Women leaders. Diversity in worship. Babies in strollers and toddlers in arms. Faithful friends. New relationships. Creative initiatives. All of these are impressions that I brought back from the 2014 Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Atlanta. The Fellowship continues to be an organization in flux or, as Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter calls it, a “denominetwork” being born. The most significant impression from my perspective, however, comes under the general topic of leadership.
First, Suzii Paynter is clearly an effective leader. Only a person with integrity, ability and political savvy can lead an organization like CBF, no matter how we choose to label it. Paynter seemed to move effortlessly among the various meetings of the Assembly, serving as a cheerleader, encourager, and advocate for the Fellowship way of doing things. I continue to be impressed with her presence and her commitment to keeping this unusual collection of Baptists working together and moving forward.
Second, elected leadership of the Fellowship are quality people. Bill McConnell, a layman from Knoxville, Tenn., and the outgoing moderator, is one of my heroes. He has tirelessly invested himself in the Fellowship during a time of transition, bringing good common sense to the task. He is followed as moderator by Kasey Jones, senior pastor of the National Baptist Memorial Church in Washington, DC. As someone noted this week, she has no connection with the conflict that birthed the Fellowship, so she brings a fresh and unique perspective to the leadership role. This can only be a good thing! Matt Cook, pastor of First Baptist Church, Wilmington, NC, is moderator-elect and one of a younger generation of leaders who has proven himself in CBF circles. He is a good choice as well.
The ranks of gifted leaders do not end there. Michael Cheuk from University Baptist Church, Charlottesville, VA, is the chair of the Ministries Council. Mike Oliver, Trinity Baptist Church, Madison, AL, is chair of the Missions Council. They are leaders who bring strong congregational experience to their respective leadership roles. They are joined by other committed women and men who serve on these councils and the Governing Board of CBF.
Third, the CBF staff is more diverse than ever. They possess both hard-earned experience and fresh energy. Rather than leave anyone out, let me just say each brings skill and competence to his or her assignment.
Does this mean smooth sailing as what it means to be a “denominetwork” is further defined? Of course not! We are Baptists and where there are three Baptists gathered there are at least four different opinions. A number of choices must be made in the coming days. CBF is beginning to address a funding arrangement that will recognize and support the work of in-house ministries, state and regional organizations, and various partners, including seminaries and theological schools. The proper mix of mission field personnel—fully supported, self-funded, church supported, and volunteer—is a challenging subject. Continuing to involve young leaders whose priorities may differ significantly from those of their elders will be a concern. Other concerns will certainly arise.
But now, let’s celebrate the engaged leadership that will work with Fellowship Baptists to address these and equally thorny issues and thank God for their willingness to serve.