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Wellman: Cooperation Group to focus on the forest, not trees

Jared Wellman. BP file photo

NASHVILLE (BP) – A group of Southern Baptists tasked with defining the meaning of “friendly cooperation” in the Convention will take a long-range approach to their work, said its chairman.

“We think of how the trees in this forest called the SBC interact,” said Jared Wellman on the issues Southern Baptists discuss today while anticipating those to come. “We’re not looking at one tree, but the health of the forest.”

The Cooperation Group’s formation came from a motion approved at the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans. Georgia pastor James Merritt delivered the motion as messengers prepared to vote on an amendment to the SBC Constitution clarifying the title of “pastor” as being designated solely for men. 

Messengers gave the amendment, which had been introduced a year earlier by Virginia pastor Mike Law, its required 2/3 vote of approval. A second vote by that margin is necessary at the Indianapolis annual meeting next year to complete its adoption. 

While Merritt’s motion did not address Law’s proposal directly, it came at a time when Southern Baptists are debating their statement of faith’s mention of the word “pastor,” particularly whether the Baptist Faith and Message is referring to the position of lead or senior pastor or to any staff person operating with that title.

Merritt’s motion calls for a “broadly representative” task force to “study the issue of how this Convention should deem churches to be in friendly cooperation on questions of faith and practice, as laid out in Article 3.1 of the Constitution referencing our adopted statement of faith, and bring back recommendations to the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana for how we can move forward together in biblical fidelity, missional clarity, and cooperative unity.”

Group members to be announced any day

The Cooperation Group will focus on the original language in Merritt’s motion, said Wellman, pastor of Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas. 

“I know [SBC President] Bart [Barber] wants to do that,” he said. “It’s to be a broadly representative group … and we want to honor that to then study the issue of how this convention can deem churches to be in friendly cooperation of faith and practice as laid out in Article 3 in [the Baptist Faith and Message].”

The full slate of members for the Cooperation Group are to be named soon. Once that happens, Wellman expects the first meeting to take place shortly thereafter. 

While some meetings will take place online, Wellman said he is looking into whether some SBC entities would be open to hosting in-person meetings as well. He envisions those to be two-day gatherings, with members breaking into subgroups for various assignments.

“You can cooperate digitally, but there is something to be said about being in the room together,” he said.

“I would really love for the bulk of our work to be done by the end of March. Then we can use April and May to listen to feedback.”

Updates will be presented at coopgroupupdates.com as they become available. 

Per the approved motion, the Cooperation Group will present its report at the annual meeting in Indianapolis.