The newly elected leader of North Carolina Cooperative Baptist Fellowship hopes to make the chapter a more viable alternative for moderates torn between denominational politics and cooperation.
North Carolina moderates met in January to discuss options after a failed presidential bid at last fall’s Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
Conservatives controlling the state convention say they would like to strengthen connections with the Southern Baptist Convention by eliminating multiple giving plans, which allow moderate churches latitude in how their mission funds are distributed.
Weary of political infighting, meanwhile, moderates say they want to explore new models for cooperation that would allow churches to devote energies to causes more productive than trying to elect a state convention president.
Conservatives in two states and moderates in a third solved their dilemma by splitting off into separate state conventions. But Larry Hovis, elected Sept. 2 as full-time coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in North Carolina, said Baptists in his state are not interested in starting a new convention.
They also are not interested in joining a group outside of North Carolina, like American Baptists, Texas Baptist or Virginia Baptists, Hovis, pastor of The Memorial Baptist Church in Greenville, N.C., said Tuesday in an interview.
“I think CBF of North Carolina emerged from that [January] meeting as the only viable organized group with which to affiliate in North Carolina,” in addition to or as an alternative to the Baptist state convention, Hovis told EthicsDaily.com.
But because Hovis’ predecessor, Bob Patterson, had already announced his resignation and the search for a new coordinator had not yet begun, Hovis said there was “sort of a wait and see” attitude among moderates about the state CBF chapter.
Now, with the election of a “known quantity” as leader, Hovis said he hopes not only churches and individuals but also North Carolina agencies and institutions will increasingly view the CBF as a “viable” partner.
Born and educated in North Carolina, Hovis has lived outside the state only for two pastorates in Virginia. He has served in several leadership positions in the state convention and has a strong network all over the state.
That network forms the centerpiece of Hovis’ vision for North Carolina CBF. Rather than a “place to call and find out all the answers,” Hovis hopes the CBF will become a “clearinghouse,” helping churches to connect around both needs and strengths.
“We live in a time when we can no longer look to some denominational headquarters to tell local churches how to do ministry,” he said. “The greatest thing an organization like CBF of North Carolina can do is help local churches connect with one another and share resources with one another.”
“I don’t consider myself to be an expert in anything,” Hovis said. “I’m a generalist.”
Hovis said the biggest challenge facing CBF in North Carolina is to help churches “understand who we are and why we exist.” Hovis said immediate plans include improving the state CBF’s Web site and starting a weekly e-mail news letter.
“There’s still a lot of misunderstanding about CBF,” he said, “why there’s a need; how we are both like and different from the state convention.”
Contrary to the impression of some, CBF is “not trying to be in competition or opposition to” the state convention, he said. Rather, the CBF tries “to partner wherever we can” and desires to continue to maintain partnerships with the state convention.
Critics have also tried to paint the CBF as being outside the Baptist mainstream. “Individuals and churches who relate to CBF of North Carolina are Bible-believing, Christ-honoring, traditional Baptists,” Hovis said.
“We also value traditional Baptist beliefs such as local-church autonomy and the priesthood of all believers,” he continued. “We are a place where those truths are still lived out. We’re free to partner with who we want to and who we need to to complete our God-given mission.”
“The genius of our Baptist heritage—which we are having to rediscover—is we are not a top-down, hierarchical denomination,” he said. “We can have multiple mission partnerships, but the local church is always top of the heap.”
Hovis said a major strength of a lean network like NCCBF is the ability to be responsive to local churches. “We are small enough that we can be much more responsive, and we don’t dictate in any way what they do in their local situation.”
Hovis said the two major struggles he had to overcome in accepting the post were leaving the pastorate, where he has served his whole adult life, and leaving his current church, where he has spent the last five years.
While grateful that he will still get to preach and network, Hovis said he will miss the close pastoral relationships that develop from conducting events like baptisms, weddings and even funerals.
“I won’t miss being on call 24/7,” he admitted. “I won’t miss having my Sundays tied up.” Still, at his resignation announcement last Sunday, “There were lots of tears shed, both mine and others.”
Hovis said he would like to ask North Carolina CBFers and others to pray for him, his family, the church and CBFNC as he begins his new ministry. “I’m very excited about it, but I know I can’t do it on my own,” he said. “I need help from God and others.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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