June 23, 2016
By Aaron Weaver and Carrie McGuffin
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Risk and courage are the antidote to fear and anger, respected scholar and author Diana Butler Bass, shared with more than 2,400 Cooperative Baptists via Skype Thursday evening at the 2016 General Assembly in Greensboro, N.C., to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
“Now, I know your journey hasn’t been an easy one,” Butler Bass said. “You weren’t really planning on taking this trip, you didn’t buy tickets for the train. It wasn’t like going on a great vacation and you weren’t planning a pilgrimage. It was an unwelcome journey.
“Great journeys aren’t always easy journeys, and I honor you for…being willing to go where you didn’t expect to go.”
Butler Bass reminded the crowd that the Fellowship’s birth in 1991 was the beginning of a precipitous decline in the number of individuals who identify as Christians and who claim a religious identity.
“What you didn’t know when the journey started and what none of us knew 25 years ago was that it might have been the worst time in American history to start a Protestant associational body,” Butler Bass said. “So I want you to know and I want you to really hear that great journeys aren’t always easy journeys.”
Butler Bass said that Cooperative Baptists learned two important things over the past quarter century — reasons, she said, why she appreciates CBF so much.
“It’s something you can look back on and cherish. You have learned that risk and courage the only antidote to fear and anger,” Butler Bass said. “You decided not to live in the anger, but you decided to move out and take risks. That was hard because with risks comes fear and so you have to summit courage. Risk and courage overcome anger. Personal integrity, risk and courage — those are gifts you have been given.
“Thank you for showing us these gifts and how to hold on to those gifts. You have learned much along the way,” she said.
The best is yet to come, Butler Bass said, noting the importance of understanding exactly “what the best is.”
“[The best] is no longer the biggest church or the biggest denomination,” she explained. “The best doesn’t mean the biggest. It doesn’t mean the most affluent or the most prominent seminaries. It doesn’t mean having theologians on the cover of TIME magazine.”
The best is going deeper, going further and embracing justice and understanding what it means to be devoted to love God and love our neighbor, she said.
“Those things are the best, and you are positioned so uniquely to embrace the best. …I’m hoping that your 25-year journey has landed you right there to understand the giftedness of everything — of love, community, tenderness, kindness, peacefulness and, in a sense, of your own hearts. I am grateful for you.”
CBF Moderator Matt Cook shared additional reflections commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the Fellowship, challenging the crowd to think about the future and how Christ’s love compels us as Cooperative Baptists.
“How many of you have that friend that seems to be just a little bit luckier than everyone else,” Cook asked the Assembly. “You know what you’re supposed to do when you have a friend like that don’t you? Go everywhere they go, do everything they do — because if you do, you know you’re going to end up somewhere fun, doing something incredible.
“Here’s the thing with a friend like that: you can either stay where you are, stay where it’s safe, easy and predictable, or you can go where they go and experience something compelling.”
This friend for the Fellowship is and has been Jesus — 25 years ago, a spirit moved a group to form CBF and we have been following the calling of Christ ever since, Cook said. The reason behind each choice, he added, was because we believed in the kind of Jesus that is like that friend — “when Jesus says go, you go.”
Rather than just looking back at the first 25 years of CBF, Cook called on the Assembly to rekindle that spirit which was so present in 1991, challenging attendees to think about what the Fellowship is going to do when Jesus says “follow me.” Christ’s love compels us to go where he leads, and that may be to places we have not been or places we would never think to go, he emphasized.
“If that’s where Jesus is, that is where we should be,” Cook said.
The Assembly also heard from former CBF field personnel Melody and Sam Harrell about their long-term ministry seeking transformational development with communities in Kenya — a ministry made possible because of the CBF Offering for Global Missions.
“The Offering for Global Missions is CBF’s primary mechanism for ensuring the long-term presence of field personnel for affecting our common work in the world,” said Sam Harrell, who now serves as associate coordinator of CBF Global Missions. To learn more about and support the Offering, please visit, www.cbf.net/OGM
Amy Russell, associate minister eat First Baptist Church, Henderson, N.C., closed the Thursday evening worship service with a benediction meditating on CBF’s first 25 years as “we have seen God’s love drawing us together and sending us out.”
“Let us be a people continually seeking to rediscover God’s extravagant love and for us so that we may be a people of justice and people of mercy; warmly embracing the changes, challenges and the new growth found in God’s kingdom work, for we know that it is only the work of God that endures forever.”
CBF is a Christian Network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.