We exist as a church to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. There are keys in this mission statement which unlock everything that happens at this church. Everything is for spreading this passion for God's supremacy from soul to soul in the church, or from the church to the world. Nothing has significance here apart from this goal. This is what we mean by loving each other-doing things for each other that help everyone passionately enjoy God as supreme through Jesus Christ. There is no love that does not have God in view. It is not loving to do anything that does not aim to awaken more joyful faith in God-from shoveling snow to preaching a sermon to going to Indonesia.
Preaching in Corporate Worship
Corporate worship on Lord's Day Eve and Morning continues to be the joyful fire in the engine of our church. It burns with the aroma of "sorrowful yet always rejoicing." In these six corporate worship services we meet God uniquely-not only, but uniquely-in our broken-hearted adoration of the glory of his grace. The holy word of God-sung, prayed, confessed, read, and preached-is the kindling of the fire in that engine.
We began the year in Romans 12:11 and moved through thirty message on Romans to chapter 15, verse 13. All of this is the unfolding of what a life in step with the gospel looks like. What do the mercies of God in Christ, spelled out in Romans 1-11, look like in the church and in the world? This is what God is doing among us. It is my joy to study and preach this most wonderful of letters.
Speaking More Widely for the Sake of the Vision
Beyond nurturing the vision and preaching the Word at home, there have been "spreading" labors through the conferences hosted by Desiring God (the Pastors Conference in January, the National Conference in September, and the Regional Conference in October). The Radio program entered its second year and expanded to over a hundred stations. And there were the wider speaking engagements for spreading the vision of God that we cherish.
2005 Speaking Events
|January 3-4||2005 Passion Conference||Nashville, TN|
|January 18||Perspectives||Roseville, MN|
|February 28 - March 1||Cedarville University Spring Pastors Summit||Cedarville, OH|
|February 22-23||Luther Seminary Aus Lectures Series 2005||Minneapolis|
|April 21, 2005||Covenant Life Church Leadership Conference||Gaithersburg, MD|
|May 17-19||Trinity Evangelical Divinity School Pastors Colloquium||Wheaton, IL|
|June 13||Getaway 2005 (KTIS/NWC event)||Roseville, MN|
|June 16||2005 General Assembly of the PCA||Chattanooga, TN|
|June 24||Baptist General Convention of Texas||Dallas, TX|
|July 18-19||Campus Crusade for Christ Conference||Fort Collins, CO|
|September 28||Azusa Pacific University||Los Angeles|
|October 14-15||Great Lakes Baptist Conference 121st Annual Meeting||Mosinee, WI|
|November 1-3||Beeson Divinity School Reformation Heritage Lectures||Birmingham|
|November 14-15||Finishing the Task Conference||Asheville, NC|
Baptism and Membership
The Elders endeavored to lead the church toward a vision of local church membership that would not exclude any regenerate person whose public faith and life did not call the gospel into question. This involved constitutional amendments that would have allowed some persons who had not been baptized by immersion as a believer to join the church. As the time for a vote drew near in December, several elders changed their minds on the issue, and the Council thought that the differences of viewpoint on the Council were significant enough that to move forward at this time was unwise. The motion was withdrawn at the annual strategy meeting.
This was a personal disappointment to me. None of the arguments brought forward to oppose the original motion of the elders seemed compelling to me. I spent as much time as I could answering them. I remain persuaded that it is a more serious mistake to exclude a regenerate person from local church membership than to admit someone whose practice and understanding of baptism are defective but not undermining to the gospel.
Treasuring Christ Together
To our mission statement above (the first sentence of this report) we now add the strategy: by multiplying campuses, planting churches, and showing mercy to the poorest of the poor through the Global Diaconate. 2005 saw the entrance into the permanent North Campus in Mounds View. What an amazing gift this campus is. God has raised up a growing band of believers who are committed to make this abound with the light and love of Christ in the northern suburbs. In about three years of existence the average attendance is over 1,100 in the two services Sunday morning.
The church voted to call Rick Melson as the Pastor for Vision and Worship on the third campus to be located somewhere southward. The aim is that it be started in the fall of 2006.
The first church planting apprentice, Jordan Thomas, joined us for a year and aims to plant a church in Memphis, Tenn., later this year (2006) when he is finished with the apprenticeship. Plans were finalized for the sending out of Sherard Burns, John Erickson, and Wally Brath to plant All Nations Christian Fellowship in Brooklyn Center. The start date is March of 2006. Support for other church plants was given, as well as significant gifts to global crises from the Global Diaconate. See Kenny Stokes' report for details. It is a thrilling thing to know that every dollar given to Treasuring Christ Together yields 10% for church planting and 10% for the poorest of the poor. I pray that all of us will make major investments in TCT.
So Much More
I will defer to others to tell the joyful story of what God did in 2005 in world missions and merging the youth and children's departments into the Family Discipleship Department, and the disability ministry, and the cause of racial harmony and sanctify of life, and ministry for seniors, and urban ministry, women's ministries, and counseling ministries, and Campus Outreach, and TBI, and small groups, and restructuring for member care, and staffing rearrangements to support all this.
One structural change stands out. The creation of a Lead Pastor team of Sam Crabtree (Lead Pastor for Life Training), Kenny Stokes (Lead Pastor for Spreading), John Piper (Pastor for Vision and Preaching), and (Lord willing) Jon Grano (Lead Pastor for Operations) is thrilling to me. This structure reflects God's mercy to Bethlehem. I count it a great privilege to serve with this team.
I am blessed with five children who walk with Christ from age 10 to 33. I have seven grandchildren who are healthy and loved by both mommy and daddy. I have a wife who loves Jesus, me, and Bethlehem. The year has had tears. But if the eye had no tears the soul would have no rainbow. We do not begrudge the seminary of suffering. God is good-all the time. He does nothing amiss. His hand governs all things. We are content there. Indeed we are very happy to be in his hand, come what may. He is our Rock.
We love serving you. May God give us years together here, and endless days together in the Kingdom.
Pastor for Preaching and Vision