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. Keith was part of the September 2022 team visit.
Arriving at Bethel for my first Sunday morning, I was struck by the scale of everything. Having been directed by a series of welcoming stewards to the huge car park, a sizeable building lay before me. As well as housing a worship centre for a thousand committed and enthusiastic worshippers, the building is also home to Bethel's Christian school along with several church offices and spacious training rooms.
Our visit involved a team of seven members of the OCC leadership, meeting with various members of the leadership in Bethel church and its associated ministries.
I went to Bethel as one sceptical of aspects of their church. I came away at the end of the week both personally impacted through the ways the Lord met with me there and amazed at what we shared in common out of the ways in which God had led both them and us over the years.
The visit to their Christian school one morning was for me like being back in our church school in Witney when I used to work there many years ago. Individual children in one class prayed and prophesied to each of us in a way that echoed how things were for visitors into our Y6 classroom all those years ago. This was the first of the many areas where our church life overlaid onto theirs.
Others would include our time with their head of overseas missions which was a personal joy for me. He shared about their focus on prioritising engagement with unreached people groups; as a church, they had come on a similar journey to our own.
Bethel has a real concern for their city and continues to look for ways in which they can play a part in its renewal and transformation. That was demonstrated in the way they took on the management of the city's civic centre at a point of real need. Having rescued it, they now partner in its use with the local authority as it serves as a base for one of their Schools of Ministry. So sharing with them how God had spoken to us about being a rudder to the city found a landing place, which I suspect could lead to further fruitful conversation in the future.
Two aspects of life in and around Bethel had a particular impact on me. Perhaps surprisingly neither of those actually was the worship of life of the church, even though the high quality of musicianship and the simplicity of leadership style evidently contribute to the quality of their worship.
No, the first aspect of church life that struck me was the culture of honour that flows through the community. It is expressed in a positive, affirming way with deep authentic appreciation that was met by a remarkable humility in so many of the leaders we had the privilege to meet.
The other notable aspect of Bethel's life for me was the way that prophecy is almost as natural to members of their community as breathing. Every time someone prays for you, their praying soon seamlessly becomes prophetic words for you, words that in the spirit of 1 Corinthians 14:3 are for strengthening, encouragement or comfort. I was both blessed by what I personally received that week and also provoked about how much we could learn from them in this regard.
Yes there were some aspects of Bethel culture that would not be ones I would go after, but I came away grateful to the Lord for the way he had met me personally that week, and also deeply impressed by much of the church with its culture that is passionate about seeking, and dependant on, God’s presence in all they do.