“Bein’ a cat herder is probably the toughest thing I have ever done,” says a grizzled cat herder in the EDS commercial shown during the 2009 Super Bowl. The humorous commercial depicts the challenge of herding “10,000 short hairs” to market. Attempting to get independent creatures such as cats to follow any kind of direction is not easy and comes with some scratches.
When I see this commercial, I am reminded how challenging it is to work with Baptists. We are congregational in polity and individualistic in practice. As a result, those who would attempt to lead either a church or a “denomination-like” organization find themselves “herding cats.” As Baptists, we are defensive not only about our congregational autonomy but our individual freedom as well. We have taken the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer in one primary direction: “It’s just you and me, God.” If we think about the doctrine as the priesthood of ALL believers, we may understand that we are not simply our own priest before God but priests to each other as well.
The commercial is very appropriate as Fellowship Baptists head to Fort Worth next week. The Texas city was built around herds—cattle not cats—coming to market. The wrangler image may well apply to those who attempt to lead the Fellowship. Both founding coordinator Cecil Sherman and present (and retiring) coordinator Daniel Vestal had Texas roots. Perhaps this background uniquely qualified them to lead Fellowship Baptists through challenging times. They found ways to unite freedom loving Baptists to work together to achieve important goals.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship faces a significant challenge as it changes leadership and considers a new organizational structure. Decisions made this year and next will determine the success or failure of the CBF movement. Not only religious but cultural forces tend to push Baptists apart rather than pulling them together. It will take a skilled “cat herder” to lead us into the future—whether he or she is from Texas or not!