By Jeff Brumley
Since her nomination as executive coordinator in January, Suzii Paynter has been traveling at a breathless pace helping guide the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship into a new organizational and missional era.
The pace only increased with her election on Feb. 21 and again March 1, her first official day on the job. Her task has been to help CBF leaders in the process of creating the new constitution, bylaws, governing board and ministries and missions councils recommended by the CBF 2012 Task Force.
Paynter described the tempo as grinding, but necessary.
“In a normal search process, I probably would have taken a month off between these two demanding jobs,” she said. Paynter was the director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission and Advocacy Care Center of the Baptist General Convention of Texas before joining CBF.
“But you can’t be doing this as an organization with me sitting on the sidelines saying ‘see you in a month,’ and see how it all works out.”
ABPnews caught up with Paynter over the weekend in Lumberton, N.C., where she was visiting the CBFNC General Assembly. She discussed the demanding work and travel schedule ahead and how she’s coping with the long separations from her home and husband, Pastor Roger Paynter, in Austin, Texas.
To start with, are you observing Lent?
Yes. At First Baptist, Austin, we have Lenten groups, and so typically we do Lent with a group of about 10 people. You share, you pray. So I am missing my Lenten group, I’ll tell you that, by this move to Atlanta right in the middle of Lent.
What practices do you observe?
I follow the practice of contemplative prayer and as a part of that I often will walk a prayer labyrinth…. In this time I usually give up something or add something, and this Lent it’s taking on this discipline of walking prayer in preparation and gratitude for this new job.
How do you maintain that discipline while doing all this traveling?
I’ll look on the web and find where there’s a labyrinth in town…. I can walk in my hotel room and I have done it before, just walk in circles. I can walk the halls of a hotel when it’s quiet.
How are you finding peace and balance given your new job and all the new responsibilities and pressures that come with it?
I am a person of place, so … Roger and I have found a condominium [in Atlanta] and created a home place so that it’s not like staying in a hotel. Secondly, Roger and I negotiated a two-city relationship for six years. In my job at BGCT, I had an office and apartment in Dallas and an office and a home in Austin. And so for six years we’ve already had a long-distance relationship where we worked out our own rhythm to that. One thing is to take vacation time and enjoy and be with my family…. Otherwise this uprooting would be a pretty big shock to my marriage. But it’s not. This is like a continuation of a pattern we’ve already had.
Why the hectic pace so soon in your new position?
Part of my travel since my nomination was announced in January has been to the meetings that have to do with the creation of governance, the nominating process for the new boards and then meeting with the officers of CBF.
And being here in Lumberton for the CBF North Carolina gathering – is that more pressing the flesh?
Yes. My first 100 days have two focuses. One is internal, things like the governance structure and staff and office needs. The second emphasis is external. When you ask yourself what is CBF, it is just this phenomenal group of churches and gifted and talented people around the United States, so the second part of my first 100 days is meeting the network.
What timetable do you envision for implementing the task force recommendations?
We’ll have a very major skeleton of the new organization voted on at the CBF General Assembly in June. The complete governing board will be named in June 2013. Between 2013 and 2014 we will complete the ministries council and the missions council and write the charges for those groups, set budgets, adjust the way staff supports them, all that kind of stuff…. So by 2014 we’ll have a very robust, functioning major governing body – three major governing bodies. Another part of the 2012 Task Force was identity, so one of the things we’ll be doing between 2013 and 2014 is exploring and taking steps to increase the identity of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship within our congregations, within our community and with our partners. The other area is missions. Between 2013 and 2014 we’ll embrace and articulate our greater missions enterprise.
Speaking of missions, there has been some grumbling about CBF’s model for self-funded and church-funded missionaries. Do you support that model and see it continuing?
We have five or six ways of doing missions and we are adding to and recognizing that these other forms are embraced by at least some portion of our community. We’ve been very successful at creating missional churches … and now we’ve got churches that want to support individual missional endeavors overseas — why should that surprise us? It’s a natural outcome of our own commitment to the missional church. So it’s not ‘should that exist’ or ‘is that a good model?’ The question is, how are we going to support it well, and how do we refine it? Nobody is saying our first run at it is the final way to do it…. If people have the passion to go and do a self-funded mission project, typically their passion is for the work, not for fundraising. So we’re hiring somebody full time to do nothing but support that.
Will addressing the shortage of pulpits for younger ministers, and especially for women, be a focus for you?
Oh my gosh, yes. One of the great lessons from the Baptist General Convention of Texas is the many ways in which that convention has successfully done church starting. I’m very committed to church starting and just like missions endeavors… I believe starting new churches is a natural outgrowth of missional congregations. For every healthy congregation that we have, how many will pray and seek to start a new church? … I believe God is calling people out to start new congregations, and it’s in our purview to help them with that.