The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship will meet for its 20th annual meeting in Tampa, Fla., this week.
Many of us have been part of the CBF initiative from the beginning, even though our employers at the time may have frowned upon it, but that is a story for another time.
A 14-member task force is now in the process of gathering input on the future of CBF. They are attempting to address these questions:
1. What is the best model of community that fosters missional collaboration rather than competition for resources?
2. How can we refocus and streamline organizational structures in order to provide leadership and resources for churches and other ministries to respond more effectively to global challenges?
3. How do we help Baptist churches and organizations embrace their identity as partners with this community?
This is not an easy task, especially since some have tried to hold onto the “movement” language perhaps in an effort to avoid the fact that CBF has become an organization with all of the challenges and burdens that involves.
Once a structure is established, it takes on a life of its own.
In his blog, Seth Godin recently pointed out the differences of an organization, a movement and a philosophy.
He said that “an organization uses structure and resources and power to make things happen.”
Movements may use an organization, but they are much more tied to emotion. He said that “movements are more likely to cause widespread change, and they require leaders, not managers.”
A philosophy is harder to pin down. He suggested that “a philosophy can survive things that might wipe out a movement and that would decimate an organization.” A philosophy may ebb and flow, go underground for a while, and then emerge with new approaches and leaders.
His key point was this: “The trouble kicks in when you think you have one and you actually have the other.”
So what is CBF?
It certainly started out as a philosophy (perhaps even a theology) that many could buy into at some level.
My personal perception is that CBF moved pretty quickly through the movement phase to an organization that attempted to do more than it was capable of doing because it believed that it had stronger grass-roots support than it actually did.
Those who could at least assent to a philosophy and were enchanted by a movement were not really ready to do everything that the organization attempted to provide. Many of those who attended early meetings did not or could not follow through.
Let me share a personal example of overreaching.
In the late 1990s, many within the CBF family said that what we really needed were new churches. A few “splits” had successfully evolved into self-sustaining congregations.
Some of us in leadership believed those who carried the “church starting” banner. The Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship launched into an ambitious initiative to plant new churches. We invested a lot of time and money into that effort.
At the end of the day, we could point to only one viable congregation that came out of all the work. Each attempt that failed had its own story and its own lessons to learn. At the end of the day, however, we overreached because we believed our support was deeper than it actually was.
My concern for the future of CBF is that many will express their hopes, dreams and expectations but that few will step up and help to make these become a reality.
I hope that many will provide input to the task force but that they will then be ready to provide the support to make these goals come to fruition. It is one thing to build castles in the air; it is another to turn them into reality.
A philosophy will inspire us, a movement will energize us, but an organization needs people who will invest themselves on a daily basis.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is supplemental associate professor of missional theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.