October 1, 1995
Bethlehem Baptist Church
John Piper, Pastor
The Mission and Vision of
Bethlehem Baptist Church:
"A Passion for the Supremacy of God . . .for the Joy of All Peoples"
Unpacking the Master Planning Team Document
Introduction: Serving the Purposes of God In Our Own Generation
As we begin to unpack the Mission Statement this morning I want to put the whole thing in the context of Acts 13:36. Listen to these words of Paul to the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch:
David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers.
One simple and crucial point I want to draw out for us: the people whom God raises up from generation to generation are meant mainly to serve the purpose of God in their generation. This is true of people and it is true of churches. It may be that in some cases God will cause the ministry of a church or a person to go on ministering long after they are gone. But that is not to be the burden of our ministry. It may be our prayer -- that the ripple effect of our lives will go on for Christs sake after we are dead. But Gods will for us is that the burden of our ministry be on this generation. "David served the purpose of God in his own generation." His ministry goes on through Psalms and through his seed. But they are the providential ripples of a life given to the purpose of God for his generation.
Now why is this important for our mission statement as a church? Its important because we need to realize how historically conditioned we are when we write a mission statement. We are shaped by a thousand forces that affect how we conceive our mission statement and express it for our generation -- personality, family, friendships, language, education, location, media, travel, tragedy, age, employment, economics, reading, health, denomination, prayer, theology, devotion, worship, etc. etc. Our mission statement was not dropped from heaven culture-free. It has been forged in the fires of 30 peoples hearts and lives as they have been shaped by God through ten thousand varied circumstances.
I say this to humble us and I say it to encourage us. It humbles us because it guards us from thinking we have come up with something that would be the best way to say it everywhere and in every generation. We make no such claim. We are simply trying to serve the purpose of God in our generation. There are reasons for every word in the Statement. But a good case could be made for other words and a different way of saying it, or even a different biblical focus and emphasis. But this is the way we believe God has led us to say it, and the emphasis he wants us to have in our church at this place and this time. This is our mission to our generation from the Bethlehem that God has been creating over the recent decades.
But I say this not only to humble us, but also to encourage us. We do not bear the burden of saying the last word of truth. God has that word. We do not bear the burden of infallibility. We ascribe that to God and his revealed word, the Bible. We do not bear the burden of permanence. Ways of saying great things come and go. We do not need to fight to make this statement permanent. God and his truth are permanent.
"The grass withers and the flower falls, but the Word of the Lord abides for ever" (1 Peter 1:24).
We can be encouraged that what we have here is not on a par with the Bible, let alone God. Rather it is, we believe -- and this is mightily encouraging -- a faithful rendering by one group of Gods people, in one place, in one time, under these providential influences, of Gods special call on our church. We are not on a crusade to get everybody to say it the way we say it. In fact the body of Christ would lose something if that happened. We have a contribution to make to the body, and we have a witness to make to the world. And we believe it is God-given, without contradicting many of the great mission statements that other churches design.
I ask you to hear everything I say under this banner. What I am saying here is simply a fleshing out of values that have been clarified among us by the Master Planning Team. Look, for example, at the left column on page 4:
"In the light of our Mission and the Spiritual Dynamic that drives it, the following Values grip us as we reflect and pray over our particular circumstances and constituency as a church, in this metropolitan area, with these surrounding neighborhoods, at this time in redemptive history."
You see that built right into our document is the conviction of Acts 13:36 -- David served the purpose of God in his generation. That is our aim as well.
And one of those values is #20 near the bottom of page 6: We value
"serving and being enriched by the wider movement of Gods Spirit across church and cultural lines."
One of my purposes in these messages is to help you catch the spirit of this document. You will miss the heartbeat if you do not hear a longing be a servant church in the wider movement of Gods Spirit today. And a servant that is so painfully aware of the dangers of pride in ourselves that we rewrote this value statement so as to include our need to be enriched by others rather than our just offering them our service. The human heart is so subtly prone to pride that one can exalt himself in the very act of offering his service to another.
The point is that Our Mission Statement is the way God is calling us to apply his Word in this place for our generation. Giving our lives to this Mission is our contribution to what we believe God is doing all over these Cities and all over the world. We believe it is tremendously important. What is it?
Six Phrases In Our Mission
I will summarize it in seven very brief Biblical observations to clarify six phrases in the Mission Statement, plus a view of it whole.
Our Mission is
"to spread a passion
for the Supremacy of God in all things
for the joy of all peoples."
1. "The Supremacy of God."
In one of Davids great prayers in 2 Samuel 7:22, he says
"Thou art great, O Lord GOD; for there is none like Thee, and there is no God besides Thee."
In other words, God is absolutely supreme. He is the greatest of all Beings. He is the first and the last. There is none like him. He is infinite, eternal, and unchanging in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.
And yet how important is he on television or at your work or in advertising or movies or sport or shopping malls. Those who grasp this Mission Statement are stunned by the incredible neglect of God in our world. If he is supreme -- if he is the most important reality in the universe, creating all, upholding all, governing all, calling all to account -- then his virtual insignificance in our culture is the most appalling, terrifying, heart-breaking thing in the world (Jer. 2:13).
In this setting, our mission is to lift a banner and blow a trumpet and live a life called THE SUPREMACY OF GOD.
2. "In all things."
"The supremacy of God in all things." The biblical root of this phrase is 1 Corinthians 10:31,
"Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."
Eating and drinking are representative of the ordinary and mundane. The point is this: Dont think that the supremacy of God only has to do with worship services or missions or Bible teaching, or things like governments and treaties and wars. It has to do with Diet Coke and Bagels, with homework and flat tires, with used cars and the internet.
Our mission is to soak life with the supremacy of God. Our mission is to bring all of life into connection with God. Our mission is to exult in the fact that there is not a square inch of this planet, or a single moment in time over which God does not say, "Mine!" Our mission is to live in the presence of God every moment of every day, everywhere we are and savor his supremacy there.
"A passion for the supremacy of God in all things." Its a risky word, especially if you put the word "purple" in front of it. Which we dont. If you dont like it, then try zeal, jealousy, enthusiasm, fervency, ardor, earnestness. The point is to find a way of getting across the intensity of Jesus command to love the Lord your God with ALL your heart and ALL your soul and ALL your mind (Matthew 22:37). Its an effort to come to terms with that terrible word from Jesus in Revelation 3:16.
"Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth."
Its an attempt to capture in a word what David felt when he said in Psalm 63:1,
"O God, Thou art my God; I shall seek Thee earnestly; my soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee, in a dry and weary land where there is no water."
Seeking earnestly, thirsting, yearning -- these are words of passionate desire.
Our mission is not to merely think right or act right, but to feel what God is worthy of. Jonathan Edwards was absolutely right when he said that God is glorified when men see his supremacy and understand it truly. But God is more glorified when we not only see it and understand it but also rejoice in it and have emotions that correspond to his worth (Miscellanies, #448). God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
4. "For the joy."
"A passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy . . ." The assumption here is that to see the supremacy of Gods glory fills the heart with joy. But its not a mere assumption. Its a proven experience and, more importantly, a Biblical truth. Psalm 16:11,
"In thy presence is fullness of joy and in that right hand are pleasures for evermore."
Or consider the logical connection between verses 2 and 3 of Psalm 95:
"Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. 3 For the LORD is a great God, And a great King above all gods."
Shout joyfully to God. Why? Because the Lord is a great God -- that is, supreme God. The supremacy of God is the ground of our joy. So Gods gracious supremacy over us satisfies our hearts, and our satisfaction in God glorifies his supremacy. He gets the glory. We get the joy.
5. "Of all peoples."
"A passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples." Why plural -- peoples? The point is not to reduce the importance of individuals. Christ died for individual people. People are born again and saved individually. The point rather is to call attention to the great unfinished task of world evangelization; and that means reaching all the peoples of the world and planting the church among them so that they can be about evangelizing their own people.
Psalm 67:3-4 says,
"Let the peoples praise Thee, O God; let all the peoples praise Thee. 4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy."
God is interested in all the peoples. He wants to draw every people into the joy of his supremacy: "Let the nations be glad and sing for joy." This is our understanding of finishing the great commission -- not that every individual will be saved but that every people group will be penetrated with the gospel. Revelation 5:9 says that Christ
"was slain, ransomed for God with [his own] blood people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation."
And Jesus said in Matthew 24:14,
"This Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all the nations (or peoples) and then the end will come."
Our mission at Bethlehem will not be finished until all the peoples hear and the church is planted in every one. This is a huge priority among us. World history hangs on it.
6. "To spread."
"To spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples." If all these things are so -- if God is the supreme reality in the universe; if he is related to all things; if he stirs a passion for his supremacy in all who know him; if this is the source of deep and everlasting joy; if God means to include all the peoples -- then we cannot sit on these things. We cannot hoard them. We cannot hide them. We must spread them. We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples.
Where Is Love In Our Mission?
Which leads to one last thing. On page 3 in the first column an utterly crucial sentence (in the middle) says,
"The cry of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our people is for a fresh, decisive emphasis on Relationships of Love."
So we ask in closing, "Where is love in Our Mission Statement? The answer is that Our Mission Statement is a definition of love.
Love is taking whatever pains are necessary, even at the cost of your life, to bring others into the all-satisfying everlasting enjoyment of the supremacy of God. If you just take two words of the Mission and put them together, you will see this: Spread . . . joy. Our Mission is to spread joy. But the only joy that fills the deepest void of our hearts, and the only joy that lasts for ever is joy in the supremacy of God. If we give people everything in the world but this, they will not thank us in the end. What is LOVE? To love is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples.
The heartbeat of our Mission is love. Because the heartbeat of our mission is joy of all peoples in supremacy of God.
Copyright 1995 John Piper