Leaders hope EKG spurs Baptists to evangelism

ST. LOUIS (BP)--Noting how Southern Baptists are yearning for spiritual renewal and Christ-centered living in the world, five Southern Baptist leaders signed a covenant agreement June 11 with the convention's 40,000 churches calling for an "all-out concentration on the kingdom of God."

Called Empowering Kingdom Growth (EKG), the initiative -- which is not a program -- calls for SBC leaders and churches to "seek first the King and His kingdom."

"We believe God laid on our hearts to cast a vision -- Empowering Kingdom Growth," said Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee and one of the five to sign the covenant agreement.

"Much of the work along the way is to just pray that God does something that is beyond our ability to plan or manufacture," Chapman said. "So therefore, we are praying that as we cast the vision that God will take it and he will manifest himself among Southern Baptists throughout the country and they will begin to ask themselves this question: 'Am I a kingdom person?' Our reference to the kingdom in this emphasis is the rule and reign of God in our hearts."

Other signees at the SBC's 145th annual meeting were James Merritt, SBC president and co-chair of the EKG Task Force; B. Carlisle Driggers, executive director-treasurer of the South Carolina Baptist Convention and co-chair of the EKG Task Force; Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; and Fermin A. Whittaker, president of the Southern Baptist Association of State Executive Directors.

Driggers, who has pioneered an Empowering Kingdom Growth vision for the past nine years in South Carolina, introduced the initiative to the SBC Executive Committee Feb. 18. The committee endorsed EKG Feb. 19.

"We have really seen a coming together of our people," Driggers said, noting how his state has seen an increase in baptisms, new churches and volunteers for missions -- something that was not occurring 10 years ago. "Giving to missions has also increased," he said. "Folks now say in South Carolina that we're about kingdom work and that is our hope and prayer for the SBC."

The signed agreement, called "A Covenant Between Southern Baptist Denominational Leadership and the Churches," states, "Being fully committed to the proposition that Jesus Christ is the only hope for the world, and believing Southern Baptists are yearning for spiritual renewal and Christ-centered living, and recognizing the challenge of Jesus to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, we, the undersigned Southern Baptist denominational leaders, covenant with each other and every willing Southern Baptist, under God,

"To make the kingdom of God the priority in our own personal lives.

"To dedicate the energies and resources of the ministries we lead to seeking first the King and His kingdom.

"To cooperate with each other and the family of Southern Baptists as we pursue kingdom principles and practices.

"To give ourselves to servant leadership that will assist and enable local churches in their ministry.

"To pray that a new passion for Jesus breaks out among our people, our families, and our churches from which God can forge a spiritual movement marked by holy living, sacrificial service, and global witness."

"To this end we affirm Empowering Kingdom Growth as a call for Southern Baptists to seek first the King and His kingdom."

Merritt said he prays that EKG will lead to Southern Baptists placing a greater emphasis on evangelism.

"If you look over the past 50-year history of our convention, we've kind of plateaued [in baptisms]," Merritt said, noting how the convention has hovered around the 400,000 mark annually. "We're now over 16 million members in the SBC. If 16 Southern Baptists would gang up on one sinner and lead that sinner to Christ, we'd baptize 1 million people.

"I'm not trying to be negative at all, I'm just sounding an alarm. It is time for Empowering Kingdom Growth because when you seek first the King, then his kingdom, you will have a burning, passionate desire to bring other people into his kingdom. Southern Baptists need to be reminded over and over again that missions and evangelism is why we exist.

"We believe that we have not the best gospel in the world, we've got the only gospel in the world. There may be other denominations out there that can preach the gospel better than we can, but nobody can preach a better gospel than we can."

Merritt noted a key difference between EKG and Bold Mission Thrust launched in 1975.

"Southern Baptists alone cannot win this world to Christ," he said. "When I look at religious work through a kingdom mentality I'll be the first one to say we will have to join hands, link arm in arm, heart and heart with other likeminded groups who have a desire on their heart to reach the world for the gospel of Jesus Christ. That's part of [being] kingdom-minded, part of the kingdom mentality."

Chapman said there are no set goals with EKG. "We're really coming at it from the other end which is, let's become kingdom-minded, let's seek first the King, then the kingdom, and the results will follow.... That's why Jesus said, then all these things will be added unto you.'"

EKG is the result of work completed by an eight-member task force of state convention and SBC entity leaders formed in 1999. Four more task force members were added in February.

The task force, in addressing the question, "What is it Jesus wants to accomplish on this earth?" further addressed its vision for Empowering Kingdom Growth by citing a "response which comes directly from the life of our Lord. Nothing mattered more to Him than the kingdom of God. That was the central theme of all He taught and preached. His first public statement was 'The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel' (Mark 1:15). He felt an obligation for people everywhere to know about the Kingdom of God (Luke 4:43), and He taught His followers to pray that the Kingdom of God would come on earth as it is in Heaven (Matthew 6:9-13). Not only was His first message about the Kingdom of God, but after the resurrection, that same theme was front and center as Jesus spoke to His apostles (Acts 1:3)."

In addition to praying for the initiative, the task force intends to acquaint Southern Baptists with Empowering Kingdom Growth thinking by making presentations at the board meetings of the state Baptist conventions across the country this spring.

"Along the way we're going to continue to meet, and our planning will come from what we see God doing," Chapman said.


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