By Jeff Brumley
Steven Porter has made it clear since he was named head of global missions for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship that the organization must overhaul the structure and operation of its domestic and overseas missions efforts.
Now, a little more than a year after Porter was appointed, he’s providing glimpses of the ongoing process of reinventing CBF global missions, and even a few hints of what that new structure may look like.
Porter did that May 14 in Tallahassee where CBF Florida gathered for its annual Spring Celebration.
In an hour-long presentation and question-and-answer session at First Baptist Church, Porter offered a digital slide show and clues about new ways of conceiving of missions and missionaries.
The Fellowship currently supports 120 long-term field personnel in 30 nations, 50 Student.Go interns and hundreds of short-term mission teams every year.
“We’re talking about serious structural change,” Porter said.
‘Roll up their sleeves’
The reason for that change is as simple as it is daunting: a present-day missions context that is radically different from a quarter century ago, Porter said.
“Back then, it was: write a check to subcontract missions work,” he said. “Today, congregations want to roll up their sleeves and get involved.”
Migration patterns have also shifted, with millions now calling America home.
Also new today is that the United States, while first in sending missionaries abroad, also leads the world in receiving foreign missionaries, Porter said.
There are also concerns about funding for field personnel, maintaining global partnerships and engaging churches that are missional in outlook and practice.
‘A new missions structure’
Porter in his presentation did not provide details about other changes to global missions. He said the new model will be a “collective effort” that honors Baptist values, including the priesthood of all believers.
The new structure will be driven by commitments to values of radical hospitality, reconciliation and to confess Christ and live the Great Commission, Porter said.
It will also assume the image of God in every human being and focus on sustainable development through partnerships with local stakeholders, and will seek to transform oppressive cultures through long-term commitments, advocacy, education and solidarity.
Porter said at least three mission contexts will drive the new CBF global missions program: global poverty, global migration and the global church.
“Those changes require CBF to develop a new missions structure.”
Asking for prayer
And that development is ongoing, he said, describing a Fellowship-wide effort that is expected to conclude with a proposal for a new missions concept in September.
“By then it will be known what the new structure will look like,” Porter said.
CBF’s governing board will vote on the proposal in January 2016 and implementation would follow over the next two years.
The new missions approach will then be celebrated during CBF’s 2016 General Assembly.
“I really mean it when I ask for your prayers,” Porter said.
Trusting ‘wisdom and insight’
When Porter opened up the floor to questions, he was asked how U.S.-based field personnel will fit into a new scheme. He responded that migration is providing an opportunity to revitalize American churches.
“The world has truly come to us,” he said.
Domestic and international missionaries can address that challenge through partnerships CBF has in nations generating the refugees arriving in the United States.
First Baptist, Tallahassee, Pastor Bill Shiell asked Porter if there will be a place in the new system for churches who have experience with missions and working with internationals.
Porter said existing church mission networks give congregations a place to participate in global missions. CBF churches also will be encouraged to work with non-Baptist churches and denominations in global missions.
Shiell later told Baptist News Global that he admires the work going into CBF’s future global missions network.
“I trust their wisdom and insight,” Shiell said.
And he’s eager to see how local congregations will fit into the process as “equal partners.”
Also in a subsequent interview with BNG, Porter said the Fellowship is re-examining how congregations can participate in both long-term and short-term missions endeavors.
Planners know this is a missional age in which churches want to be actively involved with field personnel overseas. But they must also determine best practices that avoid wasteful spending and the tendency to fixate on international needs at the expense of local needs, Porter said.
“I don’t know where we are going with this,” he said of the overall revamping of global missions. “We are rethinking church engagement from the ground up.”