Discovery Team releases findings on powerful gifts, urgent needs

By Paul Baxley

Today our Discovery Team has released the findings of the discovery phase of Toward Bold Faithfulness. You can read their report revealing the most powerful gifts given to our congregations and our Fellowship, along with the most urgent needs facing our congregations, our communities and our Fellowship. The Discovery Team’s work and its report was based on the prayerful exploration of a series of essential questions that flow from the conviction that calling emerges at the intersection of the gifts and graces given by the Holy Spirit, the needs of congregations and the world, and the opportunities for growth and expansion.

The team identified these gifts and needs by listening in different ways to more than 4,600 Cooperative Baptists from 762 congregations. The materials available online today include not only their full report but also all of the data used by the team.

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Discovery

 

Last September, our Fellowship began what will be a one-year journey Toward Bold Faithfulness. We are seeking first to discover and then to respond to God’s call for our Fellowship as we begin our fourth decade of ministry. The purpose of the Discovery Phase is to identify the most powerful gifts God has given our congregations and our Fellowship and also the most urgent needs we face in congregations, in communities and in our Fellowship, believing that we hear God’s call in the places where our gifts most enable us to respond to needs.

 
 

 

The Discovery Team seeks feedback from across the Fellowship through video conference engagement opportunities June 8 to June 17.
To sign up, visit cbf.net/discovery-sessions.

Frequently Asked Questions

 
1Why did the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship embark on Toward Bold Faithfulness at this time in the life of the Fellowship?

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is approaching its 30th anniversary. In recent years, the Fellowship has experienced leadership transitions and other challenges. In 2019, we began a journey to discover and respond to God’s call for us at this new moment in our life together. We entered this season of prayerful discovery and faithful response in the confidence that the Holy Spirit would guide us to bolder faithfulness for the sake of Christ’s mission.

We entered the work of Toward Bold Faithfulness with a generous definition of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as opposed to a narrow one. A narrow construal of CBF equates CBF with the mission and ministry operations based in Decatur; the most generous definition understands CBF as a community of congregations, field personnel, chaplains, state and regional organizations, theological schools, other partners that is convened and encouraged by the work of the CBF Global office in Decatur and staff in other places.

This season of discovery and response has reflected and will continue to reflect the conviction that CBF (generously defined) exists for the blessing, strengthening and encouraging of congregations for more faithful ministry in their communities and a compelling shared Christian witness in the world.

2What is the biblical rationale for Toward Bold Faithfulness, and what are CBF’s theological commitments in it?

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship inhabits a transitional space not unlike the one Paul and his ministry partners experienced (Acts 15:36-16:11 and following). Among other things, Paul and his companions faced a challenge of discovering where and how they should focus their ministry energies. Would they spend their time and energy continuing the work they had begun in Asia Minor? There came a vision in the night, a man from Macedonia, a call to Europe, and the boldest expansion of the ministry of the early church. But in a stunning scarcity of words, Acts 16:6-11 describes the early church’s journey of discovering and responding to a call to bold faithfulness.

We began this journey from the foundation of clear theological commitments. We believe that God is still at work in the world, in our communities and through our congregations. By grace, we believe we are still called to speak the message of the Risen Christ and participate in His mission in our communities and all over the world. While we recognize that congregations face challenges, we still believe that congregations are uniquely suited and particularly gifted to offer lived answers to Jesus’ prayer “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

We believe God’s calling for individual congregations and indeed our larger Fellowship community can be discovered through prayerful reflection on the gifts and graces we have been given, the urgent needs of this moment and the opportunities for growth and expansion that we are being given. Indeed, we know that the Scriptures bear clear witness to the truth that the Holy Spirit always gives the church everything we need to do what Jesus wants us to do for him in the world.

3How does “Toward Bold Faithfulness” differ from the 2012 Task Force?

Almost a decade ago, CBF leadership established a task force which brought recommendations that clarified CBF identity and substantially revised governance structures. Many of the recommendations of that group have been implemented, but since that process our Fellowship has changed, our congregations have changed, our partners are in very different places, and the communities and cultures in which we minister continue to change.

This effort is intended to be different in that we are not simply seeking to produce a report or discern a focus for the next stage in our life together. We are approaching this work in ways that foster an ongoing culture of strategic discovery, response and planning in the life of our Fellowship. Scripture makes clear that faithfulness requires openness, agility and innovation. We hope this effort not only offers us guidance on the next steps in our shared calling but also seeds a continuous culture of discovery and dynamic collaboration.

4How was the Discovery Team recruited?

The Discovery Team was recruited in early fall 2019. The CBF Officers, led by Kyle Reese and Carol McEntyre, sought nominations from state and regional coordinators for persons whose gifts and experiences would enable them to serve well on the team and make sure the team reflected diversity of generation, gender, congregational size, clergy/laity and geography. More than 80 nominations were received, and from those nominations, these individuals were selected.

5What’s next in the Toward Bold Faithfulness process?

We are at the mid-point of Toward Bold Faithfulness. Toward Bold Faithfulness is a two-step journey. The first step is prayerful discovery of the most powerful gifts and most urgent needs in CBF. The Discovery Team sought clarity on gifts and needs because we believe God calls us to use our gifts to address the needs around us. After we have this opportunity to receive further clarity about what we have discovered and respond to questions, we will move to the final phase, which is our Response phase. At Virtual General Assembly, announcements will be made about how that process will be conducted, who will serve on a collaborative response team, and the timetable that will be followed.

6What is the concept of “Dynamic Collaboration” that is at the heart of “Toward Bold Faithfulness?”

Toward Bold Faithfulness has sought to foster dynamic collaboration, not only within the initiative itself, but in the larger life of our Fellowship. Dynamic collaboration is founded on the belief that we absolutely need one another in order to be faithful to Christ. Our view of dynamic collaboration is rooted in Paul’s description of his “partnership in the gospel” with the church at Philippi, a partnership that was essential both to Paul and the Philippians, one marked by shared ministry, mutual encouragement, sacrificial friendship and which enabled a shared participation in God’s mission that would have otherwise been impossible.

Dynamic collaboration is a reflection of the image of the Triune God, insofar as the persons of the Trinity share all of the divine work. And it’s a path away from culture of competition and opposition. Instead, it is way toward greater faithfulness, deeper engagement with congregations and growth within our Fellowship.

7In the Discovery Findings report, “Aspirational diversity” is listed as one of the most powerful gifts of CBF congregations. What did the Discovery Team mean by that?

From the online report: “Our congregations desire to be more diverse, a gift rooted in the gospel hope. This aspiration shows opportunity for growth and strength in welcoming difference. This is perhaps connected to the transforming gift of deep, loving, interpersonal relationships within the community of faith. The term ‘aspirational’ was used because many congregations signified that their desired diversity did not reflect the reality of the membership currently.”

Beyond that, we believe the fact that our congregations express a desire for increased diversity (even though we don’t all have exactly the same desires) is a sign of hope and a powerful gift in a world that is increasingly fearful of diversity and difference. This aspiration for diversity is therefore a powerful gift.

8In the Discovery Findings report, I see lists of urgent needs and powerful gifts, but what about other needs or gifts?

The findings of the discovery process include the most powerful gifts and most urgent needs in congregations, in CBF and in the larger world. In the course of the team’s work, it learned of many other gifts and needs. The ones we have presented in the Discovery Findings report are those that emerged most consistently and compellingly across three very distinct forms of listening. There is no doubt there are other gifts and other needs. But these are the ones that stood out the most.

9How did the Discovery Team try to ensure a diverse range of views were a part of its research?

The Discovery Team sought to ensure a diverse range of views in each of the forms of listening it undertook. More than 4,600 Cooperative Baptists from every state and region in CBF life participated in an online survey that formed the centerpiece of the discovery work. Respondents were from 762 congregations, 178 of which had five or more people participate. The survey asked Cooperative Baptists about their church ministry involvement and personal ministry aspirations. Survey participants were from 37 states as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Canada, and 10 additional countries, including respondents from Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. Participants were 53-percent female and 47-percent male and serve their churches in a variety of ways. Twenty-two percent serve as a senior pastor or staff minister, while 78 percent serve as lay members of their local congregation.

In addition to the survey, which is the primary form of listening being used by the Discovery Team, the team also conducted 13 “Discovery Sessions” with members of CBF’s governance bodies, state and regional coordinators and associate coordinators, representatives of partner ministries, field personnel and Decatur staff. The Discovery Team also completed conducting 30 individual interviews with Cooperative Baptists selected by leaders of CBF’s ministry networks as well as state and regional coordinators.

The discovery is the product of more than 1,800 hours of data collection and coding including 930 volunteer hours invested by members of the Discovery Team.

10How did the Discovery Team prioritize the most urgent needs in these lists?

The Discovery Team chose to list the gifts by bullet point and the needs by the numerical order revealed by the data. The team recognized, as Paul states, that there are many gifts but the same Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4). There is no one gift more important than the other. One may be more prevalent in a certain congregation, and that may be the very gift needed to meet an urgent need. Similarly, not all of our congregations will experience the same needs. However, the prioritization of needs accurately reflects the discovery data and should aid in the response phase of this process. In the case of both needs and gifts, many more were expressed in the data. However, those listed were reported most prevalently.

 
 

Response

 

Toward Bold Faithfulness is a two-step journey. The first step is prayerful discovery of the most powerful gifts and most urgent needs in CBF. The Discovery Team sought clarity on gifts and needs because we believe God calls us to use our gifts to address the needs around us. After we have this opportunity to receive further clarity about what we have discovered and respond to questions, we will move to the final phase, which is our Response phase. At Virtual General Assembly, announcements will be made about how that process will be conducted, who will serve on a collaborative response team, and the timetable that will be followed.

 
 

Process

 

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is approaching its 30th anniversary. In recent years, the Fellowship has experienced leadership transitions and other challenges. In 2019, we began a journey to discover and respond to God’s call for us at this new moment in our life together. We entered this season of prayerful discovery and faithful response in the confidence that the Holy Spirit would guide us to bolder faithfulness for the sake of Christ’s mission.

We entered the work of Toward Bold Faithfulness with a generous definition of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as opposed to a narrow one. A narrow construal of CBF equates CBF with the mission and ministry operations based in Decatur; the most generous definition understands CBF as a community of congregations, field personnel, chaplains, state and regional organizations, theological schools, other partners that is convened and encouraged by the work of the CBF Global office in Decatur and staff in other places.

This season of discovery and response has reflected and will continue to reflect the conviction that CBF (generously defined) exists for the blessing, strengthening and encouraging of congregations for more faithful ministry in their communities and a compelling shared Christian witness in the world.