June 25, 2020
By Aaron Weaver and Carrie Harris
DECATUR, Ga. — “We are all God’s representatives. We are God’s ambassadors.”
Rev. Dr. Emmanuel McCall shared this truth with attendees to the first-ever virtual General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Thursday morning during the opening plenary session. McCall, a widely-respect Baptist statesman and retired pastor with a global reputation as a trailblazer for racial justice, is a current member of the CBF Governing Board and former CBF Moderator.
McCall focused his message on the calling of Cooperative Baptists to be ambassadors for Christ. Centering on 2 Corinthians 5:13-21 and looking back at the Royal Ambassadors program, which he gained great familiarity with while in seminary serving with a Baptist association in Louisville, Ky. The program provided opportunities for boys and young men ages 9 to 17 to develop skills and talents, have times of fellowship and form deep faith. Seeing these young men formed and transformed, McCall recalled, benefited his own development for a theology of ministry.
“I learned that God can and does use all of our skills for God’s purposes,” McCall said. “One does not need a religious title to do God’s work. One of our cherished Baptist doctrines is the priesthood of all believers. We have often focused only on one aspect of that doctrine—the freedom to approach God without an intercessor.”
Throughout the biblical narrative, McCall noted, stories point to the inclusivity of all of God’s people being involved in God’s purposes and that all who proclaim Christ as Lord are also servants of God.
“The priesthood belongs to all who believe in God through Jesus Christ. We are all God’s representatives. We are God’s ambassadors.”
McCall also pointed to six things about the meaning of ambassadorship, applying these observations to the Christian relationship with God.
“First, ambassadors are selected by those who see value in their skills, just because one wants the title of ambassador does not mean that that person is going to become an ambassador,” said McCall. “Secondly, ambassadors are responsible to those who appoint them. Thirdly, there is regular consultation between the person sending an ambassador and the ambassador—there must be communication for their ambassador to know the mind of the person who is sending him.
“Fourthly, an ambassador who becomes sidetracked by other interests or other persons is no longer fit for service. Number five: an effective ambassador must work hard to keep a pleasant attitude between themselves and the person that he/she is representing. Number six: credit for any success is reserved for the person who is being represented, not for the ambassador. The ambassador does not take credit for any achievement, he has made the credit belongs to the person in power he has made the credit belongs to the person in power rather than the ambassador.”
Sharing an experience from a revival in his early days of ministry, McCall recalled the ways that God uses even the most unexpected believers for God’s purposes.
“I want to emphasize the fact that there is no talent that we have that is not given and that God cannot use,” said McCall. “Good ambassadors are resourceful, they see the needs around them, and they apply the skills that God has given to us in response to those needs. Good ambassadors know how to cooperate with others, to accomplish the task that God wants accomplished. Through the churches of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, God is doing marvelous things.”
COVID-19 crisis and racial injustice
CBF Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley opened the Thursday morning plenary with a welcome and extended gratitude to Johns Creek Baptist Church in Alpharetta, Ga., for hosting Assembly sessions in its sanctuary.
CBF Moderator Kyle Reese offered reflections, focusing on the response of Cooperative Baptists to both the coronavirus pandemic and racial injustices plaguing the nation.
“I’m reminded what author Richard Hays has said about COVID-19. He said that we may debate how COVID-19 has changed history; he said that we may debate how COVID-19 has changed history, but what we cannot debate is that COVID-19 has accelerated history,” Reese said. “And I’ve certainly seen that among Cooperative Baptists. You have used technology, you have used creativity, you have relied on the leading of God’s spirit to continue to do church in the face of this pandemic and you have given witness to the life-giving vitality of the spirit, which has allowed the church of Jesus Christ to give witness in different times and different places for over 2000 years.
“And speaking of history,” Reese continued, “it’s an interesting time in the life of our country. Many are saying that this is a moment of reckoning based on 400 years of racial injustice. And I am so proud to be a part of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, where the seeds of racial justice work have been planted in our Emmanuel McCall Racial Justice and Leadership Initiative, in the Pan African Koinonia and the work we have done with the Angela Project. Now, as history is accelerated once again, it is time for the seeds to come to full flower, so that we can faithfully proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, that includes everyone.”
Updates and reports
Assembly virtual attendees heard Julie Pennington-Russell, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, D.C., share an update on the work of CBF’s Theological Education Commission to discern and craft a new covenant between congregations, theological schools, CBF and other ministry partners. Pennington-Russell reported that after meetings in July 2019 and November 2019, the commission hopes to be able to convene again in October 2020 if conditions allow.
Stephen Reeves, who co-chairs the CBF-BWIM Clergy Sexual Misconduct Task Force, announced anew partnership with GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), led by well-respected church abuse expert Boz Tchividjian. In the months ahead, the task force will work with GRACE to train six specialists from the Fellowship to offer GRACE’s safeguarding certification to CBF churches.
“GRACE’s safeguarding certification training is a comprehensive process to help churches implement best practices and address the underlying reasons for that abuse often flourishes,” Reeves said. Most importantly, the training is more than just improving policies and procedures. GRACE seeks to inspire a culture change and a mental shift that makes clear that preventing abuse is a responsibility for every member of the church.”
Reeves said that later in the fall, the task force will begin offering certification training for several pilot churches.
Chaplaincy award and Young Leaders to Know
CBF Chaplaincy Endorser Gerry Hutchinson also presented John Painter, a chaplain at the VA Medical Center in Charleston, S.C., with the newly-established Carl Hart Award for Excellence in Chaplaincy (video available here).
Attendees were also introduced to the 25 Young Leaders to Know (featured in the 2020 Summer special edition of fellowship! magazine) and the new members of CBF Fellows, a two-year cohort program that assists young Baptist clergy who are in their “first call” in making a healthy transition from seminary to congregational ministry. CBF Church Benefits President Rob Fox provided an update which is available here.
Ministries grant recipients
Ministries Council grant recipients were awarded to several congregations aiming to expand or start new ministries that build bridges within local churches and their communities. 2020 recipients include: Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas; Metro Baptist Church and Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries; Cliff Temple Baptist Church in Dallas; and Second Baptist Church in Liberty, Mo. Watch the video here to learn more about the innovative and vital ministries of these congregations.
To conclude the Thursday plenary session, Moderator Kyle Reese introduced the motions for approval by the General Assembly, which includes the acceptance of nominees to CBF governance bodies and the ministry and missions budget for 2020-2021. The nominees include Baylor Law School professor Patricia Wilson to serve as Moderator-Elect in 2020-2021. Learn more about Wilson and view the full slate of governance nominees here.
Cooperative Baptists will have the opportunity to vote virtually on these motions during the Friday morning plenary session.
If you would like to attend any of the events happening throughout June 25-26, onsite registration is ongoing and available at www.cbf.net/assembly.
For coverage of all of the events, including news and videos, visit www.cbf.net/virtualassembly.
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.