NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis in the Southern Baptist Convention has been on the front burner for almost three years. The EKG Task Force has consistently articulated its commitment that this emphasis not become another “program.” We cannot program the activity of God!
Nonetheless, we want to be a part of God’s dynamic movement as He advances His Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.” For this reason, prayer has been, from the beginning, the foundation upon which all else would be constructed. The North American Mission Board challenged Southern Baptists to begin to pray for one another, an emphasis titled “Be One in a Million.” If we want to see God work mightily through Southern Baptists, we cannot ignore our foundation of prayer.
If EKG is not a program, what is it? It is a passion! It is a passion for the King and His Kingdom. A passion must be born in our hearts by the Spirit before we can begin to articulate a clear vision. Many church growth advocates argue that vision is the power that ignites a church or denomination. I beg to differ. Passion ignites, and vision focuses the power of passion. Passion is like the power of the sun, and vision is like the magnifying glass that focuses the rays of the sun and directs them to a concentrated end. Passion is ignited in our lives as the Holy Spirit fills us with His presence.
We can see this promise and pattern in the early chapters of Acts. The Acts 1:8 challenge was accompanied by the promise of the Holy Spirit: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit directed and empowered the church to advance the Kingdom in all four quadrants of the Acts 1:8 challenge. It is the work of the Spirit to Empower Kingdom Growth. We will know that our denomination’s EKG emphasis has been a success when we see our churches aglow with the passion and power to reach the ends of the earth. Thus, EKG is truly about a revival of our mission passion.
The insistence that EKG not become another program does not mean that we shouldn’t develop and articulate a strategy. God is not a God of confusion. Even a cursory reading of the Bible indicates that strategic planning was always included in the mighty movements of God. We could point to the organizing of the Israelites for travel and battle in the Old Testament. While they clearly relied upon the Lord and not their own military might, they nevertheless were given various strategic plans to cooperate with the Lord as He gave victory. In the Book of Acts, we see a strategic mission plan as the early apostles participated in the planting of local churches. A strategic plan develops as we cooperate with the activity of the Spirit as He empowers God’s people to advance God’s Kingdom.
It has been thrilling to watch God develop a strategic plan for Southern Baptists to continue to participate in the advance of God’s Kingdom. Many of the elements of this emerging strategy were developed without the various partners being aware of each other’s plans. This has given many of us a sense of confirmation that God is doing something that far exceeds our imagination. I believe He wants to give us exponential growth and not merely incremental growth. With 5 billion people on the planet who have not been claimed for God’s Kingdom, we must pray for exponential growth.
These strategic elements include:
1) The prayer foundation. I have already indicated that prayer is foundational. If your church has not yet become involved in the process called “Be One in a Million,” I would encourage you to obtain the information from NAMB and begin today.
2) “EKG: The Heartbeat of God, A Forty-Day Study.” The first task assigned to me by the EKG Task Force was to write a study that would provide a theological framework for the EKG emphasis. We wanted to make this church-friendly and, therefore, it was developed as a 40-day emphasis. Its purpose is to allow God’s Word to challenge our spiritual “my”opia. I am convinced that the single greatest barrier to Kingdom advance through the local church is the pervasive idea that church is about “us.” This conviction causes the church to become introverted, which in turn leads people to demand that the church meet “their needs” rather than advance the Kingdom. The single most effective way to restore a church to Kingdom vitality is to help it develop a vision for the world. If the church aims only to reach Jerusalem, it will miss the world. But if a church aims to reach the world, it will of necessity also reach Jerusalem.
3) The Acts 1:8 Challenge and doctrine study. Our North American Mission Board (NAMB) and our International Mission Board (IMB) came together to develop the Acts 1:8 Challenge. This challenge and the accompanying study are based on a simple yet profound and thoroughly biblical concept. The task of reaching Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the Earth was — and is — given to the local church. The association, the state convention and the denomination were developed over time to assist the local church in the fulfilling of its God-given mandate. When I study Southern Baptist life, I am convinced that our structure emerged out of our passion to fulfill the Acts 1:8 mandate. EKG has challenged us to look again at these Kingdom partnerships in terms of the Acts 1:8 Challenge. This year’s doctrine study was written by Nate Adams and is designed to help the local church think strategically about the four quadrants of responsibility. We recommend that the local church consider linking this study to EKG: The Heartbeat of God 40-day study. This would provide a full quarter’s study. Each church will need to determine the best time and manner to present the material to get the greatest impact on the local body.
4) The EKG Challenge Celebration Event. We have developed an event that will help the local church visualize the Acts 1:8 tasks and the means by which the church can participate in all four quadrants of concern. This event will have maximum impact when linked to the EKG 40-day study followed by the Acts 1:8 doctrine study, but each church will need to decide how best to use this event in their local setting. This event will assist the church with vision and strategy.
5) The state partners. I have been privileged to visit with a number of state staff members. Each state will develop unique strategies to help local churches in the development of strategies to ensure local church health. Make sure that you are aware of the assistance available to you through your association and state as you begin your Kingdom journey.
Over the past year I have been delighted and challenged by the reality that the Lord Himself is developing a synergy and strategy that is beyond the comprehension of any one of us who has been involved in the process. We see this as a developing strategy, but the local church needs to prayerfully determine how it can use any or all of these tools being made available by its Kingdom partners.
Kenneth S. Hemphill is the SBC national strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth.