FORT WORTH (ABP)—The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship looks forward to an “in-between year” characterized by implementation of a new identity statement and a search for a successor to retiring CBF Executive Coordinator Daniel Vestal, the group’s incoming moderator said.
“In this coming year, we’ll lay down the foundations for a new organizational structure and we’ll welcome a new leader who will give direction to our shared calling, who will partner with us and who will lead,” said Moderator Keith Herron, pastor of Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo.
With final approval June 22 of a new model for identity, governance and financial support intended to guide the moderate Baptist group formed in 1991 for the next 20 years, Herron, who assumed the gavel from outgoing moderator Colleen Burroughs at the close of the June 21-22 general assembly in Forth Worth, now turns to implementation of the plan.
Herron reported he and interim Coordinator Pat Anderson will assemble a group of strategic thinkers and leaders to sort through the report and “develop a playbook that outlines how we think we can best put this plan into action.”
Herron hopes to have a first draft of the implementation plan for the CBF Coordinating Council to consider and review when they meet in October and again in February before presentation to next year’s general assembly in Greensboro, N.C.
“There are several alignments we can begin to lean into this fall, while other steps will take some time to put into practice,” Herron said. “This work won’t happen in a corner, and its implications are wide-ranging and important.”
“We see this next year as being very transitional, organizing Coordinating Council members as we have done, but transitioning toward the new model,” Herron said.
The new identity plan is the 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 June 21 in a presentation during the opening business session of the group’s 22nd annual General Assembly. “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.
That section of the report was amended during the general assembly 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.
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.