It wasn’t the best attended CBF General Assembly–just over 2,000 came through the doors of the Cook Convention Center in Memphis. I was a little disappointed in that regard, especially with the meeting taking place in what would seem to be a geographically central location. But, west Memphis isn’t a CBF stronghold necessarily and with the price of gas approaching $4, folks might have opted to stay at home. I noticed attendance at another Baptist gathering was down also, and we’ll see how location and the economy impact participation next year.
I mentioned in the earlier entry that the Children’s Assembly drew about 90 children. It is worth mentioning again because this consideration of parents allowed us to attend. Plus the fact that young families are being given consideration and attention which can only be a good thing for the future of the CBF movement. The photo above (Cally is first from left) was taken prior to the closing session when the children had a part of the worship service. She really enjoyed the opportunity, and made a few friends along the way.
I think that the lower attendance may also have been related to the program emphasis. The Assembly was touted for being a time for “discernment” in seeking the Holy Spirit’s direction for the next several years. Without a “big name” speaker, the Assembly may have had difficulty getting people excited about the program. I wasn’t sure about this approach at first, but after seeing the surveys and talking with fellow CBFers around the tables, the approach made sense. The organization is 17 years old, relatively young for a Baptist group, and the idea of pausing for prayer and discussion for the future is pretty amazing. I’ve attended a number of Baptist conventions, and can’t recall ever doing something like that. I think having a time for prayer and seeking the Lord’s direction points to the dynamic nature of the CBF. To paraphrase a Kenyan proverb mentioned at one of the sessions: “If you want to go somewhere quickly, go alone. If you want to go a long way and deal with challenges, take others with you.” The discernment process appears to be a way to take many us on the CBF journey together. This year’s Coordinating Council will sort through the surveys and get the results back to us.
My favorite breakout session was entitled “My life with Jerry Falwell” and was led by John Killinger. He served in Lynchburg, VA for about eight years and had a number of encounters with Falwell both directly and indirectly. Killinger presented stories about his time in Lynchburg, some humorous and others frightening, all somehow connected to the impact of Falwell and his followers on Lynchburg. Killinger’s experiences shed a welcome light on some of Falwell’s exploits while at the helm of Thomas Road Baptist Church. No doubt when Killinger’s book about this comes out, it will do well.
In reviewing some of the media coverage of the event, I checked out a Baptist Press article and shouldn’t have been too surprised at the content. David Roach penned an article entitled “CBF focuses on prayer and women’s ordination” that totally missed the meaning of the Assembly. This is the only report of a Baptist meeting I can recall where the reporter actually mentioned the number of seats in the building. This may have been an attempt to minimize the importance of the meeting by leading the story with how many seats were unfilled. Perhaps the SBC is doing better at these annual meetings, but from what I can see their attendance is down too.
Prayer was an important factor at the Memphis meeting, but women’s ordination wasn’t mentioned to the extent that Roach contends. Chuck Poole handled the theme interpretation and did say something to the effect that we ordain women because we baptize girls. But, that was the only time I recall anything being said about women’s ordination. The CBF is known for supporting women in ministry, but it wasn’t a controlling emphasis at the Assembly. It’s part of our DNA but not the “focus” of the gathering. This is a distortion of what I saw and heard, and I attended each of the general sessions.
Our theme related to “building bridges” of missions and ministry to the “least of these.” The last general session, in particular, highlighted our purpose in striving for a missional mindset and community. We watched video presentations about how churches are engaging their community and people from other cultures in other parts of the world. Poole’s interpretation of a “walls down, arms out” approach to ministry served as the true emphasis of the meeting. It’s one that is easy to remember, and keeps our focus on “keeping that main thing the main thing.”