That is one possible title for me. It focuses on what I do rather than on the "senior/junior" status of the pastors. I love being one of a team of elders here at Bethlehem. This camaraderie is sweet and overflowing with blessing for the church. Yes, I carry a unique responsibility for leadership and vision and unity and proclamation. But all of this is in the context of a consensus-loving team.
The fruit of our labors is not finally quantifiable. Who of us can measure the numbers whose faith survived the hard tests of life because of Bethlehem, or how many said no to hundreds of destructive temptations, or how many resolved to undertake a hard act of love, or how many were sustained in a path of justice and mercy and integrity, or how many saints walked in righteousness because of ten thousand prayers, or how many miseries were averted at home and on the mission field because of daily exhortation and prayer, or how many social and political effects flowed from sacrificial action and prayer, or how many seeds of gospel truth were sown that will bear fruit in decades to come in ways we could never dream. But in the reports of this booklet you will read numbers. Lots of them. One in particular I pray will be far larger in 2003 than in 2002 - 64 baptisms. Pray with me that we would be filled with the Holy Spirit and that we might speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31).
Move to Two Sites
The biggest outward development at BBC in 2002 is the move to simultaneous Sunday morning worship services on two sites: Roseville and Downtown. Some of the reasons we ventured into this were:
- More effectively spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ - with all the implications of that mission.
- Flexible possibilities of growth.
- Freedom from the constraints of having to build larger sanctuaries.
- Freedom from having to multiply staff-exhausting worship services in one location.
- Simpler access for hundreds of our "north" people who can now more naturally invite neighbors to go with them to (the nearby!) church gathering.
- Raising up and equipping more lay leaders for ministry.
- Working for racial harmony in more than one place.
- More time between services for prayer and conversation.
- Broadening the base of missionary sending.
- Taking a risk for Christ's sake and trusting the mercy and power of God.
The Sunday morning worship service attendance that led to this venture and that came from it are as follows.
1998 - 1,314 (average)
1999 - 1,665
2000 - 2,037
2001 - 2,212
2002 - 2,433
In the eleven Sundays at two sites the average attendance Downtown was 1,618 and at Roseville, 1,144, with the combined average on two sites (in the last 11 Sundays) at 2,762. The number of Sundays over 3,000 in 2001 was 2 and in 2002 was six. The elders have agreed to wait six months under this new strategy before committing ourselves to any more new broadcast sites. We want to be sure that this is God's way forward before we make any other commitments.
Old Sanctuary Gone
Another visible change this year was the demolition of the "old sanctuary." As I write this, the walls of the basement are being completed with incredibly warm January weather (which will surely not last). I pray that when I write this report next year we will be in the new building devoted to Education for Exultation.
New Pastoral Staff
Less visible but more significant are the changes on the pastoral staff with the addition of Erik Hyatt as Minister for Missions and Sherard Burns as Associate for Evangelism, Assimilation, and Adult Ministries. I am thrilled with God's goodness to us in bringing these strong leaders to us.
Racial Diversity and Harmony
Quietly, and without flare, we make headway in "the mighty long journey" of racial diversity and harmony. Every ethnic group matters. We cannot invest the same energy in every ethnic relationship. Most of the effort has gone toward the historically troubled white-black divide. One strategy of advance in this journey is to bless the church first with African-American leadership (pastor-elders), then over time, with that empowered help, increase the multi-ethnic, heaven-like appearance of Sunday morning and everyday life and ministry. I will say no more. Talking always gets one in trouble on this issue. Better just keep acting instead of talking.
Romans . . . Still
Of the 45 sermons that I preached at Bethlehem this year, 29 carried us through Romans 8 into Romans 9. These are the high places of the New Testament - if one can distinguish peaks in the mountains of God. I thank you all for your prayer. I have felt helped week after week. Don't stop. It is my joy to lean on God with you under his word.
Ministry Beyond Bethlehem
Besides speaking at Bethlehem there were other engagements including:
- Perspectives, in Eden Prairie, MN (January 15, 2002)
- FIEC, in Pwllheil, UK (April 2-3, 2002)
- Biola University, in La Mirada, CA (April 22-24, 2002)
- Wheaton Commencement, in Wheaton, IL (May 11-12, 2002)
- EBM Midwest Missions Forum, in Indianapolis, IN (May 20-21, 2002)
- Wycliffe International Conference, in Waxhaw, NC (June 4-6, 2002)
- SBC Conference Annual Luncheon, in St. Louis, MO (June 10, 2002)
- Alive Festival, in Canal Fulton, OH (June 20)
- CRM Worldwide Conference, in Caracas, Venezuela (June 25-28)
- National Collegiate Ministry Week, in Glorieta, NM (August 5-7, 2002)
- Sovereign Grace Bible Conference, in St. Louis, MO (September 16-18, 2002)
- Bryan College, in Dayton, TN (September 23-25, 2002)
- Great Lakes District Conference, in Gaylord, MI (October 16, 2002)
- 3rd Annual Mid-Atlantic Founder's Conference, in Raleigh, NC (October 17-18, 2002)
- Capitol Hill Baptist Church, in Washington D.C. (October 19-20, 2002)
- Covenant Care Banquet, in Macon, GA (November 4, 2002)
- ReGeneration Youth Conference, in Houston, TX (November 6, 2002)
- ETS Annual Conference, in Ontario, Canada (November 20-22, 2002)
Then there was the writing for World Magazine (which almost always involves using a STAR article), and the publication of books (which almost always involves using messages I have given).
- Counted Righteous in Christ: Should We Abandon the Imputation of Christ's Righteousness? (Crossway)
- Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Broadman & Holman)
- The Misery of Job and the Mercy of God, with photographs by Ric Ergenbright (Crossway)
- The Roots of Endurance: Invincible Perseverance in the Lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce, The Swans Are Not Silent, vol. 3 (Crossway)
The Home Front
- The marriage is sweet and solid. God is good
- Noël is speaking and writing more and more. She is just now completing a book manuscript titled Heirloom: Treasuring God in Our Traditions, for Crossway Books, which I am very excited about.
- Talitha is a happy and fast-reading first-grader. On December 16 during family devotions I pointed to our map on the wall and said that Jesus wants us to take the good news of his dying for our sins to all the world. I said to Talitha, maybe you will do that someday. Maybe you will be a missionary. Talitha said, "I want to. I want to do that some day." So we prayed that God would make it come true.
- Abraham's email of October 4, which began with the words, "I am saved," was the sweetest music I heard all year - maybe in my life. All our children need prayer - just like we do. Please don't let up for any of us.
- Barnabas is a sophomore at Wheaton and loving it. He helps lead worship at his church there and plans to stay through the summer to work as a youth intern at Grace Church of DuPage. He is a Bible major and prays toward some kind of ministry.
- Benjamin and Melissa bought a house in Phillips Neighborhood and are entering [don't think it's official yet] the Nurture Program for missionary candidates at BBC. They plan on being here for some years, and then going out as career missionaries from the church. Ben started Piper Construction Company in the meantime for building and remodeling.
- Karsten and Shelly continue to grow in their leadership in the church in Worthington, MN. Karsten teaches English there at Minnesota West Community College.
I love being at Bethlehem at 22.5 years. I cannot imagine not finishing here, but God plans these things finally, not me. May God keep us on fire for his supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.