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Does vision or personality drive your church? What role does leadership really play in influencing an entire city? In this blog exchange between Tim Keller and one of his church members, Keller backs away from the personality-driven ministry, while affirming leadership as the fuel of ministry, acknowledging some has higher octane than others.
QUESTION: Tim, I had an interesting conversation with the pastor of an…NYC church this past week. I was discussing the need for churches in this part of the city and the vision God has placed on my heart to see churches planted throughout the city and my dedication to seeing one here, in Brooklyn Heights/Dumbo. I was frustrated and haunted by his focus on mere ‘survival’. Not only that, but when I mentioned that I was attending Redeemer, he kindly insisted that Redeemer’s success was the result of an advantage ‘they’ have over other churches. His response to my inquiry was, “Tim Keller”. Naturally, I spent the next couple of days pondering his observation. Is Redeemer what it is because of Dr. Keller and his persona? I mean no disrespect, but my answer is an emphatic ‘no’…. It is the vision of Redeemer Presbyterian Church and the passionate embodiment of that vision that has allowed Redeemer to focus on things beyond mere survival. In the relatively short number of days that I have lived in New York City, I have lived beneath the banner of Jeremiah 29, and have found nothing short of Shalom. Numerous friends are amazed, even shocked, at the number of friends and acquaintances my family and I have made. I have no doubt that it is the result of our view of the city, largely influenced by this vision. If Redeemer’s advantage is ‘Tim Keller’ then every church has the same advantage. There is an example to follow. Living the vision, Brad
REPLY: Brad, Thanks for a great letter, and for defending me against a “false compliment.” I get this a lot—“How are you going to start a movement—only you can do the things you do?” It’s very frustrating to me, especially because Redeemer-model churches have already prospered and grown in cities like San Francisco, Boston, Washington, DC, and many other cities, both in the States and abroad. The distinctives of gospel-centrality, a balance of evangelism, community, justice and cultural renewal, and a concern for the whole city, not just our own tribe could be likened to an engine. The leadership and preaching gifts of any individual pastor, using this metaphor, would be the “fuel.” Naturally, some pastors have “higher octane” gifts than others, but the “engine” will run on just about anything. Thanks for realizing that it’s primarily the model and the vision that God is using, and only secondarily the giftedness level of the pastor! ~ Tim
- Notice Keller’s quick identification of temptation to self-flattery. He deflates it with truth by calling it a ‘false compliment.’
- Notice his emphasis on the gospel not personality as ‘the engine” of ministry, and that the gospel does not require high octane fuel. It will take my low-grade unleaded, praise God!
- Notice the importance of vision over personality, a lesson we all need to learn and continually pray and practice.
A number of years ago I attended a brown bag discussion with Tim Keller on Preaching, which followed the now famous Gordon Conwell Preaching Lectures on Preaching to the Heart. During this discussion Keller shared a number of extremely helpful thoughts for young preachers. One on his points was that young preachers won’t find their voice until they have preached 200 sermons, so don’t be so hard on yourself! There are, however, a number of things we can do to improve as we struggle to find our voice and reach the “200 mark’! My friend Josh Otte recalls that discussion and posts more of Keller’s advice here.
In this brief interview, Tim Keller offers some advice on prayer, gospel-centered contextualization, a new writing project, and the new breadth and balance of city centre churches. To get you going, here is his comment on contextualization:
The gospel is the key. If you don’t have a deep grasp on the gospel of grace, you will either over-contextualize because you want so desperately to be liked and popular, or you will under-contextualize because you are self-righteous and proud and so sure you are right about everything. The gospel makes you humble enough to listen and adapt to non-believers, but confident and happy enough that you don’t need their approval.
In preparation for our Fall Deacon Training, I found these interview questions from Tim Keller very helpful:
- Purity. Are you leading a sexually pure life? (What do you consider a sexually pure life?)
- Possessions. Do you understand the Biblical tithe to be for Christians of the giving to the Lord’s work? Are you giving out of your income in Biblical proportions, or are you moving toward that standard?
- Personal walk. Describe your prayer and devotional life. Has God been real to you in prayer of late; is your relationship with him vital? Is anything hindering your communion with God? Are you making progress against it?
- Ministry Involvement. Tell us of how you have been involved in people’s lives in ministry through _____ or through other organizations in the City. Do you have any non-Christian associates that you are regularly praying for and sharing faith with?
- Office affinity. Describe for us the duties of deacon/deaconness. How do your gifts, abilities, interests fit this office?
Taken from the Redeemer Church Planting Manual
Here are some recommended CP manuals on the nuts and bolts of planting.
Gary Rohrmayer has planted tons of churches and wrote a helpful course called First Steps: Missional Church Planting. First Steps is strong on the nuts and bolts and guides the planter through six stages of the first year of missional church planting. These stages include:
- Relating to God and Others
- Networking and Gathering
- Building a Launch Team
- Designing Worship Services and Ministry Strategies
- Launching Public Services
- Establishing the New Community and its Ministries
Another one of its strengths is that it is principle, not model driven. So, it accommodates a variety of models and encourages contextualization. Though the course is launch driven, some of the templates for budgets, position descriptions, financial accountability, etc are helpful jumping off points. You can also purchase a membership at CoachNet that allows electronic access to the entire workbook and PDFs and take the course.
Redeemer Planting Manual
Tim Keller’s Redeemer Church Planting Manual is incredibly strong on missiology and philosophy of ministry. If you really want to know how to become lead missionary that cultivates a church of missionaries, follow Tim’s approach. At times, it is overwhelming (and I have background in Anthropology!), but there are a lot of riches to be found in this manual.
Exploring the Land
Exploring the Land focuses on understanding your target people and culture(s). This book was written for reaching unreached peoples, which is why it is so helpful for domestic church planting. It forces to ask questions that we think we already have answers for, forcing you to do the hard, loving work of contextualization.
Church Planters Toolkit
Bob Logan’s Church Planters Toolkit is a standby that offers a lot of pracitcal helps and is used by the Evangelica Free Church. Logan has actually transformed some of his personal convictions about methodology and is now planting more organically. He co-wrote an expensive book on this with Neil Cole called Beyond Church Planting.
Dynamic Church Planting Handbook
Dynamic Church Planting Handbook is built around strong theological and pastoral foundations, but with modern methods. I found myself continually challenged to rely on the Holy Spirit, plant in spirtual health, and plant for the Glory of God when reading this manual. Some of the nuts and bolts were disappointing, however.
Interesting series of discussions from PCA Denominational Renewal fall out.
In Communicating for Change, Andy Stanley gives us three possible goals for preaching:
- Teach the Bible to people.
- Teach people the Bible.
- Teach people how to live a life that reflects the values, principles, and truths of the Bible.
The third is Andy’s preferred goal, and he leaves room for you to differ with him. So I’m going to differ. He writes:
“We have enough hearers…We need doers, appliers. That means we need sermons that are loaded with application and preaching that is communicated with inspiration.” (99) “
Loaded with application? I agree that we all need to apply God’s Word and that preachers should aid the church in applying the ancient truths of the Bible to contemporary challenges, but I’m not sure that loading our sermons with application is the key. Often, our hearers know “what” to do, but aren’t convinced that they should do it. For instance, they know they shouldn’t envy their neighbor’s stuff, but their heart’s aren’t convinced that God offers anything better than their neighbor’s stuff. Their mind has bought the lie that envy is more satisfying that contentment. The trick is that they would never say it like that. So we ge to say it to them with broken-hearted love and Spirit-enabled power. The goal of preaching, I believe, is to convince the heart to cherish God and his Word so much that Spirit-enabled obedience is the result. I do not believe that the main goal of preaching is to load people up with “what” to do, with application. I do agree that “our goal should be life change,” provided a couple other things are in place.
First, we should preach, not for lives to change just when they leave the sermon and apply them afterwards, but for lives to change while you are preaching. The ancient concept of Spirit-empowered preaching that affects a person’s soul while listening has been lost in modern pulpits. Williams Perkins referred to this kind of preaching as “the art of prophesying.” Jonathan Edwards says it like this:
“The main benefit obtained by preaching is by an impression made upon the mind at the time, and not by an effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered.“
Tim Keller refers to it as “preaching that changes on the spot.” And here’s the first point, preach in the Spirit. Don’t preach the technique or simply for post-sermon application. Plead for the Spirit to change you in preparation, to preach to you in rehearsal, and to transform your people’s hearts, affections, loyalties during the sermon. Preaching is about Spirit-motivated change, not application-driven change. Note that Stanley’s goal is to “teach people how.” I suggest that we preach for change in the Spirit now. This puts the onus on God, not on your material, humor, delivery, or change goals. The Scriptures are filled with commands to preach, teach, live, speak, counsel, pray in the Spirit, but that prepositional phrase is a hidden endnote for most of us. We don’t look it up, consider it, or aim for it. We pay attention to the verbs, not the prepositions. As a result, we preach application, not Spirit-anointed messages.
Second, we should preach for change by preaching in the Spirit and to the heart. As many have noted, the heart is the control center of our every action. Edwards illustrates helpfully here. He asks if a man who surrenders his wallet while held at gunpoint is actually doing what he wants to do. Does he really want to part with cash? Ultimately, Edwards answers, yes. Even though the man was at gunpoint, he did what he desired to to most–live! C.S. Lewis remarked that we are all creatures of pleasure; we do what we desire most, we act from the heart. Therefore, if the heart is the control center of every decision, then preachers do well—best—to preach, not to the the will (application) or the mind (doctrine), but to the heart. To remind the heart of the one Person that can meet, correct, and surpass every legitimate and illegitimate desire. To remind the heart that it finds its true joy and rest in no one other than God.
And guess what? If your goal in preaching is convince the heart to cherish God and his Word so much that Spirit-enabled obedience is the result, then you don’t have to craft perfect sermons, impeccable rhetoric, mind-blowing illustrations, application for every demographic. Your greatest goal, then, becomes pleading for the Spirit to fall on you as you prepare and on your people as you preach. For God to change your heart now, not how to apply for change.
How does Andy’s goal compare to your goal in preaching? I don’t think I am on board with Andy, but I’m still reading and reflecting. He does make the good point that, whatever your goal in preaching, your approach to communicating must reflect it. And I need to work on that. He also mentions the importance of the “preacher’s burden,” “the one thing you must communicate.” Unfortunatley, this is not developed as Spirit-enpowered, heart-focused preaching.
Tim Keller has an article on “Process Managing Church Growth” in the newest issue of Vineyard’s Cutting Edge. In it he offers some very practical advice on how to manage stages of church growth and adjust church culture accordingly. I will summarize some of his points:
- Every church has a size culture that goes with its size that has to be accepted. For instance, to impose the small church expectation of lead pastoral accessibility upon the lead pastor of a large church will “wreak havoc on the church and eventually force it back into the size with which the practices are compatible.”
- Everyone knows that at some point a church becomes too large for one pastor to handle. The threshold for hiring another pastor varies from context to context, with “white collar communities demanding far more specialized programs” thus requiring an earlier hire.
- With growth comes increasing complexity which requires increasing intentionality in communication. Here Keller emphasizes a lot of “increasings.”
- Increased growth requires increased communication–informal, grassroots is no longer effective. This requires more deliberate and systematic assimilation; visitors are less visible. More well-organized volunteer recruitment becomes necessary.
- More planning and organization must go into events. Higher quality is expected in larger churches and spontaneous, last-minute events do not work.
- More high quality aesthetics must be present. People enter a service without a knowledge of the ungifted singers who are appreciated “because we all know them.” Visitors are looking for a vertical, not horizontal encounter, with a sense of transcendence.
The whole article is well worth working through and can be found online here. I sense a tension between wisdom and convention in this article. For instance, there is no doubt that I need to think much more about intentionality in all the areas Keller mentions as our church grows. Organic, frayed at the edges kind of stuff can only work so long. However, Keller’s advice seems, in places, to assume a largely staff driven church. For instance, if people are sufficiently trained can they not perform a considerable amount of the “pastoring” without lowering the expectation of pastoral accessibility. Can we not change the expectation to expect pastoral care from one another in the context of a gospel-centered missional community? I’ll be reflecting on this article for a while. You can subscribe to a free copy of Cutting Edge here.