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Hemphill leaving SWBTS to lead SBC’s ‘Kingdom’ strategy

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Kenneth S. Hemphill announced his retirement as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary April 8 to take a new position as national strategist for the Southern Baptist Convention’s “Empowering Kingdom Growth” movement.

Hemphill’s new work, after nine years as president of Southwestern, will be a joint venture with the SBC Executive Committee and LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Tenn., to begin this summer.

He announced his retirement to the seminary family during chapel in the middle of the board of trustees’ semiannual meeting at the Fort Worth, Texas, campus.

Hemphill, 54, said he is leaving with sadness, excitement and the “same sense of call and assurance” that led him to Texas “to lead Southwestern during challenging but exciting days of transition.”

“These have been nine exciting and profitable years, and I will always be grateful for the opportunity the Lord has given me through the call of the trustees of this institution to serve as the president of the greatest seminary in the world,” Hemphill said. “I believe Southwestern’s future is bright and that her greatest days lie before her.”

Hemphill thanked his seminary coworkers, “from vice presidents and deans to the office staff to the blue shirts,” as well as “the many alumni and friends who have encouraged us by their financial support.” He called it a rare privilege to be a member of “this great faculty.”

“No other institution has a greater opportunity to ‘touch the world and impact eternity’ than Southwestern,” he said, referring to the seminary’s theme.

Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, and LifeWay President James T. Draper Jr. — both Southwestern graduates — expressed a mix of sadness that their alma mater was losing its leader and enthusiasm that Hemphill is joining their staffs to undergird the SBC-wide Empowering Kingdom Growth initiative.

“I am extremely thrilled and energized that Dr. Hemphill has agreed to serve the Southern Baptist Convention as national strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth,” Chapman said, underscoring SBC leaders’ prayers for “ever-increasing momentum in preparation for God to soften our hearts and bring a genuine revival.”

In the call of Hemphill to facilitate EKG nationally, Chapman said, “God has raised up a man for a special assignment whose reputation is impeccable, whose integrity and honesty are hallmarks of his life, whose devotional life is a disciplined exercise in his daily life, and whose spirituality is authentic. He is a gifted and Spirit-led leader who will work untiringly and unselfishly with EKG Task Force members.”

Chapman noted, “From the very earliest conception of the EKG vision, God has led in remarkable ways. In God’s providence, another giant step in the progress of Empowering Kingdom Growth is unfolding. … The EKG Task Force is excited to see God at work as He prepares Southern Baptists to concentrate with a laser-like focus upon building His Kingdom and honoring His Name.”

“Empowering Kingdom Growth is the envisioned future for Southern Baptists,” Draper said. “We’re praying that it becomes a great movement of God, and I’m excited that Dr. Ken Hemphill has agreed to be the national strategist for EKG.

“He’s a wonderful communicator, and this is where his passion is. In fact, he’s working on a book for LifeWay called ‘His Kingdom, Our Passion.’ We know he has the ability to do things convention-wide in a very effective way. That’s why we’re excited about this joint effort between the SBC Executive Committee and LifeWay to provide a national strategist for EKG.”

Draper said Hemphill’s selection follows a precedent set by Southwestern’s second president, L.R. Scarborough, who took a one-year leave of absence in 1919 to lead the “$75 Million Campaign.”

“Scarborough envisioned something much bigger than raising $75 million,” Draper said. “His dream was 5,000 people surrendering to the ministry and two-and-a-half million converts. The ‘$75 Million Campaign’ was a Kingdom effort.

“Dr. Scarborough led Southern Baptists in the greatest period of cooperation and unity of spirit. Southwestern Seminary has a long history of leading Southern Baptists in these kinds of emphases. We’re praying that Dr. Hemphill will be able to lead us in the same way.

“I praise the Lord for Dr. Hemphill’s readiness to follow God’s leading to a new, cutting-edge challenge. The task force is praying that Empowering Kingdom Growth will become the greatest movement of His Spirit we have experienced in our lifetime. We believe Dr. Hemphill’s coming is more evidence that God wants to do something extraordinary in the hearts of His people.”

Trustees expressed sadness at Hemphill’s departure, and they said a search committee would be formed quickly to find the right person to lead Southwestern into the 21st century.

“It is with heavy hearts that we accept Dr. Hemphill’s retirement,” board chairman Michael Dean said. “Dr. and Mrs. Hemphill have left an indelible mark upon Southwestern Seminary. Their tenure at the seminary will be remembered for their evangelical warmth, pastoral compassion and spiritual sensitivity. The trustees deeply appreciate and applaud the visionary leadership given by Dr. Hemphill to the school over the past nine years. Our sadness at their departure is mixed with a sense of anticipation. We look forward to witnessing the tremendous impact the Hemphills will have on the Kingdom of God in the coming years.”

Hemphill said the passion to lead EKG developed over several years as he and his wife prayed that God would “show us how our gifts and calling can best serve to exalt His name, advance His Kingdom and accomplish His will.” That threefold theme follows closely with a book Hemphill wrote during the same time titled “The Prayer of Jesus.”

“I am privileged and humbled to be invited to give national leadership to Empowering Kingdom Growth. I believe that this emphasis is from God and could radically change our denomination and our world.”

Chapman said it “was becoming increasingly apparent to the EKG Task Force and its co-chairmen, Carlisle Driggers, Executive Director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, and James Merritt, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Snellville, Ga., and immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, that it needs the assistance of a fulltime strategist and coordinator to serve as an extension of the task force.”

“One of the toughest challenges the task force and Dr. Hemphill face,” Chapman said, “is the constant effort required to drive home the fact that EKG is to be a visionary process, not a highly structured program. In a convention that has become so program-oriented, this is no easy assignment.”

Chapman said Hemphill, in his role as special liaison with the EKG Task Force, will be involved in “coordinating, implementing and promoting EKG emphases and introducing Kingdom resources available at LifeWay Christian Resources in our churches, in conferences and in conventions. One of the goals of the task force is for each and every Southern Baptist to ask the question, ‘Am I a Kingdom Person?'”

Chapman and Draper asked all Southern Baptists to join them in praying for Southwestern Seminary during these days of transition.

Hemphill came to Southwestern from the Home Mission Board — now the North American Mission Board — where he served as director of the Southern Baptist Center for Church Growth, another position funded in part by LifeWay, from 1992-94. Prior to that he served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Norfolk, Va., from 1981-92 during which time the church experienced tremendous growth. Hemphill has written more than 10 books, including “The Prayer of Jesus” and “The Names of God.” Six of his books focus on church growth.

During his tenure at Southwestern, the seminary raised approximately $50 million toward the “Touch the World … Impact Eternity” capital campaign. Southwestern’s endowment increased by more than 60 percent.

Hemphill led the seminary to start an Islamic studies program, one of only three in the nation. The school started one of the first Christian school administration programs. Southwestern built the first two phases of the new Ralph M. Smith Leadership Development Complex, a $22-million continuing education building. Southwestern also bolstered its library holdings by acquiring the Breed Collection, giving Southwestern one of the finest Baptist history collections in the world.

Hemphill, who turns 55 April 17, told trustees he looks forward to returning to the Southwestern campus for special events and “whenever I am invited.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: KENNETH S. HEMPHILL.

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  • David Porter