FIRST-PERSON: Are You Serious?
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--It has been nearly four years since Southern Baptists officially set themselves on a quest we call "Empowering Kingdom Growth." I came to the Executive Committee to become EKG's first full-time national strategist nearly three years ago. Southern Baptists were insistent that EKG not become another slogan or program. Thus we have faced a challenge in our attempt to develop an EKG process without allowing it to become another program.
It is apparent when you look at the needs of our local churches and the lostness of our world that we need a spiritual awakening that revitalizes local churches and gives them a renewed passion for reaching the lost in their neighborhoods and around the world. Thus EKG is about spiritual awakening, and as such, it must be founded on prayer and focused on revival.
Yet we found that churches were seeking materials and strategies that would help them in this quest to become Kingdom-focused churches. When I came to this position, I found that God had been at work behind the scenes. The EKG task force had rightly concluded that the revitalization of our churches would occur only as our families became Kingdom-focused families. Tom Elliff soon completed the material which God is using to assist churches to look at and improve the health of our families.
CHANGING THE AFFECTION
As I assumed this position, I wanted to build on the foundational materials developed by Elliff, and therefore, I turned my immediate attention to the local church. If we are going to make a Kingdom impact as a denomination, it will be because our local churches have been revitalized with a Kingdom passion. The process for moving the local church to the next level must begin with the heart. All too often we have been guilty of trying to change style, strategy or structure without first changing the heart. This often results in the fracturing of the fellowship of the church, the firing of the pastor or the splitting of the church. We may need to change style, strategy or structure in a particular church, but we must first change the affection. Once we change the affection, we can change the thinking. The task force encouraged me to write the 40-day study called "Empowering Kingdom Growth: The Heartbeat of God." Its sole purpose was to challenge the local church to hear and embrace the heartbeat of God.
CHANGING THE THINKING
While I was in the process of writing this material, I discovered that Nate Adams, executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association, was working on a study entitled "The Acts 1:8 Challenge." This doctrine study looked at the book of Acts and its focus on Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. As I read the early manuscript, I sensed that God was already at work. This was the tool which we needed to change the thinking of the church. When the church has to look at its Acts 1:8 responsibility, spiritual myopia is challenged. Now two pieces of the puzzle were in place.
CHANGING THE STRUCTURE
Once the affection of the church is transformed and the thinking is changed, practical issues of style, strategy, and structure can properly be addressed. Once again we found that God was already at work. State conventions had already developed or were in the process of developing tools to assist their local churches in experiencing revitalized growth. One case-in-point is the South Carolina convention, which has been involved in the EKG process since 1992. They had developed a strategy tool called "Thy Kingdom Come." I have discovered that other state convention staffs have been preparing similar tools. God is always ahead of our need.
PROVIDING THE RESOURCES
In response to the question "Are we serious?" we can answer with a resounding "Yes!" in one regard. Churches, associations, states and national convention entities are now asking what it means to be Kingdom-focused. But if we are truly serious about EKG and its Acts 1:8 mission focus, we must examine the issue of resources to implement the Acts 1:8 strategy in the local church and its partner organizations.
By "resources," we are always talking about people and money. We know, on one hand, that God is the source of all resources. Further, we know that He created the world with sufficient resources to reach the nations. In Ephesians 3:20 Paul declares that God is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think. We love to quote this verse, but can we truly embrace it as it relates to the ministry of our local churches? How is God going to accomplish this "above and beyond" ministry? The next phrase declares His eternal plan: according to the power that works in you. In other words, He will provide the resources to us to accomplish His purpose so that He will receive the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (3:21). God desires and is capable of making the resources available through us.
God created the world with sufficient resources to complete the task of world evangelization and then gave those resources in stewardship to His people with clear instructions of how to use them according to His guidelines. Over the next several months we will look at the issue of finances. If we are truly serious about EKG we must allow God to provide the resources for an Acts 1:8 expansion.
HOW ARE WE DOING?
If we want to go to the next level in terms of resources, we must first know how we are doing currently. Much of the data for this article comes from a comprehensive stewardship study accomplished by the Barna Group and made available in the book, "How to Increase Giving in Your Church." The data is nearly 10 years old but is still reliable from an overall perspective. For instance:
-- Among adults who attend church regularly (an average of at least once a month), more than one out of every three (37 percent) did not give any money to a church in the past year.
-- Overall, only 3 to 5 percent of the people who donate money to a church "tithe" their income - that is, give 10 percent or more of their money to religious organizations.
-- On average, church donors give less than 3 percent of their aggregate income to their church.
-- The average donation by adults who attend Protestant churches is about $10 a week.
-- The average annual amount of money donated to churches, per person, is declining.
I know what you may be thinking at this point -- exactly the same thing I was thinking at this same point -- "This can't be true in Southern Baptist life, particularly since the Conservative Resurgence and the focus on the Bible." Sorry to tell you, but:
-- Among the 10 largest denominations in the United States, those whose churches receive support from the highest percentage of adherents are Presbyterians, Assemblies of God and Churches of Christ. The denominational groups that had the lowest proportions of attenders donating to the church were Episcopalians, Pentecostals, and Baptists.
-- Research shows that those who are ideologically centrist or liberal are more likely to give to churches they attend than are those who have conservative views.
THE OPPORTUNITY BEFORE US
Those of you who know me or have heard me speak know that I always see the silver lining. I do not think we are at an irresolvable crisis moment. I believe that crisis always provides opportunity. Difficult circumstances are the platform on which God most clearly displays His supernatural activity. I believe that Southern Baptists will seize the opportunity. There are several keys in Barna's study that help us respond to our present crisis:
-- Adults who do not donate to their church tend to be considerably more ignorant of Scripture's contents.
-- Many people sitting in the pews choose not to give to their church because they assume the pulpit pleas for money are simply human demands for resources without a biblical underpinning.
-- Americans appear to be either hardened to, or ignorant of, the fundamental precepts of biblical stewardship.
-- In spite of the occasional sermon or teaching about stewardship, most people remain ill informed about the matter; they possess a general understanding of the idea that they should give, but they lack any depth of comprehension about why and how.
-- The people display an amazing level of ignorance about a topic on which they are supposedly well versed, and they are surprisingly open to learning more about their responsibilities before God.
I am actually encouraged by that last finding. I do believe that our people are open to learning about the principles of biblical stewardship. Once again, I can see God at work in our midst. A task force of state executive directors studied the issue of our corporate giving, and in their report to the Executive Committee they issued the challenge to teach and study biblical principles on stewardship.
Late last year, Executive Committee President Morris Chapman asked me to focus on providing biblical resources to our churches to help them teach stewardship. I firmly believe that God is directing the entire EKG process and that He is leading us to focus on biblical principles of stewardship to position ourselves to receive and convey His resources for the completion of the Acts 1:8 task -- perhaps in our lifetime! God's prevision always dictates His provision!
Kenneth S. Hemphill is the Southern Baptist Convention’s national Empowering Kingdom Growth strategist.