ATLANTA (ABP) — About 140 people have visited Atlanta in the last four weeks for implementation of a new leadership structure adopted last year following a two-year study on ways to improve the 22-year-old Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s effectiveness and reach.
“This has been a busy four weeks,” CBF Moderator Bill McConnell said Sept. 12 at an organizational meeting of a new 16-member Governing Board charged with oversight of the Fellowship’s Executive Coordinator and staff. “A lot of work has been going on and will continue to go on.”
McConnell, a lay leader at Central Baptist Church of Bearden in Knoxville, Tenn., said the whirlwind pace began with a two-day meeting to begin planning next year’s CBF General Assembly in Atlanta. After that officers met.
So did a 15-member Nominating Committee, whose task is to recruit committed and talented people both to the Governing Board and new councils to focus on missions and ministries. Those groups, which are now partially populated in a plan that calls for one third of the voting members to rotate off this year, met earlier this week at new CBF offices in Decatur, Ga., and next door at the Atlanta suburb’s First Baptist Church.
The meetings were formative for the Missions Council and Ministries Council, centerpieces of the new strategy. All four groups replace the former 69-member Coordinating Council that gave day-to-day oversight of all areas of the work of the 1,900-church Fellowship founded in 1991.
In the meantime, coordinators of state and regional CBF organizations gathered for their regular meeting. Others meeting included Current, the CBF young leaders’ network that seeks to connect Baptist ministers, leaders and divinity students under age 40. Meanwhile, coaches were in town to introduce Dawnings, a new congregational initiative outlining next steps for churches that previously completed the eight-week It’s Time introduction to the “missional” church.
CBF leaders described the beehive of activity as a measure of success for the 2012 Task Force recommendation to decentralize the Coordinating Council based on geographical representation with smaller and more focused working groups chosen because of members’ expertise, interest and passion in a particular area of CBF leadership.
Not only does it help with the sometimes unwieldy process of dealing with day-to-day decisions as a large group, leaders said, but it actually increases the number of individuals elected to some leadership role.
The Governing Board’s role, McConnell said, is policy. “Our role is not to dictate the processes,” he said. “Our role is not to say what is going to happen day to day. Our role is to work with staff and take the things that staff and the councils want to do, and we set policies.”
Suzii Paynter, elected executive Ccoordinator in February, said one area she has looked at in her first five-plus months is how the CBF tells its story to constituents and a broader society.
“Sometimes we have told our story by focusing on an individual church or an individual person but not focusing on the impact we are having as churches or as field personnel,” she said.
“How do we not just say who is doing something, but this is how we are doing something?” she queried. “How are we having impact through either missions or ministries or through our voice in the public square?”
The Ministries Council recognizes that the CBF staff is too small to offer all the services of a large denomination and relies on networking and partnerships with churches, individuals and ministry partners. The Missions Council, meanwhile, deals with a rapidly changing world in which career missionaries fully funded by a national sending agency isn’t always the operating norm.
Jim Smith, interim global missions coordinator, said 72 of the current 130 CBF field personnel are fully funded. The remainder are self-funded, either by churches, groups or individuals that designate their support for CBF-employed personnel or those who rely on funding channels that do not come through the CBF budget.
Smith, a veteran missionary both for the CBF and before that the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, said he believes in the next five years that the majority of CBF field personnel will be in one of the self-funded categories.
“We have to come to grips with that as a movement,” he told the Missions Council. “This has to be blessed.”
Smith said one factor in the equation is the age of fully funded personnel who are approaching retirement age. “Who would have thought that the upstart CBF would have people thinking about retirement?” he observed.
Michael Cheuk, head of a new CBF Ministries Council, called for a “culture shift” in thinking about how CBF staff, churches, partners and individuals think about identifying and sharing church resources. In the past, CBF identified partners largely by funding them. While funding will be part of the future picture, he said, the time has come to “think about partnership in the broadest sense of the word.”
“Partnership isn’t just limited to financial resources from one body to another but a transition of our hearts and minds and our spirits that reflects a willingness to engage with one another,” said Cheuk, senior minister at University Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Va.
“We are at a new and crucial time in the life of the Fellowship,” Cheuk said, “new leadership, new offices. This also is the time where we have the opportunity to move forward to minister, to partner with one another in a new day, in a new age, in a new way.”
The CBF staff relocated from the old Resource Center on Mercer University’s Atlanta campus to newly renovated office space on the fifth-floor of a bank building in downtown Decatur, Ga. The new location is not only closer to mass transit, but is across the street from First Baptist Church in Decatur, where CBF Coordinating Council meetings were held for the past several years.
Bob Allen I([email protected]) is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.