There is a great profile of Tim Keller in this month’s issue of Christianity Today. For those of you who don’t recognize his name, Keller is a pastor, author and church-planter. In 1989 he and his wife began Redeemer Presbyterian Church in the heart of Manhattan. Keller’s prior experience had been as a pastor in the suburbs and a seminary professor. Balding, bespectacled, and studious, he is by his own admission neither dynamic or hip. In fact, he admits in the article that he didn’t even want to go.
Sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn’t it? Yet today Redeemer has an average Sunday attendance of 5000 and shows no signs of slowing down their growth in the near future. Redeemer’s membership body is made up of life-long New Yorkers, Wall Street wizards, blue-collar workers, and everything in between. Every ethnicity in the city is represented. And they are in the process of planting new churches all over the city. They do this without multimedia, soft rock, or interpretive dance. Keller’s sermons follow the liturgy and the music is traditional, except for evening services. They didn’t even advertise. Consider:
“Redeemer’s worship is seemly and traditional. Instead of using video monitors, casually dressed worshipers follow a 20-page bulletin that includes hymns, prayers, and Bible texts. Organ and a brass quartet lead the music. For evening services, jazz musicians play contemporary Christian songs.
Standing 6’4”, with a bald head, glasses, and a coat and tie, Keller, 58, does not look hip. Nor is his sermon funny, charming, or daring. He preaches from the first chapter of Genesis, on the doctrine of Creation.
Keller speaks like a college professor, absorbed in his content, of which there is a lot. When longtime friend and founding member Dee Pifer invited colleagues from her Manhattan law firm, she would say, “I want you to hear a really good litigator.”‘
How does this happen? You really need to read the article to get the whole picture, but the following points stood out to me:
Research Before starting, the Kellers made it a point to learn everything they could about the city; moving beyond media presentations and stereotypes to get to know what life is like there.
True fondness The Kellers, who previously had lived in rural and suburban areas (despite Tim’s teaching in Philadelphia) fell in love with city life and the people that they were ministering to. Their call became their passion.
Preaching that is accessible and responsible As a former seminary professor, Keller is no theological lightweight, and he doesn’t water his sermons down or compromise Biblical truth. What he does do is tailor the delivery of his message to believer and unbeliever alike. Hard doctrine delivered in a way that makes sense to folks who have not really heard it before.
No politics ’nuff said.
So maybe this is how it’s done. Maybe we don’t need mission statements, emblems, advertising, jugglers with flaming batons, or sex challenges to reach the lost. If we love God and love the people we are trying to reach (and I mean love in the agape verb sense) amazing things can happen. This is a lesson that we all need to learn, over and over again.