The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia held our spring general assembly at the First Baptist Church in Athens, Georgia, a little over 18 years ago.
I had been on the job as executive coordinator for six months and was, of course, hopeful that the meeting would be successful – and it was.
We heard excellent music, received generous hospitality and experienced creative and meaningful worship.
However, what impacted me the most did not happen during the meeting. It happened 30 minutes after the event was over.
I was on my way to the car and was approached by one of our fine lay leaders. She offered a word of caution to me about the program. “It pushed the limit a bit,” she said.
I knew what she was talking about. We did have some creative prayers, and we did have a young woman do an interpretive dance, something I had not seen in a CBF meeting before.
She went on to explain to me that we needed to be careful about going too far in our worship and expression.
I could tell that she wanted us to retain the best of our Baptist traditions, especially as they related to worship.
I thanked her for her comments and told her that I would relay this information to the general assembly planning committee.
As I continued my walk to the car, I felt a slight tap on my shoulder. I turned around to find one of our gifted young pastors. He said, “May I have a moment to make a comment about the meeting?” I said sure.
He said, “You need to know that my generation is not coming back to these meetings if they keep being the same old same old.”
I asked him to unpack the comment a bit more.
It was his feeling that we were too bound by the past and that we need to look to a different future, a future that used technology in creative ways and a future that moved beyond the Baptist struggles of the past.
I thanked him for his comments and told him I would pass his input along to the general assembly planning committee.
These two entirely different responses came to me within 40 feet and 15 minutes of each other, and they were predictive of what I have experienced the last 19 years.
I have come to understand that we do have two visions at work in our CBF family.
One vision looks to the past. It values the best of what it means to be Baptist. It celebrates local church autonomy and traditional worship and theology, while seeking to bring diversity to our leadership, a diversity that includes males and females, laity and clergy, young and old.
The other vision looks more toward the future. It is not focused on what we are but on what we should be. It is interested in rethinking, reframing and reforming who and what we are in such a way that we can speak to an ever-changing world. This vision is less concerned with theology than it is with practice: It wants to change the world.
Both of these visions have value. Both are necessary.
There are things we should retain, and there are things we should change. It is a matter of being both faithful and free, faithful to whom we are and free to let the spirit lead us to become what we need to be.
For several months now, I have struggled with how to say this to my constituents. How can I express in a creative way the possibility of merging both of these visions?
Then it came to me. My daughter and son-in-law gave my wife, Susan, and me tickets to see Vince Gill and Lyle Lovett in concert at the Cobb Center in Atlanta.
Lovett came out on the stage with his guitar and sat down. He then proceeded to introduce his next song, “If I Had a Boat.”
He explained that when he was about 9 years old, he had two different visions of what he wanted to be when he became an adult.
On the one hand, he wanted to be the captain of a boat sailing the seas. On the other, he wanted to be a cowboy riding his pony wild and free.
“If I Had a Boat” was his way of reconciling the tension between these two distinct visions for his life.
Is it possible that we also can merge our two visions together into one compelling vision – a vision that values our past, cherishing those treasures that have been handed down to us, while at the same time being free enough to follow the spirit as it leads us to rethink and reform who we are and what we do for a new day?
I believe it is. Lovett is correct. If we are creative enough, we can ride our ponies on our boat out on the sea.
Frank Broome is the executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia. A version of this article first appeared in the Second Quarter 2016 edition of Visions – a publication of CBF/GA. It is used with permission.