The CBF Missions Council held inaugural meetings Sept. 9-10 in Decatur, Ga.
The CBF Missions Council held inaugural meetings Sept. 9-10 in Decatur, Ga.

CBF charts course for networking model

“We can be better by being together,” Suzii Paynter told CBF partners at the inaugural gathering of the new missions and ministries councils Sept. 9-10.

By Bob Allen

In its efforts to engage and mobilize younger leaders and laypeople in ministry, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship needs a little help from its friends, CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter said Sept. 10.

“I think one of the questions for everybody in this room is not what can we get from our churches, but how can we support them toward their healthy, vital and strong future,” Paynter said at the inaugural meeting of a new Ministries Council formed last year in a new organizational structure designed to guide the moderate movement formed in 1991 for the next 20 years.

Paynter, former head of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission who took the job as the Decatur, Ga.,-based Fellowship’s CEO in March, reminded leaders of state and regional CBF organizations, theology schools and other CBF partners including Associated Baptist Press, that while they each have their own missions and constituencies, they all share values and passions with about 1,900 churches that choose to identify with the CBF.

cbf cheuk“My request to you is to share our identification with the Fellowship,” Paynter said. “I hope you will not be afraid or ashamed to say you love and connect and care for this group, that you serve our churches, our students, that you serve along with us for a greater kingdom vision.”

Paynter said while none of the partners’ main job is helping the Fellowship, it is in all their best interests for the CBF movement to flourish. She called on the broader Fellowship community to recognize, “We can be better by being together.”

Bo Prosser, coordinator of missional congregations, said a new vocabulary is moving into CBF life, with verbs like “curating” instead of “creating” resources for CBF churches.

“The field is crowded with resources that have already been created,” he said. “A lot of us have some really good inventory.”

Prosser said other terms in the new CBF lexicon include “collaborate,” “co-create,” “co-brand” and “co-develop” that focus on relationship instead of ownership.

When the CBF formed out of a controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s, it was determined that rather than starting out as a full-service denomination, the new group would focus on central tasks like global missions and rely on free-standing partners to provide things like theological education, curriculum, youth ministry and an autonomous Baptist press.

“At the CBF we have stated from the beginning that it is not our intention to own anything,” Prosser told ministry leaders. “Most people in the local church think we own all of you. I’m quick to say: ‘We don’t own them. We partner with them.’”

The 2012 Task Force that recommended the new CBF structure discovered that over time, partners were branching out into areas of work in ways that created duplication of effort and competition for customers and resources.

The committee recommended decentralizing the former 69-member Coordinating Council into a smaller governing body for administration, a nominating committee, and two new councils to specialize and focus on ministries and missions within the CBF community.

Rather than a developer and provider of resources, the Ministries Council is set up to function as a clearinghouse of products and services already available and being developed through a myriad of sources including CBF partners and churches.

“Status quo is no longer the default position for any of us,” Prosser said. “The Fellowship movement has given us a new mandate, and they have said very clearly through the 2012 Task Force: ‘Learn to work together. Learn to share resources.’”

The Sept. 9-10 inaugural meetings of both the Missions and Ministries councils were primarily listening sessions to flesh out general directives of the 2012 Task Force. Prosser thanked CBF partners for participating in meetings termed “tedious but necessary, like a root canal.”

Michael Cheuk, chairman of the Ministries Council and senior minister at University Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Va., compared the rapid gathering of ideas to “drinking from a fire hydrant.”

“Hopefully we will able to collate them in such a way that we will be able to see themes that emerge,” Cheuk said. “That will allow us to prioritize, or at least identify, what is important to everybody.”

“I see what we’re doing now as laying the infrastructure — laying the groundwork — that will allow us to make forward progress.”