Twenty Year Marker
Twenty years ago I stood in front of the glassed-in case of "pastors" pictures' in the second-floor hallway of the "B" building. I was a brand new pastor. I looked at the two longest pastorates in Bethlehem's 109-year history and thought, "Maybe God would keep me faithful long enough to be here that long." When you are 34 years old, that seems very long. Now it is past and my tenure as senior pastor is the longest in the history of this church.
Your celebration this past summer of God's goodness in these twenty years of ministry was the highlight of our year. O how loved we felt! As we always do. Thank you again for your lavish words and for the new air-purification system in our home. Long-timers will perhaps have noticed that this was the first fall in my memory that I did not cough my way through any sermons or come close to losing my voice. God has been very good to us.
Preaching as Worship
Our corporate worship life in 2000 was permeated by two extended sermon series: Education for Exultation and Romans 5-6. It was good to take the first half of the year and immerse ourselves in some of the long-cherished values and convictions that energize this ministry (E4E). And it was good to probe the mysteries of justification through the "Second Adam," and sanctification through the free grace of God. "Thanks be to God that you became obedient to the teaching" (Romans 6:17).
Education for Exultation
What an amazing year it was as we pursued a $9 million goal of pledges by October 15, toward building a new educational building where the old sanctuary now stands, and a large multi-purpose gym/youth/community-life/banquet/worship space beside it to the west. We now stand at about $6.3 million pledged and given for a two-year period. We have set a new goal of April, 2001 for the remainder to be pledged. We aim to enter the new complex debt-free, which means we will not build until all the money is pledged for that space of time. The pledging is remarkable. It averages out to almost $10,000 per giving unit over and above budget giving over a two year period. Pray for the rest of the wonder.
Growing without Growing is part of what the Elders saw as the vision of Education for Exultation. Keep bringing people to Christ, but don't keep multiplying services or buildings HERE. Instead try to plant churches in other places that will take people away from here with the same vision of God and ministry and missions. Two churches were sent out. Over a hundred of our people went to Grace Richfield, and about 40 went to Sovereign Joy Fellowship.
Sunday Morning Growth
The Sunday morning attendance growth has taken us by surprise and made most of our planning seem slow. Here are the raw numbers. They represent the average Sunday morning worship attendance not counting the nurseries or preschoolers - only those who are in the sanctuary (or overflow space) during worship.
You can see that the attendance has just about doubled in the last three years. This has caused the elders to scramble. We are working hard on pastoral structures and staffing that we pray will help us do an authentic job of being a covenant community of believers seven days a week, and not just a weekend event. The proposed budget for 2001 has three new full time staff in it who, God willing, will be called some time this year. We pray that the upshot of such additions will not be more professionalism, but more equipping and releasing of the gifts and graces of the saints in service of each other and the world.
I encourage you to read the reports of the various ministries and departments for what God has been doing among us and through us.
The Call to Write
See the Desiring God Ministries report for a list of my own activities outside Bethlehem. I will only mention here my deep gratitude to the church for freeing me to speak and write. I completed two manuscripts for publication in 2000: 1) the second volume of the series, The Swans Are Not Silent, called The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction in the Lives of John Bunyan, David Brainerd and William Cowper, which will be in your hands, Lord willing, before the end of January this year; and 2) Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ. This is going through final editing just now and will be out, God willing, in the later spring. O how I pray God will spread a passion for the glories of Jesus through this book. It is one that I think you could give to a thoughtful unbeliever to introduce him or her to the Jesus you love and worship.
On the Home Front
On the home front I am blessed. I love my wife and children and they love me. Karsten and Shelly are expecting our second grandchild. Ben is at Moody and planning on Muslim missions. Abraham is working at Impact Mailing and playing his guitar in coffee shops around the Twin Cities. Barnabas just got accepted to Wheaton for the fall. Talitha is in pre-school three days a week.
Noël has come into her own right as a writer, winning second place and third place respectively in a poetry and inspirational writing context sponsored by Writers Digest in which 19,000 contestants compete for first place. I love being married to a multi-talented, God-exalting, church-loving, husband-supporting, prize-winning mom.
A Passion for Bible Memory
As I turn to the new year, I have a renewed passion for memorizing Scripture. My middle name is "Stephen". I want to be like him. "full of the Spirit and of wisdom" (Acts 6:3); "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit" (6:5); "full of grace and power" (6:8). They could not resist "the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking" (6:10). I believe the key to this goal is that my 56th year be more full of prayer and the Bible - memorized than in any year of my life. Would you pray for me, that this come true - for the sake of your own souls and for the sake of the nations.
Loving to be here,