SBC’s Cooperation Group Releases Four Recommendations

Group was tasked to study what makes a church “in friendly cooperation of faith and practice” in the SBC


By Scott Barkley

Four recommendations released today are designed to “prioritize and emphasize the authority of messengers in defining the boundaries of our cooperation while clarifying and refining our structure,” said a statement from the SBC’s Cooperation Group. The group was tasked at last summer’s annual meeting to study the issue of what makes a church “to be in friendly cooperation of faith and practice” with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Published 41 days ahead of the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting June 11-12 in Indianapolis, the recommendations are to be considered a draft, said Chairman Jared Wellman, and “subject to necessary edits.”

The first three recommendations are directed at the SBC Executive Committee to propose changes to SBC governing documents for consideration at the 2025 Annual Meeting. Those issues, respectively, concern steps for making changes to the Baptist Faith and Message, who should have authority for seating messengers at an annual meeting, and strengthening the tie between entity trustees and the Baptist Faith and Message.

The fourth recommendation is for the EC to “evaluate” the usefulness, not to mention accuracy, of a public list of Southern Baptist churches and report their findings at the 2025 Annual Meeting.

RECOMMENDATION 1: The process of changing the BF&M

Recommendation 1 addresses how edits or amendments may be made to the Baptist Faith and Message. Last summer in New Orleans, an amendment to the Baptist Faith and Message basically rolled through to a vote with little discussion, prompting concerns about how that came to be.

That would not be able to happen under the first recommendation, which asks that such amendments require the same ratification as amendments to the SBC Constitution — a two-thirds vote in two consecutive years.

The BF&M is “significant” in drawing a picture of what it means to be in friendly cooperation, the group said. “The process of amending ‘The Baptist Faith & Message’ should be robust.”

RECOMMENDATION 2: Messengers make the call

Recommendation 2 is similar to a process already in place, but with a distinct difference. As it is, the Credentials Committee recommends to the Executive Committee churches it considers no longer to be in friendly cooperation. If the EC agrees, those churches are no longer part of the SBC, but may appeal the decision at the annual meeting.

“The sole authority for seating messengers” comes from the messenger body, Wellman said in a Spaces discussion on X May 1, co-hosted by SBC President Bart Barber and South Carolina pastor David Sons. As such, the Credentials Committee, in collaboration with the EC “as needed,” will present cases that will go before the messengers for a vote.

“We trust the messengers. We champion the messengers,” Wellman said in the discussion. “And we feel like messengers are the ones who ought to have this sole right to make this decision.”

The Cooperation Group also recommended that churches seating messengers for the first time be recognized and celebrated at the annual meeting.

“… [T]he health of our Convention’s culture would be improved” by that step, the group said in its report.

RECOMMENDATION 3: Trustees, committee members affirm BF&M

Recommendation 3 calls for a requirement by the Committee on Nominations to nominate “only those candidates who affirm the Convention’s adopted statement of faith” to seats as entity trustees or as standing committee members.

Wellman pointed to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina as an example when it came to trustee fidelity.

“We were impressed by that model in such a way where we felt like we could mimic it,” he said.

In functionality, he and Barber noted, the current Committee on Nominations followed this model. “In fact, I think it’s fair to say that in recent memory, the Committee on Nominations has already been doing this.”

Wellman agreed, comparing it to Recommendation 1 and the ease with which the Baptist Faith and Message was amended in New Orleans. As it is, a trustee can “theoretically” not affirm the Baptist Faith and Message. A step to strengthen that step can only strengthen the trust between churches and Southern Baptist entities.

RECOMMENDATION 4: Usefulness of a Southern Baptist church list

Recommendation 4 urged steps “to clarify our cooperative unity” by evaluating “the usefulness and accuracy” of a public list of Southern Baptist churches.

In the Spaces discussion, previous cases were brought up where churches were recommended to no longer be in friendly cooperation and, when contacted, were surprised they had any connection to the SBC. The result was confusion that often played out publicly.

Southern Baptists could gain “a clearer picture” of which churches are part of the SBC, whether that is through seating messengers, completing an Annual Church Profile and/or giving through the Cooperative Program.

The report included an addendum as a point of clarification. The language of “disfellowshipping” a church is inaccurate, the group said, because from a biblical standpoint it suggests that those churches are no longer Christian. Article XIV of the Baptist Faith and Message encourages cooperation with like-minded churches even if they aren’t Southern Baptist, they pointed out.

DROPPING ‘DISFELLOWSHIP’ LANGUAGE

With regard to Southern Baptist matters, the suggested terminology is “not in friendly cooperation.”

Early in the Cooperation Group’s meetings, the phrase “closely identifies with” received a lot of scrutiny.

Wellman admitted he was “lukewarm” to it and the “ambiguity” it brought. But by December he had “come to love this phrase,” calling it “not perfect” but “sufficient.”

There is no mention of the Law Amendment in the recommendations, though Wellman and Barber said it was brought up to them often by others. That constitutional amendment, up for a second and final vote by messengers this June, pertains to churches giving women the title of pastor. As it wasn’t mentioned in the motion that messengers approved, Barber said, addressing it directly was deemed to be outside the scope of the group’s assignment.

“That amendment lies directly in the hands of the messengers,” he said.

The report included a statement on Article III of the SBC Constitution, which outlines the composition of the SBC.

The Constitution’s language of “closely identifies with” regarding the Baptist Faith and Message “is sufficient,” the group said.

“Overall, our committee is in unanimity in trusting and championing the Convention’s messengers,” Wellman wrote in a Chairman’s Note preceding the report that also called for Southern Baptists to pray and fast with the recommendations’ release.

In addition to Wellman, members of the Cooperation Group include Victor Chayasirisobhon, Jerome Coleman, Tara Dew, Donna Gaines, Matt Henslee, Travis Kerns, Richard Land, Jonathan Leeman, Jason Paredes, Greg Perkins, Jim Richards, Juan Sanchez, Andrew Walker, Trevin Wax and Tony Wolfe. SBC officers serving in ex officio roles are Bart Barber, president; Kason Branch, second vice president; Don Currence, registration secretary; and Nathan Finn, recording secretary.

— Scott Barkley is national correspondent for Baptist Press.