On October 1st, I celebrated my nine-year anniversary with CBFVA. It was also the day I took the reins as Coordinator for this amazing organization. I am so grateful for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and for all the people who make this space so special. CBFVA has given me so much and I am looking forward to reinvesting in this organization in a new way.

As I begin this new role, I want to share three guiding principles that I hope will guide our next season of ministry together. These guiding principles are not the “how” or the “what” of our work- they are the “why.” It is important for us to have underlying pillars that give both rhyme and reason for the work that we do and that help hold us accountable.

With that said, here are three “Guiding Principles” for CBFVA:

1. People Matter.

We live in a divided world and all too often, we put entire people groups in the middle of our cultural and religious wars. At CBFVA, we believe all people are created in God’s image and should be treated with the dignity and respect that comes from being a child of God. Each person is unique and has a unique story; each person has a meaningful call on their life, and each person is called to be in community with other faithful believers.

I know we work with churches that see issues differently. Hear me say this: no matter where you fall on these issues, you are welcome at the table. We are here to support you, resource you, and connect you. We are not in the business of kicking people out of the fellowship; we are in the ministry of inviting people into it. CBFVA exists to partner with you as you live out God’s call for you in your community and the world.

Every church is welcome here authentically as they are. We do not have to agree on every theological point to work together. This is one of the blessings of being Baptist! Each church is free to believe and practice faith as they choose. Nevertheless, we understand the importance of working together to meet the needs of those in our world, living out the amazing call of God with our collective voice!

We acknowledge that each congregation and every person is a work in progress. As we walk through life and as we partner together, my hope is that we all grow in faithfulness to God and in love for one another. It is God who calls, it is God who helps us grow, it is God who invites us into the work that God is doing in our world, and it is our job to respond.

As we respond to God’s call, we want to do so in a way that respects those God is calling us to serve. From the language we use in mission to the way we engage in practical mission in the field, we aim to respect the inherent dignity of all people. When we go, we do so by partnering with those already at work in the areas we serve, building their long-term presence in the area knowing that God is at work in those communities long after our short-term teams leave. We also hope that those who go out on mission come back ready to be advocates in their local communities.

2. Courage matters.

We occupy a unique place in Baptist life in Virginia. We hold a space where hard conversations happen and where we do not run away from tough subjects. Yet, all too often, the only voices heard are those that exclude, demoralize and do harm to our Christian witness. We speak a different language. We seek to lift up, inspire, empower and heal a broken world. Hear me say this: Our voice will be heard.

We live in a moment that is too important for us not to speak out. Our voice will be heard. When we speak, we do not speak out for the sake of winning arguments or to gain power or influence or resources. We speak out because we are compelled by the love of God. We speak out because God’s call in our lives is so clear that we are compelled to live out in the world the work that God is doing in our own lives. The world needs to hear our voices. We have a compelling call, and we should live out that call with courage, knowing that our God who calls also equips us to live our calling in the world.

We will not avoid hard conversations. In fact, we want to lean into hard conversations because we believe it is the mission of the church to give people a theological lens to see God present in the hard things. We must be willing to have genuine conversations about the injustices and inequities in our world.

In the next few years, most congregations will face hard conversations on topics like race, Christian nationalism, gun control, and the real struggle many are facing about keeping the doors open. When these conversations come, CBFVA is here to support you, resource you, and connect you with other churches that have been having similar conversations. We will lean into these conversations with you, knowing that we are not alone when difficult but necessary conversations come. This is the gift of partnership!

3. Every Voice Matters.

We value collaboration and diversity. While these are still aspirational goals, they are key in our work. At best, a single perspective (moderate, white) is limiting in terms of understanding the Kingdom. At worst, a single perspective can be dangerous, as we see with Christian nationalism. We are committed to opening our eyes to see the diversity of God’s work in our world.

Having different perspectives, different viewpoints, and different ways of experiencing life helps us see God in new ways and live into a deeper faith. At CBFVA, we must let all voices have a seat at the table that we are building. While it might be easier and more efficient to limit the voices at the table, in the long run, we are being truer to our values by inviting different voices to help guide us.

As every voice matters, we also acknowledge the power of our collective voice. The church should have a voice in the world, standing up for the disenfranchised, speaking truth to power while sharing the good news of the gospel. We will not be silenced by those who want to commandeer the name of Jesus for unethical reasons. We will stand, living authentically into our call, as advocates of God’s redeeming love for the world.

Congregations matter. I LOVE the local church and believe that the Church is God’s best instrument for doing work in the world, but there is work to do! For us to be the voice in the world that I believe we need to be, we need to put on some comfortable clothes and get to work. I truly believe the best days for CBFVA are in front of us, but for us to get there, we must find our voice, tap into the resources we have, be true to the values we hold, and be willing to go where God calls us.

These priorities have been imprinted on my heart throughout my nine years at CBFVA. These priorities have come up over and over in discussions with ministers, seminary students, teenagers, and churches all over the state and seem to be what God is collectively calling us to.

I am grateful for you and for the work we are called to do. I would love to connect with you!

Mark Snipes