In response to my recent blog post on the way forward for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a friend suggested that I was dealing with reorganization of the national entity. Actually, I am suggesting not reorganization but reconceptualization. Whenever a new leader comes on board, the first step usually taken is to reorganize. Reorganization gives the impression that things are being changed and thus improved. Wrong! Too often this is just rearranging the various parts without addressing basic values, strategies and systems. The same thinking provides the same kind of results. New thinking presents new results.
If the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is not only to survive but prosper, it is time to go back to the drawing board and identify the values, strategies and systems that define a missional judicatory. For the last two decades, CBF has attempted to gain credibility with churches and other denominations by doing the things that a denomination is “supposed to do”—send missionaries, endorse chaplains, support theological education, develop a retirement program, and provide Christian education resources to churches. I applaud the efforts that CBF has taken in recent years to work with churches so that they might become missional and to identify new strategies to further that goal, but it is not enough.
Let me suggest five things that a 21st judicatory needs to do to be truly missional.
First, it will perform a pathfinding function. Someone needs to be out there on the cutting edge finding new ways forward, cutting new trails, and discovering what has been hidden. This is the research and development function that should be part of every church and judicatory that hopes to be around in a decade.
Second, a 21st century judicatory will do the hard work of aligning entities—churches, individuals, NGOs—in order to accomplish a common goal. I believe that this is what Rob Nash presented in his address to the 2011 General Assembly in Tampa: “These field personnel tonight are being called out of networks focused on particular ministry in particular parts of the world as much as they are being called by CBF ‒ or they are creating those networks in order to do this thing to which God has called them.” Alignment is tough, dirty, grassroots work but it pays off.
Third, 21st century judicatories will be empowering entities. They will be “open source” organizations, encouraging all parts of the entity to create vital and innovative ways to solve problems. They will identify the lowest common denominators necessary for cooperation and then get out of the way. This is the approach that Dee Hock fostered in creating the VISA organization and that he explains in Birth of the Chaordic Age and One from Many: VISA and the Rise of the Chaordic Organization. A few common principles and processes unite a diverse, worldwide financial service.
Fourth, 21st century judicatories will expect its leaders to be coaches. They will not have the answers, but they will help others to find the answers they need. There are tremendous resources in every congregation that can be nurtured to full bloom with the right kind of encouragement, but it takes patience and humility.
Fifth, although the term has become a cliché, networking will be an essential part of the 21st century judicatory. Whether these are oriented toward missionary-sending, resource development, theological education or a multitude of other activities, networks will be the engines of goal achievement in the future. This is an area where the current CBF organization has shown great success.
These comments are not meant so much as a critique of the current situation as they are an encouragement to seize the opportunities that lay before us. These words from Jeremiah seem appropriate to our situation: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11)