LET’S ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER
I had a profound experience of church this week. The “service” didn’t take place on Sunday. It didn’t even take place in our church building. It happened on Monday evening in the home of one of our members.
I was in this home at the invitation of a small group. One of the group’s members is housebound, and the group wanted me to join them to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in this man’s home where they typically meet.
The man in question is Merra Mentie. A man with an accomplished work life, he is now incapacitated by Lyme disease at age 52. The sickness has ravaged his body leaving him confined to a wheel chair with limited mobility and speech.
We started the evening with Bible Study. The study was based on the series By Faith, Seeing the Unseen. We were talking about keeping faith when God’s ways seem slow. In light of this family’s affliction, the study took on a deeper meaning.
So did the Lord’s Supper. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we think about the Lord’s death for us, our unity in him, and the hope of a New Heaven and Earth which his death makes possible. This group made all of these things come vividly alive for me.
Their love for their hurting member was evident. And when Merra and his wife Sara shared, they didn’t focus on their hardships but on the faithfulness of God. All of this bore testimony to the reality of God’s promises expressed the Lord’s Supper.
We need to continue to encourage one another until all of God’s promises come true. Let’s be the church to one another on Sundays and on every other day of the week.
A SURPRISING DEVELOPMENT
About three hours before our most recent Pastor Search Team meeting we received an application for our Second Pastor position. We had received many applications up to that point, but it was this late arrival that captured our interest.
When our team met, we thought we were going to discuss suspending the search process temporarily. The Governing Elders told us they wanted to conduct a study of our church’s staffing alignment, which would require the delay. However, the GE also told us to remain open and receptive to candidates in case God had any surprises in store.
The Search Team felt that our latest applicant just might be that surprise. We sensed from his resume that he would be a good fit for our position. After interviewing him and checking out his references, we felt even more strongly that this was the case. We recommended to our Governing Elders that we invite him to candidate for a call to Bethel, and they agreed.
The applicant’s name is Cris Harper. He graduated from Beeson Divinity School last spring, and completed the EPMC program through Calvin Seminary (which is necessary to qualify for ministry in the Christian Reformed Church). After a year in a chaplaincy program, Cris made himself available for a call—just shortly before our Search Committee met in September.
Cris is married to Christy, who also has an M.Div. degree. They have two children, Ruth (two years old) and Gabe (eight months old). Cris loves pastoral care work, has led small group programs, and could be comfortable leading a team aimed at improving our social media presence should he come to Bethel. He enjoys and is eager to develop in the area of preaching.
We look forward to hosting Cris and Christy December 6-9. Cris will preach on Sunday, December 8, and meet with various groups over that weekend. The Sunday following their visit we will vote on whether to call Cris. Assuming we vote “yes,” it will be up to Cris to decide whether to answer us with his own “yes”.
Look for information in the weeks to come. –Pastor Tom
IT’S TIME TO PRAY
I feel impressed to pass along a word of encouragement to you. It is the encouragement offered by the apostle Paul who writes: “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18).
We so easily forget that we are in the midst of a spiritual battle every day of our lives. Paul dedicates most of the sixth chapter of Ephesians to assuring us that this battle is very real, and that we must not lose our focus on it. And yet we do.
We get caught up in temptations or meaningless distractions and never suspect that our spiritual enemy is the source of these problems. We go through discouragements, yet neglect to turn to God to find his support and protection. When we are in this spiritual haze we become quite convinced that it doesn’t matter that we lack urgency in prayer.
I know this is true, because I have been there many times. The Holy Spirit moves in us again and again to wake us from our spiritual slumber.
“Be alert,” says Paul. “Always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Pray for yourself, your family, and your fellow believers. This is a crucial time in your life whether you realize it or not. It is a crucial time in our church’s life.
“Always keep on praying,” because your prayers make a big difference. God uses our prayers to shape the future. –Pastor Tom
“Tag me in” is what one wrestler says to another when he wants to step into the arena to join the fight. “Tag me in,” is the theme of this year’s Leadership Retreat scheduled to take place Friday evening and Saturday, October 25 and 26. “Tag me in” describes how we believe God wants to use our church in the next five years.
If we listen carefully to the voices of our neighbours, of people from diverse cultures, of our own church members, and of people living far from God, we can hear them saying “tag me in.” They want “in” - a place that helps them find life’s meaning; a place to belong. We believe God wants Bethel to be that place. He wants us to be a church that tags people in.
To discern what this looks like, our elders, deacons, staff, and ministry leaders will all be together for a night and day of interaction, learning, and discussion. On the Friday evening, we will have fun and build relationships by having a meal followed by some participant-generated entertainment. On Saturday, we will roll up our sleeves and get to work, learning and discussing all that “tag me in” implies. Our ultimate goal is to create an updated Dream for Bethel which will give expression to all that we discern.
The retreat is perfectly timed. Years ago we adopted the first A Dream for Bethel. It was a ten-year vision. We are now at its midway point, marked by the planting of Bridge Church. How much of the original Dream is still on target? What new ventures is God leading us to undertake? How specifically does he want us to tag people in as we go into the future?
I look forward to eventually updating you on the progress of this visioning exercise and getting your input into it. - Pastor Tom
THE SEARCH CONTINUES
It was just over a year ago that Pastor Ryan reduced his work hours to half-time at Bethel so he could invest in planting Bridge Church. We started looking for his replacement long before that, so, where are we at in our search for a new pastor?
We have some talented applicants, and we will continue to have conversations with them in the next weeks. In the meantime the Governing Elders have commissioned a study on staffing at Bethel. We believe that our staff could be better aligned to our vision. In other words, we believe our staffing structure and staff job descriptions could be adjusted so that we are working more efficiently and fruitfully.
Pastor Tom, and Governing Elders Ed Dubbeldam and Joanne Rozendaal will be working with Keith Doornbos of the Center for Church Renewal to create a staffing proposal for the Governing Elders. We hope to pursue this task aggressively so that there is no unnecessary downtime in our pastor search.
While I dearly wish that we already had a second pastor in place, I see God’s wisdom in the delay. I believe we needed this past year and the search process, to discover our real needs. I think we are going to be in a stronger position to receive a second pastor after our work is finished.
I remain as hopeful as ever. Honestly, I am feeling more hopeful than ever. I have a deep confidence that God is in charge. God will bring us His person in His time, and it will be good. –Pastor Tom
ALL IN Is All in (Almost)
The pledge deadline has come and gone, and the ALL IN Campaign funds have been counted. How much did we finally receive? I have some good news, some more good news, and some really great news.
The good news is that Bethel’s generosity exceeded our dreams. We set a goal of $250,000 for the campaign and received over thirty thousand dollars in cash and pledges over that amount. When the campaign was done, we knew we would be able to pay off our mortgage, support the Bridge Church plant, have money to relocate our new pastor when he/she arrives, and have excess funds to invest in our church’s immediate neighbourhood.
The “more good news” is that we have received nearly all of that money now- -$285,372 to be exact—with 97.16% of pledges being collected. While we could wish for 100% of pledges to be paid, this is still an astounding amount and something to be celebrated.
The “great news” arises from what the money is actually doing. Bridge Church is off to a successful start. We are financially supporting the Bannerman Afterschool program, and we are making it possible for Bethel member Carley Clarke to run a Ladies Tea at the Clareview II housing units. (Made up mostly of new Canadians, this group learns English together and shares information that helps them better their lives. It advances Bethel’s mission of sharing the love and Good News of Jesus in the community).
Thank you, again, Bethel. I hope you feel a deep satisfaction in the work God has done through you to advance His Kingdom in our area.—Pastor Tom
BRIDGE CHURCH IS OFF TO A GREAT START
“I want to express to you how amazing Sunday was!” That is how Pastor Ryan began an email describing Bridge Church’s public launch service, held this past Sunday.
230 people attended the service—including the city’s mayor. At least 20 new families were in attendance. Eight families indicated that they want to join a home group, and 27 new children were enrolled into the kids’ program. It is especially exciting that only about 30 of these people were guests from Bethel Church or another CRC Church attending to lend support. That means 200 people, potentially, could make up the nucleus of this new church going forward.
It was a wonderful experience, according to some Bethelites who attended the service. The efforts of Pastor Ryan, the music team, and the other Bridge members were stamped with excellence. (An extra bit of Good News is that Bridge Church has finally signed the lease for the top floor of the Ross Creek building. When they eventually move to that location, they will worship in the midst of a beautiful, panoramic view of the city).
I agree with Pastor Ryan when he writes, “We serve an incredible God who is doing something very special in our city.” Thank you Bethel, for your hard work and generous giving that has made Bridge Church a reality. Only eternity will tell how God is using your love and sacrifice to change lives. --Pastor Tom
BETHEL IS GROWING YOUNG
If you have been in church the past couple of weeks, you’ve heard me encourage everyone to take the Growing Young survey. It is part of a larger Growing Young initiative we are undertaking at Bethel, and I believe it is vitally important.
What is Growing Young? It is an attempt to connect the younger generation to the church. Think of the church as a train, with each car in the “church train” being made up of one generation. The train is not complete unless all the generations are represented. The most tenuous link in this train is the one connecting the very last car—the younger generation.
The younger generation has always been a special concern of older Christians. Parents in every century have suffered angst praying that their children would embrace the faith. But statistic suggest that the need to reach the younger generation is especially urgent today. More than at other times, our younger generation is at risk of decoupling from the faith train.
The good news is that there is a solution. The staff at Fuller Youth Institute, who are behind the larger Growing Young effort, have walked with young adults to learn what they need. Their research suggests that there are six things required to reach today’s young adults: They need to feel understood, valued, and loved. They need to be challenged by an authentic Gospel. They need to see their church caring for their broader community. And they need to be given leadership opportunities in the church.
We believe that Bethel does some of these things well, and some not so well. The survey will help us to see which is which. This is the first step in our Growing Young journey—to know how we have to grow, we have to start by taking an honest look at ourselves.
If you have any questions about the Growing Young effort, you can talk to one of the team members: Kayla Mast, Stephanie Stoklosa, Jason Wisselink, Thelme VanHeerden, Wendy Werkman, Melanie Wright, or myself. If you haven’t taken the survey, you can do so at the following link. http://www.oursurvey.church/BethelCommunityChurchEdmonton. (It only takes 10 minutes.)
I’m really excited about our fall series of Sunday messages: “By Faith: Seeing the Unseen. It is based on the story of Abraham (Genesis 12-22) and it deals with the walk of faith each of us is called to take if we would follow Jesus.
Do you ever find it hard to live by faith? I do. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of mystery involved in entrusting our whole lives to someone we can’t see and whose existence cannot be scientifically proved.
For sure, there is a tonne of reward that comes from living by faith. But there are challenges and temptations and questions, as well. Faith takes us to mountaintop experiences. It also takes us through desert places where our souls thirst and God seems nowhere to be found. It requires patience as we wait for promises that won’t be fully realized in this life.
The story of Abraham is just the right place to turn in order to explore this life of faith. The Bible holds up Abraham as an extraordinary example of faith; and yet, he is someone we can all relate to because, like us, he was far from perfect. He was tempted as we are. He failed as we do. And he had to learn to wait on God’s promises as we must.
Abraham’s story is full of insights that can help us walk with the unseen God. My hope is that as we internalize them, we will come to “see Him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27). --Pastor Tom
WELCOME TO THE NEW CHURCH YEAR!
Welcome back! You may, or may not, have been physically away for the summer, but all of us are returning to a new church year; so, I’d like to welcome you back to what lies ahead with all its activity and adventure. We have a lot to look forward to this year. Consider just a few highlights:
Space doesn’t allow me to talk about all our dreams for this year, but you will be hearing about other plans in weeks to come. You will also be hearing about our regular, great ministries. (God has been using Bethel’s ministries to change lives for many years.) For now, let’s look forward with anticipation, set our hearts to serve, and pray that God will do great things among us this year for His glory. –Pastor Tom
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