Pilgrimage — a journey of deliberate but often unpredictable discovery. And so it has been visiting almost 100 Cooperative Baptist Fellowship partner churches in the past months. I’ve learned a few lessons from being greeted by hundreds of people including pastors and staff, members, students, friends and curiosity seekers.
There is sustaining vitality uniquely expressed in the variety of congregations throughout the Fellowship. There is genuine care in our communities — shepherds who love the flock, friends who have supported each other over many seasons of life, families cherishing each other’s kids into adulthood, student friends encouraging one another into their dreams.
Our congregations are loving, joyful, enlightened and educated. Raising this picture of identity and expanding the visibility and vitality of our churches through branding and outreach are priorities of the Fellowship.
Part of my goal has been to take a mirror into different congregations and remind them who they are. I think the most powerful things in our world — the spiritual things — are invisible, and we live in a very material world. What concerns me is that we’ve not become experts at making the invisible visible. We need to reclaim that and make visible that which is important: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, perseverance — seeing the fruit of the spirit.
I do love systems, and I love this system, this denomi-network system of our Fellowship that allows for decision making, friendships, collaboration and flexibility. I love the dynamic nature of it, and I look forward to what it means in the future.
Life today in a denomi-network like CBF is more like coalition work. You have to respect the interests and the focus of everyone at the table. You have to understand that their focus and interests may not be your interests, but you can still accomplish so much together.
The challenge of global Christianity is calling us to more active global engagement. I think that’s a challenge that we’ve been prepared for in some ways, but we’ve not been focused on. We know how to go and do mission trips, but do we really know how to be globally engaged as brothers and sisters in Christ in supportive ways that honor the churches around the world? We have to put our focus on such engagement and really make intentional movements.
The culture of call over a lifetime is a journey that’s going to have many expressions. First of all, we need to covenant to be in partnership with people from the time of their exploration. Whether that exploration ends up in an ordained clergy position or expresses itself in secular employment, our commitment is to the personal development of the young explorers in our network. This is a pipeline for everyone to participate, with an opportunity for expression and engagement for public witness all along that pipeline. You should not have to wait until a certain point to get to lead or be in service. Instead, opportunities should be available all along the pipeline.
To do that, one thing that we’re doing is putting all of our young Baptist programs in what we’re calling an ecosystem, in one cost center, in one area of administration. Whether it’s a high school program, college program, seminary program, residency program or retreats and support, all of that goes into one administrative place.
So, we are focusing on that young Baptist ecosystem and staffing these programs with people who are under 40. As I said when I talked to the search committee that hired me: I’m old, but I hire young. Living into our commitment to these Cooperative Baptists means giving the opportunity for leadership and expanding the resources available to young leaders in our denomi-network!