The future of CBF and the matter of legacy

With the leadership of two executive coordinators in hindsight, what will Suzii Paynter’s legacy be as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s third leader?

By David Burroughs

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is a movement started by the people who stepped away from oppression and made some bold decisions about our future 22 years ago at our founding.

We were not going to be a denomination, because denominations arose in the modern era, and these were post-modern times. We had insightful leaders in those early days who taught us the value of networks and partnerships over hierarchy and structures that too often became rigid.

Our flexible network allows for motions from the floor and encourages forums for discussion of difficult issues like the sexuality and covenant conference this past February.

We have a small national staff coordinating the work of the people when we are not an assembly. And so our executive coordinator casts a vision for us and speaks for us at times on matters of faith and principle.

I am so pleased that Suzii Paynter has been elected to become our third executive coordinator. If you haven’t met Suzii, I encourage you not to underestimate her. She’s got serious game.

And as she begins to lead us into the future, it made me start to wonder what her legacy will be? I suspect that it might be one of expanded cooperation. We are, after all, Cooperative Baptists.

Looking at the legacy of our first two executive coordinators, Cecil Sherman helped us deepen our commitment to those fragile Baptist freedoms. He helped us realize that we were the bearers of several significant volumes of Baptist truth for now and for the future.

We are a spiritual, loving Fellowship because of our second executive coordinator, Daniel Vestal, who reminded us of the value of nurturing ancient spiritual disciplines and who invited us to share in the joy and responsibility of community.

Now I hope our future will allow us to focus on expanded cooperation. CBF is unique on the Protestant landscape precisely because we are not a hierarchical denomination, but a network of churches and individuals who choose to cooperate together on a short list of things that matter -- justice, equality, advocacy, mission, worship, Christian education and human rights.

We are ecumenical in ministry and mission -- both by design and by necessity. We are a Jesus people -- concerned about the red letters in the Gospels, and eager to be the hands and feet of Christ in this world.

We may not even realize it, but in many ways we are an emergent movement, where networks are the norm, and where partnerships flourish because of both opportunity and a desire for greater cooperation. We are redefining the role of the church in American society.

CBF has a bright future. Maybe we have been in neutral for a while -- it is hard to tinker with the engine of a moving vehicle. Lots of work has gone on behind the scenes to help us do our work with more purpose in the coming days.

But the world has moved on, and it is time for us to do the same. We, the CBF people, are ready to roll up our sleeves and dive in to the work God is calling us to.

We are practical and artistic. We have big thoughts, yet are able to serve unnoticed in the 20 poorest counties in the United States and in forgotten places around the globe.

We are at our best when not focused on ourselves, but on ministry and mission to which we are called -- as a Fellowship and as individuals.

Welcome, Suzii. We are ready to follow your lead.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.