FORT WORTH, TexasThe President of the largest Baptist Theological Seminary retires to become a strategist for the Southern Baptist Convention, April 29. Kenneth S. Hemphill gave his farewell chapel sermon at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, emphasizing the need to focus on Empowering Kingdom Growth.
"The key issue for all of us is whether in our life and in our ministry we're going to focus on the kingdoms of the world and their glory or on the Kingdom of heaven and the Father's glory," Hemphill said. "This is not about my kingdom, but His."
Hemphill announced his retirement from Southwestern April 8; his return to a more pastoral role in Southern Baptist life has prompted him to think about his own calling as a minister, he said. He encouraged students to examine their own calling as well.
"You see, the call is not just a call to ministry," Hemphill said. "You're not just being called to a pastoral ministry. You haven't just been called to a youth ministry. You haven't just been called to a missions ministry. You've been called to a Kingdom agenda."
According to Hemphill, Kingdom citizens, as described by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, are those who enter through the narrow gate and obey the Word of God. They always make Kingdom choices because the standards of righteousness have been "internalized and intensified."
The Kingdom is not earthly, Hemphill said, citing Matthew 4:17's words, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
"The first hint that this message was prophetic in nature is the combination of the word repent and kingdom," Hemphill said. "This Kingdom, Jesus said, will be such that it requires a spiritual response. There will not be some political messiah that comes in and restores Israel to prominence as a nation."
Citing the mistake of the Israelites who, according to Hemphill, misappropriated God's Kingdom purposes and began to focus on the advancement of their national interests as embodied in the monarchy, Hemphill encouraged Christians maintain a clear focus on God's Kingdom.
"The truth of the matter is there is no desire for us, or even a need for us to try and restore Southern Baptists to prominence if it is about our name," Hemphill said. "God's purpose will always be to make a name for Himself ... and that His name will be established and magnified forever."
It is interesting that Christ chose to preach his message immediately following his temptation in the wilderness that culminated with a choice between the earthly and heavenly kingdoms, Hemphill said.
"I think this issue was not just a real issue for Jesus," Hemphill said. "I think it is a real issue for every man and woman on the earth today. That includes Christians, seminary students, seminary faculty members, pastors, denominational leaders, and it's one that I face every day. It's one that you face every day, and that you will face every day for the rest of your ministry. That is, when you get up in the morning, ask, 'Am I serving today for the kingdoms of the world and their glory or the Kingdom of heaven?'"
In his last remarks, Hemphill encouraged students to live like citizens of the heavenly Kingdom for the glory of God.
"The call of God's Kingdom requires a people that will embody his character and embrace his mission for the nations," Hemphill said. Fulfilling that call means confessing God's name. That confession, he said, is much more than "a verbal attestation."
"There is in fact a people who will embody His name. To confess His name meant to take on His character, to take on His very nature. It was the people of God that were known by His name and began to reflect His character."
By Pauline J.