Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis is 'a quiet movement of the Holy Spirit'
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Recently Carlisle Driggers passed a small church that was taking on a new building project, and he noticed a sign that explained, "We're building for Kingdom growth."
Driggers, a former executive director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, took that as another confirmation that the message of the national Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis he helped launch was indeed taking root across the Southern Baptist Convention.
"In 2002 in St. Louis when the EKG proposal was made by the Executive Committee to the SBC, it was voted on unanimously. We knew at that point that it was going to take a while for it to really begin to take root across the SBC because it was quite a different concept," Driggers told Baptist Press.
Previously, Southern Baptists in general had talked about the Kingdom of God, but they hadn't focused squarely on Jesus' call to the Kingdom in Matthew 6:32-33, said Driggers, who developed EKG in South Carolina before it spread nationwide.
"What began as an effort in reaching churches one by one has become a true national movement that continues to gain momentum and impact entire states," said Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee. "Many Southern Baptists for the first time are learning what it is to be Kingdom-minded."
Ken Hemphill, a former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was tapped as the national EKG strategist in 2003, and in addition to writing extensive resources to equip churches for Kingdom thinking, he travels more than 200 days a year, helping Southern Baptists implement the initiative.
Hemphill reports that he hardly ever goes into a state anymore where there's not some sort of emphasis on Jesus' call to the Kingdom.
"They might not call it Empowering Kingdom Growth, but it's a call to the Kingdom. So it's been kind of a quiet movement," said Driggers, who is chairman of the EKG ad hoc advisory committee. "It's been hard to know how much the emphasis has really taken hold, but we know that there's been a lot because churches, associations, some institutions -- colleges and so on -- have included in their work an emphasis on the Kingdom."
Hemphill estimates that "Empowering Kingdom Growth: The Heartbeat of God," the first book in the series, has been used by about 4,000 churches. Of course, the actual numbers are difficult to verify because not all churches notify the EKG office of their participation.
"Our objective was not to launch a program but to build a foundation with the prayer that God would transform it into a supernatural movement," Chapman said. "Also we waited upon the Lord before developing EKG literature, in order that we could be responsive to the spiritual needs expressed by pastors and people in our churches.
"Providentially, God sent a man highly capable of writing all the materials in God's timing, teaching the people and encouraging the pastors," Chapman said, adding that EKG is in good hands under Hemphill's leadership.
One state where the EKG vision has been especially embraced is Louisiana, where leaders sought to help churches return to core Kingdom values by addressing the heart, the head and the hands in three phases.
"We discovered that far too many of our churches annually experienced 52 disconnected Sundays," John Yeats, director of communications for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, told BP.
"The EKG process gave participating church leaders a strategic tool to help them move their churches toward healthier disciple making," Yeats said. "To date, 276 Louisiana Baptist churches have participated in one or more of the EKG-LA phases."
Louisiana churches used The Heartbeat of God, followed by the Acts 1:8 strategy developed by the North American Mission Board, and then concluded with Hemphill's "Making Change," which addresses stewardship.
"The heart, the head and the hands model is just one method for EKG," Yeats said. "Last fall, at our convention's annual meeting, several pastors gave testimony about the impact EKG made on their personal lives, their witness and the outreach of their churches. Our state missionaries continue to encourage churches to experience the value of this strategic process."
In North Carolina, Macedonia Baptist Church in Fayetteville is an example of a typical church that implemented the EKG strategy and saw noticeable results. It's a small, rural congregation where people were awakened to the potential for Kingdom impact in their daily lives.
"Hemphill did a tremendous job through the DVD and the book of explaining that right where you are is where God is at work," said Macedonia's pastor, Sam Gore. "Take a look. Why are you working that third shift job? Why are you working in the environment that you're working in? Why are you associated with these people in your recreational time? God's at work right there.
"That really opened people's eyes to see where God was at work and to see that as a Kingdom opportunity," Gore added. "As Kingdom citizens they're able to exercise their obedience to Christ. It brought about absolutely awesome results."
Once neighboring churches saw the difference EKG made at Macedonia Baptist -- including numerical growth and an enthusiasm for Kingdom work -- 14 churches in the local association also worked through The Heartbeat of God.
"It was definitely a turnaround in our association for those churches," Gore said of the New South River Baptist Association in North Carolina. "We still have churches now referring back to that experience."
Gore was impressed particularly with the way Hemphill ensured that the EKG material was user-friendly so the average Southern Baptist congregation could get on board with a Kingdom mindset.
"Dr. Hemphill has laid it out in such a manner that any size church can look at this and say, 'This is something we can do. This is not a big church program. This is something we can do.' It takes it out of a local church setting and puts it into everyday life," Gore said.
Hemphill's latest book is "You Are Gifted," which examines spiritual gifts and is being introduced in churches now.
"The design behind that is that most all of us know statistically that less than 25 percent of the people in the average local church ever get engaged significantly in the mission or ministry of that church," Hemphill told BP. "They don't participate. They're pretty much just watching others do church. They're kind of observing and grading how well the rest of us are doing church.
"My goal in You Are Gifted is to motivate laity to service, that they would get it and say, 'Wow, I didn't realize I'm responsible' -- that they would understand and accept that responsibility."
Even with a full schedule of traveling around the convention, Hemphill is challenged by the task of informing all churches of the potential behind Empowering Kingdom Growth, and he hopes more churches will catch the vision and participate in the movement.
"I think it fits well with the Great Commission Resurgence, the whole idea that we have to have a renewed vision for the Great Commission and think about restructuring both our denomination and the local church to give priority to the Kingdom advance," Hemphill said.
Driggers, who saw EKG's success firsthand in South Carolina, warned that on the larger scale of the Southern Baptist Convention, EKG is a process that is "not going to happen overnight."
"It's going to take time. We've just got to stay with it and be very persistent, very patient. Keep preaching it, keep teaching it and give God a chance to bless it, and we'll see results," Driggers said. "It's a quiet movement of the Holy Spirit. I'm convinced of that."
Chapman envisions the EKG movement lasting as long as churches, associations and state conventions determine it meets a spiritual need.
"Hopefully, by the time Dr. Hemphill retires, sufficient Southern Baptist churches, pastors and lay persons will be living Kingdom-minded lives that EKG will continue flourishing and spreading with lightning speed to millions of Christians over the globe who have grown bored with a ho-hum practice of their Christianity," Chapman said.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press. For more information, visit empoweringkingdomgrowth.net.