By Bo Prosser
From our beginning, this wonderful Fellowship has been forming together! We took a couple of tries to form our name; this happened in community. We’ve taken several steps toward being on mission together. We’ve been a “new way of being Baptist” together. We’ve been formed by those around us being the presence of Christ to us. We are the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship — our very name reminds us that, while autonomous, we also are community, bound together in Christ.
For the past 15 years, we’ve made spiritual formation a priority. We’ve put a significant emphasis on Christian formation, emphasized prayer and prayer practices and woven spiritual disciplines into every aspect of our work. One of the three main foundational aspects of Dawnings, CBF’s congregational renewal initiative, is “formation.” None of this is by accident and none of this occurs in isolation. We cannot “poof” ourselves into spiritual maturity. The definition of spiritual formation that our Spiritual Formation Task Force developed several years ago reminds us: “Spiritual formation is the process of formation in the image of Christ, by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit in community, for the transformation of the world.”
This definition emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit who does the transforming, as well as the work of a communal spirit that reminds us we are not formed in isolation. We open ourselves to receive God’s Spirit, and God’s Spirit empowers those around us to engage others. We are formed in the totality of experience with God and with one another.
Consider several words from Scripture:
Genesis 2:18 —“it is not good that man should be alone…”
Isaiah 45:18 — “God formed the earth and made it and established it; not formed in chaos but to be inhabited…”
Matthew 18:20 — “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there…”
Matthew 22:39 — “Love your neighbor as you love yourself…”
Matthew 28:19 — “Teach all nations…”
God’s Spirit is still empowering us to be the presence of Christ in the world. And to what end? That we might all be formed, reformed, perhaps even transformed into a community of beloved brothers and sisters of Jesus followers.
“We are formed together when we practice compassionate, active listening, when we avoid assumption that we know everything already and when we have the gumption to be self-aware,” says Connie Stinson, pastor of Luther Rice Memorial Baptist Church in Silver Spring, Md.
Karen Massey, associate dean and associate professor of Christian education and faith development at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology, echoes this view.
“Forming together most importantly happens through shared, common experiences, in face-to-face dialogue, sharing stories, being present in important life passages through which the formative and transformative power of God is felt and accessed by God’s people.”
Kyle Tubbs, a CBF church starter in Williamson County, Texas, recalls the period of forming together that his new congregation experienced. “Forming together took a while and was frustrating. It wasn’t until we were faced with churchwide challenges that we realized how much we needed each other and how interconnected we had become.”
Forming together is the “big idea” in this new chapter in the life of CBF. It is not the only idea. We are still a new way to be Baptist. We are still on mission in a world without borders. We are still finding ways to be the presence of Christ in the world. As my colleague, John Hendrix, so succinctly puts it, “Nothing never happens!” We are forming and being formed together in a multitude of ways to engage the world with the transforming love of Christ.
Terry Maples, field coordinator for Tennessee CBF, reminds us: “This forming together cannot be programmed, and is caught more than taught. Certainly, our formation is not complete until we invest our lives in the lives of others.”
Ray Higgins, coordinator of CBF of Arkansas, adds, “We need to form together: around global missions, new church starts, young leaders, intentional congregational ministries, Peer Learning Groups, chaplains and pastoral counselors, Together for Hope, Baptist Women in Ministry and state and regional organizations.”
Forming together matters. I am not the person I was years ago when I answered the call to the Christian faith and the call to Christian ministry. There are a great cloud of witnesses who have contributed to my formation. They have loved me, cajoled me, held me accountable, cried with me, corrected me, prayed for me and so much more. We have been formed together, as individuals, as churches and as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Consider these words from Jesus, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) As we embrace this new generation as the Fellowship, may we embrace this “new commandment,” perhaps for the very first time, and be formed, reformed, maybe even transformed together!
Bo Prosser is the CBF Coordinator of Organizational Relationships.