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CBF council avoids controversial issues, handling routine pre-assembly business

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Members of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Coordinating Council heard Coordinator Daniel Vestal’s thoughts on leadership during their June 26-27 pre-assembly meeting, in addition to electing two new administrators and refining personnel selection policies. The 77-member council handled routine matters without the controversy that characterized last year’s pre-assembly meeting.

Moderator James E. Baucom, Jr., pastor of Rivermont Avenue Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., set the stage for harmony early in the meeting by clarifying the council’s role in making sure “the ends are achieved and unacceptable means are avoided,” quoting from the Carver Model of Board Governance. While some boards exist to help the staff, lend or gain prestige, rubberstamp management desires, fund the outfit, micromanage the staff, or protect lower staff from management, Baucom said the only reason the Coordinating Council exists is “to determine what results should be achieved for what recipients at what cost.”

Baucom insisted, “We do not micromanage what happens in those walls,” referring to CBF’s national office in Atlanta. “All we can do is set the right people in place with the right parameters.” He added, “Our question every time we come together as a board is what is CBF about that justifies why there is a CBF.”

In making a case for openness and transparency, Baucom said, “We might not be in this mess as Baptists if this had been done along the way.” He urged council members to “get in a habit of asking the very difficult questions about the very core things and ignoring some of the little minutia that we tend to get involved in.”

Baucom praised CBF moderator-elect J. Phillip Martin of Richardson, Texas, as the right person to lead CBF through the next stage. Martin, a National Association of Church Business Administration staff member, responded, “We’ve been learning about a game that we haven’t really been playing. Now it’s time to dust the golf clubs off and really start swinging.” He said CBF is still trying to define the role of the Coordinating Council within the organization, anticipating revisions to the bylaws to bring the constitution in line with how CBF is functioning. Martin hopes revisions can be offered for consideration at next year’s assembly meeting in Charlotte, NC.

A second phase of long-range planning to reorganize the council and determine how CBF relates to state and regional networks was derailed last year after members concluded that proposed changes had not been clearly explained.

Martin said the council’s role in the budgeting process must be carefully examined. “I don’t want to micromanage, but we need to have strong input and oversee that budget. It’s the place where we influence the organization.” Referring to the council’s last meeting in February, Martin said, “Many felt we were asked to wave at the train as it drove past. Next year we’ll be able to put the process in place, giving feedback to the staff and then doing the work of budgeting to bring it back to us and tweak that budget before it’s final.”

“God has been really good to us,” Baucom said, praising Donna Forrester’s leadership as moderator last year. “Last year when we acted as a committee of the whole on the issues that we dealt with, I can’t imagine having done that without Donna’s leadership.

Baucom added, “The way that we are beginning to interact with policy and budget is changing. Those are the two push points of power.” He described the council’s responsibility of appointing the two top administrative positions as a third push point. “We have that power and they are directly accountable to us.”

When the council met prior to last year’s assembly, members voted to scuttle the controversial reorganization plan and reclassified a policy on homosexual behavior from an “organizational value” to a “personnel and administrative funding policy” for internal use only. Efforts to rescind the policy prohibiting CBF funding of organizations or causes that “condone, advocate or affirm homosexual practice” were rejected by last year’s council and in a 701-502 vote on the assembly floor.

The Council unanimously elected Ben McDade as director of communications and marketing. CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal said, “He’ll be working with me in crafting a more aggressive approach to addressing public concerns.”

President of his own company, McDade has experience as a marketing director and has worked for Smith and Helwys Publishing, Mercer University, as well as the South Carolina Baptist Convention. He replaces David Wilkinson who, according to a March news article “found it necessary to offer my resignation out of my own sense of personal and professional integrity.”

Personnel Committee Chairman Gary Cook of First Baptist Church of Lawton, Okla., described McDade as having “a very keen insight into who we are as CBF, who we are as free, faithful Baptists, as a new movement looking ahead to the future.”

When a council member asked if McDade would “get as much air time as Jerry Falwell gets,” Cook said the newly elected communications director has “a very strong sense of how to get us appropriate and positive air time and keep us out of trouble on the other end.”

McDade said the unanimous vote was “almost taboo in Baptist life anymore” and spoke of his appreciation of CBF “as a good product” worthy of marketing. “One of my immediate concerns will be to tell the story of CBF. You have a good story to tell.” In devoting time to media relations, McDade said, “Others have tried to define this movement and put it in a box. I want to position this movement” so that when “folks think of CBF” they know they are “authentic Baptists interested in building bridges, collaboration, and honest dialogue in a respectful setting.”

He added, “The world is way overdue for that from Baptists, particularly in the South.” In telling the story of CBF, McDade said that task is sometimes done “by being peacemakers” and at other times “by standing firm.”

Council members unanimously approved the selection of Bo Prosser, associate pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., as coordinator for congregational life.

Robert B. Setzer of Macon, Ga., chaired the search committee that recommended Prosser, anticipating that he will “help our churches grow deeper through discipleship and broader through evangelism and stronger through a vital sense of mission.”

Council member Cynthia Holmes of Clayton, Mo., referenced Wake Forest Divinity School Dean Bill Leonard’s regard for Prosser as one who “responded to the collapse of the Southern Baptist Convention not simply with complaining and mourning.” Instead, Leonard said Prosser has encouraged new paradigms within the CBF.

“It’s very, very humbling to have folks like you affirm us for gifts and abilities that we have, but it is also very challenging to think of what is before us,” Prosser said. “But with your partnership, I feel very good about meeting needs of CBF and the local churches we serve.”

Prosser drew laughter from council members when he concluded, “In the words of that great modern day philosopher Jimmy Buffet, ‘if we couldn’t laugh we’d all go insane.'” Prosser said, “I plan to bring love and laughter to ministry with you as we try to minister to the kingdom who we are and what we’re about.”

Finance Committee member Philip Wise of Dothan, Ala., described CBF’s financial position as strong and praised the staff for excellence in monitoring receipts and expenditures as well as restructuring reporting.

James H. Strawn, coordinator for Finance and Administrative Services, reported a 4.6 percent increase in total revenues of $16,183,689 for the past 11 months as compared to receipts of 2000-2001. Of that amount, undesignated offerings increased by four percent, global missions offerings increased by 2.2 percent, and designated offerings grew by 9.3 percent, primarily due to gifts for relief efforts in Afghanistan, New York City and Washington, D.C.

Although CBF is operating at 92% of its budget for the year, Strawn said in comparison to how other organizations had withstood a turbulent year, “It is a very good, strong report.” Total assets have grown from $21.1 million to $23.4 million in the past year.

Although the administrative expenses overran the budget by $194,785, Strawn said adjustments were made internally to shift funds from unexpended categories to ensure that no budgeted initiative suffered. “That was the beauty of it, Strawn said, referring budget adjustments, “We didn’t have to hold back on anything.”

Strawn outlined proposed changes to the personnel selection process, answering questions regarding the shift of some functions from the Personnel Task Group to the CBF management team. Through a straw poll the council agreed with Baucom’s suggestion to delay action until October to refine the document.

Tim Brendle of Richmond, Va., facilitator of the Global Missions and Ministry Initiative Team, explained, “It is the intention of the personnel committee that we move toward having guidelines that don’t have to come back to the council every time there is a change.”

Elizabeth Denham Thompson of Littleton, Colo., a newly nominated council member who serves as pastoral counselor and executive director of the Samaritan Counseling Center of Denver, asked Strawn if consideration had been given to non-discrimination policies and grievance procedures within personnel policy changes. Strang referenced the advice of a professional human relations firm in drafting such changes.

The Council also affirmed new members of the council charged with chaplaincy endorsement.

Steering Committee Chairman Glen Schmucker of Cliff Temple Baptist Church of Dallas, offered a preview of this year’s assembly meeting which his committee planned in light of the impact of Sept. 11. “All of that seasoned our thinking about this coming assembly,” Schmucker said, explaining that business sessions would be limited to Friday morning and afternoon with a communion service scheduled on Saturday.

“We wanted to leave here on a spiritual high note and felt that was a good way to do it. This is primarily all about finding a way to get us connected spiritually.”

Program Vice Chairperson Bob Newell of Memorial Drive Baptist Church in Houston, added that the Fort Worth gathering would have “a Texas flavor with a CBF ethos” as it “deliberately and directly reflects on Baptist life in all its diversity, but also giving a Texas feel to it.”

Anticipating the testimonies of CBF participants serving around the world, Newell said, “Sometimes I hear Baptist voices that are not familiar to me, stating things that Baptists historically have not said. Sometimes I hear voices that are not encouraging to the Baptist or Christian witness.” He urged council members to “listen careful” to the testimonies at the assembly “because you will hear Baptist voices that sound familiar on one hand, but also sound like a new paradigm model, post 9-11. You’ll hear where God is at work despite the difficulties of our world.”

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter