Rev. Dr. Paul Baxley was formally introduced Feb. 1 as the new Executive Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship at a press conference in Atlanta held in conjunction with the winter meeting of the CBF Governing Board. Learn more about Baxley at http://www.cbf.net/baxley and watch a video introduction below.
As I have prepared for this day, some of Paul’s words to his beloved church at Philippi have been very much on my mind and in my heart. “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in everyone of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”
Today, I am filled with gratitude that makes it impossible to say anything other than “I thank my God.” Though my calling to this position came most unexpectedly, and required a journey of prayerful and careful discernment for my wife Jennifer and me, I am grateful to the members of the search committee who played such a pivotal role in the discovery of this call, and who have prayed for our family and our congregation each step of the way. I recognize that recommending me for this position is an act of faith and trust for this committee, just as accepting it at this moment in my life is an act of faith and trust for my family and for me. So today I come with deep gratitude for this search committee and the CBF Governing Board, which has affirmed this calling and entered into a covenant with me.
I also offer thanks to God for the extraordinary leadership provided our Fellowship by all three of my predecessors in this role. I count it one of the great blessings of my life to have called Suzii Paynter, Daniel Vestal and Cecil Sherman friends and powerful influences in my life, faith, sense of calling and practice of ministry. Each one of these extraordinary leaders brought their own giftedness and deep convictions to the life of our Fellowship. Each holds a special place in my heart.
Today, I thank God for the community that is the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. God has given us an amazing gift by inviting us into a community of congregations, individuals, field personnel, partner ministries, all with deep connections to the Global Church. My gratitude for this Fellowship is also deeply personal. While I had no place among the generation that founded our Fellowship, I am among the first to claim that the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has been my home for my entire vocational life and my adult life in faith. Had this Fellowship not come to life when it did, I would have been left homeless as a Baptist. I treasure this Fellowship and the difference it has made in my life, my family’s life and the lives of the congregations I have served. I am grateful for my partnership in the Gospel with all of you from that first day until now.
Today, I thank God for the two extraordinary Cooperative Baptist congregations I have served as a pastor. The First Baptist Church of Henderson, North Carolina and First Baptist Church of Athens, Georgia have blessed my family and me beyond measure. Our ministries in those congregations were made more faithful because our congregations were in relationship with this Fellowship. My experience in these church families, and in the other congregations of which I have been a member has given me a relentless hope about the ways the Risen Jesus works in congregations, an unwavering love for congregations, and an unshakable desire to see congregations flourish and thrive.
And I cannot end these words of gratitude without offering my deepest thanks to my wife Jennifer and our four wonderful children. Jennifer’s love and support not only during this process but through our life together has been an incredible gift. Each of our children have offered their own blessing and encouragement about this calling, and each is wonderfully unique. Jennifer and I both claim CBF as our home, and that was true for both of us before we met and were married. Our children each have their own connections to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and we are so grateful that in addition to a wonderful church home they are also part of a larger community of faith, through which they are already discovering how much larger the Church of Jesus Christ is than just their home church, through which they are learning that God’s love truly reaches so much further than their eyes can see.
We have a deep desire to see our children, and all the young people in our Fellowship, grow up in a Baptist community deeply committed to Jesus’ mission of reconciliation in the world, a community where there is never any doubt that daughters as well as sons can prophesy, a family where distinctions of race and ethnicity are seen as beautiful reflections of the image of God, where difference and dissent are neither quashed nor feared, but instead approached with love, respect, humility and a desire to live out Paul’s instruction to the Colossians, namely that we “witness to each other in all wisdom, bear with one another, put on love above all else, and do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
So as I stand before you today I thank God. But I also want you to know that I am confident about the present and future of our Fellowship. As I begin this work in confidence and hope, I have several immediate priorities:
First, as I would in any pastoral role, I want to give time and space to getting to know Cooperative Baptists, to being with you in your congregations and state and regional gatherings, to laying a foundation for outstanding relationships with partner ministries and networks within our Fellowship, and discerning ways to help our outstanding staff in Decatur and our field personnel around the world find even more exceptional ways of living out their callings and drawing our congregations into relationships that lead to thriving. Because I believe that the Fellowship exists to surround congregations, support them and help them thrive, I must begin by learning so much more about our congregations, their beauty, their hopes, dreams and needs.
Secondly, I will begin this work by joining with our Global Missions leadership, our Missions Council, and our field personnel to invite all of our congregations into a deeper participation in God’s mission of cultivating beloved community, bearing witness to Jesus and seeking transformational development in contexts of global poverty, global migration and in partnership with the Global Church. I want us to celebrate even more the uniqueness of the vision God has given us for global mission, through the long-term presence of our field personnel and Fellowship. I want to see us dramatically increase our support of the Offering for Global Missions, but I also want to see each of our congregations consider a close partnership in ministry with one of our field personnel. I can promise you such a relationship will not only connect you to a deeper participation in Chris’s mission far away, it will also make you more faithful in mission in your community and draw you closer to Christ.
Thirdly, I will be laying the groundwork to challenge our Fellowship to renew our commitment to partnering with congregations, theological schools, ministers, and others to help new generations of women and men hear a calling to ministry and mission, and to make sure we offer those who are called the best possible preparation and the most significant encouragement to lives of thriving in faithfulness. Much has changed in recent years. Our Fellowship has a growing community of young Baptists, but our theological schools are changing and the patterns of congregational life are changing. In addition to cooperating for Global Missions, we Baptists have been at our best when we have also been drawn together in a deep commitment to the calling, forming, and thriving of new generations of ministers. For the sake of our present, and even more for the sake of our future, we must discern a new covenant for calling and forming ministers and move boldly to live it out.
I know our congregations and their leaders face challenges. I know many are pessimistic about the future for congregations and the communities to which they belong. But I am confident. I believe that just as God began a good work among us almost three decades ago, God is still at work among us and through us. The power that raised Jesus from the dead is still at work among us. I believe cooperation has a future, not because it is a reaction against fundamentalism, but because it is a reflection of the image of the Triune God and an expression of the way God works within God and in the world. I know that fellowship is nothing less than the word the New Testament uses to describe the very essence of God’s life, our participation in it and the unique community that breaks out when we live in community with Jesus and one another.
And I believe a Baptist community like ours, committed to being a real and remarkable priesthood of all believers, still has a unique way of speaking and living in the world and a compelling and holy calling that is worthy of our relentless embrace and our ambitious pursuit. It is because I believe strongly that God is at work in us, still making us new, still calling us to adventurous faithfulness, and because I know that our ministry together is necessary to the thriving of all of our congregations, that I say yes to this calling with conviction and hope.