowship and become more diverse because we know … it will allow us to offer a witness … to the God who raised Jesus from the dead.”
However, “making a place at the table for everyone .. is not enough. That’s not our calling. Our calling is to build an entirely new table. The Spirit invites us to set a new table where all gifts are welcome, all gifts are unleashed.”
Baxley particularly addressed a recent report on the state of Baptist women in ministry that found CBF has gone backward in number of congregations with female pastors or co-pastors.
“We have new evidence that we have not arrived yet,” he admitted. “The moment of truth is coming. A generation slightly more experienced than me is retiring. And congregations across our fellowship are searching for pastors. Are we going to stand up and live into what we’ve been saying and call women to lead congregations? It is time to cross over.”
In sum, Baxley said: “We are not where we were. We have started to cross over but we have not arrived. … But I stand here today more hopeful than I have ever been about the life and ministry of this fellowship. … Together, we will cross over.”