Whither Bethlehem?

Article by

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Below you see the average Sunday morning worship attendance of the first 21 weeks of each year since 1988. These numbers do not include the children in the nursery.

What can we learn from this? 1) We have broken out of last year’s plateau. 2) Since three of the last eight years were down years, we should not be quick to assume that a down year is a down trend. 3) The biggest jumps came in 1981 and 1986 which were the years we moved to two services and three services respectively. (Space counts.)

But the most important thing to learn is that God is slow to anger. Bethlehem looks like a success story on paper. We could draw even more impressive graphs of missions giving and missionaries going. And this is not supposed to happen downtown. The neighborhood is unattractive. Parking is inadequate. Accessibility is complicated. The facilities are dilapidated and uninviting.

But God is merciful to us in our failures. The particular failure I have in mind is in the area of winning unbelievers to Christ. This blessing God has withheld in large measure. Not entirely. But I have searched my soul earnestly to find what obstructions I might be putting in the way of the Spirit.

Some of you have encouraged me that God is doing more in this regard than meets the eye. Some have said that we need these lean years (yes, lean! despite the graph) to humble us and bring us to the point of crying out for the real blessing of power from on High.

What would this graph look like if the Spirit of God fell on us as on the day of Pentecost when 3000 were added to the Lord? What reverberations would Minneapolis feel if 995 believers caught fire and lived for nothing but the glory of God in the salvation of perishing sinners?

Noël and I and the boys will be on vacation for the next five Sundays. They say my midlife crisis is supposed to arrive on July 11 (42.5 years). I promise not to buy a sailboat or a boogie board. What I would really like to see is a crisis of faith that leads to a far more radical commitment to the salvation of men and women. Would you pray that in all my reading and praying and thinking God would give me a new heart, and that the fall of 1988 at Bethlehem would be one of the most awesome displays of “the demonstration of the Spirit and power” that we have ever seen?

Longing for so much more!

Pastor John