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Not too late to help families, Southern Baptist leader says

BRANDON, Fla. (BP)–Southern Baptists might have come to the table late, Tom Elliff said, but they are pulling out all the stops to tend to the nation’s families who are dying at a rate of 3,571 marriages a day.

“It’s terribly late; it’s tragically late,” said Elliff, chairman of Southern Baptist Convention’s Council on Family Life the past three years. “I see the families in our convention, in our nation not as getting sick, but I see them as in the intensive care ward in need of immediate attention, or they die. The answer to that is we must pull out the stops and be heroic in our efforts to do everything we can do to salvage the family.”

Elliff, in an interview with the Florida Baptist Witness during a Kingdom Families Conference Oct. 2-3 at Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla., said the 16-million-member convention seemingly has been caught unawares by a culture that has changed “at the speed of light.”

The result is “what was considered obscene a year ago is now accepted on television,” the former SBC president and pastor of the Oklahoma City-area First Southern Baptist Church in Del City said. In the same way, divorce statistics have skyrocketed. Now, leaders are “scrambling constantly” to respond to the crisis they finally have begun to understand, Elliff said.

“We should repent of our tardiness for one thing, and … redouble our efforts to be the men and women we ought to be,” he said. “I think we’re late, but we’re not impossibly late. It’s always time to repent and it’s always the right time to do all we can for our families.”

The emphasis on the family is just the first “log in the fire” of a larger Southern Baptist initiative, Empowering Kingdom Growth (EKG), Elliff said, noting that future “logs” the SBC will take on will be in prayer and church planting.

EKG is the SBC’s approach to providing individuals with knowledge and resources about the Kingdom of God, where God is heading and what He wants for their lives, Elliff said, voicing hope that it can become a “literal movement” which gains followers throughout the nation.

“Hopefully the day will come when people think of Southern Baptists … [as] good for the family,” Elliff said. “Why shouldn’t the nation’s largest evangelical group be known for the things which our nation most desperately needs to hear?”

Any approach to Kingdom Families should not, however, be thought of as one more program in the church, Elliff said. Instead, it is a Bible-based strategy utilizing the manner in which churches are organized to communicate on a broader scale the importance of families.

It’s when the “Seven Pillars of a Kingdom Family” (detailed in his book, “Unbreakable: The Seven Pillars of a Kingdom Family”) are taught from the pulpit and in the classrooms of the church, and when the pastor takes the approach of looking at the church through the lens of the family, that the Christian church will embrace the movement as a matter of principle, Elliff said.

Referring to the focus of the material taught at the Kingdom Family Conference, Elliff said principles of the Seven Pillars — Honoring God’s Authority, Respecting Human Life, Exercising Moral Purity, Serving My Church, Using Time Wisely, Practicing Biblical Stewardship and Sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ — have been around a long time but have not necessarily been applied in premarital and marriage counseling.

That’s why the focus of the conference is to provide pastors and leaders with a practical course in premarital counseling, among other things.

“What you have to do is quit making bad marriages that are going to meet us in our office,” Elliff said. “Somehow we have to communicate this vision. If you want to be married in our church, we are not going to violate any of these principles.”

Will the idea catch on? Will this Kingdom Family emphasis as part of an EKG focus make a difference to Southern Baptists? Elliff said the early signs are hopeful, with 3,400 families at the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix signing commitment cards and all SBC entities climbing on board.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time that every one of our SBC entities has said, ‘We want to be a part of this,'” Elliff said. That means the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board are both looking for ways to strengthen families through missions involvement, he said. It means the six Southern Baptist seminaries are seeking to provide tools to help students, many of whom are from fragmented homes, to be able to model a family that honors God.

“There’s a heart cry for help from our families,” Elliff said. “Everywhere we go and present these principles, people embrace them.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: PULLING FOR FAMILIES.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan