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Interview: Jere Phillips

Empoweing Kingdom Growth in the Russian Federation
( [email protected] ) Aug 06, 2004 06:02 PM EDT

Empowering Kingdom Growth, a spiritual emphasis developed by Carl Driggers and adopted by the 16-million member Southern Baptist Convention, has been growing among the leadership of the Russian Baptist Union. A handful of Southern Baptist leaders had just completed their third trip to the formerly closed nation, to see how the EKG principles could be used among Russian Baptists.

The following is an interview with Jere Phillips, associate professor of practical theology and director of the practical missions office at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tenn, one of the leaders who went on the early July trip.

How did the Empowering Kingdom Growth initiative begin in Russia?

“I first got involved in Russia about 2 and half years ago. I went with one our professors who was helping to plant churches and do evangelism work there. One of my PhD students was part of the Russian Baptist Union (RBU) and they asked us to help formulate a plan for the RBU, particularly their Sunday school work. So I helped them develop a plan through the national Sunday school program.

In September of 2002, we had a summit in Russia with a number of American leaders from different organizations. Out of that retreat, we were asked to hold a leadership retreat for the board; I agreed to do this by late July 2003 with Carl Driggers who developed the Empowering Kingdom Growth (EKG) concept in South Carolina.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted the national emphasis of the EKG in 2002 summer.

I agreed to go to the meeting in 2003 with he and his wife and my wife. Our wives held a conference for the wives while Dr. Driggers and I did the retreat for the Russian leaders. It was at that point that the leaders learned about the EKG and felt to do this after a prayer meeting.

It had nothing to do with the Baptist World Alliance; it was strictly a spiritual emphasis.

Dr. Driggers had written two books on the Empowering Kingdom Growth; I helped edit those into a single volume, and we had it translated and published.

We went back in March to meet the Russian leadership to help explain EKG as a spiritual planning process and how it can be used. This recent meeting was a follow up of that meeting.

How will the RBU use the EKG?

Let me talk about the EKG period, and then separately about how the Russian Baptists will use it, because its really up to the Russian Baptists.

The EKG is not a program but a spiritual emphasis. The whole concept is an acknowledgement of the reign of God over the churches and individuals of the church.

We often understand the Kingdom as something of the past or of the future. The way we look at it is when Jesus walked the earth or in the future. This is not wrong, but Jesus also told us that the Kingdom of God is among you. So wherever there are believers, Jesus is reigning and the Kingdom is present.

Dr. Ken Hemphill is the national director of the EKG for the Southern Baptist Convention. He wrote a book on the EKG from the theological standpoint.

The whole idea is to think about what it means for me to be a part of the Kingdom. Am I a part of the Kingdom? How does it affect the way we spend our time and the actions we take in our lives?

We shared this with the RBU, which is still quite young. Only 12 or 13 years have passed since the fall of communism and the soviet system, and prior to this fall, there was a Baptist Union for all the soviet states. After the fall, the groups separated and developed national Baptist Unions in each country. Russia, Ukraine, all these countries developed their own national Baptist unions. So EKG helps the RBU to think through what God is calling them to do and what their purpose. It helps them look at the future in terms of the Kingdom of God.

Are these other Baptist Unions planning to adopt the EKG initiative?

It would be exciting if the EKG is adopted, but that would certainly be up to the leaders of those unions. We have not made presentations in those nations, but there has been interest expressed and Dr. Driggers has been called to speak about the EKG in many areas.

When did the EKG first become an international initiative?

It officially hasn’t. The SBC and the convention in 2002 adopted the EKG as its official emphasis, and all of our entities and publishing houses use the EKG as a foundational emphasis. However, there has not been any attempt to make this international. .

The contact with the RBU was an opportunity that God opened the door for. However, there has been no official attempt on the part of the SBC to make this an international emphasis. They may have, but not to my knowledge. Dr. Hemphill could answer this question better.

How many Russian Baptists were able to learn of this EKG initiative?

We published 5,000 copies of the translated EKG book, and we distributed them to the Russian leaders this past March. We are only four months into it, and at this point, I don’t know exactly how many of those were distributed.

When will you be returning to Russia?

We’ve not set a date; I just got back. The Russian Baptists have just held their national congress. The Russian Baptist Union has been conducting an expedition where the leadership traveled throughout Russia and met with local leaders and believers to encourage them. They completed the expedition with a congress where people from all over the country came together and set up a huge tent to meet for the congress. They have just completed this major emphasis and they still have a lot of planning to do for the future. The RBU has some marvelous leadership and it’s a privilege to be around them.

Does this contact with the RBU help in the field of Practical Missions for the Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.?

Practical missions here has nothing to do with the RBU. The Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. was founded on several guiding principles; one of those guiding principles was that every faculty member student should be an active witness. All our student are required to be a part of two mission ministries every week and witness to someone at least once every week with the purpose of lading that person to Christ. At the week’s end, our faculty and students have a time of sharing the experiences of what God is doing. Last year, 500 students were enrolled on our two campuses – together, they led 4,300 people to Christ in witnessing.

Is the EKG initiative a big part of the seminary?

Not so much so. What I do with the Russians is a personal ministry, except that the seminary encourages me and allows me to have leave time. But this idea of the Kingdom of God and living out this belief is certainly seen, even though the formal emphasis is not in place.

How does this EKG initiative apply to churches in America?

I think that as churches and individuals, as they discover their personal roles within the Kingdom of God, they will be motivated and encouraged to live out their lives as subjects of God’s kingdom and they will be highly motivated to be witnesses and support mission causes as a part of the kingdom of God.