Addressing “things we have never done before” in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention will permeate discussions of those who will present a report next June that could reassert or redefine what constitutes a church to be in friendly cooperation with the SBC, said President Bart Barber.
“These declarations that churches are not in friendly cooperation and these appeals in response to those declarations represent a change in the fundamental processes by which we cooperate with one another,” he said.
The 20-member Cooperation Group came about from a motion at the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans that placed the group’s formation in Barber’s hands. Jared Wellman, pastor of Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, will serve as chair.
Three South Carolinians will serve on the group:
- Travis Kerns — associational mission strategist, Three Rivers Baptist Association in Taylors.
- Tony Wolfe — executive director-treasurer, South Carolina Baptist Convention.
- Nathan Finn — professor of Christian Studies and History, North Greenville University.
Other members include:
- Victor Chayasirisobhon — executive and co-lead pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Anaheim, Calif.
- Jerome Coleman — pastor of First Baptist Church Crestmont in Willow Grove, Pa.
- Tara Dew — speaker and wife of Jamie Dew, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
- Donna Gaines — speaker, author and Bible teacher, wife of Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn.
- Matt Henslee — associational missionary, Collins Baptist Association in McKinney, Texas
- Richard Land — former president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
- Jonathan Leeman — editorial director at 9Marks, elder at Cheverly Baptist Church in Bladensburg, Md.
- Jason Paredes — lead pastor, Fielder Church in Arlington, Texas
- Gregory Perkins — lead pastor, The View Church in Menifee, Calif.; current president of the National African American Fellowship
- Jim Richards — executive director emeritus, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention
- Juan Sanchez — senior pastor, High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas
- Andrew Walker — Ethics and Public Theology professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
- Trevin Wax — author and vice president of Research & Resource Development at the North American Mission Board
Serving in ex officio roles are Barber, SBC Second Vice President Kason Branch, SBC Registration Secretary Don Currence, and SBC Recording Secretary Nathan Finn.
“Cooperation, at its heart, is an agreement between churches who provide support and believers who stand on the front lines of our shared mission,” said Barber, alluding to missionaries, professors and other denominational workers. “This grand agreement, some of it written and some of it unwritten, consists of the specific terms by which churches are comfortable providing support and workers are comfortable providing their service to those churches.
“Within our convention exists a widespread sentiment that the terms of the agreement have changed, as evidenced by the unprecedented things that we are doing.”
Those “unprecedented things” include hearing the appeals of three churches declared by the Executive Committee to not be in friendly cooperation, a declaration messengers upheld in June. Two of those churches were so deemed due to their placing women in pastoral roles. In addition, an amendment to the Baptist Faith and Message, related to the same issue, took place on the convention floor “without taking any time to conduct an in-depth study on those changes beforehand, Barber added.
It will not be the role of the Cooperation Group, Barber said, “to rule in any way on the constitutional amendment proposed by Mike Law and amended by Juan Sanchez.”
Law, pastor of Arlington (Va.) Baptist Church, agreed to the amendment by Sanchez, who is part of the Cooperation Group.
That proposed amendment to the SBC Constitution “is in the hands of the messenger body,” said Barber.
“They and they alone can determine the outcome of that motion. I have labored hard to demonstrate in New Orleans my unwavering commitment to processes for our meeting that follow our rules of order and are accessible and fair to everyone,” he added.
Wellman told Baptist Press on Sept. 12 that the group’s first meeting would take place soon after its formation. Those gatherings will occur primarily online, with at least one two-day in-person meeting expected before the end of the year and another early in 2024. News will be made available at coopgroupupdates.com.
“Spirit-given wisdom” must be sought in reviewing the nature of cooperation, Barber said, with Southern Baptists being “careful, prayerful and deliberate” on any changes affecting it.
The Cooperation Group’s work, he added, needs to address what it means for autonomous, independent churches to work in cooperation in the SBC. Are recent steps in the SBC in line with how cooperation has always been understood? Is there a need to clarify how “the fundamental nature of that agreement” has changed?
“Either way, with so much uncertainty and with the potential for so much division around these questions, the Cooperation Group needs to articulate our vision for cooperation in a way that brings clarity to any open questions and inspires Southern Baptists to redouble our enthusiasm for and commitment to the one sacred effort that brought us together long ago,” Barber said.
— Scott Barkley is national correspondent for Baptist Press.