Sunday, June 30, 2013

CBF Making Progress

McConnell and Herron (CBF photo)
I have stopped counting how many Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly meetings I have attended.  I always come away having enjoyed the fellowship with friends, former students, and colleagues; however, I sometimes have left asking myself, “What did we really accomplish here?”  Not this year.

The meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina, affirmed that CBF is making progress in many ways.  I was particularly impressed by three things this year—the affirmation of women in ministry, the presence of young adults, and the balanced leadership between laity and clergy.

First, the overwhelming attendance at the Baptist Women in Ministry meeting at First Baptist Church, Greensboro, on Wednesday night was a testimony to the leadership of executive coordinator Pam Durso and the persistence of the “founding mothers” of the organization.  BWIM has continued to champion the role of women in all ministry roles.  We now see more ordained women and more women in “senior pastor” roles.  We also now have Suzii Paynter, a lay person from Texas, as the new Executive Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. 

We must realize, however, that we still have a long way to go in freeing women to exercise their gifts in the churches.  A speaker at one meeting warned that many of the women who are now being called as pastors may find themselves in smaller congregations with limited resources and dysfunctional systems.  Although men have struggled to provide effective leadership in similar situations in the past, the failure of women to succeed in such circumstances may well be seen as a consequence of their gender rather than the extenuating circumstances. 

Second, the number of young adults—both women and men--attending the General Assembly is a healthy sign for the future of the Fellowship.  Young adults in leadership roles, the seminaries working to get their alumni and current students to the meetings, and the Collegiate Sessions emphasis early in the week have all contributed to this attendance.  The challenge will be for the Fellowship to address the issues that younger constituents bring to the table.  Failure to do so will lead to disillusionment and disengagement.

Finally, the presence of Keith Herron, outgoing CBF moderator, and Bill McConnell, incoming moderator, on the platform at business session was a good example of the way that Baptists should operate.  Herron, pastor of Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri, has been a committed, calm, and faithful presence during a time of transition in the Fellowship.  He represents the clergy at its best and has provided the same type of leadership to CBF that he gives to his church.  I have worshipped with the Holmeswood congregation and felt the strength of his leadership there.

McConnell, a lay member of Central Baptist Church Bearden in Knoxville, Tennessee, is a smart, responsible layman who loves the church and has served it faithfully over the years.  He has stated and believes that the church is the foundation of all that CBF does.  I know Bill from working alongside him as he served on the coordinating council of the Tennessee CBF.  I have sat at table with him as he prayed both for his local church and CBF.  He represents the best of lay leadership in our tribe.

Baptists move forward when we have the kind of committed leaders—ordained and lay—who will work together, loving and respecting each other.  If either seeks to dominate, the situation quickly becomes unhealthy.  The example of Herron and McConnell should encourage all of us in the Fellowship family.

What I observed in my limited contacts in Greensboro encourage me about the future of Fellowship Baptists, and our willingness to work and serve together.  Much remains to be done, but we are moving in the right direction.

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