FIRST-PERSON: Accelerating 4G churches

Baptist Press
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Posted: Dec 22, 2009 4:30 PM
ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)--Wireless technology has advanced to the fourth generation (4G Network) so that your phones, computers and other devices can retrieve and send digitized information at breathtaking speed.

In this generation, we believe all our churches want to accelerate to the level God wants. For our purposes here, I want to describe our congregations as "4G churches" so they will reflect the pattern of the very first church as described in Acts 2:42-47. Many Southern Baptist state conventions are engaged in several initiatives that they hope will ignite a Great Commission Resurgence by helping local churches accelerate to 4G status.

The vast preponderance of Baptist work is done in the churches. Therefore, if a Great Commission Resurgence is to become a reality, it must happen through the churches. The most strategic person is not the one who occupies my office at the state convention but the one who occupies the pastor's office. The most important conversations are not the ones in the conference room at the Baptist building but the conversations that occur at the local church building. The most important praying is not by denominational workers but by the members of the local church.

The churches regularly help the denomination be its best. The state conventions and national entities are committed to helping the churches be their best. We are not praying for a Great Commission Resurgence because we think the churches or the ministries of our state/national conventions are bad -- but because we want them to be better. We are not suggesting the churches have lost their way -- but that we have not arrived yet at our destination.

There are four crucial ingredients to being a 4G church:

-- A 4G church is a Godly church.

The place to begin a Great Commission Resurgence is not with a study of organizational administration or technique. A GCR begins in the heart. Every person speaking, writing or blogging about GCR recognizes that issues like Lordship, obedience, humility and prayer must be addressed before we can expect a movement of God among us. If we are not careful, we will merely say these words and then proceed immediately to looking for things to fix in our organizations, programs and schedules. The challenge is to not look at superficial things. Look to your heart.

If we can believe what surveys tell us, too many of our people do not believe any differently or behave any differently than the lost world. How can unbelieving, misbehaving, unrepentant, shallow Christians effect a wave of revival? They can't.

My four-year-old grandson announced to his mother that he wanted them to sing before he went to sleep. She asked him if he had a song in mind. He said he wanted to sing, "Father, I ignore you.... " We laugh. However, too often we are guilty of singing to God "we adore you" but our practice is to ignore His presence in our daily lives.

Godly living is living in right relation to God. I had a pastor friend once who said to me, I think the reason most of us don't pray more is because we think we can do it ourselves. We can't! The lostness in our culture is too bad. I believe the most significant reason for the decline in baptisms may be the level of animosity and vigorous opposition to historic Christianity in this nation. The psalmist wrote in Psalm 17 of the wicked, "They close up their callous hearts, and their minds speak with arrogance." We can't simply shake ourselves as before and go out and conquer. We must have God's presence.

We refer to this area of emphasis as spiritual formation. We are praying for discernment about how to develop this crucial area of the Christian life. Our hope is that it becomes part of the DNA, the agenda for more of our churches and church members. We are not searching for new magical or mystical remedies but we are seeking to call our churches to the practice of the very first church, "to give ourselves continually to the apostles' doctrine and prayer."

The state convention I serve in Louisiana joins with many others to provide resources and strategies for use in the churches to deepen biblical understanding, provoke holy living and call Christians and congregations to concerted praying.

-- A 4G church is a Gospel church.

The first church saw 3,000 people come to Christ at its inception and added daily those who were being saved. A Great Commission church immerses itself in the gospel of God. Our only message is that "God in love sent his only Son to die in order to pay for our sin debt that we have no hope of paying ourselves."

It is the primary task of the church to proclaim this Gospel. Therefore, every year, every congregation needs an evangelism plan. For example, to assist our churches with their work, the Louisiana Baptist Convention developed a strategy called "Sharing the Peace of Jesus" as the emphasis for 2010. This strategy encourages every congregation to join in prayer walking, Gospel distribution and evangelistic invitations to every domicile in the state. The target launch time is Easter 2010.

Our passion must be that every church is effective in its Gospel witness. State conventions work hard at providing invaluable resources and strategies to enable and equip churches to carry out intentional, continuous witnessing in their local communities intended to result in baptisms in the churches.

-- A 4G church is a Global church.

The first church was made up from people of "every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5). When they were scattered back to their homes, new churches were formed. Churches planting churches is a New Testament imperative. Is your church a reproducing church? We need to become convicted that creating another congregation somewhere else (across the neighborhood, nation or world) is just as much our responsibility as growing our own congregation. If it resulted in a thriving new church, would you be willing to send out members and money even if it initially diminishes your congregation's strength?

There is a lot of interest and discussion on how to plant effective new congregations. Many different strategies are being proposed. The most important advance our churches can make is becoming convinced that God wants them to reproduce themselves in additional congregations. Our research shows that having a serious, committed, invested "mother" church is the most important ingredient in successful church planting. A denominational entity, state convention or a local association can't take the place of a strategic mother church. We will do our best to partner, train, pray, research, and assist but the local church must step up.

-- A 4G church is a Generous church.

If we are going to ignite a Great Commission Resurgence, we must come to grips with our lifestyles as American Christians. The first church pooled their resources and shared everything they had with those in need (Acts 2:45). Today, however, too many of our members are trapped in debt or caught up in chasing the American dream of material things. We must break that cycle so that our lives and resources can be invested in the Kingdom of God.

Let me say some things so I'm not misunderstood. 1) I am a capitalist. I believe God wants us to be industrious, thrifty, entrepreneurial and acquisitive. I think America has modeled that well for the world and I hope we will not ruin it by sliding in to some failed system of economics. I am not against people earning money and neither is God. 2) I am thankful for the sacrificial giving by Southern Baptists, especially in this economic crisis. Many are not doing what they ought but many are and I thank you on behalf of all our missionaries and ministries. I always hate it when the preacher berates the good people because the bad people are misbehaving. 3) God can get his work done without us. If we decide to be selfish instead of generous, He may choose to use someone else and Southern Baptists forfeit their opportunity to be used by God.

Having said that, we must note our levels of financial support, as a whole, are declining. Long before there was any recession, the percentage given to the Lord by Baptists was declining. In fact, it was happening during economic booms. Somehow, we must teach believers to give themselves and their resources sacrificially and generously to God's work. Otherwise, a Great Commission Resurgence among us will starve to death before it gets underway.

Putting another 3,000 missionaries overseas and starting thousands of new congregations in the unreached cities of America and continuing to reach the major cities in our respective states requires great generosity. So, here is the question: "Am I willing to modify my standard of living so that I may be used of God to advance His Kingdom?"

If you are willing to try, every Baptist state convention has a contact person to assist with educational, inspirational resources and strategies to aid churches and church members with growth in the grace of giving.

In the "Lord of the Rings," in a moment of desperation, Frodo says to Gandalf, "I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened."

And Gandalf replies, "So do all who live to see such times. But that's not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

The author J. R. R. Tolkien's precise words capture the passion needed for a Great Commission Resurgence. We must decide what we will do with the time given to us. Will it be invested in the things that matter the most to the Lord?

"4G churches" -- godly, Gospel-centered, global-minded and generous -- are the hope of a resurgence that accelerates churches toward the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

David Hankins is executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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