More than ever the preaching ministry in 1989 related to the specific challenges we faced. The massive earthquake in San Francisco brought out the sermon, "The Unshakeable City." The unparalleled political upheaval of Eastern Europe brought out the sermon, "Jesus is the Ruler of the Kings on Earth." The burden for evangelism brought out the series on "Quest for Joy." The need to grasp the meaning of the eldership brought out the series on Acts 20:17-35. The need for clarity on the relation of men and women brought out the series on Manhood and Womanhood. The desire to heal generational tension after SPAN II called forth the three messages on "Old and Young Shall Dream Together." And our zeal to keep our three priorities clear called forth the three messages from Hebrews 13: "The Sacrifice of Praise... of Shared Life... of Suffering."
For the first time, as far as I know, Bethlehem went off site to worship on Sunday morning. The reason was mainly evangelistic. About 1600 people came to Maranatha Hall at Northwestern College. Four professed faith in Christ. Others sought ongoing spiritual counself. We are still feeling the effects of that service.
The changes of SPAN II dominated the year. SPAN II was a vision born in staff prayer and meditation and approved by the church in the summer. It is an attempt to establish a rhythm of ministry that meets the needs of as many members as possible without overloading the week with meetings. The primary changes were the creation of the Bethlehem Institute and Training Center on Wednesday evenings; the creation of a new small group network; the reduction of the number of Sunday evening services to once a month; and the redefinition of some staff job descriptions. The hope is that each member would seek large corporate worship on Sunday morning, growth in Biblical knowledge and ministry skills Wednesday evening. nurutre and fellowship in a small group (perhaps Sunday evening), and some form of ministry toward the church and toward the world. We hoped that this would not demand being away from home more than three nights a week. The initial responses to the BITC have been very positive. About 600 people are in over 60 small groups.
The Sunday morning worship attendance this year was slightly higher than last year—935 as compared to 919. This is the highest average attendance in the history of the church. The growth however is not impressive. But the obstacles to growth are. The attendance at the three services do not even out any more. The middle service is very full in peak seasons. The third is comfortably full. Only the first one has significant room for growth. This means that space constraints make further significant growth unlikely. The new sanctuary will se a new spurt of growth, I believe.
The Council of Deacons were productive. They produced a final copy of the leadership statement on divorce and remarriage and on the meaning of church membership. They also sent to the church a proposed constitutional revision calling for the creation of a council of elders as well as a board of deacons and deaconesses. I have been involved with and supportive of all this work.
1989 saw the end of two years of interim leadership in the children's ministry as Laurel Bissett and Jennifer Brommet concluded their work and Joan Lovestrand was called as full-time Minister for Children's Discipleship. The road was long and hard. But, as with all God's dealings, the end has been a happy one. I am deeply thankful to God for Joan's presence among us with a heart for God and for the children and for the truth of Scripture and the glory of serious discipleship at home and church.
With the end of Remco Brommet's interim assistantship and with the coming of Joan, we are now complete as a staff for the foreseeable future (Brad, Dan, Joan, David M., David L., Tom, Dean, John). This is a great delight to me. I love these friends with all my heart. They are a tremendous source of strength and joy in my life. May the Lord give us the same deep harmony and unity that we have known over all the years of our partnership.
I have tried to be circumspect in my engagements outside Bethlehem for the wider cause of the Kingdom. Overshadowing much of this year has been the specter of abortion and our effort to say no by our peaceful participation in the Rescue movement. I was arrested three times for sitting in front of abortion clinics and singing worship songs. I spent two days in jail and saw the booklet "Abortion: A Pastor's Perspective" spread accross the country. I long to see our church engaged at every level of the fight to re-establish the principle that a baby's right not to be killed is greater than a woman's right not to be pregnant.
Other efforts outside Bethlehem have included: serving on the baptist General Conference Board of World Missions and Board of Overseers; speaking at the BGC annual meeting day of prayer; hosting the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors and speaking on Charles Simeon; attending the Lausanne II Congress on World Evangelization in Manila; speaking at Perspectives on the World Christian Movement; speaking at the annual executives retreat of the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association; serving on the BGC Prayer Commission and on the steering committee for Prayer 89; forming a Pastors Alliance for Rescuing Innocent Life; speaking at Rick Stapleton's ordination; writing What's the Difference? Manhood and Womanhood Defined according to the Bible and The Supremacy of God in Preaching; and a few other things here and there.
One wonderful development this year was the assistance Bethlehem has been able to bring to Immanuel Baptist Church in the Seward Neighborhood. David Livingston and Remco Prommet gave significant time and effort to this fellowship, and now Brent Nelson, one of our apprentices, has become the pastor there with several of our families and single people going with him to give new life and hope to that church. This has been very encouraging to see Christ move for the sake of his body.
On the personal front Karsten has started Bethel College on a special state early admission program. Benjamin is an ace soccer player in the eighth grade; Abraham is known in his class as the Old Testament authority the teacher looks to for questions like, "Who was Abraham's second wife?", and Barnabas is still wonderfully innocent in the first grade, not yet knowing that it is not cool to wear your back pack on you back. I thank God from the bottom of my heart that the boys love Christ and love Bethlehem.
Noël is still at my right hand—at the door on Sunday and in the ministry. We are learning together that life in the forties with teenagers and an 1100 member church and passions to advance the kingdom is hard. I feel more strongly now than I did a year ago when I wrote for our 20th wedding anniversary these lines:
Although the fig tree blossom not,
And all the vines of our small plot
Be barren, and the olive fail,
The sheep grow weak and heifers frail,
We will rejoice in God, my love,
And take our pleasures from above:
The Lord, our God, shall be our strength
And give us life, whatever length
On earth he please, and make our feet
Like mountain deer, to rise and cleat
The narrow path for man and wife
That rises steep and leads to life.
It is a narrow path for a church too. And the way will become steeper in the years to come, because the opposition will be stronger and the dangers greater. I have now celebrated ten advent seasons with you. There have been over 30 advent poems. The message is almost always the same: the life is hard that leads to life; but the sovereign grace of our God is always sufficient. Every broken-hearted sinner who cries, "Jesus is there hope for me?" hears one answer: Yes. All the promises of God are yes in Christ Jesus. So let us answer back with all our heart and with all our life: Amen! Amen! Amen! In the name of Jesus.