Friday, May 08, 2009

We Can't Hold Out Much Longer

This week I met some friends who know from personal experience that the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is not appointing missionaries. My friends are competent, capable and intelligent. For years they've cultivated relationships with existing field personnel and CBF staff learning by example while anticipating their own ministry careers.

Over lunch, one woman told me, "I wish I had known I wasn't going to have the opportunity to be appointed. I would have spent the last ten years of my life networking with organizations that might actually hire me." Another woman said, "Maybe we should have just stayed with the Southern Baptist Convention. At least they are honest about their requirements."

Former CBF applicants had urged the friends I met to proceed with caution throughout the interview process. According to personal conversations with other candidates, CBF's reasons for not appointing individuals have included: too specific of a call, too vague of a call, too much seminary, not enough seminary, and weight. I understand that many organizations are under increased financial stress, but this is a pattern that seems to have started years ago. I also know that some have been willing to raise their own support and they have still been denied appointment.

Some questions we should be asking:
1. How many career, field personnel positions has CBF appointed since 2006?
2. What are appointment requirements and do candidates receive a copy when they apply?
3. If a CBF congregation wanted to support an individual from their church, is that possible?
4. How many career units has CBF lost or discontinued in the last five years? How many have they appointed in the last five years?

I've questioned whether or not I should write this post. I do not want to seem combative, rude, divisive, disruptive, or unhelpful. I do not wish to embarrass or shame. I write for the ones with whom I met this week. I write because I do not know what else to do. I write because I'm angry and I fear that most don't know this is happening. I write for those who are thinking about whether or not to go to seminary or take out a student loan. I write for those who can't say anything because their jobs or reputations would be jeopardized. I write because I am a student of missiology and I care.

I thought about my reputation and if I might be limiting my future job possibilities. It's probable. And let's be honest, they aren't going to hire me anyway.

I'm tired of waiting for somebody else to say something. I'm tired of hearing the same commissioning speech every summer. I'm tired of field personnel being moved from international assignments to the Atlanta office. I'm tired of pretense prevailing.

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, "We love you, and we bless you." Where will we go if not with you? As post-denominational as I hear our world is, I think we still need you. We can't hold out for much longer. Sister Cooperative Baptist, Brother Fellowship, we are family, tell us the truth. Help us help you.
Suzanah D. Raffield


Anonymous Steve V said...

Suzanah, I do not know you that well, but I can feel the pain in your post. Many people have this same feeling I think. We "dusted off our feet" and moved on a while ago. I admire you willingness to transform the agency. I hope you are sucessful. Fortunately, there is a much larger world beyond CBF. One of my beefs with CBF very early on (I was a VERY early supporter of CBF) was that at their core they are just a reactive organization to the SBC. As painful and seemingly hopeless as it appears, do not give up on your dreams. If they are not through CBF, so be it. Have you tried the Alliance of Baptists? They seem to take a more proactive approach to ministry. I know of many women who are living out their call in other organizations (AOB is one). This is a grief process and may you feel the support from a loving, community of faith.

2:09 PM  
Anonymous Laura said...

Like you and Steve, I have been a supporter of CBF. After a life changing encounter, I had to "dust off my feet" for my own well being. Still very much in the grieving stage, I was told by a former colleague, "You have left the CBF family to join another family." I still haven't sorted it all out but I've tried to pick the places where I can be in community and walked away from the places where I wasn't accepted or wanted. I still haven't figured it out and it doesn't make the wound any less painful. Standing with you.

5:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your bold and brave comments! You are right... most people don't know that this happens. Thanks for being a truth teller.

8:54 PM  
Blogger Tim Marsh said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:22 PM  
Blogger Tim Marsh said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You speak truth here. Thank you for being brave. We need more of this in the Baptist world!

9:03 PM  
Blogger Meg said...

Amen, sister. Thanks for your words.

6:58 PM  
Blogger Eddy said...


I just saw a link to your blog on a friend's Facebook. You pose good questions, ones we as field personnel find ourselves asking as well. However, the answer seems to all boil down to funding. There simply is not funding for career appointments. (That may pose some deeper questions.) However, through the Affiliate program, there is a vibrant channel to raise one's own funding, or have one's church sponsor you, and be appointed by CBF as full career status. I think the door is open to creative avenues for helping people live out their call to minister cross culturally and internationally, in fact, it is recognized as the wave of the future across the board with sending agencies.

As for young single women, with a passion and dedication for working among those in difficult places and in the greatest need -- there are 2 outstanding people with CBF in S.E.Asia, whom I could not speak more highly of!

I sense a new wind of thoughtful leadership moving through the organization and hopefully this will translate into a refined vision and sense of being for CBF as an organization in the near future. . . give them another 12 months. However, it may take the economy much longer than that and some looser purse strings to get to the point of appointing new career personnel.

7:34 AM  
Blogger Andrew Christopher said...


I really admire your courage for speaking your mind. I didn't know that these things were going on, nor would I have known had you not made it possible for me to know. I don't even know what to say, except that what happens to you matters to me - very much.

Andrew Smith

9:56 AM  
Anonymous Matt Norman said...

Thanks for your post, Suzanah—I certainly do not consider it “combative, rude, divisive, disruptive or unhelpful.” You have not hidden your concerns at all, but expressed them freely, and given all of us an opportunity to offer our perspectives on the challenges and opportunities we face in mission engagement in the twenty-first century.

I can assure you beyond any doubt that the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is appointing field personnel—in fact, we have appointed 78 field personnel since 2005 (including this year’s appointees at the General Assembly in Houston). Here is a breakdown of those appointment categories:
Career—7 appointees (including 2 appointees in 2007)
Global Service Corps—23 appointees
AsYouGo Affiliate—48 appointees

It is difficult for me to respond to what your friends have told you about the appointment and selection process. You can appreciate the fact that this process is a highly confidential one designed to protect the privacy of candidates. We do our very best to ensure that the process is marked by care and deep respect for the individuals who are seeking appointment. The Global Missions leadership cluster, not one or two people, reach consensus regarding our new appointments.

Our appointment requirements are posted on our website and shared with all candidates and anyone else who cares to look closely at the process. Guidelines differ based on the category of service—but all guidelines are clearly on the site and shared with candidates in the process.

There are a half-dozen ways (at least!) by which God-called women and men can be appointed to mission service, and about a half dozen different ways that our field personnel can and do receive financial support. The important point is that an individual is out in the world serving as God intends for him or her to serve.

Please know that we do not enter lightly into the appointment of career field personnel. We want to make sure that we are strategic and careful as we move ahead, especially in the middle of a global economic crisis. Our first priority is to take care of the personnel that we already have on the field and to ensure that their support is stable and that they can remain to do the work God has called them to do. As financial resources become available, we will appoint career personnel again.

You also raise concerns about all the field personnel we have moved to the Atlanta office. The only persons we have moved to Atlanta are Jim and Becky Smith. Jim serves now as director of field ministries (directing the work of all of our field personnel). Becky continues in her role as area coordinator for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

Here is the website for any potential applicants who might be interested in serving formally with CBF. There are so many opportunities out there and we would love to dialogue with you and others about the possibilities.

Thanks for providing an opportunity for us to respond to your important concerns.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Tamara said...

I too am saddened by the news that you have shared about appointments this year. I don't have all of the facts, however one I do know is that appointments are in direct correlation to contributions to the Offering for Global Missions. When I was appointed there was more money than there was work---could that be the reason I came to serve among the competent, capable and intelligent?!!
The privilege to serve both internationally AND in Atlanta provided encounters that continue to impact my life and transform my sense of ministy. My move to Atlanta was with a sense of God's sure and fluid call. A number of years passed when no one received pay increases, but work beyond one's imagination was accomplished. Even now some of my remaining friends on the field struggle each month. That's something my church and I are responsible for. And for that reason, my fiance and I have listed the Offering for Global Missions as #1 on our gift registry.
I never have thought that CBF had it all right, and some of its policy gives me grief. But I have always found those who were willing to enter dialogue. I hope you will too.

2:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I so appreciated your closing line, "Help us help you." That's from Jerry Maguire, right? I've used and abused that line a few times. The line from the movie that I enjoyed the most, however, was "Show me the money!" And to think, "you had us at hello!"


7:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. Great conversation and dialogue.
I have heard for several years that the reason that CBF hasn't appointed full-time missionaries is because of funding. I realize that with current economic difficulties, it has become increasingly difficult. What I would love to hear at the commissioning service is the honest plea each year of support for the Offering for Global Missions.... and what it means when there is not enough financial support.

10:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps an oversight but the question, "How many career units (and affiliates) has CBF lost or discontinued in the last five years?" was not answered.

Of that number, I wonder how many are back on the field either with another agency or by raising their own support?

Lastly, after reading CBF's response how many on the Global Missions leadership cluster have been appointed as a career missionary by CBF or another missions agency? What are their qualifications?

4:54 AM  
Blogger Emily Jane said...

Thank you for your blog. I think you're blog brings up several really important things. One is that folks interested in international service aren't clear on the process of applying and rates of acceptance (obviously, working in admissions, I would point this out) and this leads to lots of speculative conversations and hurt feelings. I frequently speak with mission-minded students who are confused and I usually tell them to walk over there and ask somebody - which most folks can't do.
The second important thing, which Tamera pointed out, is CBF's financial situation - and the consequences on all the ministry CBF does. I'm not sure how far back the public conversation goes, but they have been spending at reduced percentage for a number of years (this isn't a secret, but I don't recall reading anything about it until this last severe cut).
Last, I'd say organizations have difficulty harnessing the energy around situations like this. It seems like most of the time, folks want to start something new, again.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Ircel said...

I am late to this discussion, Suzanah, but here's my two cents' worth.

First, I have been a supporter of CBF and its missions program since inception, and I continue to celebrate some of its more creative strategies--one mission board, working with people groups, etc. In some ways, I believe that the innovations did not go far enough and encouraged supporters to think that we could appoint missionaries "just like in the good old days." This was an unrealistic expectation that has come back to haunt CBF and its constituency.

Second, the continued change in Global Missions leadership has meant that we have had at least four visions of the future of CBF missions. That has to hurt.

Third, I quite honestly believe that the real future of missions (and many other ministries) lies with ministry entrepreneurs who identify a need, develop a strategy to meet it, then mobilize resources to make it happen. We live in a networked world. Although CBF promised to pursue such a model, it has rarely happened.

My best to you as you continue to do what God leads you to do.

9:45 AM  
Anonymous Rev. Ang said...

I appreciate your words and my dear seminary friend who directed me to your blog when we were discussing some of our frustrations with CBF. While I cannot speak to their appointment of missionaries, I can speak to my own experience of CBF literally dropping all support. I served in CBF affiliated churches for seven years by the time I graduated from seminary and left for California to pursue a PhD. CBF's presence in California, particularly the Bay Area, is quite minimal. And the places where I've found CBF's presence are considerably more conservative. I sent numerous letters and made many phone calls to see if CBF offered any financial support for persons pursuing PhDs with the intent of teaching seminary. I was literally laughed at and told they fund "ministers," thus implying that professors of seminarians are not ministers.
I must simply say that it is very disappointing to faithfully serve in CBF affiliated churches for 7 years and now serve in a ABC/BPFNA church for 3 years and still feel as though there is no strong place to "hang my hat." I'm not even 30 yet, was quite faithful to CBF when I lived in places where CBF had a presence, and now that I've moved I feel abandoned by CBF. What is more, there are vital, justice-oriented issues that seminarians, ministers, and lay people must discuss and CBF blatantly chooses to avoid these discussions. I feel as though the organization is only defining itself for what it is not (SBC) rather than what it is. As a person called by God, committed to Baptist principles, and serving in the local church, I find myself at a loss when I people ask what Baptist organization I affiliate with. I do things with the Alliance, AWAB, and BPFNA, but they are simply much smaller than CBF. Perhaps we can all join together with these three organizations and creatively think about what it means to be Baptist in such contexts.

7:29 PM  

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