FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Coordinator Daniel Vestal told CBF Coordinating Council members of being energized by a four-month “blitz” of meeting “face to face” with more than 2,500 people as he traveled with CBF state coordinators to five states, spoke at three state assemblies and assisted with plans for a Mid-Atlantic CBF group. “I have discovered a great energy for CBF and its mission,” Vestal stated in a printed report he distributed at the June 26 meeting. “These travels have also challenged me and made me aware that we simply must do a better job of telling our story.”
Vestal described CBF as “congregationally focused, fiscally responsible and spiritually sound,” adding that the organization is committed to Baptist principles of faith and practice.
After distributing the report he described CBF’s strategic plan to make leadership development a major initiative. “We are committed to helping congregations develop leaders, partnering with schools in theological education, committed to collegiate student ministry in developing leaders for churches in the future.”
In sharing “tentative thoughts about leadership,” Vestal observed:
— Different people and different kinds of places require different kinds of leaders;
— There are no perfect leaders, noting that those who are waiting for leaders who always make the right decision and do the right thing should forget about it;
— The chemistry between a good leader and those that follow has to be nurtured through a common bond of trust and mutual respect;
— Leadership skills can be learned and developed; and
— Leadership is a calling and gift assignment for which God promises help to those who seek it.
Vestal believes CBF is “uniquely poised” to model leadership and assist churches as they fulfill a God-given mission of developing leaders. By sharing leadership between men and women, clergy and laity, Vestal said the organization avoids becoming “a preacher’s club.” Council members applauded his announcement that 65 percent of the assembly participants will be laypeople. He commended partner organizations that are committed to developing leaders and CBF staff who coordinate leadership development.
“One last reason I believe this is propitious moment for us in leadership development is the maturity of our organization,” Vestal said. “Frankly, there was a time in CBF that I said moderate Baptists really don’t want leadership and they don’t want people who will lead. I think part of that was borne out of the pain of the past. We have seen abusive leadership and leadership abused,” he added.
Vestal said the responsible leadership and policy governance of the council provided evidence that CBF had moved beyond that stage. “All of these factors converge and coalesce to make me confident that when it comes to this initiative of leadership development, it’s time. I believe we’re going to seize this time and by God’s grace model leadership development and serve churches.”
Vestal also reported on:
— A meeting with the Church Benefits board of the American Baptist Churches U.S.A., which provides 300 CBF participants with a retirement program,
— A spring trip to China that yielded strengthened ties to the China Christian Council and the Amity Foundation,
— Continued efforts to gain membership in the Baptist World Alliance,
— A $4 million anonymous donation for global missions through CBF,
— A CBF partners summit strengthening “our common mission and encouraging greater collaboration and communication,” and
— The election of Don Durham to serve as president of CBF Foundation and two nominees for administrative posts.
Following his presentation Vestal responded to a question seeking elaboration on his recent statement regarding the importance of dialogue with Muslims in contrast to recent characterizations of Muhammad by Southern Baptist pastor Jerry Vines. “I communicated with the leadership of five national Muslim organizations in this country and sent a statement that speaks for itself. I don’t need to comment on the statement or dignify the comment that was made, but I do think it’s going to open up conversation and dialogue with Muslim leaders on a national basis.”
Vestal said the incident was reminiscent of initiatives undertaken several years ago with national Jewish leaders. “Those conversations are still going on several fronts. Beautiful things are happening.” He emphasized that CBF is committed to interfaith dialogue, describing it as one of the community building priorities. “I have great hope for that and am encouraged by it.”
During the General Assembly meeting June 27-29, Vestal’s new book, “It’s Time: An Urgent Call to Christian Mission,” will be distributed. Providing a foundational presentation of the mission and future of CBF, Vestal challenges CBF over the next three years to “focus on the urgency of the hour” and the organization’s “strategic role in serving Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.”