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Hemphill: Choose God’s Kingdom over earthly kingdoms

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–With 10,000 Southern Baptist churches reporting no baptisms, 51 percent of all churches baptizing five or less persons and two-thirds of all churches either plateaued or declining, the local church is in need of revitalization, Kenneth Hemphill said during a spiritual renewal retreat for the staff of the Florida Baptist Convention.

Renewal will come when “the people of God choose the Kingdom of God and their Father’s reward over the kingdoms of the earth and men’s glory,” said Hemphill, national strategist for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis.

“The Kingdom of God can be adequately understood just by realizing that He is our King and we are His people, that He is our master and we are His servants, that He sets the rules and we simply obey.”

Hemphill described EKG as an initiative to call Southern Baptists “to renew their passion for the Lord Jesus and the reign of His Kingdom in their hearts, families and churches.” Hemphill has authored a book and a 40-day study for churches on the EKG emphasis, titled “Empowering Kingdom Growth: The Heartbeat of God.”

He noted that the Kingdom of God has a redemptive foundation, a missiological intent and a covenant of obedience.

As part of the Kingdom of God, men and women are called to be a “kingdom of priests who will represent Him,” Hemphill said.

“God is seeking a people to embody His name, embrace His mission to the nations and obey His Word,” as exemplified in lifestyle, giving and going, he said.

“Men and women in our churches should live in such a distinctive way that people would grab them at school and work and say, ‘Where do you go to church?’ because it is obvious that they do.”

Hemphill traced the Kingdom of God historically through four unbroken time periods: the Old Testament, Jesus’ life, the church and Christ’s return.

He noted that God chose to work through the people of Israel yet allowed them to suffer defeat. “Israel consumed God’s blessing and did nothing with it,” he said, asking, “Is it possible that the church in North America has done the same, in that we have consumed God’s blessings and done nothing with them?”

The average Protestant in America gave 3.2 percent of his or her income to the church in 1933, Hemphill said, a number that declined to 2.7 percent in 2001. “The problem is that we grew up in a democracy. In a democracy, you think you own something. In a monarchy, you don’t own anything.”

Adding that 20 percent of a congregation provides 80 percent of the budget, Hemphill said, “We could triple the budget of every local church in Florida if half the people give.”

Hemphill explained that gifts through Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program in behalf of state, national and international causes have been in decline since 1982, when the average church allocated 10.7 percent of their offerings through the Cooperative Program, a figure that dropped to 7 percent in 2002 and 6.9 percent in 2003.

“We must challenge the local church giver with a Kingdom vision. We must give a new concept to change the DNA of local churches.”

Giving, he said, should not be done sequentially, but simultaneously in fulfilling the Great Commission — to reach Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth as noted in Acts 1:8. EKG can help churches identify their Acts 1:8 partners, Hemphill said: for Jerusalem, the local association; Judea, the state convention; Samaria, the North American Mission Board; and the ends of the earth, the International Mission Board.

Calling EKG “a mission mindset,” Hemphill said the initiative is “not a program, but it must become a passion. The SBC has had enough programs.”

Hemphill suggested that churches follow up the EKG study with the 2005 Baptist doctrine study, “The Acts 1:8 Challenge: Empowering the Church to Be on Mission” by Nate Adams. The study examines the missions task of the New Testament church in carrying the Gospel to the Acts 1:8 realms of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.
Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.

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  • Barbara Denman

    Barbara Denman is communications editor for the Florida Baptist Convention. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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