Keep kingdom focus, engage culture through relationships, conference told

EULESS?The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s annual Church Growth Conference Aug. 28 at First Baptist Church of Euless drew nearly 700 people for a series of wide-ranging seminars that encouraged kingdom-oriented thinking and relationship approaches to outreach.

Mike Miller, author of “The Kingdom-Focused Leader” and director of church relations for LifeWay Christian Resources’ church resources division, led one of several dozen “breakout sessions,” which covered topics ranging from reaching post-moderns through small groups to building strong Sunday school programs.

During his morning breakout session, Miller told attendees to build a focus on God’s kingdom using their God-given strengths and opportunities for witnessing. Miller challenged the audience of mostly pastors and church leaders to seek witnessing opportunities above all else. “Whether you think about it or not ? you’re a kingdom leader,” Miller said. “Everyone has distractions in their ministries, but staying focused on your calling is important.”

Leadership, Miller said, is a position of stewardship under God where preachers and ministers lead the local church by example.

“If you keep your focus and stay where God wants you to be, there is no telling what can happen through your ministry,” Miller said.

Miller said the people whom many believers are afraid to talk with about Christ are also those who are typically most afraid of hell and dying. He challenged those in leadership to seek afresh how God might want to use them in their ministry. Also quoting snippets from his book, “The Kingdom-Focused Leader: Seeking God at Work in You, Through You, & Around You,” Miller said his passion for helping ministers and church leaders find their focus began with a friend of his.

Bob, who was involved in a church where Miller was pastor, also owned a booming oil business. He told of Bob’s heart for God, and of his connections with prominent businessmen.

“Through his Christian walk, he has led several key people to the Lord,” Miller said. “But Bob came to me one day and said, ‘There’s got to be more for me in my life with all of my skills, my background, and all of the people I know, than what I’m doing in church.’ I began thinking about that and realized that God calls all of us to kingdom leadership for his sake. If you are a kingdom leader, God has put you where you are for a purpose and in a time such as this.”

Steve Pate of Denton Baptist Association told the 15 or so people gathered for his session of “Small Groups: Reaching & Ministering to Our Postmodern Culture” that increasingly, relationships must be built before believers can gain the ear of unbelievers.

Pate, who helped build a church in Colorado that is successfully reaching a postmodern society, defined by loosening beliefs in absolutes and cultural norms that are always in flux, said thousands of churches close their doors every year as evangelicals begin 2,000 churches a year, attempting to keep up.

Meanwhile, postmodern people, who are reacting to the failure of modernism to solve man’s problems, thrive on relationships and things real and tangible.

Pate said unless Southern Baptists establish ways to bridge relational boundaries with unbelievers, more churches will shut down in the coming years. He said home-based small groups hook people where church meetings cannot because relationships and trust are more easily established through daily contact with neighbors and associates.

Years ago, a typical Southern Baptist Sunday school class consisted of perhaps 20 percent unbelievers, Pate said. Today, unbelievers rarely grace a Sunday school gathering.

Small group settings in households are where unbelievers are most likely to visit, he asserted. For example, Pate said his home group in Denton County consists of about four or five families, including his neighbors, whom he led to Christ, other families from his church and a male neighbor who is not a Christian but who has been coming to the group’s meetings every other week.

Pate said the group meets almost daily?in the driveway and along the street?though they don’t come together in any organized way more than every other week.

No one in the group lives more than six houses away and the families practice an open door policy: If the wooden door behind the storm door is open, that means it’s safe to knock and come in. If it’s closed, it’s private family time.

Often, the boys in the group come to Pate’s house to watch sports on his big screen television. If the door’s open, they know it’s safe to come in. “Guys, I did my ministry too long without this. I did my life too long without this.”

“There’s a dynamic in small groups that you don’t get in Sunday schools,” Pate noted. “Am I anti-Sunday school? No.” But the two can complement each other, he said.

“Somehow we have got to get people who are far from God in Bible studies,” and Sunday school isn’t serving that purpose, he said.

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