"Not to us, O Lord, not to us, But to your name give glory! For the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness."
Half this year was spent on a detour with First Baptist Church. From May through October countless hours were invested in pursuit of the possible merger. It still is a good idea. But the conviction crystalized finally that significant leaders of FBC were deeply committed to things that we believed were contrary to the secret of our prosperity. So Bethlehem took the initiative to terminate the discussions.
But even on this detour the Lord kept us moving forward. At the end of February the Saturday evening worship service ended its five-month life, having failed to solve our Sunday morning crowding problem. Immediately on March 2 we began having three Sunday morning services. The choir had to double in size to spread singers over the three services—which it did. The attendance grew throughout the year so that the average Sunday morning attendance was about 940. This is a 32% increase over the previous year's average. The averages for the last five years are: 1982 - 485; 1983 - 548; 1984 - 682; 1985 - 705; 1986 - 940. So the worship attendance has almost doubled in the last five years. As far as I can tell there is no abatement in the enthusiasm of our people for worship or in its attraction to those outside. It remains one of our key means of outreach, and I was deeply gratified this year by reports of people being converted through this ministry.
The Missions movement that really began at Bethlehem in the fall of 1983 continues to grow. Noël and I have hosted 11 Missions in the Manse meetings in our home and continue to pray for all these people by name every day. We are well ahead of Schedule in our "90 by '90" goal (61 sent as of the end of 1986 even though 45 would have been on target). We must now be dreaming a new and much bigger dream. Tom Steller continues to be a key spark plug here.
The inauguration of the "apprenticeship program"—designed and coordinated by Tom Steller—was approved, funded and begun this year, with 11 seminary students receiving formal training and experience at Bethlehem.
The "20:20 Vision" entered its third year under the leadership of Peter Nelson and grew to its greatest size yet with over 250 people in its small groups not to mention another 200 of our people in other non-20:20 groups.
This year we sent Steve Roy and his family to Cameroon to teach at the Cameroon Baptist Theological Seminary for a year under the auspices of the BGC. He is making a deep impact there and his one-year replacement, Peter Nelson, "fits like a glove."
Before Steve left he coordinated the second annual ministries fair. This was an exciting demonstration of the variety of the kinds of ministries our people are involved in locally.
Bethlehem hired it first full-time Business Administrator, Kurt Swanson in May, as budget and financial complexity grew beyond the limit of any part-time lay responsibility. He has been a boon to us all; and the members can rest assured that their contributions are handled with the utmost integrity.
David Michael became a "Deacon for Urban Ministries" in a small stipend to test whether he and the church would see the wisdom in calling David full-time in 1987. At the December annual meeting he was called as full-time "associate Pastor for Social and Urban Ministries" by a closed ballot of 130 to 2. An amazing vote of approval and confidence. I am thrilled at the prospects this holds out for mobilizing our people for urban and social ministry.
This year the men who had the vision for the "international house" on the University campus took another step of faith and bought the house. The dream for a similar house for international women students is still unfulfilled.
We ventured outside our own church building to have the Christmas Candlelight Ceremony of Lessons and Carols at First Covenant. We knew that when we packed 735 people into our 450 person sanctuary for the Thanksgiving Festival we would be in trouble on Christmas Eve. The result was an attendance of 1100 people for the service on December 24.
Has God been working in the hearts and lives of our people through all this wonderful growth? I have a folder full of notes and letters which represent only a fraction of the changes wrought in the lives of our people.
On the personal side, I completed in February the manuscript Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. It will appear from Multnomah Press, Lord willing, in February 1987. I am praying that the Lord will use it tremendously to awaken the saints and win the lost.
I am still married to the most amazing wife God could have found for me. I love her more now than ever. She is with me all the way in ministry. You must be praying. This is almost too good to be true in a world like ours. Not only that, my boys all still love the church and the Lord. You are an amazing people to let us be us and flourish.
I pray more fervently for spiritual awakening today than every before, and for the evangelization and reformation of this city. I dream of Bethlehem becoming more and more strategic in the completion of God's command to evangelize the unreached peoples of the world.
A new long range planning committee is now in place. I am not serving on that committee by choice. I want to pray and study and preach and write and dream with you of how we might make the glories of Christ known far and wide. So I am praying earnestly for Tom Rogstad, Gene Sprinkle, Dr. Mike Anderson, Greg Zedechlik, and Kurt Swanson: O Lord give them your greatest possible dream for our future!
Grateful to be here with all my heart,