One of a series of blogs from team visits to Bethel Church (Redding, California), a large and well-known church that God is using to serve the body of Christ more widely.
This was my first team trip to Bethel. I hadn't been in the team that visited in September 2022, but had many conversations with those who had been, and so I was expectant! As I've said before, such visits to other churches are really important for those of us that work in pastoral leadership roles - they keep us fresh and learning, and provide space for personal refreshing and encounter with God.
I learned (at least) 10 things from our visit, most of which also challenged me about what we do in OCC:
1. Worship is a really big part of what they do. It reminded me again of earlier times in OCC, when it seemed we worshipped in every gathering, however mundane! Bethel's conviction is that "we were created for worship - our first responsibility is to be those who minister to the Lord."
2. Dancing and creative art are part of gathered worship, as they worship God with "all their hearts, soul and mind" (Matt 22:37). In the Saturday healing rooms. myself and several hundred others who were waiting for prayer were invited to enjoy sung worship, dancers and artists, setting a beautiful and profound atmosphere in which many prayers for healing were answered.
3. Expectancy runs through everything they do: God wants to meet us! God wants to encounter and change us! God wants to heal us! This wasn't hype from the stage, but a deep conviction throughout all of their people, that God is a good Father, who loves us and wants good for us.
4. Welcome and hospitality is in their DNA. As a group of senior leaders from OCC we were privileged to meet privately with some of their senior leaders, as well as observing 'behind the scenes' in their various ministries and events. They were welcoming and open!
5. Humility characterises their whole church, including senior leadership. We shared honesty and frankly with some famous leaders who were also really normal people, with great attitudes, and who readily shared their challenges as well as the 'good bits'.
6. "Family" is a word that well sums up Bethel, as well as "amazing"! Bethel Redding church sustain a sense of regular church family - albeit one that is very large - with 10,000 people, around 10% of their city population. As any other normal church not everything always runs smoothly. Sometimes people disagree. They have budget challenges. They are criticised. They value risk-taking and learning from mistakes as well as successes.
7. Scale has required them to develop excellent systems, which run alongside the high expectancy for God to break in. For example, in the healing rooms, despite praying for several hundred people over 3 hours, it was all done to a high standard of quality control, pastoral care and safeguarding.
8. Leadership and ministry training is at the heart of the 'engine' that has enabled them to grow. Theirs is no superficial growth, centred on a few superstar leaders, but a robust and consistent "equipping of all God's people for the work of ministry". Their BSSM has been an inspiration for our School of the Spirit, and they run multiple training programmes, seeing thousands trained each year.
9. Shared vision and values holds together their 80 or so different ministry departments, leaders and teams. Despite this complexity, they have kept vision simple, and yet inspiring: "Bethel's mission is revival—the personal, regional, and global expansion of God's kingdom through his manifest presence."
10. Convergence of vision and values. God has spoken to OCC and Bethel about a "bridge", and a 2-way "catalysis" and we're seeking to explore what that means. But a high overlap of vision and values gives us confidence. They are evangelical charismatics. They value worship, the ministry of Holy Spirit and prophetic guidance. They have five-fold leadership including apostles, prophets and evangelists, as well as pastors and teachers. They invest in Christian education, and training, and world missions.
I'll share more reflections - and some challenges to us in OCC - in my next blog.