I am writing this article on the day before Christmas. As I have reflected on what I should say concerning our Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis to begin the year 2004, I was overwhelmed by the meaning and message of this season. By the time you read this, Christmas 2003 may already be fading into your memory. Unfortunately, as the season fades we too easily forget about the incarnation of the sovereign King of the universe.
We can't begin to comprehend the sacrifice that was made when the King stepped down from His royal throne and took upon Himself human flesh. Perhaps no one has described this self-emptying better than the Apostle Paul when he wrote: Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8).
The King was willing to give up His throne for a cross to liberate mankind who had fallen into sin and thus under the rule of the prince of darkness. For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). How can we show appropriate gratitude for the incredible gift of abundant and eternal life? A simple "thank you," however earnest, seems inadequate. I believe that a meaningful way to say "thanks" is to share this incredible news with someone else. Will you accept the challenge to tell someone the incredible good news of the gospel during the calendar year of 2004?
This would appear to be a simple task for any of us and yet it continues to be a challenge for many believers. Research by our North American Mission Board indicates that only about 5 percent of all believers have ever told anyone about Christ. This has led to another disturbing discovery: 51 percent of Southern Baptist churches baptized five or less persons last year. EKG must of necessity be about evangelism. When we understand that the King has empowered and commissioned us to be salt and light to the world, our emphasis on the Kingdom would be inadequate if we did not focus on evangelism. EKG is about spiritual renewal that will enable every church and every believer to live and work with kingdom focus.
Acts 1:8 Emphasis
Our two mission agencies, under the capable leadership of Jerry Rankin and Bob Reccord, have challenged Southern Baptists to join in an emphasis that focuses on Jesus' commission to the early church. In Acts 1:3 Luke tells us that Jesus spent the forty days after the resurrection and prior to the ascension speaking to His disciples of things concerning the Kingdom of God. The disciples are still thinking of an earthly kingdom for Israel, so they question Jesus about the time for the kingdom to be restored to Israel. Jesus tells them they should not concern themselves about issues that are under the sovereign control of the Father. Then He focuses on their role in Kingdom activity: But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8).
Our two mission agencies have selected Acts 1:8 as the banner for their role in our EKG emphasis. It will be their role to assist our churches in fulfilling this commission that was given to us by our risen Lord. All of our denomination entities view themselves as servants of the churches. We are all working together to advance God's Kingdom and not our own. The genius of Southern Baptists is this cooperative spirit and strategy. No one church, no matter how large, could ever accomplish the Acts 1:8 commission alone. But all of us working together can take the gospel to the entire world.
The Empowering for the Task
The idea of spreading the gospel to the entire world could appear to be a daunting task if it were not for the simple fact that we are promised supernatural power to enable us to accomplish the task. The word "empowering" in Empowering Kingdom Growth reminds us of the promise of the Holy Spirit.
Notice the connection between you shall receive power and you shall be my witnesses. First, it reminds us that we cannot bear effective gospel witness without the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Second, it reminds us that the Holy Spirit will bear witness through us. Witnessing is a supernaturally natural activity that is the result of our new birth.
I have occasionally heard people remark that they don't witness because it is not natural for them to do so. I suppose they mean that they are uncomfortable talking to someone about Jesus. My response has always been, "Your ability to witness is not supposed to be natural; it must be supernatural." Have you ever noticed that you naturally talk about matters that interest you most? Grandparents enthusiastically bear testimony about their grandkids. A young adult who falls in love cannot contain himself or herself; they must tell you about their beloved. The Holy Spirit leads us to fall deeply in love with Jesus so that we cannot contain our witness.
In some quarters there exists some confusion about the reception of the Holy Spirit. The Bible clearly teaches that every born-again believer receives the Holy Spirit the moment they receive Christ. Listen to Paul's declaration in Romans 8: However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him (9), and For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God (14). God doesn't withhold anything from the Christian at conversion. You received the Holy Spirit the moment you became a Christian. He will enable you to tell others about the Christ you so passionately love.
We could point to numerous passages in Acts to document that a primary work of the Spirit is to enable Kingdom-focused persons to bear effective witness. Look for example at Acts 4:31: And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness. Notice the clear linking of prayer, the Holy Spirit, and bold witness.
The Scope of the Task
The resurrected King Himself has prescribed the scope of our task. We could compare Jerusalem to the local church field, our immediate area of influence. Judea could be compared to our state and Samaria to North America. The remotest part of the earth speaks for itself. The scope of our task encompasses the entire earth for our King is King over all the earth, and it is His desire that every tribe, tongue, and nation come to praise Him as rightful King.
These four realms of witness are not to be viewed as being accomplished sequentially. This means that we cannot simply concentrate on our Jerusalem until everyone has heard the gospel without due concern for Judea, Samaria, and the remote parts of the world. I mention this because we often have tunnel vision. We can become so burdened by the lost in our own neighborhood that we ignore the needs of the lost worldwide. Every Kingdom-focused church and person will be equally concerned about all four realms of witness because all of these persons are equally precious to our King.
You may be wondering how it is possible to focus on a target so vast as the entire world. Kingdom focus requires that we develop and support a cooperative strategy. No single church will ever be able to fully embrace such a momentous task, but all of us working together can fulfill this task. We are fortunate that our Southern Baptist fore-fathers had the wisdom to develop such a cooperative strategy as church, association, state, and the convention entities join hands in an Acts 1:8 strategy. Each local church must develop a means of equipping and inspiring every member to effectively share their faith, while at the same time they participate in associational, state, and convention-wide ventures. We have the opportunity to participate in the wider scope of Acts 1:8 through our giving through the Cooperative Program and by personally participating in mission projects. I can think of no single evangelism strategy that has had greater Kingdom impact than our Cooperative Program giving strategy. Think about it for a moment. This plan allows churches large and small to share in global outreach.
The Challenge and the Strategy
Do you think it is possible for Southern Baptists to evangelize and baptize one million people in the year 2005? That is our goal! To put it into perspective I need to tell you that in 1972 we baptized 475,000. That is the largest number ever baptized by our convention. Simple math indicates that we would need to more than double baptisms to reach this goal. I would agree that this goal appears to be impossible. But that which is impossible for men is clearly possible for God. Ask yourself a simple question, "Do I believe such a goal would be the will of God for Southern Baptists?" We know that it is God's will that none should perish so such a goal is clearly in line with the purposes of God. This goal is so challenging that it is clearly not about our kingdom, it is about God's Kingdom.
Our strategy is a simple one. We are asking that every church join in praying for another church in 2004. We believe only God can empower us to expand His Kingdom in such a dramatic way in a single year; therefore, we will spend this year praying for each other. This will provide the spiritual launch platform for the evangelistic thrust of 2005. I believe that any born again believer, empowered by the Holy Spirit can lead one person to the Lord during the calendar year. Would you pray about making such a commitment?
Associational, state, and national leaders are committed to assisting our local churches in this noble effort. During the year SBC LIFE will include numerous articles that will inspire, encourage, and assist you in this task. I want to encourage you to make SBC LIFE available to your church members.
Remember, God is seeking a people who will embody His name, embrace His mission, and obey His Word.