Unpacking the CBF General Assembly

The CBF General Assembly proved to be another good opportunity to rub shoulders with like minded Baptists. It was good to re-connect with friends from TN and make new ones from MO. The MO-CBF state meeting helped me feel a kinship with the fellowship brethern in the show-me state, especially since I am finding out that our church truly is an outpost of traditional Baptist values. There aren’t any other CBF or ABC churches in Springfield or in the surrounding area for that matter, and for that reason our church serves an important role for Baptists in south MO. It’s good to be part of a larger Baptist family. Here are a few observations about the meeting:

1. The CBF is changing it’s mission focus from sending individuals to “sending churches.” This emphasis came across loud and clear in Rob Nash’s address. He indicated the inspiration for the shift came from an Iman who converted to Christianity. The man said that rather than sending individual missionaries to help out, he said to “send us your churches.” Nash seemed passionate about helping local congregations connect with other churches for missions and ministry across the globe.

I’m not sure how I feel about this idea. I’ve never heard about an organization sending “churches” to do missions. I’ve grown up attending commissioning services and hearing sermons about being “called to missions.” Despite the emphasis on making all kinds of Christian service equal, in my opinion, there is a special place for those who give up everything to go to remote parts of the world in full-time missionary service. Some of the most moving worship services I’ve attended through the years have been commissioning services. The CBF had one such service during the Assembly, and it was encouraging to see those who were going out to represent us. Still, I noticed few “full-time” vocational missionaries going out and more “affliliates” who are responsible for raising their own funds. I am grateful for folks like this but wonder what this does to our missionary force.

The new paradigm shift to “sending churches” might be a concession to a movement already underway. More and more churches are sending out their own missionaries and going on their own mission trips. As as result, they reserve the needed funds to accomplish this task. The downside is that fewer missions dollars make it to the CBF office to support missionaries. I can’t help lamenting the dwindling number of “full-time” missionaries whom we can afford to support. The CBF Global Missions Offering has yet to be met in recent years, so the shift is understandable from a financial standpoint. On the other hand, I miss that cooperative effort in sponsoring missionaries so that they don’t have to raise their own support. Missionaries are going out with the CBF label but without monetary support. This is a disappointing reality.

2. The ABC and CBF are building a partnership to expand their reaches in the missions area. It’s difficult to determine whether the combined worship service Friday pm will have any ongoing impact, but I suspect it gave us a taste of what the Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant will be like in Atlanta in January 2008. Several missionaries who were commissioned went out with both CBF and ABC endorsements, so I remain curious about what this means. It makes sense to cooperate where we can and get over this “yours and mine” mentality and promote what can be “ours” on the missions front.

I’m also interested in what the ABC-USA is doing and in what capacity is it similar/dissimilar to the CBF. The ABC is having its own financial difficulties and are restructuring to become more efficient with their resources. The ABC appears to be more racially and ethically diverse in their membership, and is more vocal in addressing social and political matters. Not so much in endorsing political candidates, but rather speaking out in prophetic ways in the areas of mercy and justice. My first impression of the ABC was a good one, but I’m sure this organization has its challenges as well. Their emphasis on local church autonomy and traditional Baptist distinctives are a welcome sight, and I look forward to learning how they conduct their mission and ministry.

3. The door to denominationalism may be closing. The SBC only brought in 8,000 plus messengers this year, and that was “deep in the heart of Texas.” I can recall when there were 40,000 in Houston during the height of the SBC battle. The CBF meeting this time brought in less than 3,000, albeit in an area not usually known for its strong CBF population. Atlanta or Birmingham seem to fare better. The ABC gathering pulled in around 2,500 delegates, and I’m not sure what they normally expect.

I can see how it would be easy to loose interest in the annual meetings, especially since folks have become a whole lot busier. Plus the fact that it’s more difficult to set aside a few days for a Baptist meeting. One idea might be to look into ways to plug into our technology and provide satellite feeds into different parts of the country. This might involve more people in the process without requiring them to travel so far. Large corporations are doing this, and are much more cost effective as a result. It takes a lot of money to pull off annual meetings, and I can now understand why the ABC meets every two years. If the financial situation of the CBF doesn’t improve, the every other year format might come into play.

4. This century may truly be what Rob Nash called “the age of the local church.” There was a time when denominational matters really took center stage among churchgoers. Nowadays the emphasis is more on what is happening closer to home, and this isn’t a bad thing necessarily. It’s tiring to fight about who believes the Bible more. I am excited about members getting interested and involved in giving and going on missions. We need to get out of the mentality that we pay missionaries to do this for us. The local church is the headquarters for the Lord’s work, and as such we are ALL missionaries. The world is coming to us, with its racial, social, ethnic, and theological differences. The church needs to deal with these challenges and treat them as opportunities to expand the Kingdom of God.

The missional concept comes into play at this point. I’m still learning about what this means from on a practical level, but it relates to being the body of Christ in our own town first and foremost and helping people grow in their relationship with God. Every member ought to be involved in doing at least one thing to serve in the church. This relates to our giftedness, and I’m looking forward to experiencing how this is carried out at University Heights.


11 thoughts on “Unpacking the CBF General Assembly

  1. I so deeply agree with your last statement about doing missions in your own town first. Years ago on a choir trip to Europe I realized for the first time that I was not on “foreign soil”, I was in their home. I was the foreigner. I was raised to believe that the call to “foreign missions” was the highest calling of all. Now I realize more and more that all missions is local. It always has been and it always will be.

  2. The old saying that “missions begins at your doorstep” has become even more meaningful since there is a university campus across the street. I recall one seminary professor telling us that the day has come that “every member is not only a minister, but a missionary.”

    It has been easier to get people to travel across the country to share Christ than across town to do the same thing. We’re working on this.

    I’ve been reading some ABC blogs and there is a discussion ongoing about coming together with the CBF. It’s too early to tell about that and I doubt that this will occur, but perhaps the Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant in January 2008 will be a clue.

  3. This has little to nothing to do with missions, it’s just something that this conversation brought to mind. I read the story years ago of a very burned out Episcopalian priest who sought spiritual refuge in a Buddhist monastary. After spending several months there he told his teacher that he wanted to become a Buddist. His teacher said, “You don’t need to become a Buddhist, just become a better priest.”
    Whatever missions means to me, it doesn’t have much to do with converting people. Why can’t we let the love of Jesus flow through us to the needs of our neighbors and let it go at that?

  4. Three quick comments.

    First, I would be interested in reading the ABC response to the meeting and will seek out those blogs. Any suggestions?

    Second, in addition to a disillusionment with denominationlism, I think that people are tired of meetings. You are right on target in suggesting the use of the web to allow folks to participate in meetings without being physically present. A friend of mine recently “covered” the SBC for his publication by watching the online videocast (and he could do it in his pajamas).

    Third, the whole missional church idea comes out of the writings of Leslie Newbigin, the Anglican missionary who returned to Great Britain and discovered that this was his new mission field. No body “sends” the church except the sending God! Organizations like CBF can only facilitate that happening. The church does not DO missions, it IS mission!

  5. The next W&W deals with some of these issues. I wrote a story on whether the society method is the way of the future and there is another story on churches acting as missions-sending agencies. Based on this blog, you might find the section interesting.

  6. I stumbled upon “Baptist like me” and “HIs barking dog” you’ll find links to them on my site. Each offered different takes on the event, from the more positive to one looking at his more disappointed in the oprah type format rather than a sermon.

    THis missions approach does seem like the societal method of days gone by. This might be one occasion where the good old cooperative program still holds it own–even though the SBC has found the need to “define” what CP giving is.

    The broader conversation with ABC folks is a welcome one, and we might find more cooperation in the future. Having grown up in the south, I now realize I’m not “in Kansas” anymore denomiationally (although I am much closer to the literal state).

  7. We must also remember that a younger generation is less open to letting others take their missions gifts (such as the CP approach)and trust them use those gifts as the organizations see fit. Whether this is due to lack of trust or a desire to be more involved, it is a reality.

  8. Glad that you could be with us at the ABC plenary session in Washington. ABC does have her problems, but she has always done good work in some areas of Mission. The key to her future, in my opinion, is where will ABCUSA stand in the meaning of the Scriptures.
    Thanks for your comment re: my post on BaptistThinking.blogspot.com.
    It is good to know you even though its over the net.
    Blessings in Jesus,
    Dr. K

  9. I am curious about what the ABC believes about the Scriptures. I wondered if this was similar to CBF life in that it is acknowledged as the Word of God but left up to the individual to interpret under the guidance of the HOly Spirit. This doesn’t clarify interpretation issues, but it does respond to the authority question in some regard.

    Interpretation has been the issue rather than authority, in my opinion, on many of the Baptist battles. I attempt to be supportive of various interpretations but I too am concerned about disregarding texts under the guise of interpretation. It becomes a concern for fellowship.

  10. welcome to your first taste of the ABC. I finally got around to blogging about my take on the meeting.

    As for an ABC stance on scripture… the vast majority would agree with your statement regarding the CBF. I would want to add “in the fellowship of the community of faith” after “under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

    The questions for ABC, as I see them, are whether or not we will own our Baptist heritage or continue down a path with more centralized authority (I think/hope we are reclaiming our tradition), whether we can live with the diversity that the tradition implies (we are diverse in every way), whether we can capitalize on that tradition to speak in a postmodern world (I think the tradition fits very well but Baptists have not worked that fit at all).

    Again, welcome!

  11. I appreciated Dr. Medley’s remarks about the diversity of the ABC and that “we don’t always know what to do with it.”

    I’ll stay tuned.

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