Tim Keller founded Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. He’s written best-selling books like Making Sense of God and The Reason for God. He’s cofounder of The Gospel Coalition. When I quote him, I can assume that at least half the people in my congregation know who he is.
But I still remember the first day I heard of him.
In 2005, I read D.A. Carson’s book Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church. Carson mentioned a congregation in New York that wasn’t perfect, but that had “many wholly admirable features.” They understood postmodern New York culture; they lived their message authentically; they were steeped in a particular theological tradition but didn’t come across as arrogant. This church grew by evangelism, planted other churches, thousands were converted through its ministry. “It displays all the strengths of the emerging church movement while avoiding most of its weaknesses,” Carson wrote.
I put the book down, fired my Pentium 4 computer, and began to acquaint myself with Redeemer and the ministry of Tim Keller.
Hungry for Example
I was hungry to learn about Redeemer because I was hungry for a good example.
As a pastor I’d learned about congregations who seemed to be reaching people with the gospel. Their pastors headlined conferences and wrote books. My tension: many of those churches didn’t hold to many of the convictions I held. I learned what I could, but they seemed a little too technique-driven to me.
I looked around at some of the churches that shared my theology. Many of them seemed to be stuck. Looking back, I’m sure I didn’t look hard enough, but at the time I wondered: Where are the churches that preach the gospel clearly, submit to the authority of Scripture, and yet understand culture and are seeing people converted? Did I have to choose between conviction and effectiveness?
I needed examples. I knew good theology and was trying to work it out in my ministry, but I lacked good models I could imitate. Redeemer became the first good example I’d found.
Today I’m surrounded by many such examples. I can think of dozens of churches who embody confessional orthodoxy and missional effectiveness. Many of them, like me, have benefited from the example of others with strong ministries.
Pastors: Set an Example
My point isn’t that Tim Keller is great. It’s that we all need examples.
I think of a friend of mine who founded a church in someone’s basement almost twenty years ago. He started with a handful of people. He’s invested in them and pastored well. That church has planted a number of other churches, and my friend serves as a mentor to many other pastors.
I think of another pastor who started pastoring a small, inner-city congregation near me in 2009. The church couldn’t pay him much, and they didn’t look impressive. He stayed, loved, and preached. The church has come alive under his ministry. He’s not famous, but he pastors well and serves as a good example for others to follow.
We need pastors who can say something similar to what Paul said to Timothy: “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings…” (2 Timothy 3:10-11).
Pastors: set an example. Preach the gospel. Submit to Scripture. Love your people. Be patient. Learn to speak to culture. Pray for conversions. Disciple your people. Love your wife. Repent quickly and often. Laugh. Stay and trust God for the increase.
We don’t need you to be perfect, but we need you to be faithful. We need your example.