MEMPHIS, Tenn.—An estimated 1,500 Baptists launched a process June 19 to discern the future direction of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship on the first day of the organization’s annual General Assembly here.
Participants also heard an update on how the CBF is helping achieve the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals—a commitment the Atlanta-based organization’s top decision-making body made last fall.
Discerning future direction
CBF executive coordinator Dan Vestal told participants “discernment together is more than voting on a strategic plan or projecting goals or trying to reach consensus. It is a spiritual exercise looking at the past, present and future.”
“Whatever the CBF becomes will be determined by Providence,” Vestal said. “But my understanding of Providence is that we are asked to make decisions that have real consequences.”
Though the 17-year-old Fellowship which receives contributions from about 1,800 congregations is “young in historical perspective and small in global perspective,” Vestal said the CBF is “significant and strategic within the Baptist family and within the body of Christ.”
“The congregations and institutions that partner within this Fellowship have great influence and impact in the world,” he said. “And our future is as bright as the promises of God.”
Following his comments participants met in state and regional groups to pray and discuss a survey which asks a variety of questions related to broadening the CBF community; training and development; resource use; missional engagement; honoring race, gender and generations; and interacting with the world community. It also asks respondents to rank the six categories in order of importance.
On June 20, the groups will complete the surveys and present them during a worship session. The responses will be used by leaders as they evaluate the CBF’s future direction.
“Now we have come to a time in the life of this movement when we are healthy and strong enough to step back and ask, what is God preparing for us now?” said CBF Moderator Harriet Harral of Fort Worth, the group’s top elected official. “In what new and improved ways are we now being called to step out on faith to follow Christ and serve God better?”
“We do not yet have answers, but we are excited about the questions we bringing to this General Assembly for you to pray over so that together we can seek God’s answers.”
Millennium Development Goals
At its General Assembly last year, the CBF asked its Coordinating Council to endorse the Millennium Development Goals, adopted by the United Nations in 2000 to address extreme poverty worldwide.
“The Coordinating Council and staff have found this call to be the very thing we are eager to do,” said Jack Glasgow of Zebulon, N.C., who chaired a task force to explore ways to help meet the goals. Those goals are:
• Eradicate extreme hunger.
• Ensure access to primary schooling for all children.
• Promote gender equality and empower women.
• Reduce child mortality.
• Improve maternal health.
• Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
• Ensure environmental sustainability.
• Create a global partnership for development, which involved trade, aid and debt.
“This is the right path for missional churches,” said Glasgow, who will become CBF moderator at the end of this year’s General Assembly. “Our focus on the (Millennium Development Goals) … has energized us as we move to the future.”
Glasgow said CBF field personnel around the world are engaged in more than 100 projects that collectively address the eight goals. In addition, the Fellowship’s global missions initiative team is partnering with the Micah Challenge USA, which aims to deepen Christian engagement with impoverished and marginalized communities and to influence world leaders to fulfill their promise to achieve the UN goals.
The CBF Foundation will soon offer small loans to churches interested in investing in sustainable economic development, said Glasgow, and most of the CBF’s 19 state and regional fellowships have endorsed the goals or are engaged in ministries that help achieve them.
Another CBF partner—Bread for the World, a hunger relief advocacy group—asked all participants at the General Assembly to write letters to U.S. senators, encouraging them to vote for the Global Poverty Act (S.2433), a bipartisan bill that engages the United States in reducing poverty. A companion bill passed the House of Representatives last fall. Displays throughout the Memphis Cook Convention Center offered details about the bill, addresses of senators and congressmen, envelopes and collection bags.
In other business, the CBF’s coordinating council introduced a 2008-2009 budget of $16.5 million, a slight increase over the current budget of $16,480,000. Assembly participants will consider the budget, which includes more than $13 million for global missions.
Also on Friday, participants will be asked to endorse a slate of nominees for top offices and the coordinating council, including a new moderator-elect—Hal Bass, a professor at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark.