Are you searching for a more faithful way to be Baptist and join Christ’s mission in your community and around the world?

Do you want your church to be part of a larger community that celebrates the centrality of local congregations in the mission of Jesus?

Do you feel drawn to a denominational community that invites congregations toward thriving, equips leaders toward faithfulness and participates in God’s transformation of the world?

Are you open to the possibility that the Risen Jesus calls you to be in relationship with people who love Him and are committed to His life but who see some things differently than you do?

If so, it is possible that the Holy Spirit is inviting you to be part of the growing community of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

I hope you’ll prayerfully consider this possibility. To help you, I want you to know us better. We want you to come to our life together with conviction that you are stepping toward a beautiful and empowering kind of Baptist life.

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At our formation, we decided to call ourselves a Fellowship rather than a convention, a union or an association. The word “fellowship” is a translation of the Greek word “koinonia”, which the New Testament uses to describe God’s inner life of love. That love is sacrificial, relentless, encouraging and empowering. Our Fellowship does not seek dominance, manipulation or control, but rather we believe we are called to be a community that helps congregations flourish, and we welcome their gifts. We are called to cultivate relationships with one another that reflect the love of Christ. Instead of spending energy policing one another or dictating to one another, in love and humility, we are called to meet Christ in each other, learn from one another and grow together in ways we cannot grow alone.

Reflecting the love of Christ

Our core commitment is supporting congregations and encouraging their leaders. CBF staff members offer support to congregations seeking a deeper sense of God’s calling for their life together, discerning how to faithfully navigate changing financial environments and exploring how best to live out their local mission commitments while also joining Christ in ministry around the world. Alongside state and regional leaders and partner ministries, we help congregations find new pastoral leadership. We have started developing resources to respond to urgent needs emerging from our congregations. We help churches learn from one another and navigate incredible change. We engage in all these ministries of equipping because we have a deep love for churches and a holy ambition for their futures.

The mission of Jesus includes both evangelism and social transformation. Pursuing both is a mission worthy of the name of Jesus. The life and ministry of Jesus is filled with miracles of healing and confrontations with powers that hold people in bondage and oppress them. Jesus’ description of mission in Luke 4 is about good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and freeing the oppressed. To follow Jesus means we are called to join his expansive mission. That mission involves individuals and communities, hearts and minds, words and deeds, souls and bodies. It includes the changing of hearts and the transformation of structures and communities. Ever since Easter morning, Jesus has been out ahead of the church calling us to catch up with him and join him. Therefore, we do not believe our mission is to take Jesus where he has not been. After two thousand years, he has been all over the world. Our calling is to join him and others who follow him in mission and service all around the world. Today, CBF’s 1,400 congregations join 50 full time field personnel who minister in the United States and 19 other countries, connecting the ministries of our congregations with Christ’s work all over the world.

Our Fellowship is committed to the conviction that God calls women to all places of leadership and service in the church, including senior pastor. In many of our congregations, women are responding to calls to ministry, and in more and more of our congregations, women are serving as associate pastors. Women hold leadership positions in our CBF staff and in our governance structure. Not nearly enough of us, however, have called women to be senior pastors of our congregations. The congregations that have done so are benefitting from their remarkable gifts. The leadership gifts of women are still not flourishing equally as the gifts of men, and they are still encountering resistance that men do not. We are challenging one another to do better, to remove barriers to the thriving of women and to eradicate patriarchal understandings from our life together. Power and dominance are not the ways God expresses love in Jesus Christ.

Our Fellowship is not an echo chamber. We are growing more diverse racially, ethnically, generationally, and geographically. We believe we are called to be a community that is beautifully inclusive of these distinctions that all reflect the wonder of the image of God. We have churches of different sizes, worship forms, missional emphases and unique gifts. I promise you that our Fellowship is filled with people who love Jesus, desire to participate in his mission, and who take Scripture with utmost seriousness, yet we do not all see all things in the same way. For example, while this is not true of all partner congregations, our Fellowship includes congregations who are fully welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ persons. There are other differences of conscience on theology and practice across our life. Because all of us “see only in part and know only in part,” we are learning what it means to be a community where there is not always agreement. We’re discovering that the Holy Spirit is often found within our differences, challenging us toward growth. I want us to approach those differences with humility and love and give each other the gift of being able to witness freely from our places of deepest conviction and joy.

I think that is the kind of community Paul described in I Corinthians 13 when he wrote: “Love is patient, love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…..for we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part.” I believe that’s the kind of community Baptists should be when we deeply respect one another’s consciences and honor those who dissent. That’s a truly countercultural witness and a beautiful kind of Baptist life, one that is far more remarkable than any community built only on agreement or coercion.

Will you join us?

God’s work in our Fellowship is not done, and we still have plenty of room to grow. The Holy Spirit is convicting us and challenging us to be more faithful. As we become more racially and ethnically inclusive, we are experiencing a call to be actively involved in the work of racial justice. We do not see this as a political undertaking, but rather as an act of discipleship and part of our participation in Jesus’ mission. White supremacy is a sin against Christ and people made in the image of God. Systems and structures that keep black people or other children of God from thriving must be confronted and transformed. In active listening to people from more than 700 of our most active congregations several years ago, we learned an overwhelming number felt called to address racial injustice and work toward reconciliation as a ministry priority.

I believe the Holy Spirit is inviting more Baptists into this growing and diverse community, in which we and our congregations are being equipped for bold faithfulness. By sheer grace, we are being transformed and participating in God’s transformation of the world through Jesus Christ. If you or your church feel called toward us, we would welcome the chance to meet you and share more about our life together. We are eager to know you, learn from you, be led by you and serve Christ with you.

Will you join us?

Paul Baxley is the executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

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