Today we take a little byway in our exposition of Romans 12. I am going to talk about the practicalities of church life, including what you will hear this Wednesday at the all-church strategy meeting, and what you have in your hands regarding the Treasuring Christ Together vision for our future.
I call this a little byway in, not apart from the exposition of Romans 12, because there are things in this text that are right at the heart of how we build and approve and raise a $6,000,000 budget for 2005, and how we dream and plan and fund a vision for spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.
1. We Should Lead with Zeal
For example, last year there was a good bit of frustration that the budget got into your hands too late to think much about it. Romans 12 speaks to leaders in verses 5-8 and says that there are people with needed gifts in the body, use them (vv. 4-8). And it says, in essence, when you gather to work for the good of this church, lead with zeal (v. 8). If you have to stay up late, stay up late. If you have to meet more often, meet more often.
Your elders and staff have invested a lot of energy and time on the 2005 budget, and we will get it to you in a proposed form this Wednesday five or six weeks before you will act on it. The zeal of Romans 12 is incarnate in your elders and I love them for it.
2. We Should Be Transformed, Not Conformed, in How We Build Budgets and Cast Visions
Another example of Romans 12 shaping the way we build budgets and cast vision for Treasuring Christ Together is that the staff and elders know that verse 2 is absolutely essential for what we are doing. “Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” There are no sentences in the Bible telling us how much our budget should increase next year. There are no sentences in the Bible telling us when to start a south campus. There are no sentences telling us when and where to plant churches.
What Romans 12 says is: Elders, staff, people of Bethlehem, don’t think the way the world thinks. Be transformed. Pursue a renewed mind (v. 2). Have humble views of yourself (v. 3). Look always to Christ in faith (v. 3, 6). Love authentically. Abhor evil. Cleave to the good (v. 9). Rejoice in hope. Be constant in prayer (v. 12). Paul’s assumption is: that’s the way you discern the will of God—what is good, acceptable and perfect.
That’s what I believe is happening at Bethlehem right now. Our minds are being renewed. We are being humbled. We are looking away from ourselves to Christ. We are praying constantly. We’re loving each other—even at midnight. I wish you could all be there to watch your elders pray and think and discuss and laugh and lay hold on God for what many people would think impossible.
3. All Ministries Should Be the Overflow of Joy in Christ
A third example of Romans 12 shaping the practicalities of church life is in the matter of funding the vision. We will present to you a $6,000,000 budget for next year. On top of that we will recommend a vision for Treasuring Christ together that will cost about $13.5 million. For some these are breathtaking numbers. Others quote Jeremiah (12:5), “If . . . men on foot . . . have wearied you, how will you compete with horses?” In other words, what if God wanted us to plant $100,000,000 worth of churches and campuses and ministries to the poor?
What Romans 12 tells us is that all our ministries should be the overflow of joy in Christ. You hear it in verse 8b: “The one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads,with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” Those are the key words: generosity, zeal, cheerfulness. This is the overflow of not thinking highly of ourselves but thinking highly of Christ, and swimming in the ocean of mercy that we saw in Romans 1-11.
So Romans 12 gives us hope that if we keep our focus on the supremacy of Christ and the mercy of God, 2 Corinthians 8:2 will happen and the grace of God will look like this: “In a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” Leaders proclaim grace. Grace produces abundance of joy even in affliction and poverty. And joy overflows with generosity. At bottom that’s our funding plan. Preach grace. Love authentically. Nurture joy through pain. Be good stewards.
Many of you are new since we as a church embraced the vision of Treasuring Christ Together in April. So let me say again what it is. My prayer is that this vision will be big enough and bold enough and biblical enough and beautiful enough in its heart for the lost and the poor, that you as a people will be inspired to embrace it with all your heart, and dream it and pray it and serve it and give to it out of the overflow of joy that treasuring Christ brings.
Trembling—Not That the Price Is Too High, But That the Vision May Be Too Small
Some of us tremble not with fear that it will cost so much, but with fear that God will be displeased that we did not aim at something greater.
- We hear 2 Kings 13, where the prophet Elisha gets angry at Joash the king because he stamped his arrows on the ground only three times. “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Syria until you had made an end of it” (v. 19).
- And we hear Isaiah 54:2, the text that inspired William Carey to give 40 years of his life to India and pen the motto: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes.”
- We hear Romans 15:19 where Paul says, “From Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel.” He was heading for Spain. He burned to preach the gospel where it had not been preached. He would not hear the prophet say, you stamped the arrows only from Jerusalem to Italy! He would spread and spread until he dropped dead. Spread till you’re dead! That’s the passion of Treasuring Christ Together.
- And we hear 2 Thessalonians 3:1, that the word of the Lord will run and be glorified. And we hear Matthew 28:18-20 that all authority belongs to the risen Christ, so go make disciples, and I will be with you. Spread! Spread!
- And we hear Ephesians 3:20 say that God is able to do exceedingly beyond all that we ask or think.
Texts like these make some of us tremble not that the price is high but that the vision may be small. We don’t want to hear the Lord say, “If you had struck five or six times, you would have had five times the victory.”
What Is Treasuring Christ Together?
Treasuring Christ Together is a multiplying movement of campuses, new churches, and a global diaconate all aiming to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ, all founded on a rich, robust, refreshing doctrinal Affirmation of Faith called The Bethlehem Baptist Church Elder Affirmation of Faith.
It’s not enough just to believe glorious things about God and Christ and the way of salvation (the Affirmation of Faith), as utterly crucial and non-negotiable as that is. We must spread the passion that this God awakens in us through Jesus Christ. And we don’t think that this mission of spreading is satisfied merely in challenging individuals to witness, as crucial as that is. We believe God is leading us corporately to multiply campuses and plant new churches and to minister to strategic crises among the poorest of the poor. Those are the three aspects of the vision of Treasuring Christ Together.
1. Multiplying Campuses
Let’s look at them one at a time. First pages 6-7 in the TCT booklet (December, 2004). After years of prayer and thought and wrestling we embraced the vision of a multi-campus church. One church. One eldership. One Affirmation of Faith. One budget. One united world mission. One philosophy of ministry. One uniting expository exultation on Sunday morning, by means of video recorded on Saturday night. We have been doing it for two years and we believe that God’s merciful hand is on it.
A north campus has been purchased (at I-35 and Highway 10) and the build-out is underway. God has given wonderful patience to the north worshippers. And May next year doesn’t seem that far away. Dan Holst is the key pastoral visionary there and dreams of spreading a passion for God’s supremacy in Mounds View and the northern suburbs.
The downtown campus remains the nerve center of the movement. There are no plans to enlarge the physical plant downtown. It is designed for 2,000-2,500 people in two services plus Saturday night. But there are dreams to build a neighborhood ministry center on the land between the sanctuary and Master Works. Hence the TCT purchase of the final property there.
Staffing for a south campus is in the 2005 church budget. No place has been chosen. But come on Wednesday to hear more details and ask your questions.
That’s the campus part of Treasuring Christ Together. It is an alternative to an ever-expanding downtown sanctuary. We believe we will be better spreaders of passion for Christ if we spread out our worship and ministry.
There is a price tag. Turn to page 13. All the bullets in the box except the bottom two represent the costs of campuses. It is not cheap. There are no cheap and effective ways in America to multiply churches and campuses. These top seven bullets add up to $10,950,000. That is higher than we thought it would be, and we will ask you to pray and act on that Wednesday.
The second and third aspects of Treasuring Christ Together (after multiplying campuses) are seen in the bottom two bullets in the box on page 13. The church has approved that 10% of everything that comes in for Treasuring Christ Together will be used to plant new churches (not campuses, but independent churches) and 10% will be used to alleviate pain among the poorest of the poor—both temporal pain and, by God’s saving grace, eternal pain. We call it the Global Diaconate from the word deacon, applied to the needs of the poorest of the poor. This means, for example, that since April about $145,000 has been made available for church planting, and $145,000 has been made available for the Global Diaconate.
You can see these two aspects of Treasuring Christ Together illustrated on pages 8 and 9.
2. Planting Churches
We are presently committed financially to three church plants. One in St. Paul. One in Charlotte, NC, and one in Orlando, FL. The common denominator is the doctrinal commitment—a biblical vision of a great, gracious, sovereign God. We will only plant churches that embrace the BBC Elder Affirmation of Faith. Those convictions and the life that flows from them are what we want to multiply.
3. Showing Mercy to the Poorest of the Poor
On page 9 you can see that the church has approved Scott Purser as the coordinator of the Global Diaconate funds. He is accountable to Erik Hyatt and the missions committee who are accountable to the elders.
Page 10 describes our sense of how desperately we must pray in order to see Treasuring Christ Together become a reality. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5). That’s what prayer is: not leaning on your own understanding and your own financial savvy. The first monthly Friday night prayer meeting for TCT will be January 21 at 7 PM downtown. Watch for details.
How We Can Fund the Vision?
I close with a brief reference to how we can fund the vision. You can read my letter on pages 11-13. I hope you will. For now the short-term plan is very simple. We encourage you to give joyfully and lavishly to the TCT vision here at the end of the year—just like you did last May. Then we will have another push like this next May when we move into the north campus.
The year-end push works like this. The elders have approved to give everything that comes in this year above the 2004 budget to TCT. This means you can designate your TCT giving for TCT on your envelope, or, if you choose you can simply give extraordinary gifts to the budget and all of it over budget will go to TCT. Nobody has to worry that if you give generously to the ministry and mission of the church they may just sit on the overflow. We won’t. It will go to TCT.
God counts little gifts as big gifts when they represent big sacrifice. He is not partial to the rich. In God’s reckoning, a child may give the largest gift. But I ask on page 12: What might God enable us to give toward the vision of Treasuring Christ Together in the next four weeks? A half a million dollars? Two or three times that?
Let’s pray together and trust the promise of 2 Corinthians 9:8, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all contentment [or sufficiency]in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” In this I rest my soul: as we pray and work and trust the Lord we will have what we need for every good work that he ordains.
I love this vision. I love being a part of the leadership of this church. May the Lord spread a passion for his supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ, by multiplying campuses, planting churches, and showing mercy to the poorest of the poor.