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Focused vision, unified spirit emerges from EKG study

PINEHURST, N.C. (BP)–An EKG is not normally used to examine vision, but pastors are finding it is the right prescription to help refocus their congregations.

It’s not an electrocardiogram they’re recommending for church members’ hearts, but rather a spiritual checkup of their role in the Kingdom of God.

In this case, “EKG” stands for “Empowering Kingdom Growth: The Heartbeat of God,” a 40-day Bible study companion to his book of the same name by Kenneth Hemphill, the Southern Baptist Convention’s EKG national strategist.

Shawn Dobbs, pastor of Beulah Hill Baptist Church in Pinehurst, N.C., was familiar with Hemphill’s work, so when Hemphill preached a revival there last April, he talked to him about the EKG study.

Before his small church even finished the seven-week experience, dramatic changes were evident, including the best attendance the church had seen in years and 21 baptisms last year, second in its association.

The church has almost tripled its giving for international missions, Dobbs said. “We also established a home missions committee where we are visiting almost 200 people every month,” the pastor said. For the first time, the church established its own scholarship fund to help send a team from the church on an overseas mission trip each year. It also reestablished a Women’s Missionary Union organization, which had been inactive for years. Meanwhile, the church not only met its budget last year, but exceeded it by several thousand dollars.

Impressive gains for a church which normally sees about 100 people in Sunday worship and never before had an evangelism outreach committee or a visitation program in place.

“We are focused on ‘What does God want us to do?’ rather than a survival mode,” the pastor said.

“We’re really on the threshold of revival.” Even so, “We have a long way to go,” Dobbs said. “Probably the greatest thing to happen [from the study] is to realize we have a long way to go.”

What sets EKG apart from other studies is that it is a description of the heart and desire of God for his people, Dobbs said, noting, “Compared to the psychological-driven studies of today, this is definitely God-driven.”

Dobbs said the study has sparked a revival in his own heart and begun to transform his ministry.

“It made me come face to face with some of my self-driven ministry and the difference between [that and] a God-driven ministry,” Dobbs said.

He said that change is a principal message of the study -– to unseat self and to throne God.

“More importantly, our folks are beginning to become sensitive to what true Christianity is about,” Dobbs said. “We had a wonderful church — a great loving church. Now we’re really beginning to reevaluate how we do church and what it’s really about.

“The greatest thing that I have gleaned [from the EKG emphasis] is that we do not realize we’re here to reflect the glory of God,” Dobbs said. “It’s a humbling responsibility, but it’s not one that’s carried with a burden.”

In Jackson, Tenn., after his congregation’s enthusiastic response to the EKG study, Pastor Philip Jett hosted an educational forum in December for several other area church leaders for Hemphill to introduce the study.

“The thing that excited me as much as anything was our whole church embraced it,” said Jeff, pastor of Englewood Baptist Church. “It became our focus. It’s very, very important to take that theme — the Kingdom of God and His righteousness — and stay focused just on that for a while.”

The EKG study reinforces the fact that the entire Bible is about the Kingdom of God, thus connecting people to a larger vision, Jett said.

He incorporated the study into a “100 Days of Kingdom Growth” experience, with the EKG sandwiched in the middle of two other studies, one on the Book of Nehemiah and the other on stewardship.

During the EKG portion, his church started a capital campaign for a new 20,000-square-foot youth center. Without a consultant, and working only through Sunday School classes, the church raised $2 million in pledges.

“In our society, we are fragmented. How do you pay your bills? How do you have great marriages, successful careers, raise kids?” Jett said. “We feel splintered. [The EKG study] brings it down to a focus on the heartbeat of God. You begin to clearly see the simplicities of what God expects of us, and how we can prioritize.”

In Morristown, Tenn., Pastor Gene Nelson of Cherokee Hills Baptist Church said a significant result of the EKG study is the prayer chain that was established to keep people connected.

Before the study, prayer chain organizer Sheila Spires said, members of her church mostly saw each other at church or out in the community from time to time.

That all changed during the EKG study.

Now, they call each other every day to take prayer requests and to ask God to reveal Kingdom opportunities to them.

“There is such a sense of fellowship. I couldn’t stand to think I’d miss part of it,” Spires said. “We thought people would drop off as they got more used to it, but it didn’t happen. It encompasses every part of the Bible. It’s unlimited and it doesn’t get old or stale.

“Our entire church has been on the same wavelength — the same focus the entire 40 days. It’s almost like a revival,” she said, with obedience at its core.

“Everybody has so much going on in their own lives,” Spires said, noting that it’s easy to become overly distracted. But the EKG study’s easily manageable daily devotional was embraced by everyone from youth to seniors, she said.

And the impact was profound, Spires said. “It’s a new birth within you,” she said. “It’s been a new vision for us as a church.”

“We’ve always been a real tight congregation, family oriented,” Pastor Nelson added. “But there has been a unifying spirit in the entire congregation. We are all thinking the same thing. This is really focused more not just in fellowship, but in spiritual matters, what our assignment is.

“Even though it is 40 days of focus,” Nelson said, “our focus on the heartbeat of God should never stop.”

Hemphill has encouraged churches to adapt the study to their particular needs, prompting Frank Harber, pastor of First Baptist Church in Colleyville, Texas, who worked with Hemphill for several years, to develop a series of eight messages for the more contemporary church.

“It was a fabulous series for us, because they saw it as practical. I did mine in the form of a sermon series on the Kingdom of God so people could grasp it with a practical application,” said Harber, whose sermons can be heard on 600 radio stations across the country each week.

Called a “Profile of a Winner,” Harber related the EKG series to the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, all in the form of paradoxes, contrasting the Kingdom of God against the world.

“What Jesus said it takes to be a winner is totally opposite of what the world says it takes,” Harber said.

For example, he said, the secular world would question statements like, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” or “Blessed are the persecuted.”

“What? What are you talking about?” the world might reply, he said.

“Jesus was saying winners are blessed. We have trivialized the word ‘blessed’ to mean, ‘Have a nice day.’ It’s more of a greeting. But to be blessed meant so many things beyond just material blessings,” Harber said.

“I used the Beatitudes to expose our people to the Kingdom attitude. It runs contrary to everything they see in the media, where ‘winners’ are celebrities, the wealthy, the beautiful people,” Harber said. “Jesus said just the opposite.”

    About the Author

  • Andrea Higgins