For 25 years, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) has known a unity born of cooperation.
That is, we have not been a like-minded Fellowship; we have been a shared-task Fellowship.
Our Fellowship is the fruit of a partnership to send missionaries, provide resources to churches and ministers and find ways together to make a difference in the world for the Kingdom of God.
There is much conversation today about whether the center can hold the Fellowship together. Can we agree to disagree about important matters so that we can continue to share a task with eternal significance?
I believe we can for the simple reason that our Fellowship works.
What was true of CBF for the past 25 years continues to be true. CBF is the best partner my church has to do three things:
1. Put missionaries on the field around the world.
2. Advocate for policies in the world that defend the weak and call out those who victimize them.
3. Identify and cultivate the next generation of leaders for our congregation.
Global missions is the heart of CBF.
In the fall of 2017, I was privileged to travel to China to celebrate the graduation of the first 16 church leaders to earn internationally accredited master’s degrees through the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute. There are more to come.
This event could not have happened apart from a partnership with CBF field personnel and CBF churches.
These Chinese church leaders are shepherding literally thousands of believers and are now better equipped to disciple their flocks.
Or, consider Macedonia, where refugees from the Syrian civil war have found refuge in camps run by CBF field personnel.
Or consider Houston and south Texas and Florida, where CBF field personnel have organized and coordinated the work of volunteer teams who have come to the aid of hurricane and flood victims.
These amazing mission stories are happening in 65 places around the world where CBF works in the contexts of global poverty and global migration and in partnership with the global church.
No one church could do all these things without a partnership with the Fellowship.
CBF Advocacy brings a voice to the public square that speaks truth to power.
Whether advocating for immigrants and refugees or the public schools – whose caring, committed and capable teachers educate 95 percent of America’s children – or fighting against payday lending and human trafficking, CBF Advocacy brings an informed Christian voice about matters that matter to churches and a coherent strategy for bending the arc of history toward justice.
Unless the Lord returns today, every pastor is an interim, which means we need a pipeline of pastors being trained to lead our churches in the years until he comes.
That means that this year some young man or woman must hear and heed a call from God, be shaped and trained in community and the academy and be committed to a life of ministry with integrity.
CBF works with churches to develop a culture of calling, partners with colleges and seminaries to identify future leaders and walks alongside those leaders to help them grow into the people God created them to be.
The pastor who follows after me at South Main Baptist in Houston will very likely find her or his formation in the halls of Truett Seminary (or another partner seminary) and in the life of CBF.
At CBF, we proudly claim the centrist ground and the big tent. We agree to disagree agreeably without dishonoring one another. And we do that even though doing so is hard.
We choose to work together for at least two reasons:
1. We have no better partner in the Gospel to do such a vast array of Kingdom work.
2. It is our partnership that has formed us into a Fellowship.
In the midst of our differences we can say with the Apostle Paul, “I thank my God in all my remembrances of you, in all of my prayers I always pray with joy because of our partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this: that he who began a good work in you will be faithful to bring it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:3-6).
I believe God has a life wish for the Fellowship. The Holy Spirit is too vested in who we are and what we are doing for us to do any less in the years ahead.
I believe in our future precisely because the Lord has entrusted to us such a critical work at such a time as this.
Steve Wells serves as the pastor of South Main Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, and is a member of the Illumination Project Committee and the CBF Governing Board.
Editor’s note: Additional articles related to the CBF Illumination Project published on the CBF blog are:
- CBF Governing Board Receives Illumination Project Recommendation, Adopts Christ-centered Hiring Policy by Aaron Weaver and Jeff Huett
- Honoring Autonomy and Reflecting the Fellowship – The Report of the Illumination Project Committee
- Illuminations: The Healing Space between “Good” and “Bad” by Julie Pennington-Russell
- Illuminations: On Cooperation, Transformation and Hope by Doug Dortch