Paul's Ambition and Bethlehem's Mission

Unpacking the Master Planning Team Document

For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man's foundation; but as it is written, "They who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand."

Introduction: Are Mission Statements Biblical?

I would like to begin this morning by putting the very concept of mission statements in a biblical framework. Are we doing a biblical and God-honoring thing by spending eight months laboring over a mission and vision statement? Consider first Romans 15:18–21. Paul talks about his ministry—his mission, or vision of God's call on his life.

I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed.

So notice how Paul stresses that his ministry is what Christ has worked through him. It is not some self-started, self-designed, self-sustained mission. It is the very work of Christ, continued through Paul. He continues in this vein in verse 19:

. . . in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.

So he continues to emphasize that his mission is not in his own power. It is God who works signs and wonders; it's the Holy Spirit who gave him the power to preach the gospel fruitfully from Jerusalem to Bosnia.

But now look what he says about the role of his own mind—his own planning and intentionality in this God-designed, Spirit-sustained mission. Verses 20–21:

And thus I aspired [literally: "it was my ambition"] to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man's foundation; 21 but as it is written, "THEY WHO HAD NO NEWS OF HIM SHALL SEE, AND THEY WHO HAVE NOT HEARD SHALL UNDERSTAND."

Notice two things. One is that Paul had a clear aim in view as he carried out his mission. He did not get up every morning and say, "Jesus I have no idea what my mission is today; please tell me." He had an ambition—a mission statement—"to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named." That was his goal. It guided his strategy and shaped the meaning of his life. It was his passion to make Christ known among peoples who had never heard the gospel.

Secondly, notice that he built this personal mission on Scripture. Verse 21 is a quote from Isaiah 52:15.

As it is written, 'They who had no news of him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand.'

So Paul took a passage of Scripture written about the Messiah and the ministry of Christ, and found in it a God-ordained application to his own situation and built his personal mission on it.

Not everybody was called to do what Paul did with this Scripture. Timothy was called to stay and minister in Ephesus. Titus was called to stay in Crete. But Paul had a focus and a call and a mission and he could state it: "I make it my ambition to preach the gospel not where Christ has already been named."

From this and other examples in the Bible I conclude that praying about and thinking about and writing mission statements is a biblical thing to do. The work should be rooted in Scripture and should be done in such reliance on the Holy Spirit that we can say, "I will not speak of anything except what Christ has wrought through me."

Review of the Master Planning Process

This is what I believe the Bethlehem Baptist Church Master Planning Team wants to say, and can say: "Christ has been at work in our labor." Since last October about 20 of us met every other week or so and prayed. We studied who you are what you think and what God may be saying to this congregation through the responses of its members; and we analyzed the people of our geographic area. We sought the Scriptures together. We looked at our history. We looked at our weaknesses and our strengths. We looked at our staff and programs. We put a finger on what we believed to be the pulse of God and on the pulse of the congregation and on the pulse of our own hearts; and where the rhythm beat together, we felt we were getting close to discerning God's special word to us. We talked and argued and discussed and drafted and talked and discussed and redrafted and talked and redrafted—until a remarkable affirmation emerged in the group, more unified than some expected.

What you have in your hand is the fruit of that almost year-long process. And our prayer now is first for church-wide understanding. We are not looking for a hasty approval or unthinking affirmation. We are looking for patient, honest, prayerful, biblical reflection and understanding. To that end I will preach messages related to this mission-vision document throughout the fall. Our prayer is that—in the same way that we came to embrace this vision with joy and zeal, God would work in our church an amazing unity around the spirit and content of this vision. Besides sermons, I hope also to produce a study guide for your use at home. This week's is on the table outside the sanctuary. You can use it for your daily devotional or as a supplement. Maybe you've never done something like this as a family. Why not try it each day this week, and really be up to speed next Sunday?

This is a congregational church. Under Christ the Head the congregation has final say over elders and staff. Elders have been commissioned by the congregation constitutionally to lead the church. The elders assembled a Master Planning Team to help them on behalf of the people. That group offered the elders this document and the elders have heartily affirmed it. It represents where the staff and elders and Master Planning Team believe God is calling us to go. We cannot force or guarantee your following us. We are certainly not infallible. This is not the Bible. We believe it is a faithful application of the Bible to this moment in Bethlehem's history. If this is of God, we believe he will do among the vast majority of us what he did for the 30 some leaders that were involved in the crafting of this statement. May God do it for his glory.

Bethlehem Baptist Church's Mission/Vision Statement

This morning I want to introduce you to it—and somehow try to restrain myself from getting too excited about it so that I don't say more than there is time to say. Pray.

Take it in your hands. And have it with you every week. It is a very unusual document. It breaks the rules. It is too long; it is theological; it is carefully worded (it has footnotes!); it is passionate; it is, in short, Bethlehem. It identifies us not merely in what it says, but in what it is—the very way it is conceived and completed speaks volumes about the identity of this church. And that is what the document is for. It should help us know who we are and where are we are going. What makes us tick? What is our passion? What do we value. What are the big goals? What is the preferred atmosphere and ethos?

It is not a list of particular plans. It is not a blueprint. It is a conceptual design to guide the plans and to shape the blueprint. Seventeen new planning teams have been formed. They have been given this document and have been charged by the elders: give yourselves to prayer and thought about how this vision can become reality in your area. Bring us plans in the next three months that we, the elders, can weave together and commend to the people early next year. So we have moved from the analysis of the Word and the congregation and the community and the world, to the vision (which you have in your hand). Now we will move on to the planning, which is underway now for the next several months, and then to the phase of resources and engagement and commitment sometime next spring. And then a process of refining and growing and living and ministering and loving as long as God gives us grace.

First let's get a quick overview. The document has five parts.

  1. Page one (front cover) is "Our Mission."
  2. Page two (inside the cover) is "The Spiritual Dynamic that drives our mission."
  3. Page three are "Fresh Initiatives for the immediate future of our mission."
  4. Pages four, five, and six are "The Values that manifest our mission."
  5. On page seven there is "A Reaffirmed Vision to focus our mission."

That's the structure. Now let's go back and let me say something about each one so you can begin to catch on to what it all means and how it works together.

Our Mission

First, "Our Mission" as a church—our Mission is:

"To spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples."

This is what I will preach on next week. This is what the daily study guide relates to this week. This is the way we were led to express our ultimate reason for being. If you wonder why we chose this and where it came from, the answer is very simple: this is God's mission statement. And I asked him if we could use it. God exists "to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things of the joy of all peoples." This is the one part of the whole document that we hope every member of Bethlehem will know by heart. Eighteen words. Eighteen incendiary words. (Sorry Barnabas, that's a big word: it means, explosive, easy to set on fire, ready to burst into a flame of light and heat and power.)

If you don't have a mission statement for your life, dream about living for this great purpose. There is nothing greater. Who can measure the power of a singular, biblical, prayed-over life purpose. Come back next Sunday and ponder with me if God may be calling all of us to shape our common life around this ultimate purpose.

The Spiritual Dynamic

Second, page two, "The Spiritual Dynamic that drives our mission."

We join God the Father in magnifying the supremacy of his glory through our Lord Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, by treasuring all that God is, loving all whom he loves, praying for all his purposes, meditating on all his Word, sustained by all his grace.

Now what is this, and why is it here? This is what I would call "basic Christianity." It's the method or the means or the strategy of living the Christian life. It's what you explain to somebody when they ask, "What does it mean to you folks at Bethlehem to be a Christian? How do you go about being just a basic Christian?" You live to magnify God through his Son Jesus and by the power of his Spirit; and the way you do that is by trusting or treasuring him and loving people and praying and reading the Bible and depending entirely on free and sovereign grace.

This is the sort of thing that some say should be left out of a vision statement—you take it for granted. But we couldn't. Basic Christianity (faith, love, prayer, the Word grace, Jesus, the Holy Spirit) is ten thousand times more important that our little tactical adjustments in how to do church in this generation. This page will be here like a rock underneath our feet when everything following in this booklet is changed. To leave out the spiritual dynamic would be like a wedding ceremony without vows. I hope to preach four messages on this page.

Fresh Initiatives

Third, page three, the "Fresh Initiatives for the immediate future of our mission." Now at this point there is a shift in the document. Up till now the Mission and Spiritual Dynamic express great, old, cherished, unwavering truths that have carried us for a long time. They are in a sense the non-negotiables of biblical Christianity.

But with page three come not the old, and not merely the new, but the new application of the old. When we put our finger on your pulse last fall, and put it on the heart of God in his Word and in prayer, and then put it on our own heart and listened, this page is what we felt. In a very remarkable sense we were captured by these because God was already doing them among us in fresh ways. It was like getting on a moving train. God has not waited for us to figure everything out. He is moving at Bethlehem with some new strengths and some adjusted trajectories, and some fresh emphases and a different spirit. I read it with you.

Our mission and Spiritual Dynamic declare that the all-satisfying supremacy of God shines most brightly through sacrificial deeds of joyful love. The cry of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our people is for a fresh, decisive emphasis on relationships of Love.

Therefore we eagerly embrace God's call for new, visible manifestations of love toward each other, our guests, and our neighbors. With a fresh openness and outgoing spirit to each other and to all new people, we henceforth put understanding above accusation, forbearance above faultfinding, and biblical unity above the demand for uniformity.

  1. The value of relationships. We will take new practical steps to develop an atmosphere where personal, deepening, supportive, faith-building relationships of love are highly valued as expressions of our passion for the supremacy of God's love.
  2. Urban-Suburban Partnership. We will strive to forge a mutually enriching urban-suburban partnership, in which a significant range of racially, educationally, and economically diverse people feel at home, as they grow in their passion for the supremacy of God.
  3. Interracial reconciliation. Against the rising spirit of indifference, alienation, and hostility in our land, we will embrace the supremacy of God's love to take new steps personally and corporately toward racial reconciliation, expressed visibly in our community and in our church.
  4. Diversity in God-centered worship. Sunday morning worship is a corporate expression of our passion for the supremacy of God. We sense God's leading to develop fresh expressions of this passion that 1) allow for a more focused and free lingering of love in the presence of the Lord; 2) reflect musically the diversity of our congregation and our metropolitan culture; and 3) interweave the values of intense God-centeredness and more personal ministry to each other in the power of the Holy Spirit.
  5. Good news to the poor. We will develop new strategies for proclaiming the all-satisfying supremacy of God's love and justice to the poor through 1) personal involvement; 2) a more welcoming atmosphere; 3) local missionary strategies of urban disciple making; and 4) equipping missionaries for unreached urban peoples.
  6. Challenging Church and culture with the truth. We will challenge our culture and the wider Christian movement in fresh ways with the biblical truth of God's all-satisfying supremacy, by courageous Christian action and speech in the secular world.

Even before we put concrete plans in place to flesh out these initiatives, the challenges are manifestly immense. And the question will be: once we have understood them, will the Spirit of God produce in us a passion to give our lives to these things? Will he persuade us that this is a vision of a spiritually powerful and beautiful church—and I don't mean the building? Will we feel together—as many of us already do—that the freshness of these six initiatives is the breath of the Holy Spirit blowing upon us? That's the question. Take your time. And make sure you read the right column of initiatives in the spirit of the left column of love.


I don't have time to speak about the three pages of values. I'll just say in passing that they have at least four functions. One is that the fresh initiatives grew out of them. When we percolated 70-some values in the pot of prayer, what simmered to the top were the fresh initiatives. The second function is to give some guidance and some boundaries to the way we implement the fresh initiatives. The implementation of the fresh initiatives must not contradict the wider expression of our values. The third function of the values is that they help give a bigger picture of how broad our concerns are as a Christian church. They are what you would say if someone said, "Talk to me a few minutes about the kinds of things your church cares about." Finally, the values keep before us a huge range of valuable ministry possibilities that may at any time become a priority of God so that it is thrust upon us as an inescapable emphasis in our ministry. I can't take the time to read them now. I hope you will.

Reaffirmed Vision: 2000 by 2000

Finally, on page seven the Master Planning Team and the Elders put forward a "Reaffirmed Vision to focus our Mission."

"To spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples, we gladly embrace with fresh zeal the sending and harvesting goals of '2000 by 2000.'"

Those goals are spelled out in detail on page 10. God is calling us, we believe to send out 2,000 of our people into missions by the end of the year 2000 (467 have gone). He is calling us to see 2,000 people in this area make professions of faith through the witness of our people (178).

What an incredible privilege it is to have single people and families being raised up year after year in our church who are responding to God's call to join Paul in his ambition to take the gospel where it isn't. The numbers here are daunting, but we want to stretch toward a goal that we cannot reach without God.

2000 by 2000 is a way of saying: We are not playing games with our mission statement. Our mission to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples will be put to the test—in finances, in people, in prayer. And the test is called 2000 by 2000.

Not only that, 2000 by 2000 gives a world thrust to the six fresh initiatives. In one sense they are the retooling or refurbishing of the local launching pad for 2000 by 2000.

And not only that, 2000 by 2000 will prove whether we value our values in a narrow and confined way or in a global and expansive way: if we value these 72 things for ourselves, how can we be authentic Christians and not value them for others—for the lost people in our city, and for the unreached peoples of the earth? 2000 by 2000 is a kind of litmus test of all the rest of this document: do we mean it or is God in it?

I close this first glimpse at the vision document with a personal testimony. I love what this document says. I would gladly stand in the halls of Congress and say, it is the immense and joyful privilege of my life to serve a church—a people—whose mission is "to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples." I can embrace that as the mission of my life. It is the mission of my life.

And in this process with the Master Planning Team for the last year, God has met me again and again, and blessed me, and taught me and refreshed me, and given me hope. And I am very eager today to join hands with you in this fresh vision. I have maybe 15 years left of pastoral ministry. When I read this booklet, and pray over it, and let it sink in, this vision is what I want to give my life to. I hope you'll join me.