Barber announces changes to ARITF, chairman of Cooperation Group

The Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force has a new chairman, and SBC President Bart Barber has announced the appointment of a chairman for the Cooperation Group in response to the motion made by James Merritt at the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting.

Barber announced the appointment of North Carolina pastor Josh Wester to the ARITF and named him chairman. He also announced that Texas pastor Jared Wellman will lead the Cooperation Group. Wellman previously served as the chairman of the SBC Executive Committee.

Barber announced that Marshall Blalock, Cyndi Lott and Jarrett Stephens have all stepped down from the ARITF. Blalock served as the chairman of the task force following the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting. Barber said Blalock “deserves the gratitude and affection of all Southern Baptists. His leadership of the Task Force as chair for the past year has been exemplary.”

The full task force is now: Josh Wester, chair, Cornerstone Baptist, Greensboro, N.C.; Melissa Bowen, FBC Prattville, Ala.; Kris Buckman, Tri-County Baptist, Damascus, Md.; Stephanie Cline, FBC Winter Garden, Fla.; Brad Eubank, FBC Petal, Miss.; Mike Keahbone FBC Lawton, Okla.; Kelley Lammers, Dell Baptist, Dell, Ark.; Jon Nelson, Soma Community, Jefferson City, Mo.; and Gregory Wills, LaGrange Baptist, LaGrange, Ky.

Barber said he plans to announce the remaining members of the Cooperation Group by the end of August.

Barber asked “local associations and state conventions within the SBC family to press ‘pause’ on any ongoing work they may be conducting or motions they may be considering that involve the nature of what it means to be a church in friendly cooperation with sister Southern Baptist churches.”

He said he understands each of these groups are autonomous, but believes the Cooperation Group will engage in “high-quality research, dialogue, prayer, and contemplation about the nature of cooperation among Southern Baptist churches and our needs going forward.”

He believes the results of their work will “prove to be very helpful information for our local associations and state conventions to consider as they make their own autonomous decisions.”

— Brandon Porter serves as associate vice president for Convention News at the SBC Executive Committee.