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Empowering Kingdom Growth starts with God’s people, Hemphill says

ATLANTA (BP)–Any great move of God must begin among His people, Ken Hemphill emphasized July 30 in his first major address as national strategist for Southern Baptists’ Empowering Kingdom Growth (EKG) initiative.

Drawing on both Old and New Testament texts on how God viewed His Kingdom, Hemphill said God has drawn others to Himself through His people only as they embrace Him in repentance and humble obedience.

“If you were thinking this Empowering Kingdom Growth is about some program that will give new juice to your Sunday School, you’re going to be disappointed,” Hemphill told about 350 Southern Baptist evangelism, church planting and communications leaders. “This is about radical lifestyle commitment to our Father’s Kingdom, for our Father’s reward. And none of us may receive much glory for this here on earth.

“It’s about transformation of a people called Southern Baptists so that their name is synonymous with His name, and the nation would see His name manifested in His Kingdom in such a way that the foreigners would be drawn to him.”

Hemphill delivered the closing address of the North American Mission Board’s July 27-30 Summer State Leadership Conference in Atlanta. He became the SBC’s EKG strategist this spring after previously serving nine years as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

Empowering Kingdom Growth is a convention-wide initiative launched in 2002 to call Southern Baptists to renew their passion for Jesus and the reign of His Kingdom.

Pointing to the prayer of David in 2 Samuel 7, Hemphill said God throughout Scripture makes clear that His purpose in blessing the nation of Israel was to bring glory to Himself — not to the nation of Israel. In the same way, he said, any move of God through Southern Baptists will require the same realization.

“God does not share His glory. So His purpose is to work through a people,” Hemphill said. “I believe in Southern Baptists, but the truth of the matter is this is not about us. … It’s not about anything else except the glory of God and God’s name.”

When Israel was dedicating the temple, he pointed out, the whole focus of Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8 was similarly on lifting up God’s name so that “foreigners” would hear about God and come to live among the people of Israel.

“Here we have an incredible evangelistic outreach in the Old Testament that is one we have never even dreamed of,” Hemphill said, “and that is that God has embraced people in such a way that they are drawn to this place.”

In Ezekiel 36, Hemphill said, God’s name was disgraced when the nation of Israel was scattered because of the disobedience of its people. But God brought them back and restored them — not for Israel’s glory but, as the Lord said, “to show foreign nations that I am holy.”

“If we’re going to see Kingdom growth it’s not going to be another formula,” Hemphill said. “It’s not going to be another program. It’s going to have to be a radical transformation of God’s people so that His name is made holy among us.”

The emphasis is markedly different from other efforts, he said, including the church growth movement of the 1980s and ’90s — which he helped shape as director of the Southern Baptist Center for Church Growth.

While the movement was effective in many ways, Hemphill said, “I think it did produce a carnality in us that we began to believe there was something we could do to grow the church.”

The same elements of God’s Kingdom vision also are found in the New Testament, Hemphill said.

“If you begin to look at Jesus’ life, one of the things I see missing in our evangelism strategy is people were drawn to Him,” he said. “Many of His early evangelism encounters prompted pagans being drawn to Him. What God is looking for is a people that will manifest His name through radical obedience to His Word and a lifestyle that reflects His character.”

The themes also are taught in both the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer — which Hemphill addressed in depth in his 2001 book, “The Prayer of Jesus.”

“Folks, if we go into this hoping that Southern Baptists are going to receive the glory, we’re going to miss it by a mile,” Hemphill said. “The only person who needs to receive glory from anything we do — whether preaching, witnessing or planting churches — is the one whose name is above every name.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: KEN HEMPHILL.

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  • James Dotson