Is the Baptist World Alliance truly a global organization?
Yes, but it will do better when you and your congregation connect with and invest in it.
At the end of July, I bring closure to seven years as general secretary of the North American Baptist Fellowship of the Baptist World Alliance. My involvement with the BWA began in 1998, and will continue on into the future as a volunteer. My successor is Elijah Brown of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. He will serve the NABF and BWA with great passion and energy.
My almost two decades of involvement with the BWA inspires me to share a few things with you about your involvement with it.
You and your congregation ought to consider becoming involved — or more involved — to empower it to serve with faithfulness, effectiveness and innovation as a global organization. It is already a global organization with more than 225 member Baptist bodies on five continents organized into six regional fellowships. The issue is its vitality and vibrancy with a truly global leadership base.
Here is my personal testimony as to why you ought to get involved — or more involved
First, it is a great way to be directly in relationship with your global Baptist family throughout the world. No filters. No layers. No gatekeepers. No permission-seeking. Just a direct relationship with a wonderful collection of God-called persons sacrificing for their faith in ways you may think about, but seldom — if ever — experience. You will meet some great, committed Baptist Christians from around the world whose passion for the gospel will inspire you. You can hold their hands, hug their necks, and pray with them about what God is doing in their part of the world.
Second, it provides regular interaction with Baptists with differing perspectives from around the world. Unless you are an exception to the rule, you may only see what it means to be Baptist from a North American perspective. Wake up. There are other ways to look at the world, Christianity, and Baptist. It will take you way beyond missions tourism where you simply visit a country and engage in good works for a brief time. If you primarily dialogue with people in your own denominational organization, you too easily become myopic and even create your own version of Baptist exceptionalism.
Third, the BWA commissions which meet during the Annual Gatherings provide a great learning opportunity for you that will challenge your perspective on various issues as persons around the world present viewpoints that may cause you to rethink yours. You can grow both deeper and broader in your understandings of theology, mission, worship and other issues relevant to your personal ministry and that of your congregation.
Fourth, attendance at the summer Annual Gatherings provides an opportunity to travel the world, and experience where God’s people have gone before you. The gathering just concluded was in Vancouver, British Columbia. In 2017 the venue is Bangkok, Thailand, followed by Switzerland, or Israel in 2018. The next BWA World Congress is in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2020. A different region of the world each year invites you to come experience, learn, be inspired and deepen your commitment to global Baptist ministry.
Fifth, it gives you a basis for investing financially in the work of not only the BWA, but of the 225-plus member bodies. Here is my call to action for you. For every dollar you spend as an individual or congregation traveling to BWA gatherings, contribute that same amount of money to the BWA designated for PATH, which supports Baptist leaders from particularly the Global South to participate in BWA gatherings. You cannot build deep, personal relationships with people who are not there.
If you decide to be a regular participant in BWA Annual Gatherings, but cannot go one year, send the money your congregation would have spent on your travel designated for PATH to support someone from the Global South to participate.
This goes to the heart of one of the reasons why the BWA is still struggling to be a truly global organization, rather than a North American and Global West or North — take your pick —organization. It takes increased finances for the Global South to participate. Adequate finances are often beyond its current capacity.
Since World War II when the BWA relocated its headquarters from London to Washington, the BWA has been dominated by North America and a few other western countries from the first world. During the past dozen years, structural changes in how the BWA operates call for more global participation to make its mission fulfillment truly worldwide. Financial resources to support the leadership intent of the BWA is the missing link.
As long as that missing link exists, words, phrases, and concepts like colonialism, Global North versus the Global South, and even racism creep into BWA conversations and highlight the inequities that threaten to spoil its appropriate and idealistic intents.