Reflections on the Bethlehem Conference: Part 1, Break-out Sessions

Heading up to my twelfth anniversary as Pastor/Teacher at Grace Church of DuPage, our Pastoral Staff attended The Bethlehem Conference for Pastors and Church Leaders in Minneapolis, thanks to the generosity of several families in this body.

The Conference opened on Monday, 30 January, with four consecutive break-out sessions. I attended a workshop with Tony Merida, founding Pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC, titled, The Foundation of Preaching. It was a helpful reflection and reminder of why it is important to preach the Word of God, and nothing else. This doesn’t eliminate creativity but, as Tony put it (quoting Bart Ehrman of all people!), “If you believe God wrote a book, wouldn’t you want to read it?” And as preachers, knowing that God has written a book, surely we would want to preach it!

I stayed in the same room for a second workshop on preaching with Jason Meyer, Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN. He has the unique privilege of following John Piper in the pulpit. He preached from Psalms 1-41 urging us to see how they uniquely point to Jesus, Who alone sits in the seat of the righteous (cf. Psa.1:1). Only He can deliver us from “the council of the wicked,” “the way of sinners,” and “the seat of scoffers” because, in light of Paul’s insight, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom.3:10). We are all the “fool” of Psalm 14:1 who “says in his heart, ‘There is no God’,” because “(we) are all corrupt, (we) do abominable deeds; there is none who does good” (Rom.3:10).

The third workshop hour I spent in a session on Doxology and Theology: The Marks of Worship with Matt Boswell, Pastor of Ministries and Worship at Providence Church, Frisco, TX. He moved from Psalm 1 to Romans 11:33-36 to help us see a model in Paul for how all work of theology should lead to doxology—all study of God should lead us to worship. Sandwiched between Paul’s explanation of the gospel in Romans 1-11 and his application of it in Romans 12-16, sits a glorious doxology that revels in the magni cence of the God of the gospel. “To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom.11:36).

Fourth hour found me in the same room with a session on Identity and Idolatry: the Enemy of Worship, with Matthew Westerholm, Pastor for Worship and Music, again, at Bethlehem Baptist. His aim was to hep us think about what elements we place in our worship services, and in what order we place them. The aim in our worship services is to glorify God by celebrating the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ (rehearsing its story: God is holy [adoration]; we are sinful [confession]; Jesus saves [thanksgiving]; Jesus sends [go]) and its superiority over the idol of ________ (fill in the blank). Psalm 115 tells us why this is important.

What a great beginning to the Conference! Next month I’ll report on the Plenary sessions.