Mark Ashton on Tim Keller on Ministry in the City


Back from Easter break in Suffolk. We stopped in Cambridge on the way home and went to St Andrew the Great (we got up at 6:45am the morning after the clocks went forward i.e. 5:45am in old time to get to church but the car would not start! The AA sorted us out in time to get to church for communion).

It was great to see old friends including Mark Ashton whose article in the parish magazine is very helpful. Here’s Mark’s summary of Tim Keller’s talk at the EMA on ministry in the city:

Tim Keller listed eight [seven] principles which he said needed to govern the life of a Bible-teaching church in a Western city.

(1) The first was that we need a positive view of the city. He made the point that there is more image of God per square foot in the city than anywhere else. He suggested that very often Christians in cities don’t particularly like to be there, but the people we are wanting to win do like to live in the city.

(2) His second principle was non-paternalistic service to the city. He quoted Jeremiah’s message to the Jewish exiles in Babylon to ‘seek the welfare of the city’.

(3) His third point, and the one to which he gave most time, was adaptation to the culture of the city. He suggested that we must not over-adapt or under-adapt, but work hard to get the right balance in our main meetings, in, for example, the music and the use of liturgy. He put a huge stress on the small groups of the church—”If you are not in a group, you’re not in the church”. He said that folk in the city are looking for non-sentimentality, non-pompous authenticity, charity, humility, and irony without bitterness, in a fellowship of believers. Our tone and demeanour matter. And city people are sceptical about authority.

(4) His fourth point was that a city church needs to be as multi-ethnic as possible. He particularly made the point that at Redeemer they had needed to model multi-ethnicity from the front of their meetings, saying, in effect, “If you look like this, you can become a Christian”. Keller made the point that it takes ‘intentionality’ (I think we would call it `intention’) to involve all races in leadership.

(5) His fifth point was that a city-centre church needs to be outward facing. Every meeting needs to be conducted in such a way that you know it could be overheard by a non-Christian. Keller preaches as if he is preaching to the non-Christian all the time, or to the person confused, bored or offended with Christianity. He said we ought to show great respect to doubts, and to understand those who don’t take the Bible as the word of God.

(6) Sixth Keller spoke about the interdependence of four ministries:
(a) Evangelism
(b) Community formation
(c) Service to the poor
(d) The integration of faith and work
He commented that churches tend to be good at one or two of these, but actually they should be radically integrated. They flourish together, or in his image, “The boats all rise together”.

(7) The church in the city, according to Keller, should always be planting another church. He said this should not be a traumatic hiccup in the life of a church, but normality. He made the point that space is very expensive in the city, so multiple congregations in different neighbourhoods for different types of person are a much better way of multiplying ministry than trying to build a bigger main building.

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