Saturday, July 01, 2017

The Baptist Diaspora

I have just returned from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly.  As usual, I had the opportunity to meet and greet many friends and colleagues.  My reflections on the meeting will wait until tomorrow, but as I drove home and thought about who I had seen there, I also thought about those who were not there.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the progressive Baptist movement in the south lost many who had identified with the Southern Baptist Convention to other denominations.  Women ministers moved to denominations such as United Methodists to become pastors.  Some changed to denominations such as the United Church of Christ due to its clear stance on issues of social justice. Others became Episcopalians because of their love of the liturgy.

The exodus continues today, however.  An American Baptist friend on the west coast told me recently that several young ministers who had been nurtured in CBF churches and seminaries had accepted churches in his area because of the challenges and opportunities there.  He was excited; I was a bit disturbed.

Most of us would agree that some of our bright and creative leaders are choosing to leave the Fellowship for other opportunities. On the one hand, I can say, “Good for you.”  Although I am still part of a CBF-related congregation and name the Fellowship as my “tribe,” I find myself working more outside of CBF life than within it.  The seminary where I am a supplemental (adjunct) faculty member identifies with both ABC and CBF.  The students I relate to are Methodist, Disciples of Christ, UCC, National Baptist, Unitarian-Universalist, and non-denominational.  I am on the team of Pinnacle Leadership Associates which serves Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and UCC churches as well as various kinds of Baptists.  My coaching clients are from UCC and Baptist groups other than CBF.

On the other hand, I wonder what CBF would be like if those who are blessing other denominational groups were leading healthy CBF churches and ministries.  Losing these gifted people certainly weakens our cause.
I don’t expect this trend to cease.  If anything, it may intensify if we as Fellowship Baptists do not find meaningful ways to engage and retain our ministerial leaders.  We may bless the Kingdom but give up our own life in the process. Perhaps this is the will of God for us.

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