My grandfather was a county extension agent in the Mississippi Delta after finishing college and his military service.
Extension agents worked with farmers and communities to introduce new technologies, seeds and techniques.
Sometimes extension agents would use demonstration plots to show the efficacy of a new idea or farming technique.
They would often take a plot of land near a major roadway and “demonstrate” how the new seed would grow.
Everyone who passed by could observe the growth, see what was being birthed, ask questions and learn more about what was unfolding in the demonstration plot.
Often, the next year the new technique would be put into practice or new seed planted by more people in the community.
I’ve been thinking about this old farming teaching tool of a demonstration plot as an image for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in these days.
Over the years, I’ve heard Suzii Paynter invite people to be co-laborers for the kingdom of God through the work of CBF.
As Suzii has asked people to serve in various leadership capacities or to participate in significant initiatives of the Fellowship, she has said, “Will you come work together alongside me as a co-laborer with God in our Fellowship so that we can do more together for the good of God’s world than we can do apart?”
Suzii has known that demonstration plots require co-laborers – people who are willing to till the ground, plant seeds, water and imagine something growing that has not yet reached its full potential – and she has invited us into this work with passion, commitment and a vision for what God can do through our Fellowship.
I believe the church, at its best, is God’s demonstration plot in the world – a community daily embodying love of God and love of neighbor and wrestling with what such love looks like lived out.
We, as the churches and people who make up CBF, are a demonstration plot of the transforming power of love to change our hearts, our communities and our world.
We, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, are a demonstration plot for the kingdom through our life together, even when we do not agree about everything.
There are many spaces in the church and our world in which the circle of kinship is being drawn more narrowly.
The Illumination Project attempted to draw the circle wider by eliminating an explicitly discriminatory hiring policy and creating a more Christ-centered policy, but it did so at a cost that still leaves some of our LGBT siblings in Christ outside the circle of kinship.
But even still, I am hopeful about the future of CBF.
In so many ways, Suzii Paynter has increased our Fellowship’s capacity to embody the radical love of God and expanded the impact of our work together.
Through investment in disaster response and global missions, scholarships for theological education, advocacy on our most important issues, development and support of young leaders and ministers, we are co-laboring for the kingdom in the plot that is our Fellowship.
There is so much that we do together as a Fellowship that cannot happen without a shared commitment to co-labor for the kingdom and that cannot wait for our theological convictions to align perfectly.
The thing about planting seeds is that they contain potential we cannot yet see, and we plant them with the hope and belief that they will bear fruit even though the end results are beyond what we currently see.
I’ve heard a lot of churches and pastors say they’re waiting it out to see what is next for CBF, especially through this leadership transition. I understand that position and the anxiety that underlies it.
But, I am reminded of the witness of another demonstration plot for the kingdom in South Georgia.
Norris Harris has been a part of Koinonia Farm, a community formed as a demonstration plot for the kingdom of God in 1942, a place that has not been without its own struggles, threats and transitions throughout the years.
Rev. Harris said in a morning devotional on the farm, “Don’t wait on the demonstration plot for the kingdom of God. The demonstration plot is right before you every day.”
Twenty years earlier, Harris brought his 1-year-old granddaughter to the community daycare at Koinonia, and now, as a 21-year-old, she works in the bakery and pecan plant on the farm.
He says, “One reason I stay here is to make sure that when she gets as old I am, when she has children of her own, they can come to Koinonia and say, ‘This is where I got my start. This is that demonstration plot.’”
So, don’t wait. Opportunities abound for us to embody the love of God through our fellowship right now and in the days ahead.
Remember that we co-labor with God in fertile ground that bears fruit we cannot yet see.
After all, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is where I got my start. This is our demonstration plot!
Courtney Allen is pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia. She is a member of the CBF Missions Council and of the search committee for the next CBF executive coordinator.