The Word and Worship
God continues mercifully to gather us and meet us in corporate worship around his Word on Sunday mornings. There will be no God-exalting ministry where the passion for God's supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples is not savored. Worship remains the goal and fuel of our mission. An extended series of messages on worship, begun in 1997, ended in the spring, followed by the beginning of the most ambitious preaching goal yet in my 18.5 years (as I write in January, 1999) at Bethlehem - a series on the book of Romans, the greatest letter ever written and the center of the Bible, from a doctrinal standpoint. The attendance of the Sunday morning corporate worship services has grown significantly this year, evident in the average Sunday morning attendance statistics below.
This kind of growth, and the foreseeable crowding out of two services sooner than we expected, has pushed to the front the issue of additional worship services as well as possible church planting to send out people from this home base.
Pastoral Staff and Elders
God united us around the call of Kenneth Stokes as Associate for Urban Ministries, and he joined the pastoral staff in the fall. This is a great delight for me personally, since Kenny shares so deeply our vision of spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. Kurt Swanson, back from Guinea, was called to a special two- year assignment as full-time Director of Missions with the goal of overseeing and advancing the sending half of our 2000 by 2000 prayer goal. This new position echoes and encourages the fresh movements of mission zeal among many of our people. The largest Missions in the Manse in 14 years happened November 6 at our home. And on the Sunday before that, about 190 people came forward after Missions Fest to declare their intention to "go" in some way and at some time. This was buttressed by a $465,000 1998 foreign missions budget. I praise God for Jim Bloom's long ministry to Bethlehem. His role as elder came to an end at the end of 1998, as he presses on, through InnerChange, with church planting and ministry to the urban poor in our neighborhood. Hiro Fukuda finished time as elder and moved to Denver to take the leadership of a Japanese church. Don Brown and Dan Holst were added to the Council of Elders. Erv Mickelberg and Russ Gregg took a leave from active eldership and will be serving again in 1999, Lord willing. This fellowship of spiritually mature and gifted leaders is one of the great joys of my ministry. I cherish it deeply.
Wednesday evening continues to be a crucial dimension of our life together. We don't take attendance in the worship time or the plenary session of the TBI, but it was manifestly larger than in any previous years and the Sunday night services from years ago. Supper, kids' choirs, prayer meeting, all-church worship, Kids' Connection, Youth Connection and TBI plenary session make up the evening and give great opportunities for "connecting" (hence the name) and "growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18).
Ministries of Mercy
Caring for the flock, especially those in crisis, continues to be a high priority and difficult challenge. Along with elders, pastoral staff, (about 70) small groups, Sunday School classes and many natural webs of relationships, Eric Johnson was appointed to spend part of his Sabbatical (September - January) from Northwestern College conceiving and putting in place a "Ministry of Care" that would involve trained lay people in crisis care ministry. This is now in place and will be formalized by the elders in the weeks to come.
Bethlehem a Multi-Ministry Base
The church reached a new level of multi-ministry complexity this year with the remarkable growth of Desiring God Ministries (DGM) and The Bethlehem Institute for Bible, Theology and Missions (TBI). As of February 1, 1999, DGM will have seven full-time employees with a 1998 income of $678,000. TBI began in the fall with six students in the Track Two seminary credit course, and 10 students in the Track Three MA course. Thus one way to conceive of Bethlehem is that we are church-based cluster of ministries which include not only TBI and DGM but also a half-million dollar foreign missions thrust, a growing children's and youth department as well as major local outreach and pastoral care efforts.
Building Proposal Solidifies
God gave us consensus on the need for a new educational/ministry building to replace the "old sanctuary" that is in significant disrepair. Just as the 1980's proved to be the decade of a great worship renewal at Bethlehem, leading to a new sanctuary in 1991, so the 1990's has proved to be a decade of educational renewal and growth, including children, youth, and TBI. A building committee, headed by Keith Anderson, was appointed and an architect selected. As of now, plans are being refined for presentation to the congregation.
A Glimpse int My Life
With the help of God and the assignment of a writing leave from the elders, I was able to complete God's Passion for his Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards, as well as prepare for publication The Innkeeper. These were published in the fall and given to the church by DGM. God was gracious to make my prostate surgery completely successful. My son Benjamin completed his AS degree at Gordon College (Barnesville, GA) and his apprenticeship at Wilden Plastics. He was accepted at Moody Bible College and started this month. My Dad "retired" at 80 from ROGMA, the mission he founded. It was a highlight to speak at the banquet and say the things sons say at funerals and wish their dads could hear. Noël and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. What can I say?
Now, come let us be a-flying,
Like the angels in our love,
Burning, shining, ever crying,
'Holy' to the Lord above.
If we make Him our Vocation
While we have our common breath,
Christ alone in adoration,
We will never part in death.
Still in love with Noël and with Bethlehem,