The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina (CBFNC) celebrated its sixteenth year March 19-20 by affirming core partnerships, approving a record budget, and looking to a hopeful future. More than 950 persons packed the ornate, historic sanctuary of First Baptist Church in Winston-Salem for the opening session on Friday night, and the house was comfortably filled for the closing worship on Saturday morning.

Built on the theme “Generations Connected: One Family, One Faith, Many Journeys,” the annual assembly recognized the founding generation of the CBF movement by hearing from from Cecil Sherman, CBF national’s first coordinator, and gave attention to emerging generations with a closing message by Craig and Jennifer Janney, a young couple who serve as both ministers and instructors at Chowan University.

Sherman noted that the national Fellowship movement is now approaching 20 years of organized existence, and reflected on the importance of remembering how CBF emerged from a conflicted Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), even though some younger people “don’t want to hear our war stories.” Sherman related both the “face of conflict” from in an SBC overtaken by conservatism and credalism, and the “face of growth” that emerged as moderate Baptists coalesced around the historic principles they believed had been violated.

Although some early participants wanted CBF to focus on single issues, Sherman said, its early and continuing focus has been to provide a “missions delivery system for the churches” that defined missions as more than evangelism and church starts, to support Baptist theological education, and “to teach Baptist polity to people who have forgotten it or never knew it.”

Sherman acknowledged that his generation will be off the stage as the next generation of CBF leadership emerges, but he advanced three ideas “that I hope some of you will keep in mind” as future decisions are made. “I hope you stay in touch with mainline Baptists,” he said — not just an elite group and big churches, but Baptists across the spectrum of size and locality. “If the decision makers know Baptists, they’ll make good decisions,” he said.

Secondly, Sherman said, “I hope you’ll give missions priority because that’s what the people want . . . Many things are good, but missions pulls us together.” Finally, Sherman said, “I hope you get leadership who have a will to grow CBF.” As an organization, “we will not amount to anything if we are unable to grow, meet budget, and organize,” he said.

Participants saw evidence of CBFNC’s growth in hearing a report that the 2009-10 budget had been met even before the final month’s receipts are tallied, and in approving a 2010-11 budget about 12 percent higher for the coming year. CBFNC’s basic budget grew from $1.19 million to $1.33 million, in addition to Missions Resource Plan gift that are expected to top $2 million in the coming year, for total anticipated expenditures of $3.36 million.

Executive coordinator Larry Hovis reflected on CBFNC’s growth from a focus on fellowship, to bridge building, to consolidation, to launching the next chapter of “collaborating with Fellowship Baptists to develop and strengthen Christ-centered ministry in rapidly changing times.”

CBFNC is now 16 years old, he said. “We’ve got our driver’s license and the keys to the family car. We must not get distracted, but keep both hands on the wheel and our eyes on the road as we write together the next chapter of our history.”

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