This story was edited after posting to correct an error in the 13th paragraph.
By Bob Allen
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s new executive coordinator said supporting churches face a choice: “We can be alone, or we can be an even greater Fellowship together.”
“My vision for CBF is to become the most vital, vibrant religious community in the United States,” Suzii Paynter, elected to lead the 1,800-church Fellowship in February, said in her first executive coordinator’s report during the closing session of the group’s June 26-28 General Assembly in Greensboro, N.C.
Formed in controversy two decades ago, Paynter said the moderate Baptist group has grown into a voice for cooperative mission and fellowship.
“Our country and our world need this voice,” Paynter said. “CBF, the way we have become church, is a needed vision, a vision of compassionate, enlightened, joyful, Christ-like community.”
After only a few days on the job, Paynter was invited to the White House Easter prayer breakfast. A man approached her table and asked: “Are you the new Mrs. CBF? I want to talk to you.”
He introduced himself as being from the USDA office of faith-based initiatives and neighborhood partnerships and told her they had been looking at Together for Hope, the CBF’s rural poverty initiative focused on long-term economic development of 20 of the nation’s poorest counties.
He asked Paynter if CBF would consider finding a grant writer who might be called as a missionary.
“You see, these counties could benefit from grants, but there’s not someone in that county capable of writing them,” he said.
“Good idea,” Paynter replied. “I see what you’re saying, but why us? There are bigger mission groups and all that.”
“And he went back to say, ‘Well, because you’ve made a commitment to be there for 20 years; because I see that you’re not just working on behalf of yourself.’ He said, ‘I also happen to know about your church-state ideas, that you don’t want government money for your churches.’”
“I said, ‘Well, you’re exactly right about that,’” Paynter said.
“We don’t want government money to do our missions work, but will we help a county get money for the three organizations that are competing against each other so much that they can’t get one grant? Yeah, I believe there’s someone in the Fellowship out there who might be called as a grant writer to help us with this.”
“We don’t want government money, I said, but the way we do missions is what brought him to our table,” she said.”The way we do missions is strong and true and serves people in Christ’s spirit.”
Building on her experience from her previous job at the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, Paynter said she hopes to create a place at the table with other faith groups for greater advocacy on social issues. This week in Jamaica, she said, she plans to finalize an agreement with the Baptist World Alliance to enhance a CBF presence at the United Nations.
She said the “greater mission enterprise” of the Fellowship has “treasures and gifts that are already here,” such as partnerships with 13 seminaries and divinity schools at a time when many denominations are having a hard time producing enough seminary graduates to fill pulpits vacated by retirement.
Paynter announced plans to move toward a threshold of endowed scholarships for students at all CBF theological-education partners.
“If we take the same money that we have been using and just change it in a slightly different kind of gift, we can provide scholarships in perpetuity to these seminaries where they know and our students know there is a sound foundation.”
“We are the envy of many denominations because of all these new seminarians and second-generation seminarians,” she said. “We’re the keepers of this gift, and we need to use it.”
Paynter said CBF churches have a unique evangelistic witness to offer. “We must start and nurture new congregations,” she said. “Each healthy CBF church should take up, with prayerful consideration, starting a church within the next five years.”
Registered attendance for the 2013 General Assembly was 2,327. An offering during the closing service raised $16,243 to support the work of CBF field personnel around the world. The worship closed with a communion service led by Paynter and her husband, Roger Paynter, pastor of First Baptist Church in Austin, Texas.
Next year’s General Assembly is scheduled for June 25-27 in Atlanta.