NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–What does Empowering Kingdom Growth have to do with the local church? Everything!
We must not make the mistake of identifying the church as the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is certainly larger and consists of much more than the local church, but the church is the primary instrument for Kingdom advance on earth. The EKG emphasis in Southern Baptist life has as its primary goal the encouragement and revitalization of the local church. It is our prayer that the focus in local churches will be set on God’s agenda rather than human agendas. We must remember that the church was not created to satisfy our whims, but to advance God’s Kingdom.
When the Apostle Peter first proclaimed his conviction that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus declared His intention to establish His church (Matthew 16:13-19). We must not miss the connectedness of the two declarations. We cannot truly belong to the church unless we have personally recognized Jesus for who He is. But in the same manner, all those who belong to Christ will of necessity be truly committed to His church.
The term “ecclesia,” which is the Greek word translated “church,” was used by the Greeks to refer to the assembly of its free men. The Old Testament Scriptures, when translated into Greek, has used it to refer to the “community” which marked Israel as a select, God-governed people.
And now, Jesus was transforming this word into a new idea — the church — not equating it with the Kingdom of God, but initiating it as His primary instrument for Kingdom advance. He would entrust His church with the timeless message of redemption and thus grant to it the “keys of the Kingdom.” He would Himself personally build His church, “living stone” upon “living stone.”
The church today is busy doing a lot of things — a lot of good things for the most part. But many churches are stuck in that Sunday-to-Sunday mentality, just surviving from one week to the next, perpetuating themselves through meetings, activities and long-held traditions.
Surely the church is meant for more!
Jesus said the church was designed to assault the “gates of hell.” “Gates” in biblical terminology represent authority and power. The “gates of hell,” then, stand for the power of death. Our King did not simply declare war on death; He conquered death. Death, the last and most feared enemy of man, was set loose on the world as a consequence of human sin. But by the power of the resurrected Christ, His church has the authority to rescue the lost from the doomed city of death and to usher them into God’s Kingdom, where there will be no more death.
EKG is about the local church living up to its grand calling and experiencing its full empowering. The Kingdom church will not be concerned with desperately defending itself from a corrupt and dying culture, but it will boldly move onto death’s home field and declare to those held captive by sin the power of life — Jesus’ life. The “keys” do not give the church the authority to tell heaven what to do, but rather the privilege of declaring what God has already done — established salvation through Jesus Christ. And the gates of hell can do nothing to stop it!
Wouldn’t you love to be part of a church with this calling and empowering — a church that’s actively at work eradicating death in people’s lives, displaying Christ’s overcoming power, propelling people throughout your community and around the world to declare that death has lost its “sting”? I have great news for you. Your church has this calling — an unchanging command from God — to embrace His mission, embody His name and obey His Word — to lead those who are dying to life.
Even a cursory reading of the Book of Acts indicates that the early church had just such an impact in the first century. We discover the empowering of the church by the Holy Spirit and the boldness with which they bore witness to the death and resurrection of Christ and the resulting forgiveness of sins. We read with wonder and desire the description of that early church: They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe as many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. All those who had believed were together and had all things in common, and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Continuing with one mind in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47).
That passage gives us a good starting point for describing a Kingdom-empowered church. The church had doctrinal integrity, basing its teaching on apostolic witness. They placed a premium on prayer and worship. This awareness of supernatural empowering ensured that the Lord was glorified through their growth. They experienced biblical fellowship. It is obvious that they enjoyed being together, but there was much more to their fellowship than shared meals. They shared their lives, meeting every need that arose. They were reaching the lost and impacting their community in such a fashion that God gave them favor with all the people. Do you find these characteristics in your church?
As we continue to read the Book of Acts, we will discover that Kingdom focus and Kingdom advance necessitated the multiplication of Kingdom-empowered churches. Don’t forget that the Kingdom commission required that the early believers evangelize Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost reaches of the earth (Acts 1:8). In Acts 11:19-30 and 13:1-3, we encounter a model of a Kingdom church. The church at Antioch commissioned Paul and Barnabas to take the “keys” on a mission tour. The result was the planting of other churches. It doesn’t take long to note that these churches began to assist one another to accomplish a Kingdom-sized task. The church at Antioch sent famine relief to the brethren living in Judea (Acts 11:29). Second Corinthians 8 tells of an offering Paul collected from the early churches for a ministry to the saints. Kingdom-empowered churches will always join with other likeminded believers to accomplish the Kingdom task that is too large for any single church.
One of the reasons I am proud to be a Southern Baptist is because we have always seen the need to join other likeminded churches to accomplish a Kingdom-sized task. The reference to Jerusalem in the Book of Acts is the equivalent of the church’s own community. Here the local church works with likeminded churches to impact their entire area. Is it any wonder that we have developed associational networks for Kingdom-minded churches?
Judea would be the modern-day equivalent of our state structure where we join together to accomplish Kingdom work too large for any single church. When I think of Samaria, I reflect on the work of our North American Mission Board that fosters a larger partnership, enabling Kingdom-driven churches to have a wider sphere of influence. Our International Mission Board enables each and every church to play a part in the mission to reach the farthest ends of the earth. If we didn’t have our existing Kingdom-focused structure, we would have to create something like it to be obedient to our mission calling. Further, we actually have a strategy for funding these Kingdom-sized cooperative tasks. Our Cooperative Program enables each local church to be obedient to the Acts 1:8 mandate.
Your church will have the opportunity to indicate its commitment to be an Acts 1:8 church. These are exciting days to serve our King. I believe the Lord has given us the resources to fulfill the Great Commission in our generation. Don’t you want to be part of this great task?
In my position as national strategist for EKG, I have been privileged to visit many churches, associations and states across our convention. I detect a growing enthusiasm to see our entire denomination focused on God’s Kingdom. I also have been privileged to see firsthand churches of all sizes that truly are Kingdom-focused. Calvary Baptist Church in Winston Salem, N.C., is one of the leading churches on the East Coast. Calvary is a “strategic mobilization” church in seeking to fulfill its commitment to the world, but it also has a concern for other churches across North Carolina. Several years ago they began a ministry called Tarheel Pastor’s School. The church has invested its own resources and utilizes their staff to encourage and assist young pastors across North Carolina to cope with growth challenges.
First Baptist Church in Barbourville, Ky., has been a Global Priority Church and thus has had a concern for the world — but little did they expect that God would bring the world to Barbourville. The pastor’s wife who works for a local college discovered that 21 Chinese ESL teachers would be in their small town for three months. This church literally adopted these Chinese teachers, taking them into their homes and hearts. This year a number of their laymen will travel to China. When you add the fact that 40 of their youth are involved in World Changers this summer, you can see why this church’s vision greatly exceeds its size.
Dudley Shoals Baptist Church in Granite Falls, N.C., is another small, rural church with Kingdom vision. This growing church has developed two worship services in their expanded worship center. They recently purchased an additional 15 acres for future expansion. At the same time, they helped plant several churches in West Virginia. What makes this an exceptional story is that this church gives 25 percent through the Cooperative Program. The pastor indicated that early on they decided that they could not expand the local ministry without an equal commitment to a worldwide ministry. They simply refused to pay for local growth by taking from the resources they had committed to missions overseas.
Sagemont Baptist Church in Houston has both the land and the need for a new sanctuary. Yet they made a Kingdom-focused decision that led them to raise money above their budget to help establish other churches across America and around the world. What has this generous Kingdom-focused commitment done at the local church level? Go and see! They park all over creation and you are lucky to find a seat on Wednesday night.
It does appear that when a church gets a global vision and makes a Kingdom-focused commitment, it energizes the local ministry.
Kenneth S. Hemphill is the national strategist for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis. This article first appeared in SBC Life, journal of the SBC Executive Committee.