Saturday, March 15, 2008

New Baptist Covenant Follow-up

This past week I attended a follow-up meeting for the New Baptist Covenant hosted by Jimmy Carter at the Carter Center in Atlanta. Approximately 70 people representing nearly 40 Baptist bodies across North American were present. A great deal of excitement and enthusiasm was generated by New Baptist Covenant Celebration in Atlanta on January 30-February 1, 2008. The real question is what next? It is not a simple thing to bring a diverse group of Baptists together for worship and discussion, and it is even more challenging to explore a shared future.

I sent a note to Jimmy Allen, Bill Underwood, and the other members of the steering committee yesterday to thank them for the follow-up meeting. I can appreciate the incredible challenge before us as we seek to explore what God is doing in this Baptist Movement in a way that engages and involves our denominations and organizations and yet avoids the dangers of attempting to institutionalize a movement.

I, like many others, felt the Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant was a truly historic gathering. I have a great desire to see Baptists across North America find a way to build a new level of partnership and collaboration for the sake of Christ’s Kingdom. One exciting development from the follow-up meeting was preliminary decision to move toward another North American gathering in 2011. Several people present voiced a suggestion which I also made after the January gathering. I believe we should encourage local and regional meetings that would facilitate the development local relationships and ministry involvement.

Baptists need each other. We need to get over our own provincial biases and work through the racial and cultural differences that have often kept us apart. This does not mean we have to merge into a single body; however, it might mean that we eventually have fewer Baptist bodies. Most importantly, it means we find a way to work together for the sake of our churches and Christ’s kingdom. It means we humble ourselves enough to admit that we can learn from each other. It has often been said, You can tell a Baptist, but you cannot tell him much! I serve an organization made up of predominantly Anglo congregations. We could profit a great deal by a greater sense of collaboration and partnership with our African-American brothers and sisters. Black congregations often do a much better job of identifying with and engaging their communities. Many times they do a better job of empowering leaders for service, and many of us have come to understand the vitality in their worship is much more than merely the cultural differences expressed in worship styles. We need our Black Baptist brothers and sisters.

I have been in discussions with representatives from several Baptist bodies (National Baptists, American Baptists, and others) in our region of the country (Missouri and the mid-west) since we returned the Atlanta gathering. We have a meeting scheduled in April with a group of pastors and convention leaders to explore the possibility of a regional gathering of the New Baptist Covenant. I am hopeful that this movement could be the beginning of something very special in Baptist life.

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