For the first time, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship isn’t appointing any new career missionaries this year. Nineteen new field personnel are scheduled to be commissioned at the close of this week’s CBF General Assembly in Atlanta.
Six workers will be in Global Service Corps, employed missionaries with terms of one to three years. Thirteen are being sent out as AsYouGo Affiliates, self-supporting personnel who serve through the Global Missions field-team structure.
CBF leaders call it a “paradigm shift” for doing missions in the 21st century.
“When we put career personnel on the field, we make a long-term commitment to fund them and their ministries,” Jack Snell, interim Global Missions coordinator said in an e-mail interview with EthicsDaily.com. “Because adequate funding is not always available, we attempt to be creative and innovative in finding other channels to fulfill our mission.”
Launched in 2004, AsYouGo allows people with business or educational employment or who are supported directly by churches to identify as CBF missionaries. It also provides inroads into ministry areas where CBF does not currently have field personnel.
Global Missions leaders said in February this year’s new personnel would reflect a strong emphasis on the AsYouGo program, but short-term missions and strategic affiliations have long been part of the CBF strategy.
Snell said Global Service Corps started early in CBF’s history, 1993. They were at first called “two-year personnel” and for a time were volunteers, but now they are paid from a special gift.
AsYouGo replaces and expands an earlier “tentmaker” category called Envoys. AsYouGo workers, called Affiliates, are required to have an “encourager” church that covenants to support their ministries spiritually, emotionally and, if necessary, financially.
“We recognize the world is changing,” missions leader Tom Ogburn said in a 2004 news release announcing the AsYouGo program.
“AsYouGo represents a different era for us,” Ogburn said. “Missions is changing. The church is back in the center of the process.”
Snell told EthicsDaily.com the new approach isn’t replacing, but supplementing the use of career missionaries.
“In the past, Baptists have been committed to providing full support for their missionaries so that they could devote full-time to their ministries,” he said. “For CBF, that is still the central model we employ. But we are also looking at other channels for expanding our ministries.”
Snell said the Affiliate program is based on a philosophy of “business as mission”–using individual gifts and skills in ways that provide financial support, while also becoming avenues for ministry.
Affiliates, he said, “allow us to leverage our team structure to expand our ministry among the most neglected around the world.”
Snell said one couple being appointed this week, for example, Connie and Rod Johnson, will be ministry coordinators for work among indigenous people in Oaxaca, Mexico. “We are able to have a presence there by inviting the Johnsons to affiliate with us, even though they are self-funded,” Snell said. “We believe AsYouGo is a way to expand CBF ministry, not limit career service.”
Snell said career personnel will continue to be central to CBF mission efforts. “We value them and are, in no way, moving away from the vital role they play,” he said. “They provide the long-term stability and the missiological acumen needed to drive our program. But to be truly effective, we must utilize a mix of personnel.”
Snell said CBF is committed to “serving churches and individuals as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.” That implies, in part, finding ways to collaborate with churches in providing opportunities for their members called to missions.
Snell said there are increasing numbers of Baptists who desire to share the gospel across cultures. Some view it as a long-term calling. For others it involves a shorter time. Many GSC personnel are approaching retirement, in career transition or recent graduates considering career missions.
“Add to that a more effective employment of volunteers and indigenous workers, and we are able to expand our response to minister to the most neglected of the world,” he said.
Snell said funding is one aspect of the current mission strategy, but isn’t the only driving factor behind emphasizing other avenues of service.
“Like every other mission-sending agency, we deal with the reality of having more opportunities for ministry than we are able to fund,” he said. “We want to insure that we are good stewards of the resources entrusted to us by our partners, and also to provide adequate funding for those already on the field.”
Formed in 1991 out of controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention, the CBF’s mission force has grown from 19 in 1992 to 163 following Friday’s commissioning service.
Between 1992 and 2002, the CBF commissioned 137 career missionaries, 67 Global Service Corps and 31 envoys.
As of Friday night, there will be 107 career and 20 Global Service Core field personnel, 33 affililates and three contract workers employed to help with tsunami relief.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com