NASHVILLE (BP)–Baptist leaders in the former Soviet Union are catching a vision of fulfilling the Great Commission as they learn more about Empowering Kingdom Growth and Thy Kingdom Come, according to Southern Baptists who have been working with those leaders for almost five years.
Since 2003, Carlisle Driggers, executive director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, and Jere Phillips, a professor at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tenn., have trained more than 700 national, regional and local Baptist leaders in the Commonwealth of Independent States to use materials associated with the two church renewal emphases. Those training sessions were conducted in conjunction with Mick Stockwell and Ed Tarleton, International Mission Board strategists in the region.
“These national leaders, pastors and our missionaries are excited by the combination of Empowering Kingdom Growth and Thy Kingdom Come,” said Phillips, who became acquainted with Baptists in that region in 2002, when he helped them develop an indigenous Sunday school curriculum. “EKG gives the spiritual foundations while Thy Kingdom Come helps translate it into real action plans.”
Empowering Kingdom Growth (empoweringkingdomgrowth.com) is a process for spiritual renewal that helps churches and individual believers recognize that their purpose in every aspect of life is to advance God’s kingdom as He empowers them. Thy Kingdom Come helps them discover and implement what God wants to do through their ministries. Both emphases were developed in the South Carolina Baptist Convention, and EKG was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention as a national emphasis in 2002.
Empowering Kingdom Growth and Thy Kingdom Come have helped Baptists in countries of the former Soviet Union define God’s vision for their work in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, Tarleton said.
“A mere 10 years ago, this same group of leaders was struggling to define their vision,” Tarleton said. “Now they are talking excitedly about their visions, values, and key results areas for impacting God’s Kingdom. Future years will certainly mark these current days as historic turning points in the development of these Baptist unions.”
The emphasis has helped Baptist leaders in the Commonwealth of Independent States turn their focus toward the future, said one Union president, whose name is withheld for security reasons.
“For two years we have been talking about the vision of the union,” the leader said. “In our prayerful discussion, we defined many of the aims of the union, many expectations of the union, and as a result came to the following conclusion: We are meant to serve churches for the establishment and expansion of the Kingdom of God on the earth.
“I suddenly felt that we devote most of our time and efforts to the preservation of the past,” the leader added. “Even minute changes in the service lead to a storm of protests, including members leaving the church…. The only manifestation of the life of the church is a general meeting of the church which has been unchanged for more than 100 years … [but] the gospel of Jesus Christ calls to action: to change and transformation.”
Ken Hemphill, the Southern Baptist Convention’s national strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth, noted that those comments echo A Journey of Faith and Hope, a book written by Driggers that warns about the danger of congregations failing to focus on the future and denominations seeing churches as the support system for the denomination, rather than the reverse.
“These Baptist leaders understand that you should never attach a church’s giving to a budget,” Hemphill said. “Giving is part of our worship and our stewardship to the King. A budget is nothing more than a strategy plan for accomplishing the Acts 1:8 imperative.
“In the same way, our Cooperative Program is not a budget for funding a denomination,” Hemphill added. “The Cooperative Program is a local church’s budget to participate with partners in accomplishing the Great Commission vision.”
A church starter who participated in one of the EKG training sessions has since moved to another area where the process has not been used and has requested a conference for that area, Phillips said.
Phillips quoted a letter from the church starter: “The EKG vision … is what is needed here … to get our work on a new level of effectiveness and closer to what God has in mind for His church in the times we live …. Statistics in the last two years show decline in church membership and baptisms. There is a concern in the air….
“[This area] is not lacking resources, what it needs is a united empowering vision,” the church starter wrote. “I know an EKG conference is not a ‘shot in the arm’ that can miraculously infuse a vision, but if the churches … are asking for God’s help to move beyond the current impasse, the time might be just right.”
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.