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Challenges Facing The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

Daniel Vestal, Executive Coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), and Ben McDade, the organization’s Advancement Coordinator, met on March 29th at the Westover Baptist Church, in Richmond, Virginia, with about 30 pastors, all associated with the Cooerative Baptist Fellowship of Virginia (CBFVA).   The purpose for the gathering was to discuss the challenges facing the CBF as it seeks to fulfill the missional call of scripture. 

The challenges facing the CBF are not unique to it as an organization.  Many (if not all)  mission sending agencies from a wide spectrum of denominational and theological traditions are facing a similar obstacle – that of finding money to fulfill their sense of calling.  

It would be safe to say that the problem is simply related to a downturn in the economy.  It would also be wrong.  “There is plenty of money available,” says Vestal.  “Churches have been very good at teaching people the importance of giving.”  The challenge, as Vestal sees it, is not that people are not giving.  “Christians are generous people,” Vestal says.  “The problem is that only about 30% of the gifts given by Christians are channeled through the church.”

Vestal and several others noted that relief efforts sponsored by celebraties like Brad Pitt and Oprah Winfrey in Louisiana were more successful than most denominational bodies at helping the victims of the hurricanes which ravaged that region.  Many of these relief dollars were donated by Christians who made a choice to give through these channels rather than through their churches.  

Part of the reason for this trend is that many pastors have not exercised leadership in pointing toward the opportunities to give through groups like the Virginia Baptist Mission Board, the Baptist World Alliance, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  When pastoral vision and leadership are lacking, stewardship will also decline.

Another serious challenged discussed was the changes in giving patterns among rising younger generations. 

“My generation – the older generation,” said Vestal, “…is very comfortable pulling out a checkbook to support a global mission work.”  The cooperative giving options made available in many Baptist bodies have been well funded by a generation that is comfortable pooling donations for the global mission endeavor.

“The Boomer generation, however, is more likely to write a check in support of a specific missional projects.”  The Boomer generation, now entering retirement, is classified as anyone born between 1947 – 1966.  Vestal contends that if Boomers hear about a project, such as drilling a well to provide safe drinking water for a rural village in Africa, they will be more likely to support that project.  The same is true for relief efforts after catastrophes like those produced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and earthquakes and Tsunami that have caused devastation is Haiti and Japan.

“Generation X (the children of the Boomers) are less inclined to writes checks for anything they can’t touch.  They are a hand-on generation,” says Vestal. 

Much of what is happening in the missional landscape seems to be a trend toward hands-on mission projects, rather than writing checks for global mission endeavors.  The goal of the CBF is not to buck this trend.  “We couldn’t stop it if we wanted to,” said McDade.  Both men agree that this is how the Spirit of God seems to be moving in the church.

“What we are seeing,” says Vestal, “…is the reemergence of the local church in missions.  Churches are recognizing that the Great Commission and Great Commandment were given to the church.”   Vestal and McDade agreed that the church should have never been separated from the responsibility and blessing of being directly engage in the global mission enterprise.

Feeding this trend will require new missional paradigms.  The CBF is currently establishing networks of passion where individuals and congregations can engage and live out God’s call on their lives.  Current networks are developed around commonly identified areas of missional passion:  Poverty and TransformationJustice and Peacemaking; Internationals Ministry; Faith Sharing and Church Planting; Medical Ministries, Economic Development; Education Ministries; and Disaster Response

“In the future, the CBF will be less about sending missionaries, and more about blessing networks,” said Vestal.

Vestal and McDade made it clear, however, that this does not mean the end of sending and supporting missionaries.  “There will always be a need for persons to serve as an incarnational presence of Jesus.  What is changing is how these missionaries operate.  They are increasingly connecting with churches with whom they can network to fulfill God’s mission,” said vestal.

This is producing the proverbial two-edge sword.  As missionaries gain support from congregations whose member’s network and engage in hands-on mission projects, some of the money that would have gone to support the salaries of those missionaries will be diverted in other directions.  “Without sufficient money in our annual global missions offering,” says Vestal, “I will have to start pulling missionaries off the field.” 

The CBF Global Missions Offering collected throughout the year(but most intentionally during Christmas and easter) is the primary CBF vehicle for supporting its missionaries on the field. When asked how much additional funding was needed nationally to maintain its current level of mission, Vestal responded: “About 1 million dollars.”  With that he challenged pastors to actively promote this offering and to engage their congregations in missional networks.

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