GREENVILLE, S.C. (BP)–Southern Baptists, never short on vision or the ability to put the hopes of our hearts into inspiring words, are taking a huge step to move the kingdom of God forward, and the goals — at the least, the measurable results — are not even laid out in advance.
At the 2002 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in St. Louis, messengers embraced an initiative [don’t call it a program; it is not] called Empowering Kingdom Growth. EKG is immediately recognizable to South Carolina Baptists, who a decade ago rallied behind the state’s version of a strategy to help build the kingdom of God here in South Carolina by strengthening the churches and the ministries they perform. And Southern Baptist leaders began to see that what has been good for South Carolina can be good for Southern Baptists everywhere.
At the St. Louis meeting, top leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention put their signatures on a covenant calling for an “all-out concentration on the kingdom of God,” in response to what they have perceived as a deep yearning among the members of the convention’s 40,000 churches for spiritual renewal resulting in living that is centered in Christ.
The national phase of Empowering Kingdom Growth, which comes as South Carolina Baptists are preparing to begin the second stage of its own EKG initiative, will take shape in coming days, but leaders are quick to point out that the fruits of this concentration on the kingdom of God are in God’s hands, not ours. And that is as it should be.
Like the EKG that South Carolina has modeled for a national audience, the SBC version is deceptively simple. Each Southern Baptist is challenged to ask a revealing question: Am I a kingdom person? The proof of a “yes” answer lies in a willingness to “seek first the King and his kingdom,” according to Morris Chapman, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee. And in this case, Chapman went on to explain, the kingdom refers to “the rule and reign of God in our hearts.”
The need for EKG is an admission that too many Southern Baptists have not put building the kingdom of God at the top of our to-do list. The new initiative will require the commitment of energy and resources to the job at hand, accompanied by a heightened level of cooperation and servanthood. In short, it will challenge each of us — no, it will demand that each of us experiences what the covenant document terms a “new passion for Jesus.”
For some time now, Southern Baptist leaders have kept an eye on South Carolina, where EKG has spurred the growth of new churches, increased baptisms and large numbers of volunteers for mission projects — some sponsored by the state convention, others carried out by individual churches.
Clearly, it is hoped that Empowering Kingdom Growth applied nationally will boost the evangelistic efforts of Southern Baptists in our continuing attempts to make disciples for Christ all over the world. But equally as important are the spiritual rewards that will come to any individual believer who desires daily to be, first and foremost, a “kingdom person.”
It is impossible — and it is not even necessary — for any of us to have a clear picture now of exactly what may happen if Southern Baptists — members of the largest Protestant denomination — give undivided attention to seeking first the kingdom of God in our personal lives as well as in our collective denominational life. The sole responsibility of Southern Baptists as individuals — and this must be the single objective of the Southern Baptist Convention as well — is to be obedient to the command of our Lord to seek first the kingdom of God. If that desire of our hearts is turned into reality, an anthem of praise will rise up from Southern Baptists that the world cannot fail to hear: “The Lord has done great things for us, whereof we are glad.”
Kirkland is editor of The Baptist Courier, the state newspaper of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.