Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Building Bridges to the Future

I wrote this article originally for the e-Message (our monthly e-newsletter). You may subscribe to the e-Message by sending an e-mail to Brian Kaylor ( You may read the archives on our web site.

On Tuesday, April 29th, I met with representatives from several Baptist conventions and associations from across the Midwest in Kansas City. I had asked Dr. Wallace S. Hartsfield, Sr., Pastor Emeritus of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church and Vice President at Large, National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., to assist in convening a group of key Baptist leaders during April to the discuss the feasibility of a regional meeting of the larger Baptist family in 2009. We had representatives from several National Baptist conventions, General Baptists, American Baptists, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri, and the Baptist General Convention of Missouri present for the discussion.

Our Order of Business Committee and Board of Directors have given approval to exploring a collaborative or joint meeting with our Baptist brothers and sisters in 2009 in the Kansas City area. I don’t know if the meeting with happen next year, but I felt our initial discussions were very positive. I believe the Baptist family and the larger Christian community is stronger when we collaborate and partner for the sake of the Kingdom. We miss a great deal when we isolate ourselves from our brothers and sisters in Christ.

On March 12th 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. 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 meaningful ongoing relationship. 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. One exciting development from the follow-up meeting was preliminary decision to move toward another North American gathering in 2011.

Baptists need each other. We need to get over our 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. We could profit a great deal by a greater sense of collaboration and partnership with our African-American brothers and sisters. I believe 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 have much to learn from our Black brothers and sisters. Obviously, this is also true for the other predominately Anglo denominations. Our first step is to get to know each other. We are planning a second leadership meeting in June, and I am looking forward to where God takes us in this discussion.

I wrote the second in a series of articles on Leadership in my blog earlier this month. In it a quoted Joel Barker who said, “More than anything else, leaders build bridges that help us move from where we are to where we want to be.” We need leaders today who help bring the family of God together rather than dividing it or driving it apart. I am glad our convention is a part of an effort to build bridges to the future. I pray it is a future that brings a new level of partnership and collaboration among the larger Baptist family.

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