The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship rolled out a transition plan July 19 to retire and replace Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter.
“CBF is at a great place and poised for even greater impact,” Paynter, 67, said in a news release. “Thinking of the wisdom of Ecclesiastes that ‘to all things there is a season,’ I have been led to explore the options available to me as I plan my retirement from the CBF Executive Coordinator position.”
Paynter said earlier in an internal communique to staff that she and members of the CBF Governing Board have been discussing her retirement confidentially for months. An 11-member search committee, chaired by Jeff Roberts, senior pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, has been named to nominate her successor.
Elected in 2013, Paynter is the third top paid leader in the history of the 1,800-church moderate Baptist group founded in 1991 and the first woman. Before that she was director of the Christian Life Commission and a lobbyist for the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Paynter said the search committee of four women and seven men will follow the pattern used to replace her predecessor, Daniel Vestal, who led CBF as executive coordinator for 15 years before retiring in 2012. He currently serves as director of the Eula Mae and John Baugh Center for Baptist Leadership at Mercer University.
The first CBF executive coordinator, Cecil Sherman, led the organization from 1992 to 1996. He died in 2010 at age 82.
Paynter said she plans to continue to serve until a new executive coordinator is named and will focus the next six to seven months on preparing the Fellowship for a leadership change.
Elected in February 2013, Paynter’s first order of business at CBF was to implement sweeping organizational changes approved after a two-year study in 2012. She coined the phrase “denomi-network” to describe the loose system of decision-making and partnerships that provides many services similar to a traditional denomination.
Paynter expanded the staff leadership team and prioritized the hiring of younger employees. She led the CBF in celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2016, including a $12.5 million fund-raising campaign, and formalized an approach to advocacy on social issues such as immigration and payday lending consonant with the Fellowship’s work in global missions.
In 2016 she led the Governing Board in establishing an “Illumination Project” leading to a policy change in February dropping an 18-year-old prohibition against the purposeful hiring of “a practicing homosexual” as a missionary or staff while continuing to discriminate against LGBTQ applicants for global missions and certain leadership positions at the CBF headquarters in Decatur, Georgia – a compromise criticized from both the left and right.
She recently joined other female clergy in a pilgrimage to protest and raise awareness about the separation of migrant families occurring at the U.S. border with Mexico.
“Suzii has been the right leader at the right time for CBF,” said CBF Moderator Gary Dollar, former head of the United Way of Greater St. Louis and currently partner in a consulting firm for non-profit organizations.
“We will miss her phenomenal leadership and energy, but we are optimistic about the future because we know Suzii built a solid foundation that will give our next leader an exciting opportunity to expand on our mission,” said Dollar, a member of Dayspring Baptist Church in St. Louis. “The entire Governing Board is deeply appreciative of all Suzii’s done for CBF, and we wish her the best as she follows wherever God takes her from here.”
The executive coordinator search committee will begin work in August. Members include Courtney Allen, senior pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia; past moderator Shauw Chin Capps, a member at The Baptist Church of Beaufort, South Carolina; Juan Garcia, pastor at Primera Iglesia Bautista in Newport News, Virginia; and Jennifer Hawks, a member at McLean Baptist Church in McLean, Virginia, who works as associate general counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.
Emmanuel McCall, elected in 2006 as the first African-American CBF moderator, is part of the group, along with Jackie Baugh Moore, a member at Woodland Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas, and vice president of the Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation.
Other search committee members are Chris Sanders, an attorney and member at Ridgewood Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and Steve Wells, pastor at South Main Baptist Church in Houston and a member of the CBF Governing Board.
CBF recorder Stephen Cook, senior pastor at Second Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, and Dollar join the committee by virtue of their office.