Developmental psychologists and sociologists have observed that adolescence lasts longer than it did in previous decades. Twenty-five year olds may still live at home and lack a clear vision for their future. Even those involved with jobs, advocacy, and education are still not sure “what they will be when they grow up.”
This could describe the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is as it completes the celebration of its 25th year. In response to my recent blog about the Baptist Diaspora, friend Andrew Bennett observed (shared with his permission):
In its early days the CBF was struggling with its identity. When Keith Parks was hounded out of the SBC and came over we immediately became a missions delivery organization. There seemed to be little hesitation or reflection it was just like a switch was flipped. The difficult process of examining what we are and what our future should be has been an ad hoc process as time has gone by and issues are confronted one by one. Now in the time of political polarization, in the day of domestic and international terrorism, in the day of uncertainty...in this day we had better sit down and figure who we are and where we are going.
In many ways, CBF has tended to operate with a reactive rather than a proactive agenda. We often talk about what we are not, but are we ready to decide what we will be when we grow up?
There were encouraging signs at the recent General Assembly in Atlanta that a foundation for such a proactive approach is developing.
First, the Baptist Women in Ministry meeting on Wednesday was an amazing testimony to equality and diversity. Although some will argue that BWIM is not a part of CBF, its primary constituency is CBF-related churches, organizations, and seminaries. BWIM seeks to encourage proactive change within that constituency. The work of BWIM is a very hopeful sign.
Second, author Brian McLaren provided an intriguing and informative address on Thursday evening. I hope it will prompt more of our CBF family to read his books and begin to understand his approach to Christianity in postmodern culture. As a friend observed, “Brian is about 14 steps ahead of the rest of us.” We are not where McLaren is theologically, but effective ministry for CBF in the future may depend upon embracing his approach.
Third, Fellowship Baptists have made a good choice of Shauw Chin Capps as the new Moderator. Capps is executive director of Hope Haven of the Lowcountry, a children’s advocacy and rape crisis center in Beaufort, SC. Here is a person involved daily in serving “the least of these” with grace and care. Her experience should broaden the vision of the Fellowship for the future.
Fourth, young Baptists continue to be present in significant numbers. Thanks to the Young Baptist Ecosystem initiative and the work of partner seminaries, a younger generation of Baptists are clearly involved in the General Assembly. Hopefully, this extends to deeper involvement in the Fellowship and its churches.
These are hopeful signs for the future of our “tribe” and can empower and inform the Fellowship if we are willing to address concerns such as the continuing loss of some of our brightest leaders to other denominations; the failure of leading congregations to embrace their progressive identity; racial, gender, and economic inequality; and the general decline of Christian influence in society.
Are we ready to move out of Mom and Dad’s basement and address these concerns? I hope so.