Southern Baptists are making excellent progress, both at home and abroad, in special emphases that encourage congregational vitality and promote partnership with like-minded believers around the world, Morris H. Chapman told the SBC Executive Committee during the group's September 22-23 meeting in Nashville.
During his reporting time on September 22, Chapman, the Executive Committee's president and chief executive officer, called on three staff executives to give updates on the progress of Executive Committee initiatives: Empowering Kingdom Growth, It's a New Day, and Global Evangelical Relations.
Empowering Kingdom Growth
Ken Hemphill, national strategist for the Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis, told Executive Committee members he had been involved in about 650 EKG events in the five years since the emphasis was launched. He described the three-step strategy of the emphasis and focused on resources created to help churches take initiative for renewal.
The first stage of the emphasis — spiritual ignition — focuses on helping a congregation capture a passion for God's agenda of all the world's people coming to know Him as their rightful king, Hemphill said. This concept is explained in a book called EKG: The Heartbeat of God, which is designed for a forty-day study. Two new EKG resources include a thirteen-week adult study and a youth edition, which will be available free online this fall. The second stage — renewed thinking — is conveyed by the Eternal Impact book released this past summer. The third stage — holistic stewardship — is a transformational approach to scriptural money management discussed in the book Making Change. A youth edition of the Making Change book is now available, and a children's version will be available this fall.
The goal of the Empowering Kingdom Growth strategy is epitomized in the experience of a country church in North Carolina that conducted the emphasis and saw a renewal that multiplied congregational giving, erected a new building, and donated the historic building to an international congregation that now has a larger attendance than the original church, Hemphill said. "When your heart changes, your thinking changes, then your strategy can follow," he said.
It's a New Day
One explanation for so many Southern Baptist congregations being plateaued or declining in membership is that the members aren't being obedient to God's plan for the stewardship of His gifts, said Bob Rodgers, the SBC Executive Committee's vice president for Cooperative Program and Stewardship.
Ranging through the Scripture — from Genesis to Acts — Rodgers drew out the biblical principle that everything a Christian has comes from God, Who has given very clear instructions about how His people are to manage the resources He entrusts to them. Failure to obey God's instructions was always accompanied by God's punishment, he said.
"We don't have very far to go to understand why baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention decline year on end," Rodgers said. "It's simply because the people sitting in the pews ... are in bondage to debt, and because of it they have a hard time going out and sharing God's Word or doing the ministry God called them to do.
"You don't have to look for many reasons why the finance system in our country is absolutely wrapped up tighter than a drum," Rodgers added. "You don't have to go very far to find out why homes of Southern Baptists are being foreclosed. God is doing exactly what He said He would do."
The It's a New Day stewardship emphasis focuses on freeing Christians from the financial bondage that separates them from a right relationship with God so they can be free to serve Him, Rodgers said. Various curriculum options are available to churches who want to implement them, and the Executive Committee sponsors conferences to support the initiative.
Global Evangelical Relations
Bobby Welch, national strategist for the Executive Committee's Global Evangelical Relations emphasis, told the group he has received an enthusiastic reception as he crisscrosses the United States and travels overseas.
The Global Evangelical Relations initiative was launched in 2005, a year after the Southern Baptists voted to withdraw from the Baptist World Alliance over liberal theology and left-leaning relationships in that organization. Welch focuses on strengthening and enriching relationships already established with evangelicals overseas and starting relationships with Baptist and other like-minded evangelicals "who see the world and the Kingdom as we do," Welch said.
"I have found a tremendous interest in the success [of this initiative] because Southern Baptists have sought to find another way to say, 'We love you. We're with you. We're on your side, and we're all trying to see the Great Commission accomplished'" Welch said.
Welch reported that before Christmas he expected to visit the Philippines, Germany, Austria, and Italy. He also said that in 2009 he expects at least twelve three-day Encouragement Conferences will be held overseas, in which an American pastor and members of his church gather with Baptists from another country to encourage each other and improve mutual understanding.
He reported on a recent trip to South Korea, where he had an opportunity to meet with key leaders of several evangelical groups, including a group of about one thousand young Baptist leaders. "I am really expectant about our relationship with that group of young men who are going to be calling the shots in that part of the world in the days ahead," Welch said.
Welch recounted the experience of visiting with American troops in South Korea and having an opportunity to share the Gospel with an Army sergeant from a Muslim background and listen as he prayed to receive Christ. "Here I was, going halfway around the world to help others, and God shot that right back home to one of our own," Welch said. "It really is true. What we sow is what we will reap."
Mark Kelly is a member of Peace Community Church in Gallatin, Tennessee, and is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.