The overall picture of the life of Bethlehem is now so diversified and extensive that I can no longer do it justice in one report. So I have asked the other ministerial staff to summarize the year in their spheres. My report is limited to my own investment in the ministry and how I see the big picture.
I think most of us will remember the year 1987 as the year of emerging consensus. Since August, 1984 the Long Range Planning Committee has attempted to find God's way into the future. Saturday services? Three Sunday morning services or more? Merge with First Baptist? Purchase Litho? Purchase houses? Find a new site? Etc. We honestly did not know.
But on October 25 at a special Sunday evening service (intensified by a strange combination of fervent prayer and Twins fever) the congregation came together in a remarkable display of consensus. Well over 90% of the 240+ people voted to build a new sanctuary on our present location and to purchase the property five doors west on Seventh Street.
Before the year was out the "Hacking" property had been purchased with a load from the Baptist General Conference, and the heads of all the necessary committees had agreed to serve (Dennis Smith, Coordinator; Roger Fast, Building; Rollin Erickson and Gene Sprinkle, Steering; Dick Fast, Finance).
These developments alone will mark 1987 as historic. I believe they are a wonderful answer to prayer that began as usual with a great week of prayer and an all-night prayer meeting the first week of January.
As we turn the corner into 1988 I sense a spirit of rising expectancy among the people. This is certainly true in the staff. We are as excited as we ever have been about what God is going to do in us and through us in the years to come. I personally feel more committed than ever to the future at Bethlehem. The team is incomparable. The people are unified and supportive. The location is strategic. The potential is beyond description. The Lord reigns! My family loves the church and the ministry. What a great gift of God to be here!
But I have not just been here. You have been gracious as a people to allow me to extend the ministry of Bethlehem beyond the walls of this congregation. For example in 1987 I spread our vision as well as I could through
two "Perspectives" lectures,
three chapel messages at Northwestern College,
one chapel message at Bethel College,
an address at a Wilmar area Missions Conference,
four weeks of classes and messages in the Philippines,
a seminar for Young Leaders in Singapore,
a message at First Presbyterian, Irvine, CA.,
a paper presented to the Fellowship of the Arc,
a plenary session message at the local ACMC conference,
two ordinations (Gregg Heinsch and Joel Johnson),
a message at a renewal conference in Boston,
a lecture at Yale Divinity School, and
two Messages at the Bridgeport Evangelical Congress.
It is a great privilege to serve a church that gives me the freedom to "spread the vision" beyond ourselves. Besides these speaking engagements I was involved in putting together "Prayer '87" at the Minneapolis Auditorium (Sept. 18), serving on the BGC Board of World MIssions, drafting a document on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood with a group of scholars in Boston, and periodic promotions of Desiring God.
That too is one of the highlights of the year for me—the appearance of Desiring God in February. I have received dozens of letters from around the country testifying to the revolutionizing power of the Biblical truth it contains. I pray it will go on serving the Cause for years to come.
At Bethlehem I feel gratified that 1987 marks the year that we added to the full-time staff Brad Nelson in Youth Ministries, David Livingston in Pastoral Care, and David Michael in Urban and Social Ministries. These additions will begin to pay their dividends in compounded ways in the years to come as each of these men multiplies himself in the dedicated lay ministers of our church.
I also regard the emergence of a group to pursue ministry to the hearing impaired (sparked by the visit of Sue Thomas) as a great breakthrough. May the Lord prosper it.
Another long term effort was the planning of the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors to be held April 14-17, 1988 here at the church with J.I. Packer and Ralph Winter and others. This is a major undertaking and needs our constant prayers.
I close by coming back to the meat and potatoes of my ministry: the preaching of the Word of God and the leadership of the staff. I love my calling. I love the Word of God. I never cease to be amazed that people will actually pay me to do the glorious work of studying and teaching the Word of God! I can hardly waite to get into each new series. The Lord is at work among us! We have a long way to go! Sin lurks at the door. Sin dwells within. But we are sustained by the magnificent gospel promise of Psalm 25:8—"Good and upright is the Lord, therefore he instructs sinners in the way." Like us! Thank God!