With the announced retirement not only of Executive Coordinator Daniel Vestal but also long-time leader Terry Hamrick (who has at least three different titles on the website) and the upcoming report of the Hull Committee, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is entering a significant time of transition. Plagued with financial shortfalls in the past year like so many judicatories, some hard decisions will have to be made about future mission, organization, and services.
Although I no longer hold a leadership position within CBF life, I am a supporter and feel that I have a stake in the future of the organization. As I think about the future of CBF, I suggest that we need to consider two major areas—competition and opportunities.
Who are the competitors of CBF? The “knee jerk” response would be the Southern Baptist Convention, but this is yesterday’s competitor. Those related to the SBC have made their choice about the path they will follow and that path has its own opportunities and challenges. Individuals may still choose to leave an SBC church and join a CBF church, but churches will not make that choice. Certainly, many churches will continue to support both SBC and CBF and the strength of that support may ebb and flow, but those same churches are also looking toward other partners beyond these two entities.
The real competitors for CBF will be determined by the path that the organization chooses to follow in the future. If it continues to be a global missions-oriented entity (not necessarily a missionary-sending entity), the competition may be groups like Wycliffe Bible Translators, Buckner Benevolences, World Vision, and Habitat for Humanity. The good news is that these can also be partners if clear relationships can be developed. If CBF continues to provide congregational development resources and services, the potential competitors (and at the same time partners) are groups like the Center for Congregational Health, The Columbia Partnership, The Upper Room, Smyth and Helwys, Pinnacle Leadership Associates and so many others.
The key will be the answer to this question: “What does CBF bring to the table that makes it a desirable and viable partner?” Many of the organizations mentioned above have ready access to churches already and do not need or desire CBF as a gatekeeper. What is the value that CBF can add to the partnership?
The opportunities ahead for CBF are both internal and external. Externally, CBF needs to relate constructively to organizations like ethicsdaily.com (the Baptist Center for Ethics), the Baptist Joint Committee, Baptist Women in Ministry, Passport, and the fifteen theological institutions because they are providing some things that CBF either cannot or has chosen not to provide to the churches. They will provide a “Baptist voice” in politics and culture, innovative ministries for specific groups, and theological education for clergy and lay leaders.
Internal opportunities are numerous. One would be an increased use of the Internet and web-based platforms to unite, equip, and educate CBF constituents. Great strides have been made in this area, but more needs to be done. Another opportunity would be to look for staff with non-traditional experience and training. Although CBF will probably continue to see the local churches as the organization’s primary constituency, this does not mean that the entrepreneurial leadership needed for the future will necessarily be found in the churches. A third opportunity would be to disperse CBF staff across the nation and the world. Leaders with various responsibilities could enrich the life of CBF if they were scattered around, serving not only as resource people but relationship builders. What would CBF look like if the majority of its staff became “field personnel”?
Some say that crisis brings creativity. I would not want to characterize the present situation in CBF life as a crisis, but it is certainly a time that calls for creativity.