By Matt Sapp
Julie and I along with several other members of our congregation spent three days last week in Dallas for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) General Assembly. If you’re not sure what CBF is, Heritage was founded as a CBF church, meaning that we — and many other churches across the nation — pool our resources through CBF to support missions and ministry around the world.
The meeting, as always, was uplifting and hopeful, so I came away from the Assembly as I usually do, encouraged by the progress and energy of the Fellowship. So let me share some of those good feelings with you.
Here are three observations from this year’s assembly that give me hope for our future together:
The Fellowship is moving forward. We’ve upped our game in the last several years, and there’s no reason to think that trend won’t continue. A most noticeable difference is in our public image. For a few years our branding was clearly dated, and we fell behind the curve in our graphic design and live production capabilities.
This year at the General Assembly our live production work was flawless. The lighting and sound worked perfectly. Our video production (both live and recorded pieces) was top notch. In short, we looked like we knew what we were doing.
More importantly, the new color scheme and logo were showcased in fantastic ways, giving new energy and attractiveness to our printed materials, video segments, and online presence.
This might sound superficial, but image matters. It matters a lot. We live in a world that won’t look beyond our dated facade to hear our message. If we believe we have a message worth sharing, what we look like and how we share that message matters. A 2015 image is a REQUIREMENT to reach a 2015 audience, and the CBF nailed it this year.
Second, we’ve almost completely transitioned from our founding generation to a new generation of leadership. That in and of itself isn’t a good thing. It’s just true. Next year we’ll celebrate 25 years of CBF, and the Fellowship is going to miss the active, every day leadership of people who could say, “I was there from day one.”
We’ll miss their leadership for a number of reasons. We’ll miss them for their courage, their conviction, and their moral clarity. We’ll miss their personal history with theological controversy. They understand the stakes of denominational leadership in ways that those who weren’t there never will. And we’ll miss their integrity—integrity proved by the willingness to stand on principle even when the costs were high.
Our founding generation understands what’s required organizationally and spiritually to create something new on a national scale. Think about it: They created seminaries, missions infrastructures, publishing houses and Sunday School literature, youth and children’s programs, state agencies and organizational partnerships. And they did it all from scratch—or nearly scratch.
Even more, they led churches — big churches and small churches, urban churches and rural churches, progressive churches and conservative churches — to let go of past affiliations in favor of a new dream. Did I mention their courage?
But the good news is that there’s another generation behind them. Not an “up and coming” generation anymore, but a generation that is leading right now. And there’s a third generation of leaders behind them!
The test of any dream is whether it can survive beyond the lives of those who birthed it. The good news — the GREAT news — is that CBF will. That’s not new news, but it is good news, and it was re-affirmed for me at this year’s meeting.
Finally, there are A LOT of creative people doing creative things to grow the Kingdom of God who are proud to be a part of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. That makes me proud to be a part of CBF, too. As part of the Fellowship, we partner with creative and talented missionaries and church planters and chaplains; with leading theologians and ethicists and creative thinkers; with gifted artists and musicians; with inspiring preachers and teachers; and with dedicated deacons and choir directors and Sunday School teachers.
We partner with leaders who start new churches and renew old ones, with some who find new ways to proclaim the gospel in well-tilled soil, and others who blaze new trails to share Jesus with people who have never heard that name before.
Through CBF we support people who are dreaming new dreams, trying new things for Christ, and finding new ways to put their faith into action. The collective newness of what they’re doing, the creativity they bring to their tasks, and the risk-taking involved in stepping into the unknown bring much needed energy to our fellowship.
As the world around us changes and as churches change, CBF Christians are finding more ways to use their talents for their churches and God’s kingdom — as writers, photographers, graphic designers, video producers and technology gurus — and as pastors, worship leaders, scholars and missionaries who are willing to re-imagine the church for the 21st century.
We are excited about much and proud to be a Fellowship church. We should never overlook the enormity of our accomplishments or the hope of our futures together. There’s never been a better time to be a CBF church than now.
This article first appeared on the Heritage Baptist Fellowship blog. Used with permission.