DECATUR, Ga.— The Governing Board voted unanimously Jan. 15 to elect a pastor of “theologically profound leadership,” the Rev. Dr. Paul Baxley, as the fourth executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Baxley, who has served since 2010 as senior minister of First Baptist Church, Athens, Ga., was selected based upon the unanimous recommendation of the 11-member Executive Coordinator Search Committee formed in July 2018.
Courtney Allen, Executive Coordinator Search Committee member and pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., expressed her excitement for Baxley’s selection.
“Paul exhibits theologically profound leadership, which the Fellowship, the church and our world require in these tectonic plate-shifting days,” Allen said. “Paul believes there is an urgent need for a Baptist witness the Fellowship is uniquely qualified to provide, and I could not agree more. Through his pastoral instincts, organizational leadership capacities, deep theological commitments, and belief in the church as our best hope, Paul Baxley will lead the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship into its next chapter.
Past CBF Leadership Experience
A native of Winston-Salem, N.C., Baxley has held pastorates and ministry positions in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia and is a former member of the CBF Governing Board. He succeeds Suzii Paynter, who became the third executive coordinator of CBF in March 2013 and announced in July 2018 plans to transition her leadership of the 27-year-old denomi-network. Other previous executive coordinators include Daniel Vestal (1996-2012) and Cecil Sherman (1992-1996).
During his two-terms on the CBF Governing Board from 2013-2017, Baxley chaired the Personnel Committee as well as the Global Mission Structure and Staffing Committee, an ad hoc body that worked for 18 months to develop a comprehensive plan for Global Missions committed to the long-term presence of CBF field personnel around the world.
Baxley also provided leadership as member of the ad-hoc committee of the Illumination Project, an 18-month effort to seek ways to model unity through cooperation on matters of human sexuality in the Fellowship. Additionally, he served on the CBF Coordinating Council, the Fellowship’s earlier governance body, from 2009-2010 and chaired the Engaging Missionally Collaborative Team.
He has been a leader to two CBF state organizations as chair of the New Day Task Force of CBF of North Carolina (2006-2009) and as a coordinating council member of CBF of Georgia (2012-2015) where he chaired the missions committee and was moderator.
Baxley is a graduate of Wake Forest University (Bachelor of Arts – Religion, 1991), Duke Divinity School (Master of Theological Studies, 1996) and Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond (Doctor of Ministry, 2003).
Reactions from CBF Search Committee
Jeff Roberts, chair of the Executive Coordinator Search Committee and senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., celebrated the committee’s unanimous recommendation and shared reflections on its search process.
“As part of this process, I have been able to spend time with very talented individuals who are devoted to following Jesus and committed to our CBF fellowship,” Roberts said. “Our committee quickly discovered that our love for CBF far outweighed any of our differences. We also were reminded of how many talented individuals there are in CBF life. We were impressed with our candidates and this gave us great confidence not only in this process but for the future of our Fellowship. I am grateful for this experience and am looking forward to what God is doing in our lives together. I celebrate that our committee is unanimous in our recommendation of Dr. Paul Baxley as our next Executive Coordinator.”
CBF Moderator Gary Dollar congratulated the Executive Coordinator Search Committee and Governing Board on their selection of Baxley.
“The Search Committee and Board have done a wonderful job in selecting Paul to serve as our next Executive Coordinator,” Dollar said. Paul is a deeply committed Christian and a lifelong Baptist. He loves the church and the way it is expressed through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I am convinced that Paul will lead all of us in CBF to new levels of service in the name of Christ.”
Baxley Shares Vision
In accepting the call to serve as CBF Executive Coordinator, Baxley shared his optimism for the future of CBF and emphasized the central role of congregations in this future.
“I accept the call of the Governing Board and this calling from God, with the opportunities and challenges that I know they both hold,” Baxley said. “I’m aware of all the research about the state of congregations and denominations in the Western world. I’m aware that every day won’t be easy and that every question won’t be soft. But I’m not afraid. Instead, I’m confident because I have this conviction, the God who raised Jesus from the dead and who has carried His people through 2,000 years of challenge and adversity, much of it our own making, is still in the business of drawing the world to divine love through us.
“Congregations are at the center of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and CBF exists to bless and serve churches. I’m eager to see what kind of powerful collaborations can emerge between CBF pastors, lay leaders, leaders of our partner ministries and our state and regional coordinators. Imagine the power that could come from the best kind of convening and collaboration, where we see that CBF’s future is not held by whoever is the Executive Coordinator, but our life, work and witness together. My experience as a pastor in CBF congregations has taught me that when we open ourselves to serve and lead together, God does incredible work.”
Past Executive Coordinators Cite, Leadership, Integrity
Outgoing CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter welcomed the selection of Baxley as her successor.
“Paul Baxley has already been an exemplary leader for CBF. I welcome him into the Executive Coordinator’s role with enthusiasm and certain hope for the future,” Paynter said. “God has shown faithfulness to CBF by preparing the way in every era and through each transition and so it is with Paul.
“As a pastor, he has the respect and admiration of generations across CBF life. His wisdom and energy are gifts that he generously contributes in every endeavor. Personally, he is a true friend and warmly regarded colleague. One keystone of his leadership is building consensus and participation by charting a purposeful course worthy of engagement. He has asked big questions and sought high callings. His love for the church, his Lord, and the people of the world have equipped him with God’s gifts and God’s blessing to be the best-ever Executive Coordinator of CBF.”
Former CBF Executive Coordinator Daniel Vestal praised Baxley as “a person of impeccable integrity and deep Christian conviction.”
“Paul’s wisdom and spiritual discernment is equaled by his energy and maturity. He has demonstrated his love for CBF through the years, and he is poised to lead us with vision and passion. I am looking forward to our future together.”
Baxley previously was senior minister of The First Baptist Church of Henderson, N.C. (2004-2010), where he served as associate minister from 1992-1999. His ministry journey also includes four years of service at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, where he directed the Lilly Grant Proposal Team from 2001-2002 and later served as director of Congregational Ministries and Vocational Awareness for the CBF partner school from 2002-2004.
Other ministerial roles at CBF churches include serving as interim pastor at Wingate Baptist Church in Wingate, N.C. (2000-2001) and interim minister of youth and college students at First Baptist Church, Winston, Salem, N.C. Additionally, Baxley was campus minister and adjunct instructor in Religion at Wingate University in Wingate, N.C. (1999-2002).
Baxley has also held a variety of leadership roles with CBF partner organizations including the Board of Visitors of Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology (member, 2012-2018 and chair, 2015-2016); Board of Directors of the Baptist House of Studies of Duke Divinity School (member, 2006-2012; chair, 2009-2010); and the Board of Directors of the Center for Congregational Health (member, 2004-2010; chair, 2009). In 2012, Baxley gave the Lawrence Hoover Lectures at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond and delivered a sermon titled “Preaching as Participation” at the Mercer Preaching Consultation.
A respected faith leader in his local community of Athens, Baxley currently is a member of the Board of Directors of the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Athens and chairs the steering committee of the Interfaith Clergy Partnership of Greater Athens.
Baxley was ordained to gospel ministry in 1993 at his home church of First Baptist Church on Fifth in Winston-Salem, N.C. Baxley and his wife, Jennifer, a licensed physical therapist, have four children: Olivia (age 17), Maria (age 11) and twins Caroline and Matthew (ages 8).
Baxley ‘Pastor,’ ‘Hope-Filled Sign for the Future’
Longtime CBF staff leader Bo Prosser described Baxley as “uniquely qualified to lead CBF into our next chapter.”
“He is pastor, scholar and congregational leader. He knows this Fellowship, has helped shape this infrastructure, and will unify us around the major challenges of congregational ministries and the global mission enterprise,” Prosser said.
Search committee member Juan Garcia, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista, Newport News, Va., said Baxley is a “pastor at heart who loves the church, loves missions and loves immigrants.”
“He is a leader who understands that God does his missional work through the local church and through immigrants who God sends our way in cooperation with CBF,” Garcia added.
Mack Dennis, pastor of First Baptist Church, Asheville, N.C., noted Baxley’s “extraordinary gifts as a Baptist pastor.”
“He is one of the most compelling preachers of our time—a confessional disciple with a penetrating theological mind and deeply compassionate heart,” Dennis said.
Duke Divinity School Dean Greg Jones called Baxley’s appointment a “wonderful and hope-filled sign for the future”
“He is a gifted pastor, a visionary leader, and he sees the need and the opportunity for new and re-newed commitment to theological education and equipping transformational Christian leaders,” Jones said.
Search committee member Jackie Baugh Moore, vice president of the Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation, cited Baxley’s hope, creativity, energy, spiritual resilience and strong faith in her endorsement and asked Cooperative Baptists to pray for the Baxley family.
“Paul’s wisdom, theological maturity and knowledge coupled with his desire to listen and love people will help him guide CBF through this next chapter in our narrative,” said Baugh Moore. “His leadership style reflects deep faith and authenticity. Paul is dedicated to equipping and strengthening theological education, mission work, the church, partner organizations and all of us involved in the life of CBF. Please join me in committing to pray for Paul, his family and CBF as we all seek to follow our God-given mission.”
Additional endorsements can be found on the CBF website.