The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship votes June 22 on a new model for identity, governance and financial support intended to guide the moderate Baptist group formed in 1991 for the next 20 years.
The recommendations are result of a two-year study that included more than 100 listening sessions conducted by a blue-ribbon 2012 Task Force chaired by Alabama pastor David Hull.
“You have spoken. We have listened,” Hull, pastor of First Baptist Church of Huntsville, Ala., said in a presentation Thursday morning. “Together we have tried to imagine a future of life and vitality for Cooperative Baptists.”
The new plan seeks to pull together a myriad of national, state and regional CBF organizations into “a seamless cooperating community,” while doing a better job of sharing resources that already exist and reducing duplication of effort among CBF and partner organizations.
“Our future lives in our ability to live into our name,” Hull said. “We are cooperative Baptists.”
It also for the first time suggests a way for churches desiring to identify publicly with CBF mission and values to do so beyond financial contributions.
“Congregations may embrace their identity by sending a letter that outlines the details of their partnership with CBF,” the report recommends. Such a letter might list or describe ways the congregation participates in CBF, including but not limited to affirming its identity, values and mission; praying for CBF; including CBF ministries – state/regional and/or national – in church budgets; promoting and collecting the Global Missions Offering; participating in regional or national CBF ministries and attending their state or national General Assembly.
During a business breakout session, that section of the report was amended to clarify grammatically the intent is not to force the issue of CBF affiliation within churches where it might be divisive.
Hull said the task force heard from many churches requesting a way to highlight their CBF identity above and beyond giving money.
“There is nothing required by this at all,” Hull said. “Some churches said, ‘Give us a way to identify with CBF apart from just sending money to you.’ Many churches will choose not to do this. That’s fine. This is for churches who want to say in a public sense, ‘This is who we are.’”
The new plan also calls for more communication in the process of developing budgets for state/regional and national CBF organizations. Currently the budgets for various CBF entities are developed separately, sometimes with little or no communication between the two. The new plan recommends that regional and national bodies negotiate cooperative agreements about not only division of funds but also responsibilities for ministry resources.
“We heard a desire that the CBF be more seamless,” said task force member Ray Higgins. Higgins, coordinator for Arkansas CBF, said one supportive pastor put it this way: “Should I give my offering to Daniel or Ray?’ referring to national CBF executive coordinator Daniel Vestal.
Connie McNeill, task force member and coordinator of administration for the CBF Atlanta staff, said the plan affirms both the national organization’s role in missionary and resource work and the geographical proximity offered in the state and regional CBFs.
The plan will “create a process for national, state and regional organizations to work together more closely, while respecting the autonomy and uniqueness of each,” she said.
Ruth Perkins Lee, vice chair of the 2012 Task Force, said while much attention the last few years has been on budget shortfalls at the national level, the listening sessions actually revealed an abundance of resources that aren’t being fully tapped.
She called for “a paradigm shift that recognizes we are the best resources CBF has.”
“We have done great things together, and we can do infinitely more,” said Lee, minister of students at Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.
Many questions raised in the breakout session about the proposal won’t be answered until a separate implementation phase. Governance changes including reducing the size of and renaming the Coordinating Council and creating new and more task-focused bodies for missions and church resources will require constitutional changes that must be approved by due process.
Keith Herron, the incoming CBF moderator who assumes the gavel at the end of this week’s General Assembly, said nothing will change dramatically when the clock strikes midnight if the document is approved Friday, but he would work within the current system in anticipation of changes that would take effect in the future.
“We see this next year as being very transitional, organizing Coordinating Council members as we have done, but transitioning toward the new model,” said Herron, pastor of Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo.