The “day of entitlement” for Baptist organizations is over, and is being replaced by new models of cooperation that foster flexibility, responsiveness and collaboration, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Coordinator Daniel Vestal wrote in a monthly e-newsletter.
“CBF exists to serve churches; not itself or its partners,” Vestal wrote in the March 3 Words from the Coordinator. “The old denominational/convention model where churches supported and served the denomination/convention and its agencies is over. The day of entitlement for denominational agencies is over.”
Vestal referred to the Atlanta-based CBF’s 1993 mission statement, which defined the purpose of the fellowship as: “To network, empower and mobilize Baptist Christians and churches for effective missions and ministry in the name of Christ.”
A strategic plan adopted in 2000 refined the earlier statement, describing the purpose of CBF as to “serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.”
Vestal described the CBF as “a network of partnering churches and individuals.”
“To the degree that churches and individuals believe in us and to the degree that we provide value to them in their ministry settings, they will engage and give to implement a shared vision, i.e., being the presence of Christ in the world,” he said.
One way CBF seeks to embody that vision, he said, is through partnering with groups that it does not control.
“We enter into partnership with organizations, institutions and ministries to serve local churches,” he explained. “The number of those partnerships has increased dramatically through the years. CBF funds some of these partners and some of them fund CBF. These partnerships are voluntary and intentional based on mutual trust, shared values and a common commitment to serve churches. CBF does not view partners in a proprietary way and each partner is valued and respected.”
“We invite churches to give undesignated dollars to our unified budget, which funds a number of partnerships. But a large portion of the funds we receive are designated dollars for specific ministries. We recognize that most, if not all, of our partners make direct appeals to churches and individuals for support. This is the context in which we live. We have not tried to re-create the old system, but to discern the times in which we are living and create a way of cooperation that fosters flexibility, responsiveness and freedom while at the same time creating collaborative ministry.”
The CBF was established in 1991 as the principle agency for moderates who had found themselves on the losing end of efforts to control the Southern Baptist Convention for the previous 12 years. A formal statement cited differences with the SBC’s new leadership over understandings about the Bible, education, missions and the role of pastors, women and the church.
Historian Bill Leonard described formation of the CBF and other groups in his 2003 book Baptist Ways as representing “a return to the society method of affiliation,” which “brought together a variety of churches and ministry groups for fellowship, missionary work and cooperative endeavors.”
An original statement of distinctives adopted in 1991 outlined the CBF mission philosophy, including “Our structure will be small and simple, and our work will be measured by quality.”
The CBF originally channeled funds to agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention and other Baptist organizations, but in 1994 the SBC voted to reject any funds that came through the Fellowship.
The CBF in recent years has experienced shortfalls in undesignated gifts, while seeing increases in designated giving, including a couple of anonymous multi-million-dollar gifts earmarked for missions.
The CBF global missions team has grown from 18 field personnel in 1992 to more than 150 in 2004.
The CBF’s home-office staff, which numbered 33 in 1996, has also grown to 59, not counting five other workers for the Church Benefits Board and CBF Foundation, which are also based in Atlanta but are technically separate entities from CBF with their own boards.
The Fellowship is currently considering new guidelines for relating to partners. Recommendations include capping the amount of CBF funding to any partner at 20 percent. That would reduce funding to some historic partners, including the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Another proposal in the report limits “institutional” funding to three to five theological education partners. Schools not designated “identity” partners could still receive scholarships for students and funding for joint initiatives. Currently the CBF includes funding for 13 theological schools.
With recent word of an anticipated $6,500 decrease in CBF funding during the 2005-2006 fiscal year, the Nashville-based BCE has seen its support from the Fellowship drop by 25 percent over the last three years.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.