PHOENIX -- The Grand Canyon will be just a short drive away, but Southern Baptists visiting Phoenix this June will be seeking something much more grand -- God's Kingdom.
The Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, June 17-18 at the Phoenix Civic Plaza, will feature the theme "Kingdom First," drawn from Matthew 6:33, "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."
But the SBC's first-ever "Kingdom Family Rally" the evening prior to the convention figures to set the week's tone. On Monday evening, June 16, during the closing session of the SBC Pastors' Conference, messages from family experts on how to strengthen families will culminate nearly three years of planning by the SBC Council of Family Life. The council will present a standard for all Christian families -- described as the "Seven Pillars of a Kingdom Family."
The rally will begin at 7:15 p.m. local time and will include appearances by Dennis and Barbara Rainey of FamilyLife Today, pastor Tom Elliff and his wife Jeannie and recording artist Steve Green and his wife Marijean. Beth Moore as well as James and Shirley Dobson are scheduled to speak via video. An address by Bellevue Baptist Church pastor Adrian Rogers will immediately precede the rally.
The SBC Council on Family Life, LifeWay Christian Resources of the SBC and the SBC Pastors' Conference are sponsoring the rally.
"At the rally, Southern Baptists will be introduced to a strategy which can strengthen existing families and virtually divorce-proof the families of the future," said Tom Elliff, head of the Council of Family Life. "Southern Baptists around the world will be encouraged to embrace with their hearts [the Seven Pillars of a Kingdom Family] as guiding principles for personal and family life."
The Seven Pillars are:
-- Honoring God's Authority.
"God, as Sovereign Creator and Sustainer of all, holds ultimate authority over His creation," the statement reads. "By establishing the family, God has provided a unique setting in which each individual should come to properly understand and respect authority. I will glorify God by surrendering every area of my life to Him and by offering Godly respect in all my earthly relationships, starting in my family."
-- Respecting Human Life.
"Human life is a gift from God and is of transcendent worth," the statement says. "It is to be treasured, protected, encouraged, and loved from the moment of conception until the moment of death. I know that each member of my family must ultimately give a personal account to God, and forgiveness of sin and eternal life in heaven are His gift to those who by faith repent of sin and believe in Christ. I will honor God by expressing self-sacrificial love to each of my family members throughout the entirety of their lives."
-- Exercising Moral Purity.
"God has established the family as His first institution on earth. It is worthy of my most noble aspirations and commitments, including my commitment to moral purity, marital fidelity, and Christ-like love for each family member. Because marriage is a picture of Christ's faithfulness to His Bride, the Church, and because the family is a picture of the Father's faithfulness to His children, I will honor the Lord by being faithful and pure."
-- Serving My Church.
"The Church is the Bride of Christ, comprised of all the redeemed who will, one day, be taken to heaven by Him. By exalting Christ, resting on the sufficiency of His Word and giving place to the ministry of the Spirit, the local church becomes the means by which spiritual growth is promoted and the ministry of Christ is brought to my family, my community, and to the world. I will support and will encourage my family to support our local church with faithful attendance, diligent service, generous and God honoring giving, and loving cooperation."
-- Using Time Wisely.
"Time is a resource given to each person by God. My use of it, especially in matters related to my family, reflects my esteem for God. One day, I will give an account to Him for how I have spent the time He entrusted to me. As I order my life in concert with His will, I will have sufficient time for personal growth through prayer, for the study of God's Word, and for fulfilling every God-given responsibility related to my family."
-- Practicing Biblical Stewardship.
"God has provided material resources so that I may glorify Him through the exercise of faithful stewardship over them. I will be held accountable for this stewardship. Therefore, I will diligently seek my Master's best interests in the way I earn money, expend it for life's needs, use it to touch the lives of others, and give it for the support of His work through my local church."
-- Sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
"The greatest and most noble purpose in life is to glorify the Lord through the fulfillment of His Great Commission. I will glorify the Lord by sharing my faith with my family, and by joining with them and others in specific activities which cultivate a passion for fulfilling the Great Commission."
The Seven Pillars are preceded by a preamble that puts the seven articles in context.
"I am a member of God's Kingdom Family," the preamble reads. "I have by faith repented of my sin, believed on Christ as my Lord and Savior, and received His gift of forgiveness and eternal life. By the miracle of God's grace, I am both a citizen of His Kingdom and a member of His family, His subject and His child, His bondslave and a joint-heir with Him, His battle-ready soldier and His bride.
"It is now my desire to glorify the Lord by giving my own earthly family relationships the interest and care they so richly deserve. With the balance of my life and relying on the leadership of God's Spirit, I will commit to God's plan for my life and family by (following the Seven Pillars.)"
Pastors are the key to the implementation of the "Seven Pillars" strategy in local churches, said Elliff, pastor of the Oklahoma City-area First Southern Baptist Church in Del City and a former SBC president.
"They serve in reality as gatekeepers in each local church," Elliff said. "Without their wholehearted willingness to embrace and implement the Kingdom Family strategy, there would be little opportunity for their church members to become aware of the Kingdom Family movement in the SBC."
Southern Baptist families, Elliff said, are the "pool" from which missionaries, ministers and seminary students are drawn.
"From that same pool comes our Sunday School teachers and workers, the deacons and other volunteer leaders in our churches," he said. "And it is out of that pool that hot-hearted men and women will surface, people with a burden for fulfilling the Great Commission in their communities, businesses and schools. Properly understood, it is this last group which has the greatest capacity as a catalyst for exponential growth in God's 'Kingdom Family.'"
Southern Baptist President Jack Graham is expected to be nominated and elected to a second one-year term during the SBC's Tuesday afternoon session June 17. He will deliver his presidential address that morning at 11:20.
"We are praying and planning toward a valuable time together including powerful Kingdom challenges from dynamic preachers, celebrative worship and the affirmation of the Southern Baptist Convention's Kingdom work and missions around the world," Graham said, summarizing the convention's events. "In the context of a troubled world, Southern Baptists will deliver a message of hope as we exalt the King and expand His Kingdom. Together we will renew our vision and rekindle the fire of missions and evangelism."
The Empowering Kingdom Growth (EKG) movement and the "Kingdom First" theme will be a focus throughout the convention with four "Kingdom Challenge" sermons. Delivering the messages will be Adrian Rogers, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn. (Tuesday, 9:30 a.m.); Daniel Akin, dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Tuesday, 3 p.m.); Edwin Young, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Houston (Tuesday, 9:10 p.m.); and Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (Wednesday, 10:40 a.m.).
Annuity Board President O.S. Hawkins will deliver the convention message at 11:50 a.m. Wednesday.
The Executive Committee will deliver reports at 10:10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. Part of its report will be a recommended funding redirection of $125,000 into global Empower Kingdom Growth initiates from the $425,000 allocated for Baptist World Alliance causes in recent years. BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz will deliver a BWA report to the convention at 9:50 a.m. Wednesday.
The North American Mission Board will present its report at 8:35 p.m. Tuesday; International Mission Board, 8:30 p.m., Wednesday; LifeWay Christian Resources, 3:20 p.m., Tuesday; Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, 6:45 p.m., Tuesday; Woman's Missionary Union, 2:10 p.m., Tuesday.
The six seminaries will present their collective report at 4:05 Tuesday afternoon. In keeping with a two-year rotation system, three seminaries will give individual presentations: Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, 2:40 p.m., Tuesday; Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 11 a.m., Wednesday; and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 6:15 p.m., Wednesday.
Author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar will speak at 7:55 p.m. Wednesday.
Jerry Colangelo, chairman and CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball and Phoenix Suns basketball teams, will welcome messengers to the city Tuesday morning at 8:45.
"We are indeed delighted to have our Southern Baptist family in town," said Steve Bass, state missionary for the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention. "Since we are a tourist state, we are speaking in terms of our family of faith as coming to see us. We are proud to be Southern Baptists and it will greatly encourage our people for our Southern Baptist family to visit.
"We also want to use this convention as an opportunity to say thank you to those committed Southern Baptists who have supported the Cooperative Program. We are a recipient of their faithful giving. We invite them to come and see the mission field they have so faithfully supported over these past years."
The week prior to the convention, hundreds of Southern Baptists will come together for "Crossover Arizona," an evangelism-focused strategy that uses block parties, door-to-door visits and other efforts to spread the Gospel in and around Phoenix.
Beginning this year proposed resolutions must be submitted at least 15 days prior to the annual meeting, giving the Resolutions Committee a two-week period in which to consider submissions. Detailed guidelines on submitting resolutions are available on the Internet at www.sbcannualmeeting.net
Also beginning this year, online registration will be available.
The traditional steps in years past -- waiting at the counter as a registration volunteer types in various lines of information -- is skipped with the online process. Churches can register their messengers online at www.sbc.net
By registering online, the SBC website gives a church a "messenger reference number" form to be printed out and presented by each messenger at the SBC registration booth in exchange for a nametag and ballot.
Online registration ends June 8 -- after which registration must be done the traditional way.
The appropriate church-authorized representative must complete all online registration.
The process includes entering information online normally found on the traditional messenger card. Names can be added, edited and deleted up to June 8. Each messenger must bring the printed form that shows the messenger's reference number -- given on the website -- to the registration booth in order to receive a nametag and set of ballots.
Technically, a person is not a messenger until the messenger reference number is presented at the registration booth. But, unlike the traditional method, the person is pre-registered before he or she arrives to the convention.
The traditional registration method also will be available for those churches unable to use Internet access. For those using the traditional method, SBC officials emphasize that most state conventions do not automatically send messenger cards to churches. The churches must request the messenger cards from their state convention offices.
If a messenger comes to the convention without a properly completed card - or without the Internet messenger reference number -- the person must go before the convention's Credentials Committee. The Credentials Committee will open after 8:30 a.m. on Monday, June 16. Any messenger who does not have a messenger card should bring a letter from the church and meet with the Credentials Committee.
The registration desk also will be able to accommodate messengers who need to send messages either by telegram or fax, and it will serve as the convention's lost and found office, SBC officials said.
The qualifications for messengers wanting to register for the convention are found in Article III of the SBC Constitution. Messengers of the convention are members of missionary Baptist churches cooperating with the convention as follows:
"1. One messenger from each church which (1) Is in friendly cooperation with the Convention and sympathetic with its purposes and work. Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches that act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior. And, (2) Has been a bona fide contributor to the Convention's work during the fiscal year proceeding.
"2. One additional messenger from each such church for every 250 members; or for each $250 paid to the work of the Convention during the fiscal year preceding the annual meeting.
"3. The messengers shall be appointed and certified by the churches to the Convention, but no church may appoint more than 10.
"4. Each messenger shall be a member of the church by which he is appointed."
The convention does not register "alternate messengers."
Other amenities provided by the registration desk include nametags and a service to locate messengers' hotel rooms. Messengers should submit the name and number of their hotel when their register.
Additional information about the annual meeting can be found by clicking on www.sbcannualmeeting.net.
By Albert H. Lee