General CBF

Creating a young Baptist ecosystem

By Devita Parnell

The natural world has long been the source of inspiration for writers, poets, artists and musicians, including Claude Monet, Igor Stravinsky, Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver. The natural world also inspired the biblical prophets. Ezekiel envisioned a rebuilt temple (God’s home) that would birth and give energy to a healthy and thriving ecosystem. In his vision, a rushing river becomes home to multitudes of fish, lush trees produce fruit in every season and their leaves offer healing. In this environment God’s people will be planted and will thrive. The scene is one of movement, of life everywhere, diversity everywhere, abundance everywhere, God everywhere.

Devita Parnell, manager of the young Baptist ecosystem.

Devita Parnell is manager of the Young Baptist ecosystem.

As we at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship begin to think about how to create a thriving environment in which young adults can connect and live out their passions and callings, we too are allowing the natural world to capture our imaginations. How might CBF’s vision for young Baptists resemble a thriving ecosystem much like the one Ezekiel imagined? How might we encourage movement, life, diversity and abundance?

CBF has intentionally given energy through financial resources and personnel to cultivate leadership, calling and relationships among young Baptists. As a result, the CBF landscape is currently dotted with several well-established programs and initiatives.

Through our partnerships with 15 theological institutions, CBF has awarded more than 1,000 Leadership Scholarships since 1998. These investments have yielded positive leadership for a variety of ministries in and beyond the walls of the church. In more recent years, campus visits — called CBF Days — give Fellowship staff, students and faculty opportunities to network and deepen relationships.

What began in 1999 as a retreat for a younger generation of CBF leaders led to the formation of Current, CBF’s network for young leaders. As steering committee members, more than 70 individuals have given leadership to bringing together young Baptists for the purpose of forming relationships, broadening ministry and resourcing one another.

In 2002, CBF launched Student.Go, sending four graduate and undergraduate students to serve alongside CBF field personnel and partners in the United States. Today, more than 500 different assignments have been filled through Student.Go, giving students a broader perspective on the world, faith
and ministry.

In 2010, CBF initiated the Collegiate Congregational Internship (CCI) program and began offering grants to congregations to fund summer internship positions. In five years, 384 internships have been filled by students exploring a call to congregational ministry. In the process, young Baptists have discovered a love and respect for the church and her leaders, as well as a deeper commitment to her mission in the world.

Also in 2010, CBF co-created Selah Vie, an end-of-summer retreat for students to pause and reflect on life. This event is one of the most exciting opportunities within CBF life for young adults to gather, worship and grow.

In addition to these initiatives, we celebrate the work of CBF state and regional organizations that regularly provide ministry opportunities to children, youth, college students and young adults. We are also grateful to partners who are developing leadership in young adults through mission service, preaching workshops and summer employment.

So, as we move forward in creating a place in the CBF pipeline for young Baptists to thrive, we allow the following ecological principles to teach and inform us.

Thriving ecosystems are energy-powered. Where and who are those energy sources among us and beyond us? How do we allow our efforts to be Spirit-empowered?

Thriving ecosystems, by nature, exist because of the interactions among its members. How do we resist silo-mentality and encourage deep collaboration and networking across programs?

Thriving ecosystems contain a diversity of species and have the ability to survive in the midst of adversity. What gaps exist in the variety of initiatives that CBF offers to young people? Are we monolithic in our efforts? What specific role does each of our initiatives play in the larger ecosystem?

Thriving ecosystems have the ability to grow, adapt and change over time. How will we resist the urge to do things just because we’ve always done them? How will we let go and allow for the natural processes of birth, growth and death to occur?

This summer, while at Student.Go orientation, I had the opportunity to listen to a group of young adults describe an environment that would allow them to thrive personally, professionally and spiritually. Their responses were wise and thoughtful. They were honest and inspirational. And they give us a reason to be faithful in making it so. May God be our eternal source of energy and hope in the days ahead.

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