Although the Kingdom of God is a central teaching of Scripture, rarely do Christians speak of it, and even fewer claim to understand it, said James T. Draper Jr., president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Nearly every parable in the New Testament centers on the Kingdom of God, Draper acknowledged during LifeWay's 2002 State Leaders Meeting in Nashville, Tenn., and it is proclaimed in John the Baptist's cries in Matthew 3:2 of, "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!" and Jesus' preaching in Matthew 4:17 that the Kingdom of God is near.
Still, Draper said, "I was surprised when I looked back on all of the sermons I had preached that only one focused solely on the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is central to the Word of God, yet it is seldom on our lips."
But that is changing with the Southern Baptist Convention's embrace of Empowering Kingdom Growth as an overarching emphasis.
By definition, the Kingdom is "the rule of God in the lives of believers and thus in the world," Draper said. "The Kingdom is within, it has come, and it is coming. Simply put, a Kingdom enterprise is where the power of God is evident, the presence of God is experienced and the purposes of God are realized."
Draper also was quick to clarify that although Empowering Kingdom Growth has become a central theme of the SBC, it is bigger than a mere convention. "The Kingdom of God is bigger than the SBC, but it does include the SBC," he said. "We are part of the Kingdom when we do His will and obey His commands. The Kingdom is about the reign and rule of Jesus Christ in the hearts of His people and in the life of His church."
Acknowledging that any religious organization run by humans will encounter difficulties, Draper emphasized the fact that "the Kingdom of God will triumph with irresistible power."
Referencing the seed parable in Mark 4, Draper went on to compare the Kingdom to a seed that "does not need the farmer to grow …. The Kingdom of God does not grow because of our ability, will, or actions. We do not build or empower the Kingdom. It empowers us. God's Kingdom has in it germinal power. You do not carry the Kingdom; it carries you. It was there before you and me, and it will be there after we are gone."
Another characteristic of the Kingdom of God is the inevitability of change, Draper said, noting that an inability to embrace change often results in alienation of younger leaders in the convention.
"The younger leaders of our churches today accept change readily," Draper said. "They know our world has changed. They see us as fighting the inevitability of change and unwilling to listen to them or include them."
Draper encouraged today's leaders to embrace tomorrow's leaders. "This new generation does not just need to know 'how.' They want to know 'why,'" Draper said. "They look at us and see no compelling vision or rally cry for them to accept. Unless we can provide both the destination and the compass, we will not effectively relate to these leaders, and, more tragically, we will have sabotaged the next generation of SBC leaders."
Draper told the 250 state Baptist leaders in attendance that the way to embrace change is not to give the old paradigm a facelift, but to create a new paradigm.
"Young leaders don't see the convention as relevant," he said. "We have programs-they want church development. We track numerical growth — they track spiritual growth. We want education — they want leader development. We propose one way to fix something — they want multiple solutions. Our pastors are chaplains — theirs equip."
Draper suggested five ways to create a new paradigm and train new leaders: through vision, definition, strategy, tools, and evaluation.
"The Word will help us simplify our vision and define why we exist," he said. "The strategy will allow us to fulfill that vision using the tools that are available. Finally, we must find ways to measure success. We must learn that [gifts through] the Cooperative Program is not the only measure for how well we are doing."
In order to accomplish these goals, Draper said Southern Baptist leaders must recognize the need for change and listen to what the churches are telling them, as well as find new ways to evaluate church health beyond money, membership and baptisms.
"I spend my life returning phone calls and mail to churches in the effort to show them that they are vital to the Kingdom," Draper said. "We've got to find ways to make every person, every church, know they're important. They must know that somebody does care and wants to listen to what they have to say. We need to figure out if they need the denomination to do their work or if we need their resources to stay alive."
Draper admitted that the Southern Baptist Convention has dealt with its share of controversy, but that the younger leaders only want to get on with the Kingdom. "If all we have to offer them is the past, they won't listen."
Amidst the decline of many churches, Draper said drastic changes must take place. "We can't keep things that don't work," he said. "It has been a painful process, but we must focus on the matters of the Kingdom. If what we are doing does not bring transformation, we must find what works and go there. We must be willing to give away our convention. We exist for the churches; they do not exist for us. We owe them our energies to provide resources for them to accomplish the will of God for their community and their world."
Draper concluded, "The Kingdom of God will triumph. It is our privilege to be a part of that."