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Hemphill: Baptists must move from ‘rehearsing’ to doing

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Wake Forest football. Today, these three words do not set opponents quaking in their cleats. The same was true in the late 1960s when Ken Hemphill played there.

According to Hemphill, what his team lacked in football prowess, they made up for in the huddle. Their huddle was perfect. They looked like they could play, but appearances ended there.

During the Layne Lectures at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Sept. 16-18, Hemphill used this analogy to illustrate the present state of the church.

“I’m convinced we’ve spent too much time rehearsing the huddle,” he said. “We’ve spent so much time rehearsing the huddle that we’ve forgotten that God has called us for a Kingdom cause that is bigger than us. We brag about the size of our sanctuary, we talk about the attendance in Sunday School and worship on Sunday morning, but no one is begging to ask the questions: ‘Is it changing our community?’ ‘Is it impacting the Kingdom of God?'”

This is the heartbeat of Empowering Kingdom Growth (EKG), a wake-up call to the people of God to meet Him in doing His work for His glory, Hemphill said. Hemphill is the national strategist for EKG, an SBC covenant initiative signed into existence at the SBC annual meeting in 2002. He moved into the position this summer after serving nine years as the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

The propelling mission of EKG is to align the focus of the individual believer, and the church overall, on Christ as King, Hemphill said. After Christians see the King, they can begin to have a vision of the Kingdom and God’s unique plan to use His people to draw all nations to Him, Hemphill said.

“I really believe [EKG] is a move of God’s Spirit,” Hemphill said. “I wouldn’t have left my position as president of the largest evangelical seminary in the world if I didn’t think this was how God is going to move. The EKG program is about the spiritual revitalization of our families, our churches and our denomination that begins on an individual level.”

According to Hemphill, EKG is unique in that there are no formulated goals. It is designed to work on two levels simultaneously.

On one level is teaching the individual to engage in self-evaluation based on the Kingdom of God as described in Scripture, and encouraging him or her to ask the question, “Am I a Kingdom person?” Once believers have aligned their lives with God’s priorities for His Kingdom, Hemphill said, they can then align their respective family, and a group of families can align the church.

On the other level is the Great Commission Council made up of the leaders of SBC entities, such as seminary presidents and LifeWay leaders. Hemphill said EKG at this level will focus on coordinating all available SBC resources to accomplish tasks of the Kingdom, namely, to be a conduit of God’s glory that will draw lost people to Him.

“This program is going to be tough for some Southern Baptists to get their arms around because other times, we’ve always had a program in a box with the instructions that if you do these things, you will see this end result,” Hemphill said.

“EKG is not like that. This is revolutionary. We are casting the vision based on Scripture for an Acts 1:8 church, and allowing the individual churches and entities to find their own unique way to work toward fulfilling that vision.”

“The passion of the [EKG] committee is not to establish our agenda, but to meet God on the page where He is,” Hemphill added. “If we put the Word of God before the people, the Spirit of God applies it to their hearts. Then we teach individuals to ask the right questions, and God will give the right answers.”

God’s plan from the beginning has been to call a people to be His own possession: a kingdom of priests that would live sacrificially, and so make a name for Him, Hemphill said, pointing to 2 Samuel 7:23. Israel was to be His “showcase people,” through whom God could reflect His glory, and draw all the nations of the earth to Himself. The Hebrew word in Exodus 19:5 translated “possession” in the New International Version of the Bible refers to God’s chosen people being his moveable property, he said.

Hemphill said that one reason for gathering a chosen people as God’s possession and blessing them, is so that God could scatter them throughout the world, and allow them to be a blessing to others by living among them and telling them about the one true God. Although Israel failed in idolatry, God’s purpose did not change to have a “showcase people,” Hemphill said. When Jesus came, Gentiles were invited to membership in God’s covenant.

The EKG initiative calls for a radical shift in the way Baptists view their lives, but the overall strategy of EKG does not end with Baptists, he said. EKG is not just another Baptist program, but is instead one that SBC leaders hope will transcend denominational barriers so that all God’s people will position themselves to be Kingdom people, Hemphill said.

“Too many of us go to church on Sunday and say, ‘I did my Kingdom work,'” Hemphill said. “We need to understand that, although that is Kingdom work, it doesn’t stop there. It continues throughout the week in the carpool and at the kids’ soccer game. We will rub up against people who do not know the Lord.”

“The question is, will we be available to God for Him to position us in places to reach our neighbors for Him? We need to get the salt out of the salt shaker,” he said. “God may reveal to us that we need to have fewer church programs. Our people may be too busy at the church to do any ministry in the marketplace.”

At the close of Hemphill’s three-day presentation, New Orleans Seminary faculty, staff and students were challenged to consider entering into the EKG individual covenant, which states:

“Recognizing that I was created for God’s glory and to be a Kingdom agent, with the promise of His empowering, I joyfully make the following covenant:

— “I will live in such a manner that the Father’s character is evidenced in my actions, words, and deeds.

— “I will ask the Father to show me His Kingdom activity and will join Him as He works.

— “I will faithfully obey God’s will immediately and completely.

— “I will use my time and resources to advance God’s Kingdom. I will choose a lifestyle that will free up time and extraordinary resources to advance God’s Kingdom.

— “I will seek opportunities to use my profession as a platform for Kingdom advance.

— “I will listen for God’s call to Kingdom vocational service.”

— “I understand that my earthly life and death have meaning only as they glorify God and advance His Kingdom.”

The Layne Lectures on Church Health were established by the wife of Robert Layne of First Baptist Church, Shreveport, La., in response to the current crisis of plateaued and declining churches in America.

Hemphill’s three-day EKG presentation is available in the chapel archives at www.nobts.edu.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: PUTTING PLANS INTO ACTION.

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  • Katherine Albers