For several months, we have been looking together at the "heartbeat of God." God's desire has been and always will be that all the people of the earth have the opportunity to acknowledge Him as rightful King. When we began to examine God's Word for His strategic plan, we discovered that He has chosen to work through a people who would embody His name, embrace His mission, and obey His word. Israel, as a nation, ignored the plight of the Gentile, consuming God's blessings rather than conveying them through mission passion.
The New Testament is replete with the theme of God's Kingdom. John the Baptist declares that it is near at hand. At the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus announces His firm resolve to consistently focus on His Father's Kingdom (Matthew 4:17). We see this emphasis embedded in the prayer He taught His disciples. The opening refrains of this prayer declare that Kingdom people focus on God's name, God's Kingdom, and God's will. With speculation swirling about the true identity of Jesus, He both acknowledges Peter's confession that He is the "anointed one" and indicates that He intends to build a church possessing the "keys of the kingdom."
While the church is not to be equated with, or mistakenly identified as the fulfillment of, the Kingdom, it must not be ignored when we plan for Kingdom advance. The church is the primary instrument through which God advances His Kingdom on the earth. It is, therefore, not surprising that the book of Acts is the story of the Holy Spirit advancing the Kingdom through the planting of reproducing churches. It is to the church that the Acts 1:8 commission has been given.
The Structure of Kingdom Partnerships
How does a local church begin to get its arms around a mission so vast that it extends to the ends of the earth? It is obvious that the church will require like-minded partners. We note, for example, that the church in Antioch (Acts 11, 13) commissioned Paul and Barnabas to plant other churches. In the New Testament we begin to see clusters of churches working together for Kingdom advance.
We have seen that Southern Baptists are fortunate that our existing structure provides for partnerships in all four quadrants. The association enables the local church to join with like-minded partners to saturate Jerusalem with the gospel. When I hear someone comment that the association does nothing for their church, I realize they are still struggling with spiritual myopia. We should be asking how we can assist our partner churches for the sake of Jerusalem. Our Judea partnership brings into play our state conventions, and our Samaria and Ends of the Earth partnerships bring into play the broader Convention and its mission agencies. Sounds good so far, but we must ask another pivotal Kingdom question: Who will train the leaders for such a vast enterprise?
Seminaries are Foundational for Leadership Training
If we are going to plant and grow effective local churches and supply missionaries to the ends of the earth, we must have a means of equipping. I had the wonderful opportunity to serve as President of one our Southern Baptist seminaries for nine years. This experience gave me an insider's view of the significance of seminary training for effective Kingdom advance.
Have you ever wondered why discussion concerning the seminaries seemed to be at the heart of much of the conservative resurgence? It's really very simple! The seminaries are foundational for leadership training. The seminaries set the climate for the entire convention. We want pastors, staff persons, and missionaries that know and teach sound doctrine, that have a passion for reaching the lost, and have the ministry skills to be effective in their given ministry call. If you listen closely to our seminary presidents when they speak, they will all articulate this threefold concern in one way or another. Often they will refer to the head, the heart, and the hand to indicate the concern for a well-rounded education.
Since everything in Southern Baptist life flows from the local church, it is essential that our pastors and staff persons be fully equipped. All of us know and love pastors and staff persons who, for one reason or another, were not able to attain seminary education. Many have been very effective in their ministry. Yet, I have met very few of these persons who did not express the desire to have additional training in terms of biblical knowledge and ministry skills. Paul's admonition to Timothy still stands: Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn't need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15, HCSB). When a person quits growing, it will not be long until the ministry or organization they run ceases to grow under their leadership. Therefore, if we want healthy Kingdom-focused churches, it is essential that we have leaders committed to lifelong growth.
Our seminaries are the launching pad for global missions. Our mission agencies have long recognized that their laborers are more effective if they have seminary preparation. Thus, our seminaries have devoted specific tracts of learning for mission advance. In cooperation with our International Mission Board, faculty and students are studying and ministering around the world. As a result, growing numbers of students are sensing a call to ministry beyond the borders of North America. They are working to expose all students to the needs of the world so that they will have a global focus wherever they are led to serve. In cooperation with our North American Mission Board, they have developed an innovative tract for church planters which will allow us to penetrate pioneer areas of North America.
Our six seminaries are committed to biblical truth and, yet, are innovative in their approach. They have worked diligently to provide distance learning where possible and when feasible. Thus, our seminaries have established numerous satellite campuses, offering quality training with competent faculty. They are also using innovative technology to provide on-line training when appropriate. They have all developed unique tracts for women in ministry. They provide conferencing opportunities for lifelong learning which appeal to both ministry staff and key lay leaders. They are laying the necessary foundation for Kingdom advance.
This innovative approach based on solid biblical truth has led to exciting growth. We now have more than fifteen thousand students enrolled in our six schools.
If we are going to be effective in fulfilling the Acts 1:8 Challenge and the mission goal of Empowering Kingdom Growth, it requires sound, innovative, and passionate seminaries. Aren't you glad to be part of a denomination that has all the component parts in place to be an effective instrument in God's hands?