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Hemphill leads Empowering Kingdom Growth study at Mid-America Seminary

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP)–In a first-of-its-kind gathering, Ken Hemphill shared his Empowering Kingdom Growth “passion” with faculty and students at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, kicking off their seminary-wide study of “A 40 Day Experience: EKG, The Heartbeat of God.”

Mid-America is the first seminary to use EKG as retreat material for staff and students and the first to offer an EKG class for credit, with 33 MABTS students currently enrolled.

Jere Phillips, the seminary’s director of extensions and distance learning, said 150 copies of Hemphill’s “Empowering Kingdom Growth” book have been distributed to faculty and students, and 300 of the 40-day Bible study books have been distributed to the larger seminary community to study together.

“The exciting thing,” Hemphill said, “is this many seminary students studying EKG together, and the number of churches they can impact. They catch the vision and then get their churches to catch the vision, and it spreads to re-create this sense of cooperation among churches to grow the Kingdom of God.”

Hemphill, national strategist for the Southern Baptist Convention’s EKG emphasis, travels about 300 days a year to spread the EKG message. He was careful to emphasize, however, that “EKG is not a program, but a passion.” Noting a sociologist’s study of influential leaders during the turbulent ’70s and ’80s, he observed that, “It was not that they were good speakers. It was not that they were celebrities. The one thing they had in common was their passion. It was not a career, it was a passion.”

He then probed the seminarians: “Is this a passion for you? If not, then you may be in the wrong place.”

Hemphill, in his Feb. 28 visit to the Memphis-area campus, noted statistics reflecting the crisis of apathy even in many Southern Baptist churches: 7,500 churches unable to claim a single baptism in a year, 2,500 churches failing to send any report of their well-being and more than half of all Southern Baptist churches baptizing five or fewer people in a year. In our churches, he said, “We huddle up incredibly well. But then we fail to run the play.”

While the church growth movement recorded some positive achievements, Hemphill said it also led to theological compromise. “First,” he said, “we became very pragmatic. ‘If it works, do it.’” Second, he said it led to a spirit of competition in and among churches. And the emphasis on changing style, structure and strategy without a change in the church’s affection often brought about splits in the church. “We were married to our methods, not the Master,” he said.

Before a change of method can be effective, there must be an affection change, Hemphill said. “Without a heart change, a passion change, the church won’t change. We must change our hearts to match God’s heart,” he said.

And God’s heart is a heart for the nations, Hemphill said, citing several Kingdom dynamics that, if taught and understood, can move the hearts of people more toward the heart of God.

The foundational principle, found in Genesis, is that God is the King by virtue of His creative activity, and His followers are Kingdom agents, Hemphill said. God’s call to Abraham and his descendents in Genesis 12:2 makes it clear that God’s people are blessed in order to be a blessing to the nations; “God redeemed you for a reason,” he said.

“But we think the ship design is the Love Boat, and we’re happy sailing into glory as long as no one moves our deck chair,” Hemphill commented. “We have a spiritual myopia. The reality is, we are on a hospital ship, and you get dirty. You were saved for a purpose,” he reiterated.

Citing Exodus 19:4-6, Hemphill said God’s people exist as God’s own possession, not to be stationary, but as “God’s moveable possessions.”

“This is a dynamic that can change your people,” he said. “God has a moveable possession, and no matter where you are, it is a Kingdom platform.”

Hemphill praised the MABTS faculty and student body for their practice of making a Kingdom platform wherever they are. Students and faculty are challenged to share the Gospel at least once a week and to serve in a missions or ministry setting at least twice each week. An hour of weekly chapel time is devoted to their reports of witnessing encounters and to prayer by name for those to whom they ministered.

During the 45-minute sharing time between seminar sessions, about 15 MABTS students and faculty members gave an account of their experiences over the prior week. Hemphill commended them, saying, “In the testimony time, so many of your encounters were ‘as you were going.’”

Using the Exodus passage, Hemphill then discussed two more points. First, God’s followers are a Kingdom of priests, he said. “If the king isn’t visibly present, how does He spread His kingdom? It’s through us!”

Second, His followers are a holy nation. “We don’t preach holiness much anymore,” Hemphill lamented, using as an example the kinds of clothing many teens wear to church. “Casual and seductive are two different words. Half the time, when they come to the altar, I have to look the other way. We have to talk to our teens. It isn’t legalistic; it’s about how we represent God on earth.

“God is seeking a people who will embody His name, embrace His mission and obey His Word,” Hemphill said. The early believers, he reminded the seminarians, were referred to as “little Christs.”

“I want someone to accuse us of that!” he declared.

In Ezekiel 36, God promised He would reveal Himself to the nations through the holiness of his people, Hemphill continued. “God is going to complete this task, but the question is: Will we be a player?” he asked, citing the following statistics:

— There are 5.1 billion lost people on earth, with 1.56 billion having little or no exposure to the Gospel.

— India has one paid missionary for every 8 million people, which would equate to having 37 pastors in the entire United States.

— During the depression, 3.2 percent of household income was given to churches, compared to 2.7 percent in 2001 and 2.5 percent in 2005.

— In 1982 the average Southern Baptist church gave 10.7 percent of their undesignated receipts to the SBC’s Cooperative Program channel for funding national and international missions, compared to 7 percent in 2002. CP giving in 2006 to date is down more than 1 percent from the same 2005 giving period.

“We are consuming God’s blessing, not conveying it,” Hemphill said. “Are we going to redistribute this?”

Moving into the New Testament teachings of the Kingdom, Hemphill noted that when Satan tempted Christ in the wilderness, he “showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor, ” saying, “All these things I will give you if you will fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:8-9).

With that in mind, Hemphill said Christians need to ask themselves some personal questions. “Do I desire the Kingdom of this earth and its glory or the Kingdom of God and His glory? We do a lot of right things with wrong motives. What motivates you to study? A prof’s recognition or preparation for the Kingdom?”

Hemphill reminded the seminarians of the Kingdom parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price in Matthew 13:44-46 in which all things precious were sold in order to gain the one treasure of greatest value.

God’s grace is that pearl of great price, Hemphill said. “But people have to know that there is a cost involved,” he said, predicting, “This generation will respond to a call to come and die.”

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  • Kay Adkins