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.
On Sunday we launched a new series called The Gospel and the Gospel as a follow up to our previous series on The Gospel and Character. The gospel is both simple and complex. We affirm that it is simple enough for a child to grasp but complex enough to ponder for all eternity. This new series focuses on some of the complex, doctrinal content of the gospel in order to come to a greater appreciation of its simplicity. In this article, Tim Keller lays out three perspectives on the gospel (Doctrinal, Personal, Social). We have taken his observations and worked them out quite a bit in order to set up a holistic, gospel framework. We use the word “dimensions” instead of “perspectives” to emphasize that each dimension is non-negotiable. If we receive and reflect only one-dimension, we distort both the gospel and our lives. Very often, Christians pick one or two dimensions and end up dishonoring Christ and his gospel. Our hope is that in understanding the fullness of a three-dimensional gospel, we will more profoundly live it out. If you want to grow in your comprehension and reflection of the gospel, I highly recommend that you take advantage of these resources: