3 Things I Learned at the Bethlehem Pastors Conference

Last week, I joined hundreds of pastors from around the world to learn, worship, and grow together. Led by author John Piper, the Bethlehem Pastors Conference offered a great opportunity to relax, refocus, and rejuvenate. I am thankful my church values their leaders growing in the Lord. This was a great trip. To my church family: thank you.

But as I met new friends, ran into old ones, and savored some precious memories with my Dad, I thought to myself: “I wish the whole congregation was here!”

While that may not be possible, the least I can do is share insights gleaned from my trip. As I sit at Southwest gate H9 at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, here are three takeaways.

1. Prioritize Joy

Joy sounds like a word regulated for children. It seems juvenile and elementary. Nothing could be further from the truth!

The theme of the conference was “Joy in God.” Notice the wording of that. Joy in God. Not joy from God. Many people wish they could get joy from God in the form of a new boyfriend or a two-car garage. But God knows there is nothing He could offer that would give more joy than He Himself. God is not just the giver of joy, He is the object of joy.

As odd as it sounds, God wants us to be happy. But He doesn't want us to be happy in things outside of Himself. He knows it won't work. God knows we can't find joy apart from Himself. Therefore, He doesn't give anything other than Himself. There is simply nothing better to give.

Do we seek joy in God, or in the things we wish we could get from God? As C.S. Lewis put it, Christians looking for joy outside of God are like babies refusing to go to the beach because they prefer playing in the mud. If only they knew what better joys awaited them!

2. God is the Point

It’s easy to replace the end for the means. The purpose of church is not to learn from the Bible. And it’s not to sing songs of worship. Church exists for people to know God and to enjoy Him forever. Scripture and musical worship are Spirit-ordained methods of making that happen. Ministry is not the point. God is the point.

Do we worship our ministries more than God Himself? I know plenty of people who love biblical knowledge, but don’t love God. I also know many people who love singing hymns, but don’t love the God the hymns sing about. What a waste!

God is the prize. He’s the point. Everything else are tools used to get to Him. As far as we know from Scripture promises, there will not be a Bible in Heaven. No need. There will neither be prayers, or programs, or elder meetings (yay).

There will only be God. Are you okay with that?

3. Joy Emboldens Us To Love

Why don’t we encourage others? Because envy says it may prove they’re better than us. Why aren’t we kind? Because fear says it's better to hurt than to be hurt. Insecurity inhibits love.

Joy in Christ—real, gritty, energetic, joy, comes when people realize they rest secure in God’s love. Under this security, there is no reason not to love others because there’s nothing more to gain and nothing else to lose.

People who rest in their relationship with Christ love more than those who don't because they simply have more of it to give. They don’t mind giving joy away. They have more than they need. Their cups runneth over.

Imagine the church issues that would go away if everyone just found their joy in God alone! Imagine the marriages, imagines the lives...


John Piper famously said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

I’ll admit, some aspects of this trip were less than joyful. My flight home got cancelled. The temperature became arctic. It was not a 100% joy-filled trip. Nothing is. No flight, trip, marriage, job, meal, friendship, school, or church is 100% joyful. But God is.

The Lord does not skimp on dishing-out joy to those who come to Him to get it. When Christians find 100% joy in God amidst less-than-100%-joyful-circumstances, God looks good. In that sense, joy becomes worship. Do you worship God by finding joy in Him?

Resting (joyfully) in Him,

Pastor Stephen