I have just completed two years of working together with Southern Baptists to discover and join God in His Kingdom activity. I have been privileged to speak to local churches, associations, state conventions, agencies, and other assembled groups about God's Kingdom. I have repeatedly indicated that I believe that the Empowering Kingdom Growth focus is one of the most significant events in our Baptist history.
I often find it hard to explain what EKG is about since it is not a program emphasis and we have been program-driven for so long it is hard to change the paradigm. I have often stated that EKG is about spiritual awakening, and thus, it is dependent on prayer and the manifest power of God. Further, I have often stated that it would be amazing to see what Southern Baptists, working together, could accomplish if we didn't care who received the credit. In truth, EKG means that we should be praying that God will do something that is so "Kingdom-sized" that no one else can claim credit for it and only God can receive glory from it.
I have been privileged to hear and celebrate such Kingdom moments with some of our local churches, large and small. Baptist Press has carried the stories of churches experiencing increased baptisms, greater levels of giving, and a heart for service as a response to the EKG/Acts 1:8 studies. It has been a joy to celebrate these Kingdom moments, but in September I was privileged to celebrate two Kingdom moments in quite a different setting. I think they will encourage you, and therefore, I feel compelled to share them.
Executive Committee Meeting
I have been attending Executive Committee meetings for a little over eleven years, first as the President of Southwestern Baptist Seminary and now as National Strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth. The Executive Committee is made up of eighty-two elected representatives from our forty-two state conventions. It meets three times a year, and it is charged with the task of acting on behalf of Southern Baptists when they are not actually gathered as a Convention. Its role is to serve the Southern Baptist Convention.
The committee meetings are well attended by the elected representatives, chief executives of our national entities, and state convention leaders because we know that we are engaging in Kingdom work. The work accomplished by the Executive Committee involves hours of sometimes tedious committee deliberation as those gathered work on behalf of our forty-three thousand churches to ensure that our cooperative mission task is done accurately and efficiently. For that reason, we don't always come expecting a Kingdom moment of incredible significance.
No Ordinary Meeting
Perhaps many came with some level of anticipation that this was no ordinary meeting. New Orleans, Mississippi, and Alabama had just been ravaged by one of the most destructive storms on record. People were displaced in record numbers. Not only were church buildings destroyed, but church families were scattered. This meant that some churches had ceased to exist overnight. Where would these pastors go, and what would their families do? Who would help the untold numbers of people whose homes and jobs no longer existed? What would happen to our seminary in New Orleans? What would the students, who had sold their homes and left their jobs to follow God's call, do now that seminary housing was virtually destroyed and the campus closed? How would Southern Baptists respond?
As we watched the news, we knew that the response had been immediate and immense. Disaster relief teams from various states and associations were often the first on the scene. Our North American Mission Board was on the front lines coordinating the efforts. Local churches became engaged as volunteers were sent, and evacuees were housed and cared for. Yet, all of us knew that this was only the beginning. This was the band-aid that ministered to immediate needs and that this disaster would require a long-term plan and significant resources.
An Overwhelming Response
For nine years I had attended this meeting as a seminary president. I was making the report on behalf of Southwestern and bringing our budget needs to this group. This time I was in the gallery as a member of the Executive Committee staff. I was overwhelmed when I heard what God had placed in the heart of those men and women who serve you on the Executive Committee. The response was immediate and overwhelming.
The decision was made to allocate any overage from the past fiscal year from Cooperative Program giving, and the monies gathered from the first quarter of the next fiscal year to be contributed to disaster relief. First, we committed to care for the students and faculty of our New Orleans Baptist Seminary and to help rebuild the storm-ravaged campus. Second, we determined to assist ministers and to help churches reconstitute. The resources to accomplish this will be channeled through the Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi conventions. Finally, additional resources were given to the North American Mission Board to assist in the on-going disaster relief efforts.
Most of the people in the room were overwhelmed with emotion as we recognized a Kingdom moment. Caring expressed in a concrete manner! Cooperation at its best! But the best was yet to come. As this report was made, Chuck Kelley, president of NOBTS, spoke and the chief executives of all our national entities stood behind him in support. What struck me was the enormous sacrifice these men and their agencies had just made. You see, I have been in their shoes, and I knew that this generous, appropriate, and Kingdom-focused response impacted their budgets in a significant way.
Our by-laws require that our Cooperative Program budget be based on actual receipts from the last year. For this reason, we can generally anticipate some overage as Baptist churches grow and determine to give greater resources for Kingdom advance through their local churches. None of the entity heads would actually budget based on the anticipated overage. That would be irresponsible. However, I can tell you that we are greatly dependent on that overage for the effective operation of our ministries. I knew that it would help me provide adequate housing for our students, accomplish necessary maintenance on our numerous buildings, and care for our seminary family.
Sacrificial Leadership & Our Challenge
Because I had walked in their shoes, I knew that these denominational leaders were exhibiting Kingdom leadership. It was unselfish and sacrificial. Thank you, Lord, for a Kingdom moment!
But this Kingdom moment is bigger than the men standing on that stage. In a sense they represent thousands upon thousands of Southern Baptists who have given faithfully through their church, knowing that a portion of that gift goes beyond the borders of their own community to impact Judea, Samaria, and the Ends of the Earth.
We have been able to respond immediately and comprehensively, because the Cooperative Program has given us the stability of funding necessary to meet this crisis without one missionary having to return from the field or one student having to drop out of school for the lack of funds. It truly is the mutual fund of missions providing a Kingdom portfolio to advance the Kingdom in every circumstance.
I must confess that I did have one question come to mind. How will those entities, who gave so sacrificially to respond to this immediate need, recover the resources needed to accomplish their task? That is where the Kingdom moment must spread. Recent events have not only given us the opportunity to see God at work, they have given us the opportunity to join Him in Kingdom advance. Now that we have seen this cooperative lifeline at work, I challenge every one of us to give with great abandon and joy. I challenge every church to prayerfully consider giving a larger portion of the resources God has placed in your stewardship.
The Next Day
I was still celebrating our Kingdom moment when another came in quite a different context. On the day after our Executive Committee meeting, I was invited to join with state executives, entity heads, and prayer leaders from across our Convention for a day of prayer. This had been on my schedule for nearly a year, but it had been only an entry on my PDA.
As I entered the room that had been provided by LifeWay, I sensed that this was no ordinary meeting. The prayer focus was never intended to be a large event, but to challenge the leaders of our denomination to join in prayer for spiritual awakening. I was impressed by the large number of people who had remained for an additional day to pray. Many of the persons in that room had been in Nashville for several days and had busy schedules waiting on their desk, and yet, they had come.
Further, I soon realized that we had not come to hear someone talk about prayer, but we had gathered to pray. Roy Fish had been asked to lead the gathered assembly in a time of focus as we prayed. I have had the privilege of serving with Roy as a colleague at Southwestern, and I know him to be a man of great integrity and deep conviction about prayer. As he began, he confessed that of all of his assignments, this was one of the most significant and demanding. He led us to look at ourselves honestly and to seek God's face.
Most of the time was spent in small groups praying. I think we all came away sensing that this had been a Kingdom moment, and that if we anticipate God doing anything through this focus we call EKG, it will be because we seek His face. He alone is the source of Kingdom advance. Are you praying for spiritual awakening? Do you believe it could happen in our lifetime? Can you imagine the potential impact?
Next issue I want to return to the theme of prayer and EKG.
Kenneth S. Hemphill is the SBC national EKG strategist.