When I arrived a year ago at the doorstep of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, I thought the very first thing that I would do is seek a Global Missions coordinator. Thankfully, I was spared the impulse.
We are witnessing genuinely relevant and powerfully spiritual forces for global engagement in every corner of the Fellowship. Be assured that God is at work in this sacred space. We have needed some important moments of discerning reflection to calibrate our response. The question was laid out for the 2012 Task Force: How can we refocus and streamline organizational structures in order to provide leadership and resources for churches and other ministries to respond more effectively to global challenges?
Our own congregational stories and global experiences have brought us to a time to attend to the great common enterprise of missions. We are all at the table of discernment and reflection. What a wonderful table it is!
Can you point to a CBF church that doesn’t have a global story to tell? Is there a CBF state/regional organization that doesn’t engage in global commitment? A CBF partner or theological school that doesn’t touch a global edge? Global connection is pervasive among us, but we are just learners as well.
Like any algebraic equation, there is much happening on both sides of the equals sign. Structures for sending personnel and supporting global centers through CBF Global Missions now allow for a wide variety of expressions in leadership and mission models. Simultaneously, CBF congregations have been developing a greater and more complex variety of mission expression — locally and globally. The greater mission enterprise is no longer solely about the work of the “agency.” It is also about the work of the church. The future is dependent on intentional and harmonizing progress for both the organization and the congregation.
The twenty-first century is showing itself to be the century of local congregations in global mission, and CBF must enable the involvement of local congregations in global mission and remove obstacles to such engagement. Likewise, congregations must learn to overcome the fear of otherness and deeply embrace cultural differences so there is no hubris or detriment to effective mission and ministry around the world.
The current context of partnership in global engagement is influenced by both the missional focus of the local church and by postmodern culture to produce recalibration on several fronts: Away from attitudes of imposed certainty about missions to an expectation of cross-cultural exploration and adventure; from a position of propositionalism to emphasis on developing relationships among mission partners; from an attitude of triumphalism to a confession of humility and weakness in engaging others.
Missions and evangelism have moved from faith expression as pronouncement to faith expression as sharing witness and testimony; from monologue to dialogue especially in biblical understanding and theology. Attitudes of professional and congregational mission personnel have also shifted from seeing the field personnel as the central figure/proclaimer to the field personnel as an equipper and enabler of others; from a posture of consolation which perceives the mission partner as an object of sympathy to a paradigm of mutual respect for each mission partner enabling advocacy and empowerment of mission partners. These changes prepare the way for deeply transforming encounters as we get ready to welcome a new Global Missions coordinator. We are learners.
Teaching the math concept of addition to his blind son, a father pressed a magnet in each palm. “Bring them close together,” he said. A few seconds passed. “It JUMPED!” the boy cried, cupping his hands together. And so the father added two magnets each, and then three. “When they get close enough, they just JUMP to be together.”
There is movement ahead for both the organization and the congregation. Surely, more is in store as we follow God toward a greater mission equation.
Suzii Paynter is Executive Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. This column first appeared in the April/May issue of fellowship! magazine. Click here to subscribe to fellowship! – subscriptions are free!