Discovering God’s Vision for Bethel Part 1

When we think of the Christmas story, I suspect that the first image that comes to mind is the manger and rightly so. As we approach this Christmas season, I’d like to offer you another image, that of Magi, or wise men. Matthew 2:1 says, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem.” There’s a lot we don’t know about these wise men. We don’t know how many “wise men” there were; scholars speculate between two and twelve. We don’t know exactly where they came from scholars speculate Northern Arabia, Syria or Mesopotamia. What we do know is that God gave these wise men a vision and they followed. We’ve been talking a lot about vision lately and it’s a term you’ll hear a lot next year. We’ve set aside the weekend of
January 20-22, 2023 as our “Vision Weekend.” This will be the start of us “Discovering God’s Vision Together.” Blessedly, we’ve got our own “Wise Man” that will lead us on this journey. His name is Ken Kessler. Ken is a consultant with the Baptist General Association of Virginia. I’d like to introduce you to Ken so that you can get to know him before our “Vision Weekend.” Ken is married to Teresa; his wife of 39 years and they have three grown sons. Eighteen months
ago Ken and Teresa were blessed with a grandson, Finley. Ken is one proud grandfather! I’ve asked Ken to tell us a little about his story.

“Being the first born of five boys in the backroads of south and central Louisiana, I learned pretty quick the importance of helping and responsibility. My father worked in various jobs through our early years, and my Mom worked outside the home as a pastor’s secretary. So we learned early on to help in whatever ways we could with each other.

There was not a day that we did not hear and know about God’s love for each of us. We were at church whenever the doors were opened, and in South Louisiana, our family of seven made up 5 to 10% of any church we attended. Baptist churches were small in Louisiana because a primary part of the population was Roman Catholic. My Mom and Dad though, made sure we understood the differences, and especially understood, the primary role of the Scriptures and the church in our experience of God. In this environment, I naturally came to the conviction that God loves me
and gave “my heart” to Jesus for what he had done on my behalf. One of the most significant events in my early life was the bankruptcy of my Dad’s pulpwood business. I was in the 8th grade and felt the pain of what my friends were thinking about me. The biggest challenge, though, was coming home from school and finding everything in our house taken away. My Dad’s creditors had taken everything that was in our home away through an auction that had been held that day. Mom and Dad had prepared us, but we were in a state of shock. The interesting thing to me was that by the end of the week, our house was full again. Our little Baptist church of friends had helped us by collecting furniture and other items for us by the end of the week. That display of love made an impression on me as a twelve-year-old. Since those days, I have championed the power and love of the local church. Mom and Dad told us that God would provide for us, and He did in a big way.”

It was events like this that gave Ken a love for God’s people and helped to shape his call to ministry. Ken attended Gardner-Webb University where he majored in Religion and minored in History. He attended both New Orleans Baptist Seminary and Southeastern Baptist Seminary. During seminary three important things happened to Ken. First, he began serving at a local church on weekends in the Charlotte area. Ken says, “This relationship with this group of people allowed me to make much of my learning very practical.”

The second thing that happened came through an encouraging word from one of Ken’s professors, Robert Dale. Ken says, “He introduced the idea of a church life cycle to me and the implications for helping a congregation keep vision at the forefront of its life.

After taking every course he offered me, he shared with me one day, ‘Ken, you are one of the few students who can get
the intellectual ideas around a church’s ministry well and also help serve the practical aspects of how to make these things happen in a local church.’ That affirmation served as an inspiration for me.”

The third thing that happened came three weeks before Ken’s graduation where he learned that his mother’s cancer
had spread to her brain, her bones, and her liver. Ken said, “We would only have three more months with her before she died. This whole process was catastrophic for me. It was the first time I had experienced the process of watching someone die from a horrible disease. I knew I was not mentally or spiritually ready to serve as a pastor of a local church, but it was through these experiences that I felt God reminding me that one of the primary ways he had gifted me was to serve as a “helper” throughout my life.”

Ken has certainly lived out that call to help churches and we’re looking forward to him helping Bethel. We will learn
more about Ken’s story in next month’s newsletter where I’ll share a “Success” story of how he helped one church to
capture God’s vision for their future. Until then, please plan on attending our Vision Weekend on January 20-22 and
please be in prayer for that weekend. Finally, I want to wish you and your family a very Merry and Blessed Christmas.
May God bless Ken and his family, May God bless you and our Bethel Church Family. Grace and Peace.