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Lab coats, stethoscopes underscore initiative for healthy EKG

EDITORS’ NOTE: The following story is part of a monthly Baptist Press series to explore and describe how individuals, churches, associations and conventions exhibit a passion for Christ and His Kingdom.

HIGH POINT, N.C. (BP)–To the casual observer, it could have seemed Green Street Baptist Church was hosting a cardiology convention, with several people wearing lab coats and sporting stethoscopes around their necks.

Heart health was the emphasis of featured speaker Kenneth Hemphill. But it wasn’t of the medical variety.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s national strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth, or EKG, has developed an “instrument” that is becoming widely used by churches to do a spiritual checkup.

“Before churches correct errant thinking or myopic vision, they’ve got to have a change of heart,” said Hemphill, author of “Empowering Kingdom Growth: The Heartbeat of God,” a 40-day Bible study for church settings and a companion to the book of the same title. He also has developed a blue bracelet to remind wearers of their urgent prescription.

Of course, any good doctor would prescribe a dose of outside exercise to maintain a healthy pulse, and Hemphill is no exception. He routinely recommends an Acts 1:8 regimen of churches reaching out from their communities — their “Jerusalem” as Jesus put it — to the ends of the earth.

While EKG isn’t geared to measure electrical impulses from the heart, some say it is triggering impulses within the heart.

Green Street’s minister of education Frank Hensley said he was in the midst of reading Hemphill’s book when it came time for the Central Triad Baptist Association of 38 churches in the High Point, N.C., area to plan a third annual Sunday School leadership training event at Green Street. The 100-year-old church has 4,000 members, with about 2,000 in worship on Sundays.

“A lot of times it’s difficult to get our Sunday School teachers to travel to a far destination for training. We want to encourage smaller churches. We want to make available to them what they might not otherwise be able to take advantage of, so we hosted 300 people here, representing five associations,” Hensley said.

The EKG theme of the conference, “Empowering Kingdom Growth Through Sunday School,” was carried through everything from hearts and medical blips in their brochures to an emergency room door as a gag “door prize,” which was later substituted for the real prize — a home blood pressure kit.

“Sunday School is viewed by some people as a dinosaur, and we wanted to reemphasize the importance of Sunday School in the life of the church and the life of the individual. EKG fit perfectly with that,” Hensley said.

Hensley said Hemphill’s EKG is a transforming work, and he wanted to introduce other churches to it, possibly as a springboard for them to do the 40-day study.

To that end, the EKG 40-day experience Sunday School materials are being made available through state conventions at a discount, Hemphill said.

“Part of my assignment is to go to our state conventions,” Hemphill said. “The whole EKG process is to kind of remind ourselves of this incredible strategic plan we have,” he said, referring to the call of Acts 1:8 to take the message of Christ from our “Jerusalem” to the remotest parts of the earth.

Hemphill, former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of several books, has been traveling far and wide, wherever he is invited to speak about what the SBC EKG strategy can do to help grow the Kingdom.

He recently spoke at the Alaska State Convention. Executive Director David Baldwin purchased enough EKG books last year for every pastor in Alaska — many of whom are serving in remote areas.

Baldwin said from the enthusiastic response to Hemphill’s EKG presentation, he hopes it will inspire pastors to utilize the resource.

Hemphill said it normally takes a period of months for churches to move into the 40-day study, particularly if they have already purchased seasonal Sunday School materials.

From anecdotal reports of individual churches, Hemphill is inspired to continue spreading the word. Churches have reported dramatic increases in attendance and giving to missions following the study.

“The EKG 40-day experience is really designed to change the affection of the church,” Hemphill said.

“The church growth movement started backwards,” he commented. “The thinking was that the way you change the church was to change the structure. But the problem with structural change is that if you change the structure without the affection, you generally split it.”

Hemphill regularly reminds churches about how God said He would grow His Kingdom. “Churches often fall into the mistaken notion that church growth is something we do,” he said.

Green Street’s Hensley concurred.

“Sometimes He’ll grow it in spite of us,” Hensley smiled. “This study takes you away from doing tasks. We’ve got all these different programs and tasks we perform and focus on. This has become an invitation to get involved in something that’s just big. It’s finding out where God’s working and getting on board.”

Returning to the medical theme at the EKG conference at Green Street in late August, Hensley added: “This is something that’s caught and not taught. It sure was like we got a big infection, you know? It hasn’t played itself out yet, but I really believe that it will.”

Hemphill envisions “moving beyond a church growth mentality, which also fostered a competitive spirit. What we need to look at is a Kingdom expansion movement.”

He hopes it’s a fitness craze that will spread far and wide, even to the ends of the earth.
Andrea Higgins is a freelance writer in Raleigh, N.C.

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