October 2, 2020
By Jeff Huett and Aaron Weaver
DECATUR, Ga. — The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Governing Board gathered virtually for its fall meeting Oct. 1-2, approved a balanced budget and voted to affirm the preliminary report of a team tasked with preparing a collaborative response to the greatest gifts and most urgent needs of churches, communities and the Fellowship revealed in the discovery phase of CBF’s Toward Bold Faithfulness initiative.
Board adopts 2020-2021 budget
In executive session, the Governing Board passed a budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 that balanced revenue and expenses at nearly $14.7 million. A one-time delay in preparation of the budget was approved by a vote of the virtual General Assembly in June to provide additional time for the budget to reflect the priorities revealed in CBF’s Toward Bold Faithfulness initiative as well as to provide additional time to assess the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The adopted budget is an overall reduction in expenditures of $1.6 million but because the budget includes several areas with spending increases due to initiatives funded by grants, the reduction in areas funded by unrestricted spending is $2.1 million.
The Governing Board’s Finance Committee chair Jason Callahan said that because much of the reduction in expenditures involved personnel matters, including a reduction in CBF’s work force, the budget was adopted by the Governing Board in executive session. Once CBF Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley has conversations with staff affected by these budget changes, the full budget will be released in mid-October.
Callahan stressed that these changes are a reallocation of resources to create a sustainable budget for CBF not only for the next fiscal year but ongoing for the next 3-5 years.
“We have reallocated expenditures in our current budget to focus on those areas where our Fellowship and our congregations said were important to them,” Callahan said.
CBF Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley acknowledged a “heaviness and deep struggle” during this budget and reorganization process and expressed his praise of and encouraged prayers for the CBF staff.
“Putting this budget together has required us to reorganize toward a future that requires reductions in the work force of CBF Global. And that is exceptionally difficult because CBF Global is served by incredibly committed Christians who love congregations, believe in our mission, and have given tremendous energy in this pandemic. It grieves me that there is not a way forward with all of them.”
Baxley recalled the Apostle Paul’s words to the Thessalonians about not being people who grieve without hope.
“I feel both hope and grief,” Baxley said. “I am strengthened by the resolve of our Governing Board and others in CBF leadership, because I sense among us a shared resolve to get on with our journey toward bold faithfulness to serve congregations and advance Jesus’ mission in the world with excellence. There is strong resolve that in this moment we move forward in new, energized and excellent ways. I feel that resolve not just in myself but with CBF leaders across the Fellowship. There is a shared determination to move forward.”
Moving Forward with Bold Cooperation
Baxley emphasized his hope for CBF, saying “God is speaking over us in this moment, ‘See I am about to do a new thing’” while offering suggestions on what moving forward in this moment will require of Cooperative Baptists.
“Moving forward is going to require some patience,” he said. “The way to our future requires all of us and not just some of us. ‘CBF generously defined’ can’t just be a phrase; it has to be the lens through which we see our lives together. Our path forward will require a bold kind of cooperation. We are going to have to freely choose to cooperate to recognize that our way forward is not in isolation but in the most robust kind of cooperation that is possible.
“The days ahead are going to require generosity toward growth—a generosity of spirit, generosity of intellect, a generosity that is financial. For us to become more diverse and inclusive, we need generosity to offer room for others to serve. I think our calling is to set a whole new table.”
Baxley noted that the future of CBF requires “a spirit of openness instead of a spirit of fear.”
“The dominant response to change in our culture is fear,” Baxley said. “The dominant response to difficulty is fear. The initial response to diversity of experience or position or theology is fearful retreat….If we are going to be open to the future that we are called toward, we are going to have to adopt a posture of bold openness—different voices, different convictions, an openness to being in the presence of difference and not being afraid, an openness to the work of the Holy Spirit and the Risen Jesus, so that we can reclaim the beautiful and challenging adventurous discovery that was the church on the day of Pentecost. That is the church to which we are being summoned today.”
Pandemic of Racial Injustice
Pursuing racial justice was also a focus of Baxley’s remarks to the board, who lauded the “courageous bold faithfulness” seen throughout the Fellowship in recent months addressing the “virus” of racial injustice.
“COVID-19 isn’t the only virus we are facing. We’re also dealing with ugly, unavoidable and intolerable racial injustices that have permeated this part of the world for 400 years,” Baxley said. “COVID-19 is an acute pandemic that has lasted longer than some would like. Racial injustice is a chronic pandemic that is an offense to God and affront to the ministry of Jesus.
“I have been inspired by the persevering faithfulness of black and brown Cooperative Baptists who have taken the risk of hanging with a predominantly white community in a season like this. That takes bold faithfulness. I have watched pastors of predominantly white congregations preach with courage at tremendous risk in face of this 400-year pandemic that must be set aside. When I see that courage, I reach unmistakably the conclusion that God is at work among us.”
Toward Bold Faithfulness: Collaborative Response update
The Governing Board heard a preliminary report from Baxley and CBF Past Moderator Kyle Reese, co-chairs of a team responsible for preparing a plan of response to the findings of the first phase of Toward Bold Faithfulness, a two-phase initiative to discover the greatest gifts and most urgent needs of congregations and communities across the Fellowship.
The Governing Board voted to affirm the report and authorized its next steps.
That Collaborative Response Team has focused on three primary questions:
- Considering the powerful gifts and most urgent needs revealed in the discovery process, where do the most powerful gifts reside to address the most urgent needs?
- What is required to sustain an ongoing culture of dynamic collaboration in CBF life?
- How can we attain a financial model for CBF life that seeks the thriving of congregations and our CBF community most generously defined?
During the initial phase, a diverse team of Cooperative Baptists discerned these most powerful gifts and most urgent needs through an online survey, listening sessions with governance bodies, field personnel, partner ministries and staff, and individual interviews with people identified by leaders of CBF networks. In total, the team heard from more than 5,000 Cooperative Baptists.
Building on this extensive listening by the Discovery Team, the Collaborative Response Team was tasked with identifying connections between the most urgent needs and greatest gifts, including attention to who across the Fellowship and its partners and state and regional organizations is best equipped to meet the urgent needs. The Collaborative Response Team has worked to develop and test models of cooperation and will continue its work to refine those models based on additional listening.
The preliminary report stressed that to address the most urgent needs of congregations, the Fellowship must focus on the health and vitality of congregations, have a clear and compelling vision/identity, expand commitments to partnership, have an explicit commitment to diversity and inclusion, as well as strategic alignment of CBF Global with CBF state and regional organizations.
In focusing on the health and vitality of congregations, Baxley recalled the set of urgent congregational needs (financial strain, navigating change, difficult conversations, vision and identity and engaging diversity) and said a goal is to equip congregations to meet the urgent needs of their communities (connection, poverty, racial justice and reconciliation, immigration/migration and hunger). Both sets of urgent needs were revealed during the discovery process. Addressing these needs will be foundational for future ministries with congregations and partnerships, he said.
Baxley spoke to the power of partnerships between congregations and CBF field personnel and emphasized that CBF will invite churches into closer relationships. Other areas of focus will be committing to deeper engagement with and listening to congregational leaders and church members and then responding faithfully to what is learned, as well as partnerships between CBF Global and CBF state and regional organizations that harness the proximity and sustained relationships that are the best approach to serving congregations.
Related to partnerships, leaders of CBF partner organizations are eager for deeper and stronger collaboration rooted in shared mission and the preliminary report noted that those partnerships should be marked by mutuality and not solely based on funding.
During the discovery process, a clear and compelling vison and identity was highlighted as an urgent need of the Fellowship. Elements of identity emerged from the listening phase, including a commitment to Christ, emphasis on mission, focus on congregations and Baptist principles.
The discovery process also named the desire for diversity and inclusion as a powerful gift in addition to engaging diversity as a powerful need. In conversations with the Collaborative Response Team, CBF’s Pan African Koinonia and La Familia encouraged CBF to be explicit about biblical and theological foundations for diversity. Also essential is resourcing congregations in theology and practice necessary for diversity and inclusion, which includes the elevation of Black and Latino/a voices and greater diversity in staff and volunteer leadership positions across the Fellowship.
The discovery process revealed urgent needs in congregations and communities requiring a need to convene the development of a shared strategy. Listening reinforced the value of proximity and the power of relationships with congregations, making CBF state and regional organizations uniquely positioned to equip and encourage congregations. Essential components of a strategic alignment of CBF Global and CBF state and regional organizations would include a shared focus on powerful gifts and urgent needs with freedom to fulfill them within the local context.
The Collaborative Response Team will continue its work with state and regional organizations toward strategic alignment with attention to enhanced development approaches and sustainable funding. During the report Friday, a sustainable CBF budget and a shared development approach were considered opportunities that could be realized under a strategic alignment approach. The team will also collaborate with partners and state and regional organizations toward initiatives to meet the needs of congregations and communities, and it will work to clarify identify and vision language.
The team will present further updates to the Governing Board at its January Meeting.
“The Fellowship that God calls us to be”
CBF Moderator Carol McEntyre concluded the two-day fall meeting via Zoom of the CBF Governing Board citing her appreciation for Baxley and the CBF staff and lauding the important work of the past year.
“This has been an important year for the Fellowship and we have done some important work in listening deeply to our leaders and hearing what is on their hearts and minds and what they hope for the future,” said McEntyre, who serves as senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Columbia, Mo. We are grateful that the [Toward Bold Faithfulness] process puts us in a good place as we seek to move forward as we are the Fellowship that God calls us to be.”
CBF is a Christian network that helps people put their faith into 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.