This article first appeared in Baptists Today, an independent, national news journal and a CBF partner. To subscribe visit baptiststoday.org or call 1-877-752-5658.
Keith Herron, pastor of Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo., is the moderator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. He is a native Texan and a former campus minister.
Layman Bill McConnell of Knoxville, Tenn., is moderator-elect. A graduate of Carson-Newman College and Wake Forest University, he served as a special agent in the U.S. Air Force. He is now partner in a firm that sells industrial air pollution control equipment and is a member of Central Baptist Church of Bearden where he taught high school seniors for 12 years.
Baptists Today editor John Pierce asked these two elected leaders for insight into this time of transition within the 20-year-old Fellowship.
BT: You assumed the moderator’s role at a time of great transition for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Has that assignment lived up to expectations?
Herron: When I was first asked to serve as moderator, I realized most moderators had either a big project to navigate or at least a theme they pursued through the work of the Coordinating Council. In thinking through whether to accept this position of service or not, I wondered what project or theme would I wish to embrace?
I shouldn’t have worried as the realities of change at every level of the Fellowship would occur in my year as moderator, some of which has been intentionally planned and some of which has been circumstantial.
Just in the past few years we’ve navigated through the difficult challenge of right-sizing the CBF Resource Center by trimming staff and the budget. Related to that, in consultation with the group of CBF partners that gathered at Calloway Gardens, we appointed a task group to study the Fellowship and to make recommendations that would point us in the right direction for the third decade of existence.
In my first year in serving as moderator-elect, we’ve experienced significant organizational change with the retirement of our executive coordinator and adopted the 2012 Task Report. My worries about what project or theme would be mine to lead have been resolved with the major changes of seeking a new leader and moving into a new system of governance.
BT: Last June, CBF participants approved some significant organizational changes. How is that implementation playing out?
Herron: In receiving the report, the “What’s next?” question has guided my thinking. The 2012 Task Report had no game plan for how the eight recommendations would be made. Thus I came away from the General Assembly thinking we needed a playbook that described how we would implement the report.
The issue of “sequencing” seemed important as some steps toward change would be important initially while others needed certain prior actions to be strategically taken in sequence. Revisions to the Constitution and Bylaws illustrate how sequencing works recognizing the importance of following our guiding documents. Sequencing is also important in bringing actions to the Fellowship for approval and authorization.
Consequently, following the Fellowship’s adoption of the 2012 Task Report, the officers appointed an Implementation Team that would review the eight proposals in the report and recommend to the Coordinating Council specific actions that must be taken to bring those recommendations into reality. The intent of the officers has been to accept the stewardship of the Task Report and lay out a strategy that leads the Fellowship to seriously embrace the changes of the report.
The Implementation Team worked this fall and presented an initial report to the Coordinating Council in October. They listened to their responses to it and will continue developing an action plan that will bring the new structure into being. They will continue working on this playbook in dialogue with the Coordinating Council at their February meeting and will report back to the Fellowship at the General Assembly this June in Greensboro.
We’ve felt that at some point, the work we’re doing needs the input of the new executive coordinator, so the work that’s done is held in tension with the particular gifts and energies of our new leader. The Executive Coordinator Search Committee will be announcing the candidate for this position in sequence for the approval at the February Coordinating Council.
BT: Particularly, what about these changes do you believe strengthens CBF for the future?
Herron: The Task Report moves the Fellowship from a large, unwieldy Coordinating Council to the creation of three smaller councils with specific duties. I believe the streamlining of councils will energize our work together in missions and ministries and in our governance.
The national CBF will also strengthen its relationships with the state and regional organizations. I believe we’ll see a stronger bond developed with our states and regions and a collective boost will define our notion of “partnerships.” The shift will be felt as we recognize a new appreciation for how shared partnerships and concerns can energize our fellowship as a movement.
BT: What challenges must the Fellowship face over the next few years?
Herron: It’s obvious these changes will be as strengthening to the CBF as the Fellowship gives it energy. By “the Fellowship,” I mean the individuals and churches that comprise the Fellowship across the country. That includes laity and ministers and also includes the collective power of churches that desire to see the Fellowship flourish.
One of the issues that cannot be institutionally implemented or voted into being is the life force that’s created by our collective will. We must choose to give our Fellowship the power to be something larger than we can do on our own.
BT: What gives you hope for CBF’s future?
Herron: No question, our hope is found in the persons where there’s a fire in the belly for the Fellowship to exist and to thrive as a movement of God. In the good kingdom of God, there are ample resources and vision needed to accomplish great things in response to our calling as Fellowship Baptists.
I encourage folks to come together in Greensboro this summer where we’ll consider specific stages needed to put the new organization into being and to welcome a new executive coordinator. It will be a time to hoist our sails for a new day.
BT: You agreed to be moderator-elect of CBF at a time of significant transition. Why?
McConnell: This is not an easy question for me to answer. There are many people who are probably better qualified to be the moderator of this organization than I am; this was my first thought when I was notified of my nomination for the office.
I received several calls from friends and talked to several whose opinions I value during my deliberations and all urged me to accept. I spent much time in prayer before accepting.
I love the Fellowship and want to serve in any way that will benefit CBF. This is important work and I think my experience in operating a business can be helpful in accomplishing the re-organization of the governing body.
BT: In addition to a major leadership transition, CBF is implementing some major organizational changes this year. How is going, and what do you see as the advantages of these changes?
McConnell: The re-organization is moving at a faster pace than we had envisioned. Keith Herron appointed a team to implement the transition and we have met to begin the process. We are being led in the effort by Dave Odom of the Duke Divinity School.
The Constitution and By-laws are being rewritten by the legal committee in order to bring these documents in line with the 2012 Task Force findings. The officers have requested names for appointment to the first nominating committee which will be approved by the Coordinating Council in January of 2013.
The nominating committee will then constitute the first governing board, nominate the next moderator-elect and suggest the first leaders of the new missions and ministries bodies. These names will be approved by the Fellowship at large at the Greensboro General Assembly in June of 2013. I think the changes will streamline the way the Fellowship functions.
BT: You bring a business and lay leadership perspective to CBF. What does the Fellowship look like from your perspective?
McConnell: One thing that has always drawn me to CBF is that laity is valued in the governance of the organization. This brings a depth of experience and a broad viewpoint as we, clergy and laity, serve together.
I see leadership at the state and national level that is talented and committed to the vision of CBF. I see young leaders emerging from our seminaries as well as young lay leaders rising from our churches. I see mature leaders who are willing to share responsibilities with the younger generations.
This is all reassuring; however, I am concerned with the funding of our mission. We can and must do better here if we are to fulfill that vision.
BT: By the time you assume the moderator role next June and then complete a year of service, a new executive coordinator will be in place and the organizational changes will be in effect. What do you hope the Fellowship look like at that point?
McConnell: I really hope that we will have fully transitioned to the new organizational structure as laid out in the 2012 Taskforce Report and voted upon in Ft. Worth at this past General Assembly. I expect that the new executive coordinator will have had a chance to fully evaluate the Atlanta organization and will be well underway in putting an imprint on that structure.
I also hope that we at the national level will be working even more closely with the state organizations. I heard [task force chair] David Hull say something recently that I like. He said that we have emphasized the fellowship part of our culture for years; now we really need to emphasize the cooperative part of the organizational culture.
BT: What would you like to see the Fellowship look like in five years or so?
McConnell: I would like to see a situation in which individual churches as well as state organizations and national are working together on mission — with the group having the greatest expertise for a particular project given the lead.
I would like to see a fundraising mindset that allows us to do all of our mission projects as well as provide the necessary funds to support both the national and state administrative needs. I would also like to see a Fellowship in which racial, generational and gender issues are forgotten as we work together to be the presence of Christ in our world.
We are doing these things now to an extent. We can always do better.