Introducing Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
Adapted from an article by Larry Hovis, CBF Coordinator in NC
The purpose of this article is to introduce you to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Many people, inside and outside the Baptist family, want to learn more about the Fellowship Community and what distinguishes us from other Baptist bodies.
Beginning in 1979, a concerted effort was undertaken to bring about a drastic change in the leadership and direction of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). This effort was accomplished through a well-organized political process that involved electing a convention president who would make appointments that eventually resulted in placing persons on boards of trustees of agencies and institutions who would carry out the desired changes. Control of boards of trustees was accomplished in about twelve years, along with replacing the administrations, and eventually, most employees of the agencies and institutions. Great attention was given to altering the character and culture of the seminaries and mission-sending agencies. Those who supported these changes labeled this process, “The Conservative Resurgence.” Those who opposed these changes referred to the process as, “The Fundamentalist Takeover.” Regardless of one’s approval or disapproval of the changes, all agreed that by 1991, the SBC had undergone a major transformation. That year, a group gathered in Atlanta representing active Southern Baptists who were displeased with the new direction of the SBC. This group formed a new body that was incorporated under Georgia law as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF). The focus of CBF in those early days was to provide a place of fellowship for people who felt disenfranchised from the SBC and a funding channel for missionaries and new theological schools being birthed.
Today, CBF has grown far beyond its humble beginnings. Though many of the churches and individuals who partner together through CBF still have a connection to the SBC, CBF is recognized as a separate body, as evidenced by its admission as a member of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), an organization of over two hundred international Baptist bodies. It is worth noting the SBC subsequently withdrew from the BWA.
Baptist Principles: A Firm Foundation
CBF adherents have always placed a high premium on what are commonly referred to as “historic Baptist principles.” In fact, disagreement over the interpretation of these principles, and how they are applied in local churches and in denominational life, has been at the heart of the controversy in the SBC. CBF’s understanding of basic Christian and Baptist principles is reflected in its official documents and strategic plan.
Our Identity – “We are a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches who share a passion for the Great Commission of Jesus Christ and a commitment to Baptist principles of faith and practice.”
Our Vision – “Being the presence of Christ in the world.”
Our Mission – “Serving Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.”
Our Core Values
- Soul Freedom – We believe in the priesthood of all believers and the equality of every church member.
- Bible Freedom – We believe in the authority of Scripture under the Lordship of Christ without the imposition of creedal statements.
- Church Freedom – We believe in the autonomy of every local church and affirm every church’s right to determine its faith, practice and leadership without outside interference.
- Religious Freedom – We believe in full religious liberty and the separation of church and state.
Biblically-based Global Missions Resource Model
- Justice and Reconciliation
- Lifelong Learning and Ministry
- CBF Ministries
- Current CBF ministries fall into four areas or “strategic initiatives”:
Faith Formation – Assisting congregations with evangelism, outreach and spiritual growth.
Building Community – Encouraging congregational health, Baptist identity, reconciliation and justice, marriage and family ministries, ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and endorsing chaplains and pastoral counselors.
Leadership Development – In congregations, through theological education (in partnership with seminaries and divinity schools) and in collegiate ministry.
Global Missions and Ministries – Through partnership missions with local churches, reaching the most neglected peoples of the world and planting new churches. Over one-half of our resources are spent on Global Missions and Ministries.
A Paradigm Shift: From Convention to Partnership
Most lifelong Southern Baptist adults were nurtured in a “convention culture” in which congregations, district associations, state conventions and the national convention were closely connected through money (which flowed from congregations to associations and state conventions to the national convention) and programs (which flowed from the national convention to state conventions and associations to congregations). Theoretically, we exercised autonomy at every level, but in practice, we functioned as an organizational pyramid with congregations forming the base and the national convention at the apex. In contrast, CBF promotes a “partnership paradigm” in which congregations are at the center of Baptist life. Congregations are encouraged to determine their unique, God-given mission then choose partners to assist them in accomplishing that mission. CBF does not demand exclusive loyalty but humbly asks for opportunities to be a significant one of a congregation’s many missional partners.
The CBF Movement: National and State Fellowships
In addition to CBF, with its offices in Atlanta, are autonomous state and regional CBF-related bodies. These bodies work very closely with CBF in a symbiotic relationship. CBF Executive Coordinator Daniel Vestal calls this unique relationship between national and state CBF bodies “a seamless movement”.
Tennessee CBF is an autonomous entity with its own funding stream and organizational structure. We seek to be the face of CBF in Tennessee by promoting CBF ministries in our state with our own ministries and mission engagement, our own paid staff, elected leadership, and general assembly. We partner with National CBF to:
- Support global missions field personnel at home and abroad
- Provide faith formation opportunities
- Provide leadership development for laity and clergy
- Provide reference and referral services to help churches seeking staff and ministers seeking placement.
- Provide a Field Coordinator in Tennessee.
CBF, at both the state and national levels, is not a member organization, but a fellowship of churches and individuals who voluntarily cooperate to do together what we cannot accomplish alone, for the sake of God’s Kingdom. Please attend our assemblies, participate in our ministries, or call on our staff members or volunteer leaders for information or assistance. If you resonate with our mission, vision and values, and desire to share in our ministries, you are welcome in our fellowship! Your financial gifts are most welcome, too, as we partner to enrich God’s Kingdom work in the world. May God bless and guide us as we seek to be the presence of Christ—together.
Ways to Introduce CBF to Your Church
Adapted from an article by Larry Hovis, Coordinator-CBF of North Carolina
Many pastors and church leaders are sympathetic to the values, goals and ministries of CBF, national and state. They would like to lead their churches to a closer relationship with CBF but aren’t sure how to begin the process. Here are some practical ways to educate a congregation about the mission and ministries of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, in Tennessee and around the world, and equip your congregation for effective missions and ministry in the process.
CBF Gatherings – One of the greatest strengths of the CBF movement is the quality of our fellowship. Our meetings are inspiring, educational, and enjoyable to attend. A great way to introduce church members to CBF (especially those who are used to attending associational and convention meetings) is to take them to a CBF gathering. Here are a few of the types of gatherings we offer:
CBF State General Assembly – The annual TCBF General Assembly is usually held early to mid-April in a Tennessee church.
CBF National General Assembly – The National assembly is usually held at the end of June in a convention center in a large city.
Fellowship on the Go! – Regional fellowships are scheduled throughout the year. These gatherings are advertised in our newsletters and on the website.
Retreats, Conferences, etc. – CBF and TCBF offer retreats, conferences and other educational/equipping events throughout the year. Check the website, newsletter or e-newsletter for upcoming events.
One of the best ways to introduce the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) in your church is by calling out members who are passionate about the Fellowship Community to serve as advocates. Advocates plead Fellowship causes within a local congregation and ensure your church is connected in meaningful ways with God’s work through the Fellowship.
Keep your church informed about what CBF is doing.
Increase your church’s involvementin CBF:
Improve how CBF connects with your church.
Invite a CBF speaker to come to your church. Speakers will work with pastors and church leaders to deliver a message or provide a program to meet your church’s needs. Whether a sermon on Sunday morning or a program at another time, CBF speakers enjoy being in churches. We offer several types of speakers:
- CBF State Coordinators – TCBF state coordinators can be scheduled through the TCBF office.
- CBF National Coordinators
- CBF Global Missions Field Personnel – Invite a missionary to your church to tell how CBF is sharing the Gospel of Christ in word and deed “in a world without borders.”
“Face to Face” – This is the CBF Speakers’ Bureau. It is the best way to schedule speakers from CBF National, including missionary speakers. You can reach “Face to Face” through the CBF website, www.thefellowship.info or by calling (770) 220-1630.
Most churches have a mission education ministry, either the traditional WMU and Baptist Men structure, or something of their own design. CBF produces missions education materials for all ages, from preschool through adults. A good way to educate congregations about CBF, especially CBF Global Missions, is by starting new groups that use CBF missions education materials or by supplementing the materials used by existing groups (Mission Friends, RAs, GAs, adult groups) with CBF materials. These materials may be ordered from CBF through the website, www.thefellowship.info, or by calling 1-888-801-4CBF (4223).
Global Missions Offering Promotion – Most churches collect special offerings for missions, either the traditional Christmas offering for international missions and Easter offering for home missions, or another emphasis. CBF missions education and support can be included by either adding a new emphasis for CBF Global Missions or including CBF Global Missions as an offering option when receiving missions offerings throughout the year and especially at Christmas, Easter and other times. Some churches give members a choice regarding where to direct their offerings. Others determine a certain percentage to give to CBF. Whenever you choose to emphasize CBF Global Missions, do so with posters, bulletin inserts, offering envelopes, videos, missions speakers, etc. These materials may be ordered from CBF through the website, www.thefellowship.info, or by calling 1-888-801-4CBF (4223).
Mission Projects – Missions is a major focus for CBF, both state and national, as we seek to connect with what God is doing in the world. Many churches are no longer content to give financial support or pray for missionaries. They are becoming involved in “hands on” mission action. When planning your next church mission project, for youth or adults, consider partnering with TCBF or CBF.
Christian Education Materials – Many churches are discovering the days of securing all of their Sunday School literature and Christian education materials from one publisher are over. They are looking to multiple outlets to provide materials to help them teach disciples of all ages. As your church plans its Christian education ministry, consider supplementing existing curriculum with offerings from CBF (www.thefellowship.info, click on “Congregational Life”) or one of CBF’s partners like Smyth and Helwys, Baptists Today, or Upper Room.
Teach Baptist History and Heritage – Many Baptists are woefully unaware of their history and the foundational principles emerging from that history. Therefore, they have no context for analyzing the vast changes that have taken place in Baptist life the past twenty-five years. A solid process for educating congregations in Baptist history and heritage over the past four hundred years, including the past twenty-five, will help them understand why the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is essential for a healthy Baptist witness in the twenty-first century.