“Tweet others as you would like to be tweeted” sparked one of countless smiles shared by participants gathered for the Annual Gathering of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina (CBFNC), meeting at First Baptist Church of Hickory, NC. Associated meetings began Thursday, March 30 with a Leadership Institute and continued with a “Laugh In Peace Comedy Tour” that evening. Friday’s activities included meetings of associated groups, worship, business, and a broad variety of ministry workshops. Saturday featured an “All Are Called” forum emphasizing ministry opportunities for all people to live out the call of Christ in their daily lives. Here is a “Cliff Notes” version of selected sessions:
Peer Learning Group Breakfast — CBFNC and CBF Global partnered to sponsor a breakfast for participants in the state’s 28 CBF-affiliated Peer Learning Groups (PLGs). Almost 50 people gathered to enjoy breakfast and hear Susan Sparks, keynote speaker for the weekend. Sparks, a former lawyer, is senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City as well as a standup comedian. She regaled PLG members with a story of how colleagues and faculty discouraged her from pursuing both ministry and comedy while at Union Seminary. On a road trip to think things through, she ended up sheltering in a trailer-turned boot store near El Paso, Texas — where she acquired clarity of thought and her first pair of trademark cowboy boots at the same time. The clerk sold her on a pair of “preacher boots” — saying they would help her “plant her feet, stand tall, and speak louder.” Sparks encouraged participants to take time for personal spiritual growth, and to maintain relationships with colleagues who can “have each other’s backs.”
Baptist Women in Ministry of North Carolina (BWIM-NC) heard from national BWIM leader Pam Durso during its meeting Friday morning. Durso said that the pool of available positions for women ministers is still too small, so that “our sisters are our chief competitors,” and are sometimes jealous of each other. She called on the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10 as an account often perceived as a competition between the two sisters, both seeking Jesus’ approval. Though Martha is often criticized for being competitive and complaining that Mary wasn’t helping, Durso noted that Martha felt close enough to Jesus to interrupt him with her concerns. Jesus encouraged Martha to be still for a while “and gave her a future story, a storied future that was uniquely hers.”
“We may struggle in thinking our gifts are more important than others, or on the other hand that ours are not important enough,” Durso said. “Jesus says stop, take a deep breath, look around, and learn from those who are embracing their gifts and serving with deep gladness.”
The organization’s annual Church Award was presented to Greenwood Forest Baptist Church of Cary, which has a long history of valuing women in all areas of church leadership. Jerry Chiles, a BWIM-NC board member, noted that the church was chartered in 1963 and began ordaining women deacons in 1969. Greenwood Forest called its first woman minister in 1980, and has included women on staff ever since – all of whom were given opportunities to preach. In 2016, the church called Lauren Efird as its first female senior pastor.
Janice Haywood, a long-time leader in children’s ministry, was recognized with the Anne Thomas Neil Award, given to persons “who have made outstanding contributions to the cause of women in ministry.” Haywood served in various children’s leadership positions in local churches before beginning a 31-year career with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina as a consultant in children’s ministry, connecting with hundreds of churches and training thousands of leaders. She designed and led a Preschool and Children’s Ministry Certification program at Campbell University Divinity School from 1999-2016, serving as adjunct professor, and led a similar program in Virginia for 11 years. Haywood is author of Enduring Connections: Creating a Preschool and Children’s Ministry. In presenting the award, Jerry Chiles lauded Haywood as one who “is passionate about guiding teachers, parents, and church staff ministers in providing appropriate and effective faith formation experiences for children.”
In a business session Friday afternoon, Executive Coordinator Larry Hovis said CBFNC remains one of the strongest organizations in the CBF community. Even so, like religious organizations across the board, CBFNC faces the challenge of declining revenues. Income grew rapidly during the organization’s first 15 years, but peaked in 2011 and has declined gradually since then, requiring adjustments to the budget.
Following an 18-month discernment process led by the Coordinating Council, the organization will focus on four primary ministry priorities, Hovis said: “equipping ministers and churches, embracing neighbers through missions; engaging students and young adults; and enhancing our annual gathering,” with a revised staffing structure to support those priorities. The Coordinating Council had moved earlier toward having more part-time and fewer full-time staff.
Participants approved a 2017-18 budget of $1.32 million, down 3.64 percent from the previous year, in addition to more than $2.2 million in pass-through funds for ministry partners through the Ministry Resource Plan.
Andy Jung, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Albemarle, will serve as moderator for the coming year. The 2018 Annual Gathering will be held at Knollwood Baptist Church in Winston-Salem.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.