Separated some 20 years ago, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Southern Baptist Convention have found themselves on parallel tracks, establishing task forces to figure out where to go in the future.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's 2012 Task Force will soon begin to navigate the curve between the founding vision for the organization and the gritty actuality, Parham observes.
While CBF's newly established "2012 Task Force" lacks the linguistic grandiosity of the SBC's "Great Commission Resurgence Task Force," it has the same kind of urgency as the SBC's task force, which had a head start in re-envisioning and adopting a new roadmap.
The task facing CBF reminds me of the passage in "Strength to Love," where Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, "Desiring to justify himself and to show that Jesus' reply was far from conclusive, the lawyer asks, 'And who is my neighbor?' The lawyer was now taking up the cudgels of debate that might have turned the conversation into an abstract theological discussion. But Jesus, determined not to be caught in the 'paralysis of analysis,' pulls the question from midair and places it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho."
The 2012 Task Force will soon begin to navigate the curve between the founding vision for the organization and the gritty actuality (after years of existence), between the abstract and the concrete. The task force will pilot the rocky bend between centrality and autonomy, between the central office and the strategic partners, between mapping analytically the entire CBF constellation and offering a compelling action plan.
The task force is a 14-member group charged with "visioning the missional and organizational future of CBF."
The purpose, timetable and membership of the task force were approved in June at CBF's coordinating council.
Two years ago, CBF engaged in an extensive, 13-month spiritual discernment process that yielded a dynamic list of priorities that were to guide the organization into the future.
Calling the discernment process "one of the most important meetings for the Fellowship during my tenure as executive coordinator," CBF's Daniel Vestal said, "I believe the Spirit has been present in every step of this discernment process. We now have a clearer sense of what God is calling us to do together as a fellowship for the next five to seven years."
The top five actions in descending order for CBF's "re-prioritizing" work were (1) investing in young Baptists; (2) supporting and promoting the Millennium Development Goals; (3) expanding advocacy efforts for human rights, religious liberty and social justice; (4) developing a national framework to address poverty in the U.S.; and (5) modeling racial, gender and generational inclusion in hiring and leadership.
What happens to the spiritual discernment process with the establishment of a new task force intended to envision the "missional and organizational future of CBF" is unclear.
But it is what it is. And we would do well to support the new task force, which perhaps will connect the spiritual discernment process with its own assignment.
When one takes a comparative look at two CBF meetings held in Charlotte seven years apart, one does see the urgent need for the 2012 Task Force:
· The 2003 Charlotte general assembly drew 4,357 attendees, compared to 2,400 in 2010.
· In 2003, CBF adopted a $19.7 million budget, compared to a $14.5 million budget in 2010.
· In 2003, CBF commissioned eight career missionaries, compared to no career missionaries in 2010.
The downward trend in attendance, budget and career missionaries should trouble every CBF supporter and should cause all of us to seek a constructive redress.
Yet these negative numbers are not the only numbers. As I shared at the Callaway Gardens retreat for moderate Baptists, EthicsDaily.com has some remarkable growth numbers and examples of transformative engagement.
Other organizations also have a host of accomplishments. CBF of Arkansas has a success story in its partnership with Arkansas Baptist College, a historic African-American school. CBF of North Carolina is experiencing impressive financial growth. CBF of Georgia engages in interfaith dialogue.
We would be untruthful and would make an analytical mistake to see the entire CBF constellation as in crisis. We would be foolish to deny that CBF faces empirical downward trends. We would be imprudent if we do not see the interconnectedness and interdependency of the moderate movement – failure adversely affects all and success rewards all.
The 2012 Task Force has much work to do and must navigate a dangerous curve with discernment and speed.
Goodwill Baptists need to pray for the task force members and process, to respond readily to their requests for feedback at listening sessions, and to brainstorm with colleagues about how we shape together a collaborative new future.
Goodwill Baptists would also do well to challenge task force members to reject the creeping corruption of a scarcity mentality and see the CBF constellation as having an abundance of opportunities.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.