NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–As the Kingdom calendar counts down to the day that Christ returns, Southern Baptists must lead in awakening the church to be on mission with God for the redemption of the nations, Ken Hemphill, national strategist for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis, said.
“Why are we redeemed? So many Baptists, when I ask them the question, respond with one of two answers: To get out of hell or to go to heaven,” Hemphill said in his address during the opening session of the Executive Committee’s Sept. 20-21 meeting. “And what we’ve got is an unfilled gap in the middle. Somehow they know they’re out of hell and they’ve got a destiny for heaven, but 80 percent of our people are unengaged in the present time. About 80 percent of the people in the local church give or do little to advance the Kingdom cause through that church.
“When we begin to change that single statistic, everything we’re dealing with will change radically and rapidly,” Hemphill said.
Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC’s Executive Committee, asked Hemphill to address committee members in his place because he wanted them to hear what God is doing through EKG.
Hemphill began by recounting how numerous members of the media, in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, wanted him to answer whether the end of the world was at hand.
“They were fascinated by that event and with the speculation that seemed to be going on, and I guess the Lord gave me the response because almost immediately I thought of the text Matthew 24:14,” he said. “And I said to them, ‘I don’t know. I’m not really into the timetable issues and only the Father Himself knows, but I do know one thing. There’s one sign yet to be fulfilled: This good news of the Kingdom will be proclaimed in the entire world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.’”
Though the secular media seemed uninterested in that component of the end of the world, Empowering Kingdom Growth is directly related to it, Hemphill said, because billions around the world are lost and the church is failing to fulfill the mission of making a name for God among the nations.
Citing statistics that indicate that 51 percent of Southern Baptist churches reported five baptisms or less in a year, Hemphill said the numbers are symptomatic of spiritual apathy that has been created by a lack of spiritual vision.
“I’ve found that perhaps the biggest deterrent that we face to church growth and to revitalization of our churches is this mindset that church is about us,” Hemphill said. “… Somehow we’ve come to this idea that church is about us, it’s designed to make us comfortable. Well, as you begin to study the Word of God, you’ll discover that church is about advancing the Kingdom of God and it may well not be very comfortable in this process.”
If church members would stop claiming their particular pews, their particular parking spots and their particular kinds of music and begin to understand their individual importance to the Kingdom of God, then the church could regain its effectiveness and move toward accomplishing the task of reaching the nations, Hemphill said.
“What I’m suggesting is that [we] get this concept in every one of our laypeople, that they’re a Kingdom agent wherever they are — Monday through Saturday as well as Sunday — that we come together to celebrate Kingdom activity but we depart to do Kingdom activity,” he said.
“You may be in a waiting room at a dentist, thinking your appointment is there, but God may have a divine intentionality there,” Hemphill continued. “We’re not simply going to win the world just by knocking on doors on Monday night, and I believe in that. But we’re going to have to have people that are salt and light in the marketplace, looking [at] every day and every opportunity as a Kingdom opportunity and a Kingdom moment.”
God chose Israel, Hemphill said, so that He would have a people on mission with Him for the redemption of the nations. Even today, He is seeking a people who will embody His name, embrace His mission to the nations and obey His Word. God chose Israel so that through them He could make a name for Himself that would draw all nations to Him.
“I believe God would love to do a great and mighty thing for Southern Baptists, but not to make a name for us,” he said. “God wants to make a name for Himself, and God wants to bring blessing on a people because He wants to demonstrate something so big no denomination, no people can get credit for it.”
But Israel ignored God’s concern for the nations, Hemphill said. They disobeyed God’s Word, and in the resulting impurity they dishonored His name.
“They were engrossed in materialism and sensualism and arrogance and idolatry — misplaced affection,” he said. “If any of that sounds familiar, it is. Israel had consumed God’s blessing rather than conveying it.”
As an example of Christians squandering the blessings God has given them, Hemphill said $2.9 billion was given in one year through all the missions organizations in the world to reach the 1.56 billion people who have little or no exposure to the Gospel, but $2.8 billion was spent during the Easter season on Easter candy.
“We spent as much in one week celebrating the resurrection as we did in 52 weeks declaring the resurrection,” he said.
“If God rejected Israel for consuming His blessing with little regard for His mission, are we so arrogant to believe that God may not pass us over and use another nation or another people?” Hemphill asked, noting that it has been done in church history. Today the cathedrals of England are empty.
“Folks, I believe we’re at the greatest opportunity and the greatest crisis we’ve ever faced,” he said. “I believe that if we do not reverse the priorities and begin to focus on the nations, then God could pass us by for another nation to do His mission.”
Hemphill said the question he asks Southern Baptists when he travels to churches to speak about Empowering Kingdom Growth is, “Do you desire the kingdoms of the world and men’s glory or the Kingdom of God and His reward?”
The purpose of each believer is to advance His Kingdom by His power for His glory, Hemphill said.
“I believe Southern Baptists’ best days are before us, and you could not believe how much we could get done working together if we don’t care who gets the credit,” he said.