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FIRST-PERSON: Developing Kingdom thinkers

SCOTT DEPOT, W.Va. (BP)–Our convention was able to get a jumpstart on most state conventions with Empowering Kingdom Growth.

When I was voted in as executive director of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists in November 2001, the Bible study leader for that convention was Dr. Carlisle Driggers, executive director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. We had dinner together that evening and he shared with me how God had used Empowering Kingdom Growth to give direction and excitement to South Carolina Baptists.

He returned home to South Carolina and sent me a copy of his book, “A Journey of Faith & Hope.” I read it and it greatly impacted my life. As I began my ministry here in West Virginia, I worked with the staff on this model and we began to use this pattern to develop our strategy to reach West Virginians for Christ.

When the Southern Baptist Convention adopted the Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis in June 2002, we were already using it and have been able to kick it into high gear due to the adoption by the national body. We have challenged our people to become “Kingdom thinkers.” I personally believe that this is an ongoing process and our people need to be constantly reminded of it.

When our people become “Kingdom thinkers,” they no longer worry about who gets the credit. That is a tall order when working with pastors. I can say this because I was a pastor for nearly 30 years. In our day of consumerism and self-actualization, it is hard for people not to ask, “What do we get out of this?” or “What is in it for me?”

But if we are working for the Kingdom, we may never see a payoff until the Lord comes back again. We must do it for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

When I was getting my education in college and seminary, there was no emphasis on the Kingdom of God. In fact, I remember once asking a question about it in seminary and being told that it had to do with eschatology, or the end times, and I should leave it alone as it was too controversial.

So, I had not really considered the Kingdom of God in depth for years. But Dr. Driggers challenged me to read the New Testament and see how much Jesus had to say about the Kingdom. One day I did a printout on it and it overwhelmed me. I decided that if Jesus had this much to say about the Kingdom, I had to be interested in it and had to consider it.

I have been moved and caused to realize anew that God is not at all interested in the kingdom of an individual, a local Baptist church or even a state convention. He is interested in His Kingdom. Our efforts at church growth, baptisms, Sunday School enrollment, etc. should all be with the concern that we grow the Kingdom of God. I believe that when we get our hearts set on this, we will see all of the above increase and “these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

As our state staff members have traveled to the associations and churches of our convention, we have sought to promote the concept of Empowering Kingdom Growth. We have challenged our people to make their relationship with Christ their first priority, to make an unwavering commitment to Jesus in their private and public lives. We have called them to seek not only what is good for their own church, but also what is good for the entire Kingdom of God. We have found that the laity is eager to embrace such a concept. I have also found that the young people can get excited about this endeavor. They want to be involved in something much bigger than their own church or neighborhood. They are excited about the thought of being involved in the much larger picture of the Kingdom of God.

After preaching and teaching about the Kingdom of God for the past three years, this year as we came to our state convention, we finally put some feet on this thing called the Kingdom. We shared the strategy for carrying out “Kingdom First.” Our entire convention this year was built around Acts 1:8 and it was presented as the strategy for carrying out Empowering Kingdom Growth. I saw some people who, for the very first time, seemed to take hold of this initiative. They had to admit that it is scriptural; in fact it is taken right from the Bible. And they could see how Acts 1:8 is the way for their church to become a church that is Empowering Kingdom Growth.

When we decide we must be on mission with God in our Jerusalem and then Judea, and move on to Samaria and to the ends of the earth, we get our eyes off of ourselves. We realize that the Kingdom of God is much larger than just my immediate location. We challenged our churches to become Acts 1:8 churches. West Virginia is of course still an “emerging region” as far as our state convention is concerned. We have only been a state convention for 34 years. We have just under 200 churches and chapels in our state and already we have signed up 35 of them to become Acts 1:8 churches. Many others took the enrollment form back to their churches to get church action on it, so we believe we will have many more in the next few weeks.

After having several years of decline in our annual baptismal rate, we have had an upturn during this past church year. We baptized 973, which is 141 over the previous year. That is a 16.9 percent increase. We attribute this to several things, but among them is our emphasis on Empowering Kingdom Growth.

A young pastor from another state called me the other day. He is interested in his church helping us start a church here in West Virginia. He said they have people who are willing to come and do survey work, lead Bible studies, teach or preach if needed, and he offered some money for startup and support. He is not concerned about who will count the baptisms on their record or how all the decisions will be made concerning this new church start. He just wants to do something for the Kingdom of God. In other words, he is a “Kingdom thinker.” How refreshing!

Oh, that all of us would become more like this young pastor, and when we do, we will see the Kingdom of God abound in our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.
Terry Harper is executive director of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists.

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  • Terry L. Harper