Tuesday, June 28, 2016

CBF General Assembly: Opportunities

In the spring, my wife often involves the grandchildren in an interesting activity.  Over the previous months, various seeds have accumulated in our home from a multitude of sources.  Sometimes she knows what they are and sometimes she doesn’t.  She gets the grandchildren to help her plant them and then the waiting begins to see what will grow.  This produces some surprises.

I thought of this as I attended the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly this week.  As CBF celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary, many speakers reflected on the beginnings of the movement.  Scholar and author Diana Butler Bass praised CBF noting that “risk and courage are the antidote to fear and anger.”  Moderator Matt Cook pointed out that the initial participants believe that they were “following Jesus” and asked, “When Jesus is leading, are we following?”  New moderator Doug Dortch’s comment is what got me thinking about seeds.  He commented on a poster he once had in his office: “Whoever plants a seed trusts God.”

Statements like these are the seeds of the Fellowship.  At this year’s General Assembly, the seeds started to sprout, and the results may be surprising to many.  The seeds planted 25 years ago are breaking through the soil.  What will we do with the product?

One of the products of that growth we will have to address is the LGBTQ issue.  Lauren McDuffie, a young Baptist from Memphis, shared this on her Facebook page in response to the statement made by the Governing Board:

“I have more of these nametags tucked away from my life in CBF than I'll ever know what to do with, but I don't think I'll ever lose this one. It may have seemed small to some, but I believe I witnessed the beginning of something amazing this week. But here's the thing.... we don't just get to witness the amazing things God does, we have to be part of doing them. After a week gathered with this Fellowship that is my family, I am exhausted, I am hopeful, and I am ready to get to work.”

The key issue she cites is justice and equality for gays and lesbians.   Many assembly participants—not all young—added a rainbow banner to their name tags to show their solidarity with LGBTQ people.  Although this is a divisive issue for many in the Fellowship, failure to address it will result in the loss of a generation of young adults who have made their choice and it is a decision for inclusiveness.  We can look at this as a challenge or as an opportunity.

Other issues that received attention at the General Assembly were women in ministry, the death penalty, and political advocacy around economic issues.  Equality for women in church and society is not an accomplished fact.  I contend that too many churches are willing to settle for a mediocre male as pastor when a gifted female is available due to their own prejudice and fear of censure by their communities.  This is changing but the process is painfully slow.

There are too many people on death rows across America because they are poor, non-white, and uneducated.  Many have been sentenced due to accident of birth and family rather than on issues of justice.  Can the Fellowship step up and address this issue?

Our culture has an unrealistic approach to debt and personal expenses.  Lay people—especially young adults—and ministers are both in bondage to debt.  The poor are exploited by pay day lenders and exorbitant interest rates.  Simplicity in lifestyle is a losing cause.  Addressing these economic issues would put the Fellowship at the forefront of a major concern of our time.

In order to engage such concerns, Executive Coordinator Suzie Paynter announced a proactive discernment process: “The Illumination Project is designed to create models of dialogue and decision-making for a cooperative body. The goal, often sacrificially enabled, to seek intentional community in spite of differences has been a strong witness of CBF.”

Will we as Fellowship Baptists find agreement on all of these issues?  I do not anticipate that happening, but the Fellowship must find ways for like-minded individuals to work together to address these concerns.  The way forward involves a balance of unity and diversity.  Unity is needed to pursue a strong mission initiative.  Diversity must be respected in dealing with social issues. 

Other denominations have the same challenges and they have not been able to meet it.  As moderator Doug Dortch said, “Perhaps it is time that we address the issues that others have struggled with so long.” The unique gift of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in the 21st century may be a way to combine both unity and diversity in the cause of Christ.

CBF General Assembly: Trends

In this second blog reflecting on the recent Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Greensboro, NC, I want to share some personal impressions related to trends that seem to be emerging in the movement.  This is not meant to be definitive or even objective, but just some things that seem to be bubbling to the surface.

First, leaders of CBF are being good stewards of the resources placed in their hands.  The national organization is now leaner and more focused.  This comes not only from necessity but from good management principles.  One example is the three emphases of the 25th Anniversary Endowment Campaign—sustaining global missions, forming healthy churches, and nurturing young Baptists.  These are key aspects of the future of the movement.

The sustainability of a global mission strategy empowered by long-term mission personnel was presented repeatedly at the meeting.  Missions is what got many people into the Fellowship and it must remain a pillar of its work.  CBF field personnel have learned how to partner with churches, other missionary sending groups, and indigenous personnel for effective ministry.  This must continue.

Nurturing young Baptists assures the future of the Fellowship.  In my humble opinion, CBF has given lip service to this emphasis without allocating adequate resources during the last two and half decades.  Yes, there have been projects and efforts to engage young adults and youth but not enough. What has been provided has produced positive results.  For example, the significant attendance of young adults at the Assembly, but the seminaries must get some credit for this as well.  More resources need to be focused on theological education, church internships, and scholarships. 

Forming healthy churches includes a church starting initiative, an intentional congregational renewal process, advocacy work that helps others find their voice, and financial literacy programs.  All of these are worthy goals, but finding ways to work with churches without recreating the old denominational dependency model is tricky.

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, there is a clear effort on the part of CBF to deal with economic issues.  Whether it is helping ministers to deal with financial indebtedness or ending abusive pay day lending operations, economic advocacy is a core concern in our culture and I applaud CBF for addressing it.

Another trend that I find encouraging is the development of an environment of empowerment based on coaching.  CBF entities have employed coaching in a number of ways—CBF fellows, church starting, etc.—and this trend is growing.  This harnesses the gifts of those involved in the coaching process to find their own answers and pursue them with accountability and purpose.

Overall, CBF continues to make strides in creating a “denomi-network” that is nimble and proactive.  This was clear in the General Assembly’s program and emphases.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Congratulations to Two Extraordinary Women!

This was a significant month in the lives of two Baptist ministers. 

Mary Beth Dunbar-Duke, Chaplain at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, was recognized as a Board Certified Chaplain by the Association of Professional Chaplains at their meeting Orlando, Florida, on June 25. (Pictured at right--Rev Raye Nell Dyer, Rev. Mary Beth Dunbar-Duke, and the Rev. Dr. Cordell Simpson.)

LuAnne Nickell Prevost, chaplain at Park West and Peninsula Psychiatric Hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee, was endorsed by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and commissioned at the CBF General Assembly in Greensboro, NC, on June 24.  She is also a Board Certified Chaplain. (Pictured during commissioning service at left.)

What these women have in common is that they are both graduates of Central Baptist Theological Seminary and completed their work for the Master of Divinity degree at the seminary’s site in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  Their commitment to prepare for ministry has resulted in significant ministry roles for both. 

During her studies, Beth was also working full-time as a nurse while parenting two young adults with her husband, Cliff.  LuAnne commuted two hundred miles one-way from Knoxville, Tennessee, while working as a physical trainer and being the single parent of teen-agers.  This is clear evidence of their individual commitment to the task!

Thanks to the cooperation of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, First Baptist Church of Murfreesboro, and Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, seven students were able to complete their theological education without relocating geographically and could continue to be involved in family, work, and church.

Although the program has now moved to Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville, the opportunity continues for women and men to follow the path to a theological degree that LuAnne and Beth pursued.  For more information about this program, contact Nathan Huguley at Nathan.huguley@cbts.edu.