THE WAY FORWARD (Part 2)
Our mission as a church is “Becoming like Christ and sharing Him with others.” Put in terms of this year’s theme, this means we want to go both “deep and wide”—“deep” by growing in our relationship with Christ and “wide” by reaching out and including others.
Last week I talked about the goals we have set to go “wide” as a church. (We want to see ten people reached for Christ and be enfolded into the church.) This week I want to talk about the goals we have set to go “deep” together.
One thing that makes for a unified (therefore, “deep”) church is a crystal clear vision and a shared commitment to that vision. So, this year we plan to express our mission and values more memorably than in the past, underscore these things in multiple ways, and publicize these visionary statements regularly. To accomplish the latter, we will propose a new logo that captures the essence of our vision, refresh our back wall with our updated statements, and roll out a new bulletin format that will contain our mission, vision, and values as a regular feature.
Pastor Ryan will be especially responsible for two of our goals: Maximize our small groups for disciple-making, and create a discipleship pathway that has everyone moving toward deeper Christ likeness. He has already invested heavily in each of these.
In regard to small groups, Pastor Ryan is supporting existing small groups, while calling new groups to become “house churches”—that is, small, home based, New Testament-like expressions of the church. In regard to the discipleship pathway, Ryan, I, and others have already developed growth strategies for “not-yet,” and new Christians. We are working on new ways to guide older, more mature believers into growth.
The Reveal survey has found that, when it comes to growth individually or together as a church, there is nothing that compares with being steeped in the Bible. So, we also will make a concerted effort to embed the Bible in everything. Also, we plan to highlight our council leaders’ spiritual practices so that these growing believers can model for us all what growth looks like.
I wish I could detail for you every goal we have that is aimed at taking us deeper in faith, but that is not possible. As the year unfolds, you will hear more about the individual initiatives we have undertaken.
The most important thing, though, is not the goals we have made but the growth itself. Each of us needs to be growing closer to, and more grounded in, Christ. Let’s pray for that and invest ourselves in that.--Pastor Tom
THE WAY FORWARD
In an earlier Pastor’s Corner I said we have exciting hopes and plans for this year. This week and next I’d like to tell you about some of the things that are causing my heart to leap.
Many of our goals are centered on outreach and discipleship. We have set the prayerful goal of seeing ten people come to faith in Jesus Christ, and embark on a path of discipleship to Jesus, this year. Since we have not seen ten people come to Christ at Bethel in recent memory, this may seem like a big goal. How do we plan to do it?
· The Alpha program is an important first step. I have been warmed to hear from many Bethel members who have taken a leap of faith and have asked a friend to attend Alpha. In this next week we will learn what the final numbers of participants will be.
· Each member of ministry has adopted a prayerful goal to see at least a couple of people come to faith and discipleship through their ministries.
· I will be meeting with all of the ministry leaders who draw significant numbers of people from outside of the church. Together we will strategize as to how their program attendees can be more effectively linked to Christ and to the church.
· We have begun to note church guests who are exploring faith. All guests who fill out a connect card receive a welcome letter, but we are making a concerted effort to make sure our repeat visitors who are exploring faith have someone in Bethel to come alongside them. In this way, no one who is thirsty for God will fall through the cracks but will receive encouragement to take their next steps toward faith and growth.
· We are developing our “discipleship” path that will allow people to identify their next step of growth whether they are not yet believers or are committed, growing Disciples of Christ.
· Pastor Ryan is organizing “house churches” and coaching their leaders. These “small groups on steroids” each have a goal to see nonbelieving friends added to the group.
Of course a major outreach goal is the church plant proposal that is being studied right now. God willing, that will result in fruitful witness beyond what we have ever seen.
Only God’s Spirit can make our plans for outreach succeed. However, God has told us in His Word that He is eager and willing to reward our faithful steps of obedience. As we pray and step out in faith, I believe we will see the lost being found and the found growing in faith. I see a lot of people doing that. That is why I have such hope! --Pastor Tom
DEEP AND WIDE
If you were in church a couple of Sunday’s ago, then you saw Rob and Anne Koning’s skit in which they mentioned the theme for this year’s small groups kickoff: “Deep and Wide.” This is not only the theme for small groups, it is also the theme for our whole year as a church.
The “deep” in “Deep and Wide” refers to going deeper in our faith both personally and together as a church. The word “wide” refers to sharing the Good News with others so that the church grows numerically. Growing deep and wide is how the church is meant to work—all the time, everywhere.
This Sunday we kick off a series of sermons based on the book of Acts which is all about growing deeper and wider. No book in the Bible challenges us to go both deep and wide the way the book of Acts does. It documents the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the dynamic spread of the Gospel around the world. Each chapter of the book seems to say “there is much, much more yet to be experienced in your walk with Christ. Come deeper and let your light shine brighter.”
My prayer and expectation is that we will grow deeper and wider as the Holy Spirit makes that Acts-realities alive in our lives. And I trust our growth won’t stop at the end of the series, but that we will continue growing deeper and wider with each passing month.
Embrace the adventure. Pray that we will not miss anything that the Holy Spirit wants to give us this year. I’m looking forward to what God will do among us! –Pastor Tom
THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’
How has your summer gone? I hope you’ve enjoyed it. If you are like most of the people I’ve spoken with, you are probably feeling like it zoomed by at the speed of light. Many consider this weekend the unofficial end of summer—one last chance to relax before we begin the normal fall-through-spring routine.
Along with the nostalgia that comes from saying “goodbye” to summer, I hope you are feeling some excitement, as well. As the calendar turns from August to September, it is good a time to look forward. That is happening around the church office. You can feel a quickening of the pace as the staff make their plans for the upcoming year of ministry.
We have many, many exciting things coming up in the year ahead, and I look forward to telling you all about them in the coming weeks. For now I just want to say that I am looking forward to another year of being a church family together. Summer is a fun experience, but, for me, it is kind of a scattered experience that make me miss connecting, serving, and just being together as a church.
This year we will enjoy friendships, Bible studies, worship services, laughing and playing together, and doing a lot of other things side-by-side to further God’s Kingdom. I’m excited about that, and I’m glad to be on this journey with you. –Pastor Tom
This will be the last Pastor’s Corner till September. (Even the Pastor’s Corner takes a summer holiday.) I thought a good way to end the church year would be to tell you some stories of lives that have been changed at Bethel Church. The stories are very moving.
A single dad is making a new start as a Christian. He is reading his Bible for the first time and is growing in his faith with the support of Bethel members. Responsible for three kids and living far from his family of origin, life can be a challenge for him. Yet, at Bethel he is experiencing love. When describing the church, he says: “I have finally found my family.”
A boy in lighthouse who appeared uninterested in the lessons from week to week, wrote a heartfelt note to a classmate with special needs. The family of the special needs child was deeply touched by this boy’s act of kindness. The boy’s small group leader told him that he “had been Christ” to his classmate. This “lesson” clearly impacted the boy. He became very excited about what Christ had done through him.
Another little boy appeared not to be paying attention each week during class, but the Holy Spirit was obviously at work in his life, even though his teachers couldn’t see it. One day he was reading the Bible as part his class activity. His teacher went to chat with him and he asked her, “Did Jesus really die for me?”
A little girl came up to me, just last week, and asked, “Pastor Tom, would you give this note to God?” On the slip of paper that she gave me, she had written a beautiful expression of faith to her heavenly father.
A young adult couple shared that they feared being lonely in Edmonton. The city was brand new to one of them, and still fairly new to the other. “But,” they say, “fortunately, we found Bethel. Everyone was so friendly and we were encouraged right away to join a small group. We found out about young adults and decided to give it a try. Everyone in the Young Adults group expressed how they'd like the group to be a welcoming place where everyone could get to know each other as they grow closer to God—and this has been happening. I feel that I've grown in my faith and have found connections to other Christ-loving people. We are blessed to have found a church family with whom we can share our lives.
Keep on being the hands, feet, ears, heart, and voice of Jesus, Bethel. The Holy Spirit is clearly at work.—Pastor Tom
In this Sunday’s message we are exploring the vital topic of prayer. I thought I would share with you some inspiring quotes on the topic. I hope you will be as encouraged by them as I am.
“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” — Martin Luther
“Time spent in prayer is never wasted.”— Francis Fenelon
"God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer." — Mother Teresa
“God does not ask us to tell him our needs that he may learn about them, but in order that we may be capable of receiving what he I preparing to give. “— Augustine
“Through prayer we share the almightiness of God.” — Martin Luther
Jesus’ “teaching [on prayer] reduces to three general principles: Keep it honest, keep it simple, and keep it up.”
— Philip Yancey
When we intercede for others “all little, ill-natured passions die away” and our “hearts will grow great and generous.”
— William Law
“When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t.” — William Temple
“When the devil sees a man or woman who really believes in prayer, who knows how to pray, and who really does pray, and, above all, when he sees a whole church on its face before God in prayer, he trembles as much as he ever did, for he knows that his day in that church or community is at an end.” — R.A. Torrey
— Pastor Tom
This Sunday is Pentecost. We recall the day, nearly 2000 years ago, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church, and Jesus’ first fearful disciples were turned into tigers who began to boldly proclaim God’s message of Good News in Jerusalem and beyond. Pentecost was the starting gun that launched the race to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, and the Spirit is still present and available to empower us today.
It is clear to me that God’s Spirit is at work in Bethel in a fresh way. I have heard so many stories lately of Bethelites sharing the Good News, sometimes in the most startling circumstances. One woman was invited to share the Gospel with a Muslim neighbour after this women had commented on the love she had seen Christians display. Another Bethelite was told by a non-believing neighbour that she had had seen a positive turn in her life and that she attributed it to this Bethelite’s prayers to Jesus! I myself had an unexpected opportunity to pray with a neighbour on my driveway one day after returning from work (a completely unexpected outcome to our conversation!).
We are commemorating this Pentecost Sunday with a flag ceremony. (Representatives of the 30 different nations that make up Bethel Church will march their flags to the front of the sanctuary.) We do this as both a symbol and a prayer. It is a symbol that we, who are many, have been made one through the Gospel. It is a prayer that God will continue to empower us to take the Gospel to those whom He puts in our path, in fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Paul, quoting Isaiah, says: "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Roman 10:15). As bearers of God’s Good News, may we be a beautiful presence to those desperately in need of God in our church’s community, in our own communities, and to the ends of the earth.—Pastor Tom
Bethel currently has a team of four serving on a short-term mission in El Salvador. During the trip I have been fortunate to be in touch with them to get updates and find out items for prayer. I thought for this week’s Pastor’s Corner I would pass on an update.
The work that the team has been primarily focused on has been working with CRWM on a community playground project in Tierra Blanca through “Seeds of New Creation,” and continuing to build “Home of Blessings.” In Tierra Blanca the playground is nearly completely finished! It has been such a success, and created so much community spirit, that the national media has noticed the story. The new community park, which is a hub for all ages, has been reported about on El Salvadoran TV and social media!
The “Home of Blessings” which will be a training and resource center for Christian leaders now has the foundation laid. Bethel has been raising money for this new CRWM project the last two years. The hope is that this new building will serve a similar function to the “Nehemiah Center” we are involved in in Nicaragua.
As for the team they are all doing well. They are sensing God’s presence in their midst. For the most part the team has been healthy with only a few minor stomach aches. They have always felt safe and secure. All in all they are happy, encouraged and seeing the fruit of their work. Praise God!
Lets continue lift up prayers for Josh Mackintosh, Kevin Verveda, Carson Visscher and Correan Parriseau as they finish up a successful trip representing Bethel abroad.
- Pastor Ryan
A WONDERFUL CHALLENGE
Something unprecedented has been happening in the last weeks. Since Easter, five people have filled out Connect Cards indicating that they have made a renewed commitment to Christ. I have personally met three other people who are new Christians or who are exploring the faith. The staff was able to tell me about several others they know of in this category, bringing the total up to thirteen or fourteen. This “survey sample” suggests there are many people at Bethel right now who are considering the claims of Christ.
My first reaction to this news is to say: “Thank you, Lord.” Jesus wants His Gospel to go forth and for the lost to be found. We are told that one sign of the early church’s vibrancy was that “…the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). May we see many added to His Church through Bethel!
My second reaction to this news is to recognize that we have a challenge on our hands. The presence of so many people who are new or not-yet Christians is a big responsibility. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples.” That means we need to support those who are looking to Bethel to help them drawn near to God.
I remember something Jim Kennedy, the author of Evangelism Explosion, once wrote. He said that a church that is vibrant with outreach faces the same challenge as a church whose baby nursery is bursting at the seams. It is an exciting time in the church’s life, but it will take a lot of people to care for those little ones.
New Christians similarly need lots of care, because they are at a fragile place in their spiritual lives. They will need the support of a lot of people.
So we have a challenge. But it is a wonderful challenge. If I had pick a problem to have in the church, I would choose this one. The Church Renewal Labs Team is actively exploring ways to address our wonderful problem. We will all have to pull together to make it work.--Pastor Tom
The Road to Reconciliation
Several years ago, Bethel was visited by Sam Cooper, a Christian Reformed pastor who was in town to attend a Truth and Reconciliation event designed to foster healing between native and non-native Canadians. During his visit he told me he had a prophetic word for our church. Part of it read like this:
"… I [Jesus] have placed before you an open door that no one can shut' (Revelation 3:8b). The door of reconciliation has been thrown wide open to this city and to the church of this city: Reconciliation of neighbor to neighbor, reconciliation between the past and the present….”
I have always understood Sam’s words to speak especially about how Bethel (along with other churches) would play a role in the ongoing work of reconciliation between the First Nations peoples of Canada and the rest of the country. That reconciliation process is what brought Sam to Edmonton, and it was the context of his discussion with me.
The best way to tell if a “word” like this is from God is to see if it actually comes true. I think what happened last Sunday, when we held our own “Truth and Reconciliation” event, was in partial fulfilment of this word.
The evening began with a meal. Five members of the Saddle Lake band joined representatives of our church for a supper prepared by Jenny Hofstede with the help of some of her family members. Afterward Alsena White shared with the congregation her experience as a residential school survivor.
The evening was well attended (even though the Oilers were playing game six of their playoff series at the same time!). Many commented on the sweet spirit that prevailed during the event. Alsena made it clear that she was not sharing her story in order to “make people feel bad.” She was just contributing to our understanding of the situation. Questions from the floor after the presentation evidenced the same kind of humility, gentleness, and sympathy.
The event was part of a series of things that have marked Bethel’s road to reconciliation. We have had a couple of groups visit the Saddle Lake Reserve, and we support Philip Lee who runs youth programs there.
Where will this road to reconciliation take us next? We are not completely sure but I do believe the Lord will show us in time. For now we can all pray and keep an open heart. Reconciliation is what Jesus died to bring about, and he has made us ambassadors of reconciliation. We are called to share His love and good news with those we encounter and with all who will attend Bethel Church - native and non-native alike. - Pastor Tom
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