Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Health of the CBF Movement

I appreciate the work on movements that my friend StephenCurrie has allowed me to share in recent blogs.  He ends his comments on the nature of “Gospel movements” with these conclusions:

“God invites human effort, and God does work through leaders and churches that care about restoration and reform.  But it is God who provides the source of movement energy through the Holy Spirit.  So we must pray fervently.  We must sow the Gospel widely and faithfully without the baggage of nuanced theological dogma or complex church practices that are more cultural than they are biblical.  Then, when the Holy Spirit stirs to generate a Gospel movement, Gospel seeds can germinate seemingly spontaneously in unexpected places.  And we can be in the right place at the right time to be part of something big that only God can do.”

I got the question again last week:  “What do you think the future of CBF is?”  We have at least gotten beyond the other question:  “Do you think CBF is going to make it?”  We have talked about CBF for several years as a movement rather than a denomination, so perhaps the question should be “Is the movement going to continue and grow in the future?”  I don’t have a hard and fast answer, but as I review Stephen’s comments over the last several blogs, I find a rubric to attempt to answer the question.

First, are we developing leaders indigenous to the movement?  The answer is definitely “Yes.”  The first two executive coordinators came out of the conflict among Baptists in the south.  Both Cecil Sherman and Daniel Vestal were well-known denominational leaders with a stake in the status quo who took the courageous action of “shaking the dust off their feet” and moving on.  Sherman was the community organizer who mobilized moderate Baptists and churches.  Vestal was the strong pastoral presence who helped members of the movement deal with their grief.  We now have a new generation of leaders for a new task—maintaining the momentum.  Many of them have come to maturity after the birth of the CBF movement, so they don’t have some of the old prejudices to overcome and can concentrate on nurturing the movement in new and creative ways.

Second, Stephen suggests that “the energy of movements is generative.”  From the perspective of “putting new wine into new wineskins,” the jury is still out for CBF.  Certainly CBF’s emphases on incarnational missions, the missional church, and women in ministry have breathed new life into many Baptist churches and organizations, but we have thus far failed to embrace the ”radical transformation” that he identifies as inherent in Gospel movements.  Perhaps my view is skewed as “an old guy” who has been in denominational life too long.  Others with fresher eyes may have a different perspective. I still wonder how open we are to real and sustainable change.

Third, Stephen suggests that movements are spiritual and arise spontaneously.  I must affirm that there is much in the life and history of the CBF movement that can only be credited to the work of the Holy Spirit.  Doors have opened, people have made sacrifices, and ministries have been birthed in unexpected and unplanned ways.  CBF people have been good about responding to this work of the Spirit.  We have been “at the right place at the right time,” as Stephen says.

Fourth, movements employ simple patterns of church life and spiritual practice “without a lot of baggage” according to Stephen.  We are not there yet.  CBF was initially a grass roots movement, arising from churches and individuals who wanted “to do a new thing.”  Movements transition quickly into an organizational phase and then an institutional phase.  This is not bad in and of itself.  Coherent structures are needed in a modern world in order to accomplish certain goals.  The danger is that such structures encourage a gate keeping mentality rather than a permission giving approach.  They discourage rather than encourage the work of the Spirit. CBF has recently adopted a new organizational structure that promises to continue to give voice to the grass roots and to encourage cooperation among moderate Baptists.  The way that this is implemented and practiced will determine whether we meet this test of being “a Gospel movement.”

When I was asked about the future of CBF, my response went something like this:  “CBF is going to fulfill a special need for churches in the coming days.  It will never become a denomination like the old Southern Baptist Convention was, but the new SBC is not the denomination that the old SBC was.  It is no longer as horizontally integrated or cohesive as it once was and will never be again.  Churches have to make more decisions for themselves and need different kinds of partners.”

Can CBF grow and prosper in the coming days while maintaining a movement mentality?  Only time will tell.  

(You can read Stephen's complete paper here.)

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