I believe Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is called to serve congregations, to encourage congregations and to help congregations thrive. During the interview process that led to my election as CBF’s next executive coordinator, a member of the committee reminded me of a statement I made years ago. I said, “I believe CBF exists for congregations, not the other way around.” I still believe that CBF’s central calling is to seek the thriving of congregations. I will begin every day praying for CBF congregations and their leaders by name, and I will encourage us to do all that God enables us toward that goal.
I seek the thriving of congregations not for their survival or CBF’s, but instead because I believe congregations, despite all the challenges they face, are still uniquely positioned by the Holy Spirit and remarkably empowered by resurrection to live out the mission of Jesus in their communities and around the world. Congregations become communities through which the prayer of Jesus – “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” – is answered and where reconciliation can be experienced and shared. I have seen this happen time and time again, so I bring an unshakable confidence in God’s capacity to change communities and the world through congregations committed to Jesus.
How does CBF serve congregations and help them thrive?
“I bring an unshakable confidence in God’s capacity to change communities and the world through congregations committed to Jesus.”
We serve congregations and help them thrive by surrounding and supporting them in relationships with Christ and with other congregations, field personnel, ministry partners and the Global Church so that they may grow and thrive not in isolation but in empowering, nourishing community. I believe congregations will thrive when we find ourselves in a more diverse Fellowship, so that the faith and witness of Christians of different racial and cultural backgrounds can enliven our faith and open our eyes to new ways of living faith in the world.
We serve congregations and help them thrive by inviting them into a global mission engagement that is so much more compelling and redeeming than any single congregation could ever conceive or carry out. It is time for a bold recommitment to the mission God has given us in the world in partnership with the Global Church. That recommitment will require that we set aside old debates. No longer should we ponder the false choice between local mission and global mission; I hope we will affirm that there is one mission – namely, God’s mission of reconciliation in Jesus. No longer can our witness be compromised by the belief that we can choose between inviting people to faith in Jesus or living Jesus’ life in the world. The two are inseparable; to set aside either in favor of the other is to abandon the mission altogether.
We serve congregations and help them thrive by collaborating with congregations, theological schools and other partners to make sure we are inviting new generations to faith in Christ, helping women and men hear God’s call to ministry and mission, making sure they are prepared in the best way for those callings and supported toward excellence for the witness of the church and the healing of the world.
I know we face challenges in living out this work. For example, we are strengthened by being a more and more diverse fellowship of congregations, and we need to become even more so. But in a world too marked by polarization and fear of difference, drawing congregations and their leaders into a more enriching diversity and sustaining quality of relationship is not easy. All the winds of our larger culture push us to respond to difference with isolation, condemnation and even anger. We must find a distinctly Christian way of responding to difference if we are to be a Baptist community committed to being a real and remarkable priesthood of all believers, both speaking the message of reconciliation while also carrying out the ministry of reconciliation.
“No longer can our witness be compromised by the belief that we can choose between inviting people to faith in Jesus or living Jesus’ life in the world.”
Furthermore, we also have a compelling new vision and practice for global mission, but we have tremendous work to do in more ambitiously communicating that vision and inviting the full participation of more of our congregations. I look forward to joining with others in our Fellowship to share this vision and inviting congregations to a new way of being involved in God’s mission in their communities and around the world.
Finally, while CBF has a wonderful ecosystem for young Baptists, there are significant cultural changes that challenge our ways of making disciples among younger generations and often impede the opportunity of women and men to hear God’s call to ministry and mission. Theological schools face unprecedented pressures, and our CBF partner schools are even more susceptible to those pressures. These cultural challenges and pressures create an urgent need for new covenants in these core areas of cooperation.
I begin this new calling sustained by a deep conviction about our calling as a Fellowship and an awareness of the challenges that we face. I believe that, as we work together in dynamic collaboration and invite more and more of our Fellowship community into that collaboration, the Holy Spirit will show us a more excellent way. A new day is coming that will mark our greatest opportunity to offer our communities and the world a compelling Baptist witness that is desperately needed. Indeed, what the Lord spoke in the prophecy of Isaiah is true in our time. “Behold, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs forth! Do you not see it?”