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Russian Baptists utilize EKG to chart future

MOSCOW (BP)–Russian Baptists have set a course for the future with the help of Empowering Kingdom Growth, a Southern Baptist initiative focusing on the Kingdom of God.

“We’re not emphasizing a specific model for the church, but a passion for God’s Kingdom that can be customized for the cultural setting,” said Ken Hemphill, the Southern Baptist Convention’s national strategist for EKG, who spoke recently in Moscow to leaders from a dozen Baptist unions in former Soviet-bloc nations.

EKG combines a biblical focus on the Kingdom of God with planning tools to help congregations discover their vision, mission and values.

The EKG conference -– conducted as part of the 51st meeting of the Euro-Asiatic Federation of Evangelical Christians-Baptist -– was funded by the International Mission Board, the SBC Executive Committee and the South Carolina Baptist Convention.

“It’s very important for our churches,” said Yuri Sipko, president of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptist. “It’s a very serious call for revival.” Sipko and other RUECB leaders began using the EKG process three years ago to articulate a new direction for the union and help older churches adjust to new cultural realities in ministry.

As a result of praying and working through the EKG process, Russian Baptist leaders adopted a purpose statement for their union: To serve churches for the establishment and expansion of the Kingdom of God on earth.

“It’s a different perspective on Christianity than what we’ve had before and it’s important for the whole church body,” Sipko said. “This is an entrance into Christ’s obedience and it places us in a submissive position to God’s will.”

Sipko said one of the major challenges is ministering in an environment where people often live with a sense of despair. He said he hopes Russian Baptists can change that by starting new churches and strengthening existing ones.

“What I see in the future are churches who have endured through our history moving to a point of fruitfulness and joyfulness so we can share the Gospel with all people,” he said. “I see a future of Christianity that is a calling to God’s presence, helping us in evangelizing and allowing our churches to become more like what we see in Acts 2.”

The Russian Baptist Union listed nine values to guide them in their efforts: focusing on the local, considering every person important to God, unity and cooperation of churches, faithfulness to the Bible, prayer, evangelistically proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed, training ministers, the ability to change for greater effectiveness and righteousness in living.

Southern Baptist leaders and International Mission Board representatives introduced EKG to Russian Baptists’ key leaders three years ago during a leadership retreat. The Russians embraced the initiative as a national ministry focus after an extended session of Scripture praying and prayer about its use among the union’s approximately 1,400 churches.

Jere Phillips, a Southern Baptist seminary professor and an early advocate for using EKG in Russia, was instrumental in helping Russian leaders understand EKG’s basic principles during the retreat. He also edited some of the EKG materials for translation and use in Russia.

For one of the Russian Baptist leaders, learning about EKG meant more than just helping churches and other organizations.

“For me personally, EKG has helped me determine my own purpose as a Christian,” said Fiodor Baraniuk, director of the Sunday School department for the RUECB. “It helped me understand my need to be concerned about what God cares about.”

Following the Soviet Union’s political collapse 15 years ago, Baraniuk and his fellow countrymen seized on a wave of spiritual enthusiasm as they received an influx of foreign Christian visitors seeking to evangelize Russian people groups.

“People had a sense of excitement but [no] real sense of focus about where we should be going,” Baraniuk observed. As several years passed and the number of visitors waned, so did the level of ministry outreach. “In the last few years there’s [been] almost a sense of being lost,” he said.

That’s where the Southern Baptist initiative has helped.

“EKG has helped our churches have a clear sense of determining where we should go,” he said. “We are trying to filter everything we do through the eyes of the Kingdom of God.

“We have something that unites us when we come together. It’s just a tremendous change that God has done through EKG. It’s a reason for being here.”

Union leaders are careful to ensure EKG is not simply viewed as one more in a long line of American programs to change their churches.

“It should not come to our churches as another foreign program,” Baraniuk said. “Our people are tired of hearing what we are doing wrong in the church.”

He said focusing the union’s work on God’s Kingdom is “a biblical concept we have ignored for too long.” But he added that church leaders should not see EKG as just a tool for organizational growth.

“It’s more than that. It s a spiritual process that affects us on the inside,” Baraniuk said. “It’s something that’s going to affect our spiritual lives. We are setting ourselves up for a spiritual future.”

Ed Tarleton, the International Mission Board’s representative in Russia, pointed to EKG’s biblical foundations as one of the main reasons Baptist leaders in central and eastern Europe have embraced the process.

Carlisle Driggers, executive director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention and the primary originator of EKG, also has been instrumental in helping Russian leaders play a larger part in God’s work across the globe.

Tarleton said the recent EKG conference symbolized the best of Baptist cooperation.

“It was a wonderful combination of front-line personnel who are working to place biblically based tools into the hands of Baptist partners, seminary representatives, national leaders and local church leaders,” Tarleton said. “This allowed us to bring together that kind of representation. EKG is a truly unified Southern Baptist effort to expand God’s Kingdom.”
Cameron Crabtree is editor of the Northwest Baptist Witness, newsjournal of the Northwest Baptist Convention.

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