CBF seeks new leadership after Vestal

FORT WORTH–Participants in the June 20-22 General Assembly meeting of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship considered what moderator-elect Keith Herron described as “life in the wrinkle of time between the past and the present” as Coordinator Daniel Vestal was honored for 15 years of leadership and a plan to refocus and streamline organizational structures was embraced unanimously.

Moderator Colleen Burroughs recalled highlights of the past year, including the New Baptist Covenant II meeting, the work of the strategic task force and the April Conference on Sexuality and Covenant which she carefully described as “a rousing success.”

Twenty-one years after Fellowship organizers broke away from the Southern Baptist Convention, Burroughs praised a refusal to “sign on the dotted line” as she offered her final report as moderator. “The neighborhood of networks and partners escape conventional definition,” resisting a traditional model of what it means to be a Baptist, she said.

“You refuse to paint your lips red with creeds or wear skinny jean theology that flatters no one and just makes you unable to breathe,” Burroughs added, urging young leaders who have no memory of “the holy war” to remember their first name by demonstrating a picture of cooperation.

Described as a network of partner churches and individual Christians, communications director Lance Wallace said the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is not a denomination, has no doctrine and does not make statements of beliefs or take official stances on social issues, according to an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Instead, the General Assembly provides an opportunity for networking and a place for churches to share ideas, Wallace said.

Vestal spoke to a crowd of 1,625 Fellowship Baptists, referring to the meeting theme of “Infinitely More” drawn from Eph. 3:20-21 to remind the audience that God is both transcendent and immanent.

“The mission of God has been around for a long time before we arrived on the scene,” Vestal said, “and it will be here for a long time after we're gone. And yet we are a part of it,” he said, referring to the contributions offered and places served. “Our voice, our witness and our work matters.”

He encouraged Fellowship Baptists to “go into the future boldly” as new leadership emerges in “new wineskins.”  At the close of the final session, participants took communion by intinction in observance of the Lord's Supper.

Earlier in the week, Quaker folk singer Carrie Newcomer offered a concert where Vestal was honored in anticipation of his retirement on June 30. “She helped us grieve Daniel’s moving on while giving us hope for the future at the same time,” shared Wallace.

Newly appointed field personnel include Andy and Jutta Cowie of the United Kingdom serving in community and vocational development in Haiti; Jessica and Joshua Hearne of Saginaw, Mich., serving in the area of poverty and community development in Danville, Va.; and Missy Ward of Merritt Island, Fla., serving in the area of women's advocacy in Uganda.

Vestal said he had been surprised “by the caliber of the people who continue to step forward and say, 'I want to serve God in the hard places, the remote places, the forgotten places.” Offerings collected for CBF Global Missions amounted to $32,847 during the meeting.

Three church starters were appointed, including Andy Hale of Clayton, N.C., serving Mosaic, John Norwood of Houston serving the Heights Church and Brickson Sam of West Africa serving The Early Church Ministries in Charlotte, N.C.

“Throughout our history, we have started around 150 new churches,” stated David King, associate for church planting. “We also partnered with the Baptist General Convention of Texas and Baptist General Association of Virginia in an Hispanic initiative to engage over 200 mostly house congregations,” he added. The number of field personnel serving in other countries amounts to 132, with five area coordinators located stateside.

Following Rob Nash's resignation as global missions coordinator, field ministries director Jim Smith will fill the vacancy on an interim basis, while disaster response coordinator Charles Ray will move into the area of fundraising.

New officers for the 64-member Coordinating Council include Herron as moderator, Bill McConnell, a partner with Rogers and Morgan, Inc., and member of Central Baptist Church of Bearden in Knoxville, Tenn., as moderator-elect; Renee Bennett, a marriage and family therapist and member of Highland Hills Baptist in Macon, Ga., continuing as recorder; and Burroughs as past-moderator.

Of the more than 1,800 partnering congregations, 1,500 are dually affiliated with another Baptist organization and 171 were identified by coordinator search committee chairman George Mason as the “most deeply engaged in CBF” according to affinity markers that include attending general assemblies, endorsing chaplains, giving certain amounts of money, supporting CBF missionaries and sending students to the 15 partnering schools of theology (three of them connected to colleges funded by the Baptist General Convention of Texas).

In addition to conversing with pastors of those “engaged” churches, the search committee met with ministry partners, prompting Mason, the pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, to conclude, “We are finding confidence that we will be able to take this next step together.”

Herron, pastor of Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo., recalled the challenge of former moderator Hal Bass of Fort Worth when he created the task force to put the Fellowship under the microscope” and bring back recommendations for the future.

In place of the current Coordinating Council, a governing board will work with the executive coordinator, a missions council will guide global missions staff, while the larger ministries council “empowers the entire Fellowship community to use a networking model for development of resources that are needed by our congregations.”

Cooperative agreements will be developed between national CBF and state/regional organizations in the hope of encouraging generous stewardship. The plan also calls on the Fellowship community to become “increasingly committed to generosity without strings,” allowing leaders the freedom to allocate funds necessary to fulfill CBF's mission.

“There's no missing the point we're living in the wrinkle of time between the past and the future, between leaders, between structures, living in the interim, seeking, praying, working and trusting,” Herron said, calling the period a preparation to “realign our sights and refocus our energies and rearrange our priorities.”

David Hull, pastor of First Baptist Church of Huntsville, Ala., chaired the 2012 Task Force, describing the transition to a time of implementation. Calling the region Big Sky Country, Hull said, “West of here you'll see a big horizon and the road is as straight as an arrow.”

Referring to the future path of CBF, Hull said, “That road does not exist. The task is to build a road to the horizon,” he explained, announcing a plan to gather leaders to develop “a strategic playbook” by October.

A relatively flat $12.4 million operating budget was approved for the fiscal year 2012-2013, providing a quarter million dollars for Baptist Identity and Partnerships, including Associated Baptist Press, Baptist Joint Committee, Baptist World Alliance, Christian Churches Together, Church Benefits Board and North American Baptist Fellowship.

The area of Missional Congregations has an allocation of $2.6 million, with $6.4 million earmarked for Global Missions and Ministries, nearly $1 million for Fellowship Advancement, and just over $2 million for administration.

Workshops and partner meetings filled out the schedule over the course of three days. One of the best attended workshops showcased the products of CBF partner schools as six young preachers provided the crowd of about 60 people with samples of their style.

Selected by the Academy of Preachers associated with , featured speakers included SMU Perkins School of Theology student Terrell Crudup who delivered a fast-paced topical sermon on breaking down walls that hold believers captive, using Eph. 2:14-16 as his text, illustrated by a reference to the Berlin Wall.

Society builds walls to hold the poor and undereducated, to safeguard prosperity and to keep out the foreigners, he said. Christians ask questions like: “Should we break away from the convention” and “where do women fit in in the church?” he said, leading to building more walls. Church business meetings, capital stewardship campaigns and painting the church build more walls, he added. “We love building walls.”

The failure to understand the complexity involved in saying sexuality is a choice leads to building walls based on stereotypes of the different viewpoints, said Crudup, a Belmont University graduate. Those who oppose welcoming homosexuals into the church are described as “bigots and homophobic” while those who stand their ground on the issue fail to recognize that “the Lord found friendship and followers amongst those who were openly struggling with holiness.”

Instead, he said, “The writer of Ephesians was concerned with the unity of the church against the cosmic battle between God and the powers and principalities,” reminding listeners that Christ tore down the walls that separated us from the holy places. “If you want unity, tear down the walls that we build up.”

Georgetown College graduate Zac Bailes who is a student at Wake Forest Divinity School and ABP columnist introduced his sermon encouraging ministers to “keep the course,” referencing Matt. 21:1-6, while Maziel Dani, an Oklahoma Baptist University graduate now studying at TCU's Brite Divinity School offered her sermon from the perspective of the slave girl described in Acts 16:16-34.

Two other men,  Southwest Baptist University student Josh Johannes and Campbellsville University graduate Micah Spicer, a student at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky, spoke in the second round of sermons, along with a woman, Samford University graduate Caitlin Jones, who is a recent recipient of CBF funding as a ministry fellow at Campbell Divinity School.

Nearby Broadway Baptist Church provided an introduction to Taize, a contemplative style of worship, and Vespers, a reflective service utilizing dimmed lights and candles, silence and ancient prayers from the Book of Common Prayer.

Leading worship for Baptist Women in Ministry were Meredith Stone, women in ministry specialist at BGCT and Jana Harwell of Arlington, Texas.

State and regional meetings were offered for CBF groups in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mid-Atlantic, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, North Central, Northeast, Oklahoma-Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and the West.

Partner seminaries had opportunity to update messengers over a meal, although CBF printed a disclaimer stating that the views expressed at Partner Events coinciding with the General Assembly do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of, or endorsement by CBF or its members.

Among those featured were Central Baptist Theological Seminary led by President Molly T. Marshall; Mercer University professor David Gushee at a Chaplains and Pastoral Counselors luncheon as well as the Baptist Peace Fellowship's breakfast, and Wake Forest Divinity School professor Bill Leonard at the Baptist Joint Committee's annual Religious Liberty Luncheon where he received the J.M. Dawson Religious Liberty Award.

While alumni events were offered by Campbell University, Wake Forest University School of Divinity, Baptist University of the Americas, Mercer University McAfee School of Theology and Duke Divinity School, the Baptist General Convention of Texas was the only state convention featured at partner events and on the program as choirs from Baptist University of the Americas, Hardin-Simmons University and Baylor's Truett Seminary led in worship.

BGCT's Christian Life Commission co-sponsored the luncheon with the Baptist Center for Ethics where Texas state senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) was honored for legislation aimed at curbing predatory lending practices in the state. The church architecture division, BaptistWay Press, Baptist Standard newspaper, Buckner and many of the BGCT-affiliated schools provided exhibits.

The Greg Warner Lifetime Service Award went to Toby Druin, former editor of the Baptist Standard, during the Friends of Associated Baptist Press Dinner.  Current editor Marv Knox praised Druin as “an exceptional war correspondent” who covered Baptist controversies of the 1980's and 1990's.

The 2013 CBF General Assembly will be held June 26-29 in Greensboro, N.C.


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