The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was born in 1991 – the same year my first child was born.
Although I attended Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings through 1990, I did not attend a CBF general assembly until 2009.
As young adults, my children have attended general assembly. Those occasions have provided the impetus for deep theological family discussions and growth for all of us.
For me, this is a beloved community. I wish we had consistently attended general assembly while they were growing up.
Fortunately, many pastors and lay people began attending in 1991 with their children in strollers and car seats.
That might explain why leadership in our “denomi-network,” especially among partner organizations, seems to be in the midst of an energizing and natural generational change.
Many in this group of young leaders have been part of CBF throughout their lives.
They attended and worked at Passport camps; they met each other in the children’s and teen’s activities at general assembly.
Now, they attend with baby strollers, car seats and young children of their own. Now, they meet up with lifetime friends they know through CBF.
So, while the first generation of leaders (and even a second smaller group in their late 40s and 50s) were passionate about CBF because it saved them and gave them a home, this rising group is passionate because this has always been their home.
It makes sense then that new leadership will look at issues and our future through a different lens.
As a fellowship, we have had three outstanding leaders who brought different gifts and gave in ways that most of us will never realize.
And as we celebrate and thank Suzii Paynter for the visionary, self-sacrificing, graceful way she has led over the last five years, we need to continue to assess where we go from here and with whom we travel.
Although not a new idea, perhaps it is time we seriously discuss collaboration within the fellowship and with others doing the same work in the world.
Like many of you, I find it fascinating and helpful to read about cultural trends as related to current generational divides.
I think learning about and paying attention to these differences gives us a hint about the best ways to collaborate.
First, we need to recognize within CBF there are multiple overlapping partner organizations. We must streamline those efforts.
In order to be nimble and successful, it may be time to look at ways to combine, redefine or merge overlapping organizations.
Although it feels uncomfortable and ominous, there are too few of us and not enough funding to continue supporting ministries with similar purposes that relate to CBF and the broader progressive / moderate Baptist movement.
As search committees or boards look to replace retiring leaders, perhaps those efforts should begin by looking at ways to collaborate or merge with similar / sister organizations.
In each case, a new leader may emerge – from current leadership or otherwise – capable of leading a combined entity.
As good stewards, we must pursue economy of scale with leaner overhead and fewer salaried employees. Most of the pursuit is attainable with typical attrition.
Mergers are complicated, and this is in no way meant to be flippant since people’s careers are part of the equation.
But the timing seems providential given that many in executive leadership in CBF partner organizations are beginning to consider retirement in the next five to 10 years. Anticipated generational attrition will provide opportunity.
The great news for us is that right behind the Boomers and Elders are an energized, enthusiastic group of Gen Xers, Millennials and even a few older Gen Zers who have grown up in our midst and have known each other since their days of CBF kid and teen activities at general assembly.
These young leaders are already teaching us that moving forward, we need to find creative ways to collaborate in social justice ministries with others in our broader Baptist movement, other people of faith and, at times, people of no faith.
We have current, successful examples of collaboration in which we participate.
New Baptist Covenant and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty each have a distinct purpose and mission.
Both exist only because a variety of Baptists are collaborating with a common purpose in spite of and sometimes because of our differences.
And, we are discovering in a tangible way that we learn from, admire and love these new, different friends.
Also, with less structure, we now collaborate with people of other faiths for particular purposes.
Religious liberty, for example, unites us with people of other faiths or no faith but with the common purpose of protecting religious freedom for all people.
The same kind of collaboration is used as we join others to advocate for racial equality, gender equality, LGBTQ rights and equality, public schools, hunger initiatives and numerous other social justice issues.
We must continue to collaborate with as many people as possible moving forward. We have too much to do, and our numbers are finite.
In what was a déjà vu moment for many of us, we witnessed another political takeover disguised as a theological battle.
Again, we saw the pitting of people and churches, whose collaboration had been exclusively through missions and ministries, against one another.
Another collaborative effort, Fellowship Southwest (comprised of CBF ministries and initiatives in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas and the West) began about the time many of us in Texas churches saw our Baptist General Convention of Texas taken over by political maneuverings and leadership that value dogma and exclusiveness over collaboration for a common purpose.
One model we might look to is Fellowship Southwest. The fellowship is providing a new, intentionally collaborative way to partner in missions and ministries throughout the region.
As we join with other Christians, we are asking meaningful questions about where God is leading us.
Collaborative efforts must be nurtured and protected, and this was an attack meant to eliminate those efforts. It is a lesson for us to remember going forward.
Wouldn’t it be wise to look at what God is doing in the hearts of others who may not yet identify the stirring that propels them? Is it more efficient and less self-centered to look for and join God’s work in progress? Do we recognize that we are no longer at the top of the 1950s church bell curve?
How can we participate with ministries already happening so that God is honored and all people who will come are connected and loved? How do we humbly reflect God’s love to the marginalized people in our region?
Collaboration among similar partners in our own fellowship.
Collaboration with people in the broader Baptist movement.
Collaboration with people of other faiths or of no faith to do God’s work.
Could CBF partners and member churches experience what it means to re-create church?
Could we bond through mutual ministry (projects/good work) with other Baptist groups, other faith groups or people of no faith and develop the relationships that wrap us all together in the love of Christ? Could we someday see someone realize who caused the stirring in her own heart?
Could loving others, being inclusive and meeting needs possibly allow God to work in the lives of the givers? Do we need to make this a priority in our churches too?
Maybe love looks different than we thought. Maybe CBF will continue to be ahead of the curve.