I remember clearly in 2013 when the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship announced the hiring of Suzii Paynter as its next executive coordinator.

I didn’t know Suzii at that time, but I was so happy and proud that CBF had hired a woman to lead.

For many years, I would watch Suzii on stage at general assembly. I listened intently to her vision for our Fellowship and witnessed glimpses of her deep faith. I remembered saying to myself, “This woman is brave. She is smart. She knows how to lead.”

I would cheer in my heart when she executed visionary and courageous goals like doubling down on long-term presence for global missions when other denominations were cutting back.

I felt a kindred spirit with Suzii, maybe because as a nonprofit executive myself, I empathize with the challenges of leading, especially as a woman, where often we are judged at a much higher standard than our male counterparts.

I also sensed a fire within Suzii and felt that I had found a sister who is as petite in size as me but with a determination larger than any room can contain.

In many ways, Suzii was a role model of faithful leadership for me and, I’m certain, for many of us.

Little did I know that I would one day serve on the CBF Governing Board and then as moderator to work alongside Suzii.

To be honest, the only reason I agreed to serve as moderator was because I trusted working alongside one of the strongest leaders I know.

It was not until I personally spoke to Suzii that I said, “yes,” to serving. As such, I was afforded a backstage pass to watch her lead.

Suzii knows the heart of our Fellowship, and she is always 10 steps ahead of us thinking about strategies and opportunities to bring us closer to fulfilling our God-given calling within CBF life. She can mobilize her staff and execute strategies at a moment’s notice.

I have seen firsthand the excellent work she has done to move our Fellowship into God’s future: excellent ministries, a focus on missions and a heart for justice that continues to be the heartbeat of CBF.

Suzii built a stellar team of staff. She restructured and managed complex financial systems that our global mission and ministries demand.

She responded to the needs of supporting local congregations by developing a church engagement team.

She successfully completed an entire paradigm shift for CBF Global Missions funding that ensures long-term presence.

She implemented our 25th anniversary endowment campaign, which will have the long-term impact of sustaining the priorities of our Fellowship.

She extended our reach and impact through the creation of Fellowship Southwest and the hiring of a full-time Latino network coordinator, and she developed an infrastructure for intentional development of African-American leadership at CBF.

Most recently, she bravely represented us at the U.S.-Mexico border, giving voice to the children and families who have been separated by the unjust practices of our government.

I would be remiss not to mention that Suzii has done for our Fellowship what most denominational leaders have been unable to do – navigate us through the very difficult terrains of human sexuality through the Illumination Project process.

She has done this with utmost courage, grace and with a strategic lens toward the health and well-being of CBF.

What Suzii has done in her tenure as executive coordinator is to provide us with a sound foundation to propel CBF into God’s future.

Those at general assembly this year witnessed it, felt it and knew in their hearts the undeniable movement of the Holy Spirit at work within our Fellowship.

I have learned through the years that effective leadership is not about glorious crowning feats, but rather about keeping your team focused on achieving the goals set forth and then stepping back to let your team shine.

CBF is by no means perfect, but that little light is shining brighter these days with the potential to shine even brighter in the days ahead.

Suzii may be constantly juggling, but she is never too busy to stop, to listen, to offer support and to encourage even when she herself has been depleted of all her energy to give. She has sacrificed much for the good of our Fellowship.

I have found a sister in Suzii, and I’m so proud to be able to stand on that “height-enhancing box” behind the podium with her.

Knowing this year’s general assembly would be especially challenging, I gave Suzii a bracelet with these words engraved, “Though she be but little, she is fierce.”

God has given us the gift of a hopeful and bright future through the dedicated, humble and faithful work of this little and fierce leader, Suzii Paynter.

Thanks be to God!

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