Rick Warren's first words from his popular book The Purpose-Driven Life are "It's not about you." While Bible-believing Christians around the world know this to be true, Warren's sobering reminder has helped transform and refocus the lives of thousands of believers around the world to be outward thinking rather than inward thinking.
In a greater way, the last recorded words of Jesus to the disciples and the church are found in the first chapter of Acts. They are a charge to be His bold witnesses throughout the world under the influence and empowerment of the Holy Spirit: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth Acts 1:8 (HCSB).
Southern Baptists realize that reaching the world for Christ means coming to the sobering conclusion that it's not about us, but it's about them.
Church culture many times focuses on what goes on inside its four walls rather than what goes on outside, nearby, and beyond. Just as individuals can benefit from having a purpose-driven life, so can the church focus on having a purpose-driven ministry that reaches outside the church into its community, its region, continent, and world.
As Jesus illustrated in Acts 1:8, the mission of the church is unique, purposeful, and urgent. Perhaps never before in history has the church been in such a position to boldly embrace Jesus' challenge to take the gospel to everyone, everywhere.
The words of Jesus in Acts 1:8 are just as powerful today as the day they were spoken. For today's church, Jesus' words are a "wake-up call" to be engaged in his mission on earth. Southern Baptist churches have the wealth, knowledge, and know-how — with the assistance of their mission boards, state conventions, and local associations — to take the gospel to every community, people group, and nation in the world.
Jesus' vision of the world is to break it up into manageable "fields" where churches have or can develop influence — their Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and ends of the earth. Jesus did not elevate one mission field above the others. Instead, He commanded that Christians reach out to all four.
Today, Southern Baptist churches interpret their "Jerusalem" to correspond with their city, town, or county; their "Judea" as their state or province; their "Samaria" as the United States and Canada; and "the ends of the earth" to include the rest of the world.
The Acts 1:8 Challenge, launched in May 2004 at First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Georgia, by representatives of four partnering Southern Baptist entities, is about challenging the local church to plan and implement a comprehensive mission strategy that accomplishes Acts 1:8.
"By what criteria should people be denied access to the gospel of Jesus Christ when God has blessed and prospered us so richly?" asked Dr. Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board, at the event.
"What God has given us is simply a message — a message that Jesus Christ died and rose again. And He sent us out to be witnesses and proclaim that soul redeeming, life-changing message of Jesus Christ and promised to empower as we go in obedience."
North American Mission Board president Robert E. "Bob" Reccord said the Acts 1:8 Challenge is designed to transform any church into a worldwide missions center.
"As God is bringing the nations to our land, we have the opportunity to touch the world beginning in our own 'Jerusalem (city), Judea (state), and Samaria (continent).' When that is combined with missions to foreign nations and modern technologies delivering the gospel around the globe, we are living in a day in which the fulfillment of the Great Commission is becoming a true possibility. But it will take all of us working together!"
J. Robert "Bob" White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, represented state convention partners and the "Judea" of the Acts 1:8 Challenge.
"Christ reminded us that our mission field is the 'uttermost (parts of the earth),' but it is also Jerusalem. It is Samaria, but it is also Judea. It is the whole of our mission field that He has called us to and that He has empowered us by the Holy Spirit to reach."
Jim Freedman, president of the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Directors of Missions, said Southern Baptists can do more collectively.
"Together we can do more than any one of us can do separately for missions and ministry in our local area," said Freedman. "All of our Baptist associations around our convention are committed to be what we need to be with our churches in our Jerusalem that the gospel can be shared right there where we live."
By accepting the Challenge, churches commit to eight "kingdom-growing" responses as they work to intentionally engage in Acts 1:8. They commit to prepare for their involvement, to learn how to become strategically involved, to pray for God's leadership in their plans, to give of their financial resources to support the mission, to go by offering mobilization opportunities, to tell the gospel message, to send by encouraging members to invest their lives in missions, and to multiply by assisting in church starting efforts.
While the purpose of the Acts 1:8 Challenge is designed to assist churches to be on mission by leading them to partner with their local Baptist association, state Baptist convention, North American Mission Board (NAMB), and International Mission Board (IMB), there are no rigid guidelines directing churches to do it a certain way. Once a church accepts the Challenge and completes a simple registration process, their commitment is shared with each of their four denominational partners whose responsibility then is to follow-up with the local church and assist in missions involvement in the appropriate field. The Acts 1:8 Challenge can be helpful to any church — regardless of size — that wants to work with its Southern Baptist mission partners to plan and implement a biblical approach to missions.
How a church responds to the Challenge will vary based on its past involvement in missions and commitment to be involved in the four fields of Acts 1:8. The Challenge can be tailored to each congregation. A church might ask: How can we pray for missions more effectively in our community and state, across North America, and around the world? And how can our church best learn about, give to, and send people to all four mission fields? Following are churches embracing an Acts 1:8 Challenge strategy:
Jerusalem — University Baptist Church in Fairbanks, Alaska, reaches out to a city with rates of suicide, alcoholism, sexual abuse, and domestic violence among the highest in the nation. Sunday morning invitations last up to thirty minutes as people find hope. Members minister to University of Alaska students and run an English-language school. "Our purpose is simply the Great Commission," said pastor Gary Cox.
Judea — Red Hills Southern Baptist Church in Cedar City, Utah, is in an area that's about 98 percent Mormon. The church reaches out to Mormons with the truth of Christ, and volunteers from other states often join their efforts. "We're seeing more people come to the Lord out of the (Mormon) church," said Scott Maxwell, pastor. "We're planting seeds, and over the next fifteen years, we'll be reaping the harvest."
Samaria — First Baptist Church, Katy, Texas, pledged its entire Easter morning offering of $77,000 to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. "We believe that America is in desperate need of revival," said pastor Randy White. "We wanted to make a financial commitment to this revival and a bold statement of faith through our contribution to North American missions."
Ends of the Earth — First Baptist Church, Powell, Tennessee, plans to reach an entire South Asia city for Christ. For three years, the church will create and carry out strategies to start rapidly reproducing churches there. First Baptist chose South Asia because it has so few Christian witnesses among so many lost. "There are too many unreached peoples for us to spend all our time where other people are willing to go," said pastor Phil Jones.
Many Baptist association and state convention partners see Acts 1:8 as key in calling churches to be on mission.
All 108 member churches of the Gwinnett Metro Baptist Association in Metro Atlanta are being challenged to embrace an active Acts 1:8 strategy, said Sid Hopkins, director of missions. The association promoted Acts 1:8 several years before the start of the official Acts 1:8 Challenge initiative. Hopkins said he is already seeing dramatic results.
"Since we've emphasized Acts 1:8, we've tripled the number of churches participating in missions," said Hopkins. "It's a real shot in the arm for the association."
During the South Carolina Baptist Convention annual meeting, the convention hosted a special breakfast for churches signed up for the Challenge and for prospective Challenge churches. The South Carolina convention has developed its own Acts 1:8 Judea materials to better assist their churches in making a commitment to the Challenge.
Since the launch of the Acts 1:8 Challenge, more than 500 churches from across the Southern Baptist Convention have embraced the Challenge. Associations are using the Acts 1:8 Challenge as the theme of their annual meetings and state conventions are hosting special conferences and meetings to sign-up and encourage churches to be a part of the challenge.
For more information about the Acts 1:8 Challenge or to register your church, visit www.ActsOne8.com or call 1-800-4-ACTS18 (1-800-422-8718).
The Acts 1:8 Challenge is strategically linked with the Empowering Kingdom Growth (EKG) emphasis. Your church might consider maximizing these emphases by offering the study EKG: The Heartbeat of God, followed by the study The Acts 1:8 Challenge: Empowering the Church to Be On Mission. Both are available at any LifeWay Christian Store, online at www.lifeway.com, or through the catalog store at 800/448-8032.