The first sermon in our series on the book of Romans was preached on April 26, 1998. The last one was preached Christmas Eve, 2006. What a pilgrimage it has been! I have been profoundly shaped by God's Word in Romans—especially the central place of justification by faith (Romans 3:28). I believe our people have been formed by this book as well. I pray that we will continue to be.
It is difficult to calculate to what degree "preaching and vision" are influenced by each other. But clearly God profoundly formed our wider church vision during Romans. "Education for Exultation" was the vision that enabled us to move the offices off campus and complete the main educational building downtown and move in with the building paid for six years ago. Even more significant was the emergence of the vision, "Treasuring Christ Together" a vision for multiplying campuses, planting churches, and caring for the poorest of the poor with the Global Diaconate.
So it was during Romans that these two major movements began. The third campus of Treasuring Christ Together opened in 2006 in Burnsville High School. Over five hundred of our people now call the South Campus home. God was good to raise up Rick Melson as the Pastor for Vision and Worship at the South Campus, and then surround him with an army of ready and thoughtful helpers. David Livingston felt called to join him as part of the campus-focused pastoral team that moved South.
This means that we now have seven worship services each weekend. In 2005, there were four Sundays with over four thousand in attendance. In 2006, there were nine. The overall growth in average weekend attendance went from 3,348 in 2005 to 3,528 in 2006. This is modest growth (about 5.4%). It includes eighty baptisms. The need to reach lost people and lead them, by sovereign grace, from darkness to light (Acts 26:18) is vast in the Twin Cities and the rest of the world. There is no warrant to think we can rest on past developments. The needs are great and Christ is exuberant over his church.
The church graciously gave Noël and Talitha and me five months way from Bethlehem this year (one month for vacation, one for writing leave, and three for sabbatical). We spent the time at Tyndale House in Cambridge, England with great joy and profit. What Jesus Demands from the World was written during this time, as well as some other things that will find publication in 2007, Lord willing. "Toward All the Fullness of God" was the theme under which the staff and guest preachers fed the people with twenty-two messages while I was gone. I came back to the remarkable help of a new Executive Pastoral Assistant, David Mathis. David is my right arm, managing most of my ministry life. If you have questions, he is the one to call. I thank God for him. The time away on Sabbatical was rich for all of us. I am deeply thankful to the elders and people of Bethlehem for sending and supporting and standing strong.
On Valentine's Day, I had a radical prostatectomy to remove a cancerous prostate. As far as humans know, the surgery was successful and there is no evidence of cancer in me for now. But our lives are in God's hands, and he will spare us and take us when he plans. And his plans will be good. Again I look back with great gratitude for what the Lord did in me and for me and through me in this experience. The church was totally supportive and our hearts have been knit together more deeply.
Jordan Thomas was with us as our first Church Planting Resident and was sent out to plant a church in Memphis, Tennessee. His successor in that residency is Charlie Handren who is now planning to plant a church out from BBC in Rogers, Minnesota. In addition, we sent out All Nations Christian Fellowship as a new church plant in Brooklyn Center with Sherard Burns and John Erickson and Wally Brath.
A new dimension was added to The Bethlehem Institute this fall. The Insight program is a one-year freshman college experience at Bethlehem which may be transferred to other schools upon successful completion. The aim is to give a church-based, God-centered, Bible-shaped sweep for the first year of college-level education. Twelve students are a part of this first year. Mike Rusten, Alex Kirk, and Ryan Griffith have been the key leaders in this new venture.
The elders have given me the liberty and expectation that part of Bethlehem's mission of "spreading a passion or the supremacy of God in all things" implies a wider speaking role for me away from Bethlehem. Here is the way that took shape in 2006:
2006 Speaking Events
|January 2-3||Bethlehem Conference for Pastors||Minneapolis|
|February 7-8||North Carolina State Baptist Convention Conference Evengelism & Church Growth||Winston Salem, NC|
|March 1 - July 31||Sabbatical||Cambridge, England|
|April 26-28||Together for the Gospel||Louisville, KY|
|June 11-14||Scottish Ministers Assembly||Glasgow, Scotland|
|June 27-29||Proclamation Trust||London, England|
|July 23-25||New Horizons||N. Ireland|
|September 22||Peacemakers Conference||Bloomington, MN|
|Sept 29 - Oct 1||Desiring God National Conference||Minneapolis|
|October 12-15||SEMBEQ||Montreal, Quebec|
|October 19-24||Desiring God Regional Conference; Phoenix Seminary Pastors Conference||Phoenix, AZ|
|November 14-17||Evangelical Theological Society||Washington, DC|
Talitha entered the fifth grace this fall. For the first time, she was not home-schooled and is loving Hope Academy on Chicago Avenue, where she can walk to and from school. My father continues to move further into dementia. He still knows me and Jesus and Romans 8 and old hymns. So we can still enjoy our times together when I get to Greenville, South Carolina. I rejoice in his faith and that he showed me the Savior. Noël remains a loving and solidly faithful partner in life and ministry. She has a significant speaking ministry around the country and loves to travel overseas to encourage our missionaries. She went to Senegal, and as I write this, she is preparing to leave for Cameroon. I am blessed beyond all deserving. We are happy to be here and feel energy and hope and joy for years to come in this ministry. "If the Lord wills, we will live . . ."
The Fuller Story
The rest of the reports in this Annual Report will tell the fuller story about what God has been doing among us and through us. One of the marks of a growing church is that one pastor can no longer know all that is happening. I am glad God is writing it all down. Someday we will exult in all of it, right down to the answer to the quietest prayer which no one saw but God.
Pastor John Piper
Pastor for Preaching and Vision