By Robert Dilday
A vision statement adopted March 29 by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina offers a new “way of seeing” the group’s future, say CBFNC leaders.
Two years in the making, the statement proposed by a 13-member team was unanimously approved as the CBFNC celebrated its 20th anniversary March 28-29 during its General Assembly at First Baptist Church in Greensboro, N.C.
The document pledges the CBFNC to “participate in God’s mission” through three overarching commitments: transformation, engagement and community.
How those commitments will be expressed through specific ministries is left to CBFNC staff and congregations to determine, but the vision team suggested four areas of focus: showing mercy and seeking justice, nurturing healthy congregations, empowering laity for missional living, and clarifying identity and covenant.
A series of listening sessions held over the past two years uncovered significant affirmation of the CBFNC, said Jack Glasgow, a vision team member. But it also revealed uncertainty about the group’s future, he added.
“We believe the health of CBFNC is vitally linked to the health of congregations, and those congregations need to be clear about our partnership together …,” said Glasgow, pastor of Zebulon (N.C.) Baptist Church. “What we really need to do is find a way of seeing and let this document be about that. The overarching commitments are the lenses to look at how God is working in the world.”
David Odom, executive director of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School, said each word of the overarching commitments, as well as their intersection, has deep meaning.
“We hope to see all of God’s creation in community, the whole of it transformed and us engaged in that.”
The four areas of focus, while broad, are intended to be a little more specific than the commitments, said Donna Bissette of Winston-Salem, N.C., a former CBFNC moderator.
“These are a starting point for us,” she said. “There are other things we care about, but we thought we should limit ourselves and not spread ourselves too thin. It doesn’t mean if some things we are currently doing don’t fit nicely into one of these areas we won’t do them.”
Whether the areas of focus have a short- or long-term existence is up to the organization, Bissette added, but they “should be revisited on a regular basis.”
Earlier the CBFNC coordinating council affirmed the vision document and committed itself to orienting “our current, ongoing ministries, as well as future ministries, around the overarching commitments” and to enable the CBFNC to “grow in the four areas of focus.”
Fleshing out one of those areas was a specific promise by the council to fill a vacant social ministries staff position.
In an address to General Assembly participants, CBFNC executive coordinator Larry Hovis said the vision statement expresses one of two trajectories for the group’s future.
“Our next 20 years will be based less on our founding story and more on our future story,” he said. “That is, while we will still adhere to our founding principles the particular personalities and events which founded us will shape us less and less, and we will be shaped more and more by a vision of God’s larger purposes.”
The vision statement is “not a statement of faith for our fellowship,” he added. “It is also not an operational statement with specific goals and objectives and time lines. Instead it is a navigational tool. It is more compass than map, pointing us in the general direction we need to go but giving us the freedom at various points along the way to make course corrections and flesh out details.”
A second trajectory is that, regardless of the future, CBFNC will “forsake not the assemblying of ourselves together,” Hovis said. “Remaining together as a fellowship is a value in and of itself. Good things happen when good people get together.”
Baptists’ default position is to exercise autonomy in the extreme, he acknowledged. “But we are not independent Baptists. Friends, we are cooperative Baptists. … We spent our first 20 years focusing on our freedom. I pray that we will spend the next 20 years focusing on our cooperation.”
In other action, the CBFNC adopted an operating budget of $1.48 million for 2014-2015, a drop of 2.74 percent from the current budget. Total expenditures in the next fiscal year — which include the Mission Resource Plan, a channel for forwarding church and individual contributions to a variety of mission partners — is expected to be about $3.74 million.