The 20th General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, held in Tampa June 22-25, has come and gone. Several friends have asked for my impressions of the meeting … so here are a few random thoughts.
The 20th anniversary celebration on Wednesday night was fun, at least for those of us familiar with the history leading to CBF’s formation and early struggles. The slides indicating threshold ages for catching some of the jokes added to the humor, but again mainly for those old enough to remember. Afterward, I heard first-generation CBFers expressing relief that they could now laugh about some of the old painful times. But I also heard younger folks wondering why we have to keep rehashing the past and when we’ll focus more on the future.
Molly Marshall’s address that night was insightful, but in retrospect, would have been better placed during one of the plenary sessions. Some folks said they were glad I included the seven questions she raised in an earlier blog because they were laughed out (or zoned out) and not really in a mood for a serious speech by the end of the evening (you can find a PDF transcript of her speech and other addresses near the bottom of this page).
The commissioning service for new field personnel was inspirational, as usual, and I’m happy to see it back as an integral part of the plenary sessions, rather than being held at a church, as it was for a while. I was also pleased to see speakers dealing forthrightly with the need for CBF folks to get serious about mission support if they want to continue having missionaries represent them in some of the world’s neediest places. Rob Nash’s address recognized that the winds of change are blowing and mission work is taking on new forms as churches desire to be more hands-on — but there will always be a need for career missionaries to coordinate the work of short-term teams and keep things going in between.
Participants at the meeting contributed more than $29,000 for global missions, and CBF of North Carolina kicked in an extra $100,000 from surplus funds, but much more will be needed to keep CBF’s mission enterprise healthy.
On the downside, the annual approval of a reduced budget has a depressing feel. Next year’s budget of $12.3 million is 15 percent less than the previous year’s $14.5 budget, which was less than the year before, a trend going back several years.
Declining contributions can be traced to a number of things, ranging from a cultural trend away from supporting national denominations to churches facing economic stress to plain old apathy. A factor that’s rarely mentioned openly is part of an unfortunate equation: as state CBF organizations have grown, many dollars that once went directly to Atlanta are now being channeled through the state groups, who use much of it for ministry efforts in their own state and send just a portion of it to the national organization.
This leads to a conundrum, because we want to see healthy state organizations, but don’t want the national group to suffer. As long as dollars are simply being diverted rather than increased, however, that is bound to happen. If CBFers really believe in the movement, they’re going to have to up the ante in financial support.
On the upside, the fact that 1,664 registered participants made their way to Tampa is encouraging. For comparative purposes, that’s more than a third of number of messengers at the recent Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, but from less than a twentieth of the number of churches. The level of interest and participation among CBF folks remains significant. To keep it strong, however, we’ll need to continue finding ways to build ownership among second generation folk who did not live through the controversy. For them, CBF can’t be just a haven from the SBC wars: it has to be a positive movement worthy of support on its own merits.
So may it be.
[CBF photo of the Tampa Convention Center]