By Jeff Brumley
The promise from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida during its spring meeting Friday and Saturday was to “Re-vision, Re-Imagine, Renew” the Fellowship – and Suzii Paynter delivered.
In light-hearted and serious moments, CBF’s new executive coordinator drilled home the message that change is the only constant anyone can expect in CBF life moving forward.
“What good news it is to see change as a gift,” Paynter said during her keynote address at Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church in Jacksonville, where the conference was held.
Even how Fellowship members should self-identify is on the table, Paynter said.
“Do we call ourselves ‘CBFers’ or ‘Fellowshippians?’” She referred to the evolving two-decade-old movement as “CBF 2.0.”
In that talk and during a Saturday question-and-answer session, Paynter shared bold visions in some answers and admitted uncertainty in others.
Paynter drew before-and-after analogies to underscore her mission of change and aversion to institutionalism.
“In the past, we saw ourselves as a cruise ship – hard to turn, difficult to steer,” Paynter said from the pulpit during Friday’s keynote. Thanks to the ongoing implementation of the 2012 Task Force report “we are a flotilla of little boats” that are more agile and responsive.
During the Q&A session on Saturday – in which she took some Twitter questions projected on a large screen – Paynter sometimes criticized the cruise ship model.
“We’ve been lazy,” Paynter replied when asked why so many CBF field personnel are white. Going forward, the Fellowship will “recruit, recruit, recruit” more minorities.
She also defended changes in CBF’s adoption of self-funded missionaries. She had been asked how CBF can better support those field personnel.
Adding self-funded missionaries made sense after CBF maxed out its budget for full-time personnel, and yet was getting assignment requests from candidates who were willing to do their own fundraising, Paynter said. More than $700,000 has been donated for those missions, and some individuals supporting those missionaries are now giving to the Offering for Global Missions, Paynter said.
She added that CBF has hired a full-time staffer to help those missionaries with fundraising. “We have to grow up our funding to match our commitment,” she said. Paynter also said the process for hiring a new global missions coordinator would not begin until after CBF General Assembly this summer.
She did not have an answer on how to draw more college-age people into CBF life, but admitted “it’s a place where we need to grow.”
The biggest challenge facing CBF and its churches and ministries is finding a way to begin attracting non-members to the “enlightened, free, joyful Christianity” they have to offer, she said. “We are at a great awakening, a major turning point, in how we become the church for people beyond the church,” she said.
CBF must and will become more multicultural by letting individual congregations find the way. “You don’t decide in Atlanta what multicultural is and then tell churches,” Paynter said. “But you listen to what the churches are experiencing.”
When asked how CBF can avoid the pitfalls of institutionalism, Paynter reminded the audience of her talk the night before.
“We contribute to our partners” without meddling in their organizations, she said. “It’s messy sometimes, but hold that (flotilla) model in mind to avoid institutionalism.”
Some of those who had pressed Paynter during the question-and-answer said they believe her comments to be more than rhetoric.
Angel Pittman, assistant director of Touching Miami with Love, said she’s confident Paynter’s passion and advocacy experience will help transform visions into reality. “That’s what our ministries need – someone who will advocate for them,” Pittman said.