By Carrie McGuffin
Matt Cook, pastor of First Baptist Church of Wilmington, N.C., steps into the role of Moderator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship for 2015-2016 as the Fellowship prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary with another gifted leader in place. An active CBF pastor and co-founder of the South Africa Ministry Network, Cook brings a commitment to doing collaborative ministry and mission.
As CBF Moderator, Cook brings significant knowledge of the Fellowship and deep relationships with people across the Fellowship. He is an inspiring figure for the newest generation of Baptist leaders as he assesses the challenges from our past and looks toward solutions for challenges through partnerships and relationship building.
I’m a minister’s kid. My dad was a pastor in Oklahoma for the early years of my life before we moved to Nashville, Tenn., where he went to work for the Baptist Sunday School Board when I was ten years old. I’ve always thought of Nashville as my “hometown” because I lived there the longest growing up, but I’ve got a bit of Oklahoma red dirt in me as well.
Who were some important influences in your development as a leader and pastor?
My parents are amazing Christians, and my dad’s tenure as a pastor had a huge impact on how I think about issues of faith.
In college at Samford University, I was mentored by Bill Leonard and he has been a good friend to me for many years. As a student at Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University, I had fantastic faculty influences, but I was also gifted with a tremendous group of friends in ministry who continue to bless me with who they are and how they live and serve.
How did you come to connect with CBF?
I grew up as a Christian in the midst of denominational controversy. My dad was working in Baptist denominational life, and being a moderate Christian, that was a difficult and anxious time for him. I think I internalized that anxiety without realizing it at the time.
During college and my first year of seminary, the conflict was intense, and all of the “issues” that people were fighting over were in my face as a young minister.
At the top of that list of issues was that of women in ministry, and I am blessed to have a number of female friends who felt called to ministry. The thought that they would not be able to live out their callings was (and is) something that mattered a great deal to me. CBF was the place that provided hope and support for them, and that is what drew me toward the Fellowship.
What keeps me connected to CBF is the missional mindset that characterizes our Fellowship. I believe that one of the best gifts that the Free Church can offer to the Kingdom of God is creativity and a cutting edge mentality. Postmodernity and Post-Christendom demand this creativity and an entrepreneurial mindset, and I think a freedom-loving Fellowship like ours could make a wonderful contribution at this moment in Christian history.
What do you bring to the table as CBF Moderator?
That is a hard question to answer. I certainly have been blessed to build relationships with a broad swath of our Fellowship. I’m and Okie who grew up in Nashville, went to college in Alabama, seminary in Texas, and I’ve pastored in Texas, Arkansas and now North Carolina. I have friends all across the geographical and theological spectrum of CBF and that feels like a gift God has given me.
I am unapologetic about the idea that we’re so much better off being in relationship with people that who don’t think exactly like we do, and so one thing I bring is a strong desire to keep the big tent of CBF as big as possible.
I think that I also represent a rising generation in CBF life. There are a lot of young ministers behind me that don’t even have to remind themselves to let go of the battles that were fought a generation ago because they’re too busy figuring out how to meet new challenges and try new things to help people know Jesus and build community. I don’t want to forget our history or be naïve enough to think it doesn’t matter, but it is just as important for us to meet the challenges in front of us as it was for us to be faithful in the midst of the controversies that are now behind us.
What is your vision for the future of CBF?
I really like what our Executive Coordinator, Suzii Paynter, says about her hopes for CBF — that we aim to become the most vital and vibrant religious community in the United States, and that we would reach our arms around the world. That is a great vision. That is also a huge challenge in a day and time of increasing denominational irrelevance.
For the Fellowship to be relevant and impactful, we have to figure out CBF’s distinctive contribution for God’s Kingdom. We’re not big enough to be God’s “only hope” for the world — which when you think about it is such a freeing concept. We’re only responsible for being good at what God wants CBF to do and be.
So I guess my “vision” is for us to try to be as focused as we can be given how diverse and freedom-loving we are, and this is both my vision for the next year and beyond.
My greatest hope for this year — and into the year of our 25th Anniversary — is that we will reclaim our foundational commitment to being the hands and feet of Christ around the world and put our financial support strongly behind that commitment. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate.