In the concluding verses of each New Testament epistle penned by the Apostle Paul he states his desire to revisit the churches he helped establish so that they might be inspired by his presence and encouraged by his teaching. Some churches Paul was able to get back to; others he did not. But the letters remind us of how much those churches meant to Paul, especially during his latter years when he found himself imprisoned for the sake of the Gospel.
This Sunday we have an opportunity to receive “another” Apostle Paul. Dr. Paul Baxley is the new Executive Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. You may have followed some of the news stories on the CBF’s General Assembly that convened this week here in Birmingham. Paul’s move to this position is one I most heartily endorse. I worked with Paul very closely as a member of the CBF’s Governing Board and saw on many occasions Paul’s ability to wed reason and empathy in many a contentious conversation. As you know from your experience, bringing those two qualities together is never something easy to do, especially when emotions are raw and run high.
Paul was actually at our church a little over a month ago when we hosted a small gathering for Alabama CBF pastors and leaders in the Birmingham area. At that meeting Paul shared his vision for CBF, which is to support local churches in their mission to advance God’s Kingdom purposes in their communities and beyond. In a day when too many denominational bodies focus on self-sustaining activity, I find it refreshing to hear someone speak about how denominations actually exist to support the local church and not the other way around. That perspective seems remarkably Baptist to me.
You will enjoy hearing Paul preach this coming Sunday. Paul comes to his new position from the pastorate of the First Baptist Church in Athens, Georgia, so preaching and teaching come naturally to him. He is an engaging preacher, full of enthusiasm for the cause of Christ and mission of the church. I promise you that you will leave our worship on Sunday more inspired to find your place in doing the work of the Gospel.
Most importantly, I think as much as I pray that our people will be inspired by Paul Baxley’s preaching, I pray even more that our presence will encourage Paul Baxley for the work God has given him to do. Any leader of any organization will be quick to tell you that it gets awfully lonely at the top, and for a denominational leader making transition from the warmth of the local church to the sterility of a judicatory office, the need for congregational encouragement is like water to a thirsty soul.
So join us this Sunday to welcome Paul Baxley to his new role and show our church’s support to his exuberant vision. As with our service last week, this Sunday will be a combined service so that we can show Paul the support of a united church, one that believes as he does that we are the body and bride of Christ – his hands and feet to call all persons to the joy of God’s salvation. Now, that’s a mission I would hope that all of us could and will get behind.
“Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Philippians 2:1-2).