A Call to Focused Prayer, Soul Searching, and a Church-Wide Dream
I believe this is the year for Bethlehem to translate "Spreading a Passion for God" into Planting a Passion for God.
What an extraordinary grace it has been to this church to have a clear reason for our existence. We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. That is our mission statement.
For years now the staff and elders have dreamed about starting other churches. This was part of Growing without Growing, which was part of Education for Exultation. What's new is the shift in our thinking from negatively reducing our crowding to positively spreading a passion for God. In other words, the primary impulse now is not "manage crowding here," but "plant an outpost of passion for God elsewhere." And do it whether it helps us manage crowding here or not.
We believe it is time to expand our strategies for spreading a passion for the supremacy of God. Presently there are dozens of ways that we pursue this spreading from Bethlehem's home base. But now we are more persuaded than ever that if it is good to have a strong home base for such God-centered gospel spreading, it would be good to have lots of home bases for such spreading. This means Planting a Passion for God should become part of spreading a passion for God. Our new aim: not just spreading from a strong base, but creating strong spreading bases.
If the question is raised: Are there enough churches in America, the answer is no. Not only because radically God-centered, Bible-saturated, passionate churches are not the norm, but also because "there has been a dramatic decline in the church-to-population ratio in the past century. According to the '1993-1994 Almanac of the Christian World' there were 27 churches per 10,000 people in 1900 compared to just 12 churches per 10,000 people in 1990. However, churches are getting larger. . . . The average church size has tripled in the past century. So even though there aren't as many churches per capita, many people are attending larger, mega-churches" (quoted from an article in Christianity Today).
There are reasons why Planting a Passion would be a wise addition to our strategies for spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. Consider a few of them:
1. A new, strong, God-centered church would capture much of the under-used leadership potential of the saints at Bethlehem. Our church is rich with spiritually mature men and women. Many are under-invested in the ministries of the church. A new church would cry for their engagement.
2. A new, strong, God-centered church would increase the urgency of intentional leadership development at every level (children, youth, adult, worship, music, outreach, care-giving, etc.). The need for more lay ministers in every sphere would press us all toward rigorous efforts of nurturing spiritual growth and leadership gifts.
3. A new, strong, God-centered church would breathe fire onto the smoldering embers of evangelism because of the fresh feeling of the new church for outreach to its new community and the aggressive efforts to let the community know that it is there and new and welcoming.
4. A new, strong, God-centered church would reduce the tendency to rely too heavily on one man's preaching ministry. Christ alone is the head of the church. He ordains the ministry of the Word as a means of his grace, and he anoints mere men for this work. But he gives all the growth, and does not make his triumphs hang on any man. When the apostle Paul was in prison, unable to preach, he said with joy, "I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!" (2 Timothy 2:9).
5. Thus a new, strong, God-centered church, planted from Bethlehem, would mean the existence of an independent, like-minded body of passionate believers, which would give the mission we love increased durability and credibility.
6. Finally, a new, strong, God-centered church would call for hundreds of faith-filled, God-reliant risks from the congregation. And that is good for us, lest we become soft and comfortable in a perishing world.
What are you willing to dream in 2002?