It looks like we’re in for a little different approach to this year’s General Assembly. There will be a concerted effort to gather for prayer with specific intent to discern the Holy Spirit’s leadership for the future of this organization. I know there will be a number of small groups who will have issues to discuss, pray over, and then report back to the larger body. How this will turn out, no one knows. Anything can happen when this many Baptists get together.
There seems to be more concern about the direction of the CBF. Some folks have been opting to declare CBF a denomination, others are content to hold the course as a denomination-like entity with our own missionaries and budget. Daniel Vestal’s most recent article in the Fellowship! magazine deals with Baptists as a family more so than a denomination. I like this approach, and fail to see the reason for creating another denomination that will either plateau or decline in the next decade. Besides, denominations do not have the influence on society that they once had 50 years ago. The paradigm of Baptists as a family is much more dynamic than institutional, even though some kind of organizational structure is necessary.
The local church, while cooperating with denomination-like entities, does not need them as much as they need the church. The Southern Baptist Convention’s decline has been discussed and blogged about, but these Baptist brethern aren’t the only ones either plateaued or losing membership. The CBF hasn’t experienced much growth in recent years, and the leveling off of giving has been the impetus for creating new ways to commission missionaries. American Baptists are a small organization as well, and from what I’ve seen is going through its own downsizing efforts. It’s not good enough to say that we’re not as bad off as other groups, and I’m glad to say I haven’t heard or read anything from CBF leadership to this effect. The CBF continues to receive criticism from the SBC, but I don’t sense this is having the same impact it once did. Actually, it’s getting a little old.
The New Baptist Covenant meeting in Atlanta earlier this year generated a lot of excitement in bringing Baptists together across racial barriers. Is it a moment or movement? It’s okay not to know. Even so, there was criticism for excluding Welcoming and Affirming Baptists from having an official position at the meeting. I for one am grateful for this decision, and think that if this organization is granted standing in the next meeting that will be the end of the NBC. There will be pressure to affirm them at the next NBC meeting, and if there is an offical inclusion it will mark the end of the NBC movement. It will end as a moment, at least for me. Most Baptists, even in the moderate room of the Baptist house, would not be in favor of this development. So, I’m encouraged by what happened in Atlanta, but I cautious about this being the next wave of Baptist cooperation. Time will tell.
I’d like to see the CBF maintain its course and speed, with its emphasis on being the presence of Christ and encouraging a missional model for the local church. There is much to do and learn in serving others in our communities. The term “glocal”comes to mind, one that combines local and global missions efforts. I do believe that in order to not only survive but thrive, the CBF must cultivate younger leadership. Many of those under 40 don’t have the emotional baggage that was carried out of the SBC and desire something more meaningful than not being a Southern Baptist. The Emergent Church movement has attracted younger believers who are disenfranchised with the institutional church. I’ve yet to understand fully what emergent means, it could be a renewal movement or cause some to question their theological underpinnings. Maybe its both. Dialogue is welcomed, and honest doubt can be the soil for faith to grow. I’m intrigued with what I’ve read, but not ready to jettison the older, established churches like the one I’m in now. As long as we listen to one another, there is the possibility of new ideas and ministry approaches to form.
It was a good move to affirm the United Nations Millennial goals, one of which had to do with providing at least basic education for children on a global scale. We are called to share our faith, and along with that do what we can to make our world a better place. I’m grateful that the CBF is following a path toward engaging the world’s underdeveloped nations and people groups. It is not enough to merely give money, we must be open to the Holy Spirit’s urging us to share the gospel on a personal level. Churches are getting into the act now, going on mission experiences themselves and engaging their own communities. The CBF is a catalyst in this effort, and this is an encouraging sign.
So, I’m making plans to be in Memphis a few weeks from now with Lori and the kids. I look forward to catching up with some friends whom I haven’t seen in a while. I’ll also be interested in the mood of the Assembly about these discussions. I’ll keep an open mind, and may even find some ribs to put in my open mouth.