BANNERMAN GETS AN AFTER SCHOOL PROGRAM
In the last five months I have witnessed a remarkable example of what can happen when neighbors work together. Our Bannerman community has created an after school program for the children of working parents. Bethel Church was one of the partners that helped make it happen.
You may remember my mentioning this after school program in a Pastor’s Corner I wrote some months ago. The local school principle identified the need for it. Dave Ball, our local Community League President rallied the neighbors to address the challenge.
Initially, several of us met to discuss the proposal. Eventually it ended up on the regular agenda of the Bannerman Partners group that I chair, and that meets regularly at Bethel Church.
Over the months we watched the afterschool program take shape. The Boys’ and Girls’ Club agreed to staff the program on several days of the week. Other organizations stepped up to fill other afternoons. The Boys’ and Girls’ Club, the Community League, and Communities United agreed to pay the costs. A program that was once only a distant hope, became a reality because many people pitched in to help.
A challenge remains: funding will run out at the end of this school year. It is hoped that by the start of next school year parents and other residence will see how vital this program is and offer to volunteer time and money to keep it running. For now we are celebrating that the program is being offered.
All of our neighbors might not recognize it, but I know God was acting graciously through our efforts to meet the needs of Bannerman. It is something we pray for constantly. I am happy that Bethel could be a partner with our community to see this good thing happen.—Pastor Tom
MOMENTUM FOR THE CHURCH PLANT IS BUILDING
Bethel’s plans to plant a new church have taken a giant leap forward. Just over a week ago, we held a pivotal meeting in Fort Saskatchewan to gauge people’s interest in joining the new church.
A lot was riding on this meeting. If you can’t form a launch-group, you can’t plant a church. It is just that simple. So, we needed to know: are there a significant number of people prepared to step forward to serve this new church? If so, that would be strong confirmation that God’s Spirit is moving us in the venture.
As it turned out, the meeting exceeded our highest expectations. Thirty six people attended. There was keen interest in the vision Pastor Ryan presented and lots of participation in the discussion that followed. The six couples who make up the Fort Saskatchewan House Church, and who are already committed to the church plant, gave encouragement to other attendees to join the effort.
Eighteen families signed up to receive regular updates about the church plant. (Many of these families are not from Bethel Church!) We know of other families from the Fort who are interested in joining the church plant, as well, but who were unable to attend the meeting.
A Bethel member who came to the meeting to show her support commented: “I am really enjoying the energy behind this church plant and also [the Fort Saskatchewan people’s] willingness to do the hard work of preparation and prayer.”
Many church plants have started with far less momentum and far fewer people. We feel we, as a church, have strong reason to move forward boldly with our plans to love and reach out to the people of Fort Saskatchewan.—Pastor Tom
THE PASTORS ARE HEADED SOUTH
Pastor Ryan and I will be away this weekend and through much of this coming week. We are attending the More and Better Conference being held in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
Florida is called “The Sunshine State,” but we are not going there for the sunshine. (Okay, okay, the sunshine will be nice! but there is a more important reason we are going there). Here is why this conference is so important that it warrants both pastors attending it.
First of all, there is what we will learn. The focus of the conference is Gospel-preaching. Gospel preaching is explaining each passage in such a way that we can see how the text is an expression of the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is easy for pastors to fall into the trap of teaching the Bible as a self-help book—a set of principle that will lead us to success if followed. But self-help is not what we all need most! We need God’s help.
It is an emphasis on God’s grace that makes any preaching distinctly Christian. Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20. In other words, it is our death and resurrection with Christ, through the Holy Spirit’s power, that makes daily living with God possible.
Self-help preaching leads us away from grace, toward self-reliance. It makes Christianity seem like just one more religion offering moral guidelines with no power to live them out.
The other thing that makes this conference important is that we will be joined by 13 other Christian Reformed pastors and spouses from our area. They are attending the More and Better Conference as a way of deciding if their church should embark on The Church Renewal Lab journey starting in September 2018.
Bethel’s involvement in the Church Renewal Lab has helped us to see more people than ever coming to Christ. We hope that many other pastors will be encouraged to lead their churches to participate in the program.
Please pray for this trip. We look forward to seeing you when we return!—Pastor Tom
LEAP OF FAITH
There are so many reasons to love Bethel Church. Jessica and I remember coming here almost ten years ago and immediately feeling the warm embrace of belonging. Over the years here I have been very honored to be trusted with the opportunity to provide leadership in youth and young adult ministries, world missions, Bannerman ministries, preaching & teaching, pastoral duties, and discipleship ministries. After years working away at a Master’s of Divinity on the side, it felt incredible to be extended a call to ministry here last June. In the midst of all these transitions, changes and seasons in my work here over the years, I have appreciated the honesty of the council and the congregation. I want to extend that same kind of transparency in this Pastor’s Corner.
Last year the first whispers of a church plant started to emerge. I went out for lunch with one of our Management Elders who surprised me by suggesting that I might be a good fit as a church planter. My mentor Pastor Victor Ko had been suggesting the same thing for a few years already. Jessica foresaw us planting a church together many years ago when we first started dating. When Fort Saskatchewan, a place that the Spirit had consistently been putting in front of us for years, became the front runner, we knew we needed to start praying seriously about this all. Over the last year we have sought the Lord together and asked Him what He wants. I was asked at the last congregational meeting, in an indirect way, whether we would plant the Fort church. Not having made any sort of concrete decision, I gave an answer, to the best of my ability, which kept the door open but did not prematurely commit us.
As part of “testing the waters,” I took a denominational exam that determines whether they think you would be ideal as a church planter. Part of my thinking was that if I failed then it might settle the issue in my heart. However, I did not fail and in fact I was given a very positive endorsement from the CRCNA. Next, I started to interview half a dozen church planters and other missional leaders. I was asking myself the question “Could I see my family and myself doing what they do?” We began to hear the Spirit’s voice with greater clarity.
This all has created both a great deal of excitement, but also a wrestling within us. We love Bethel with all our hearts, and yet now feel a call from God. Do you transition from a church that you love with all your heart, where you feel very at home, at a time when you feel like you might just be hitting your stride? Do you take a step of faith into the unknown and unseen, when what is right in front of you is really awesome? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, unless all of a sudden it does. Slowly but surely, a picture of the future, which was once very fuzzy, has been coming into view. If our congregation, our classis, and the CRC decide that a church is to be planted in Fort Saskatchewan, I want you all to know that Jessica and I feel called to be a part of it.
Brothers and sisters, please keep this potential church plant and our family in your prayers. We love you deeply and ask for your tender support and blessing. - Pastor Ryan
BETHEL IS AT THE CENTER OF SOMETHING BIG
I attended a very exciting meeting this week. It was a meeting of the Home Missions Committee of Classis Alberta North. (I happen to chair this committee of our regional body of Christian Reformed churches).
What made the meeting exciting is that we discussed Bethel’s plans for a possible Fort Saskatchewan church plant and the strong indications our church has given that we plan to go ahead with it. Bethel’s willingness to step out and start a new church has been a real source of encouragement to the Home Missions Team. I am sure that it will come as great inspiration for all of the churches in our area when we reveal the progress of our discussions at our upcoming March meeting.
In the past, I did not spend a lot of time thinking about the neighboring Christian Reformed Churches near where I lived and served. I didn’t want to get mired in the cumbersome procedures that church government sometimes entails. I tended to focus on my own church and the multi-denomination fellowship of evangelical churches in my city.
So, I was quite surprised, shortly after arriving at Bethel Church, to sense that the Lord was leading me to love and invest in the nearby denominational churches. In the course of loving these sister churches, I have come to appreciate them more. I am also becoming more and more confident that God can do good things among us as we work together.
That is why I was so excited at the recent Home Missions meeting I attended. Good things are happening. One of those things is that our classis has committed itself to planting many new churches. They budget annually for this and many churches are even taking extra collections to support the effort. How thrilling that Bethel Church is at the very center of this hopeful new wind that is blowing in our region!
In March we will ask our classis to formally agree to be our financial partner in our church plant endeavor. By taking this step, classis will pave the way for us to vote on the church plant proposal, come June, with full confidence that any action we take will be fully supported by the other Christian Reformed churches in our region. –Pastor Tom
Renewal in Bethel’s Small Groups
For Pastor’s Corner this week I want to give an update of what is happening in our small group & house church ministry.
The Reveal survey showed us last year that we had a strong need for renewal in our small groups at Bethel. In September, the challenge was given to create new missional home gatherings called “House Churches” to revitalize our small group ministry. These groups are similar to small groups but they seek to embody the whole mission of the church found in Acts 2:42-47 which includes worshiping together and reaching out. Pastor Victor Ko from MosaicHouse church came to our small group kick-off banquet and shared the vision. Our goal was to have 5 new House Churches at Bethel by the summer. I am pleased to report that we now have 7 active House Churches with 2 potential start-ups in the spring. In addition to Bethel, I shared the vision of House Church with churches leaders from around Northern AB at Renewal Labs, and now two others churches in Classis have joined in! God is doing more than we asked for or imagined and it is very fun to watch! In these House Churches believers are actively praying for and serving their family members and friends who are yet to have a relationship with Jesus!
The energy and growth is not just being felt in these new House Churches at Bethel; our existing small groups have been going noticeably deeper. After a round of interviews with almost all of our small groups leaders, we discovered that groups have taken steps to go deeper. A number of groups reported worshiping through song together for the first time. Others spoke of more intentional prayer practices.
I have mentioned all of the small group/House Church growth, and that is not even taking into account the fruit from Alpha groups either! It is clear that God’s Spirit is working in Bethel! He is revitalizing and creating new opportunities for community, discipleship and mission.
STEPPING INTO THE NEW YEAR WITH PURPOSE
We have reached the end of another year. This will be the occasion of a lot of parties as people say goodbye to 2017 and welcome in 2018.
Parties are a good thing. Jesus attended them Himself. Developing rich relationships through celebrating and laughing together is a healthy, Biblical practice.
Unfortunately for many, celebrating will amount to little more than an escape from routine. They will cheer the moving of the secondhand that marks the end of one year and the start of the next, just because that is what we do at this time of year.
As Christians we see a deeper meaning in this year end milestone. It reminds us that all of history is in God’s hands, and His timetable for planet earth is unfolding apace. The major turning point of history was reached when Jesus conquered sin on the cross; so, the tide of history has now turned. Nothing can stop Jesus Christ from ushering in the triumphant, concluding chapter of our world’s story.
That means that we can welcome in the new year with hope. Our lives are meaningful. Our hours and days are important.
Because of this, we should use our days on earth wisely. We are to work and witness; love and learn; reconcile and rejoice all with a view to pleasing our Lord and Saviour whom we will see sooner than any of us realize.
Let’s “fix our eyes on Jesus” and go into the new year with joy and purpose. –Pastor Tom
A Christmas Card
Dear Bethel Church Family,
I would like to take the time to write a Christmas card to each of you individually, but that is not possible. So, I am taking this week’s Pastor’s Corner to write one Christmas card to all of you together.
I am deeply thankful for you all. I get a lot of joy out of ministry, and this is in large part, because of you. There is a lot of love her for God, for one another, and for others outside the community and it is wonderful to serve among you.
I pray that you will experience the peace and presence of the One who was born on Christmas Day to be your Saviour. (May that be especially true for you if you are suffering from an illness, are dealing with difficult personal circumstances, or are missing a loved one this season.)
God bless you all,
“In the Bleak Midwinter”
During this Advent season, I have been blessed by the worship leading of our teams at Bethel. One song they have lead us in is “He Shall Reign Forevermore” by Chris Tomlin. It is a catchy song that reveals God’s majesty. It is based upon the 1872 poem “In the bleak Midwinter” written by Christina Rossetti. Rossetti’s poetry wrestled with faith, doubt, and the divine love of Christ.
While she was a reclusive woman, she had a warm and loving heart. When she was not creating art, you would find her ministering to the poor and “down and outers” of her day. Her Christmas poetry speaks of the light of Christ breaking into a dark world crying out for grace. Read the last stanza of “In the Bleak Midwinter”:
What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give him –
Give my heart.
Have you finished your Christmas shopping? For some, gift-giving this time of year is a routine annoyance, but for others it is very enjoyable. My wife Jessica loves gifts. Her love language is gifts. She delights in finding just the right gift for just the right person. Have you ever asked the question: “What gift can I give God for Christmas? Or what would be the perfect gift for Him?” I know I have. This poem, and our song based on it, speaks truth to us.
What can you give to an all-powerful God? Everything that we could possibly give Him, He has given us first. To God belongs all the wonders, riches and beauty of the whole universe. Despite this, what we CAN give Him is our hearts. As David wrote “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Ps. 51:17). This Christmas may our hearts be fixed upon the Newborn Savior of the world who “in the bleak mid-winter” of our souls has come to bring light.
TALKING ABOUT THE CHURCH PLANT
Our Church Plant Team has received a lot of great feedback since our recent congregational meeting. Here is what many of you had to say about our proposal to start a new church in Fort Saskatchewan:
· Many people have expressed to the Church Plant Team that they believe the new church proposal is on target. These words spoken in private, along with the positive results of the straw vote taken at the congregational meeting, suggest that a significant majority of Bethelites believe we should move forward with this plan.
· One Fort Saskatchewan couple who recently joined Bethel expressed their excitement that a church might be planted in their home town. They are eager to take part in it.
· One person pointed out that other Christian institutions will be having capital campaigns in the next year and that we should consider this in our planning for fundraising.
· One person had a challenging experience as part of a church startup and wanted us to know the difficulties that can be part of an effort like this.
· A few people said that by the time of our congregational vote in June, our team should define precisely the dollar amount we hope to raise in a drive and show how this money would be used.
Our team appreciated all of this feedback. Thank you! Here are the steps our team plans to take next:
· We are hosting an information meeting in Fort Saskatchewan on January 31 for people considering being part of the new church. This meeting will allow us to test our belief that a solid core of 10-15 families can be gathered for the project.
· As a team we have broken up into four subgroups. These subgroups have these aims: 1) determine the model of church we hope to plant, 2) create a five year budget for the new church, 3) lay out the time table for the launch, and 4) define the new church’s vision.
Please pray for this effort—your prayers are vital. We would also love to hear from you. You can go to the Bethel Church home page and locate the Church Plant logo to give us your feedback. –Pastor Tom
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