Tim Keller is a Presbyterian (PCA) pastor in NYC. He is cut from a different bolt of cloth. NYTimes has an article on this pastor who embodies two trends that worth considering for every church in an urban environment .
1. Keller treats the philosophical/ideological/human orientation of each person who comes to his church seriously. Boston pastor, Stephen Um says of Keller, "This is Tim's thing," said Dr. Um. "He said, 'You need to enter into a person's worldview, challenge that worldview and retell the story based on the Gospel.' The problem is evangelicals have always started with challenging the worldview. We don't have any credibility." The reverse in many respects has been true of mainstream Christians. Too quickly assimilate comtemporary trends or ideas into the beliefs of the church with the effect of diluting and marginalizing the faith. In other words, Christianity is a belief system that is both adaptible to contemporary life and is a system that transcends the trends of the moment. It would seem that Keller has a handle on this.
2. Keller's church meets four times a Sunday in three different rented space in three different sections of the city of New York. On top of that his church is planting churches, and training pastors from across the country on how to do the same.
Pastors from around the world are beginning to come in a steady stream to New York City to glean what they can from Dr. Keller and Redeemer. Their goal is to learn how to create similarly effective churches in cosmopolitan cities like New York, which exert outsize influence on the prevailing culture but have traditionally been neglected by evangelicals in favor of the suburbs.
"We're not giving them a turnkey template," said Dr. Keller. "What we're saying is, 'There's lots of overlaps between our big city and your big city. Some of these things you will use. Some of these you will discard. Some of these you will adapt.' "
Believing new churches are the best way to produce new Christians, evangelicals are making a major push to start new churches around the world, said Edmund Gibbs, a professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary outside Los Angeles. But only recently have some evangelicals begun to turn their focus to urban centers.
Dr. Keller "has grasped the strategic significance of the city, of the urban culture and the need to engage that very diverse culture at every level," he said. "Our culture is urban-driven."
In New York City, Redeemer has become the central training ground for anyone planning to start a church in the metropolitan area, whether among Guyanese immigrants in Queens or streetwise youths in the Bronx.
Since 2000, when it established its own training center for "church planters," as they are called in evangelical parlance, Redeemer has helped start more than 50 churches in the city, from faith traditions and denominations as diverse as Assemblies of God, Lutheran and Southern Baptist. In addition, it has helped found 17 "daughter churches" of its own Presbyterian denomination in communities like Williamsburg and Park Slope, Brooklyn; Astoria, Queens; and Hoboken, N.J.
Meanwhile, so-called city-center churches modeled on Redeemer — also attracting audiences of professionals and creative types — have sprung up in places like Boston, Washington, San Francisco, Berlin, London and Amsterdam. The churches emulate much of Redeemer's approach, including its attitude of embracing the city and its focus on the Christian message of grace and redemption, which Dr. Keller argues has been muddled in many churches.
There are two things to take away from this article.
1. Every person who comes to a church comes from a specific context with a particular perspective. Being able to understand the diversity of the sources that affect people is essential for pastors. It is one of the most demanding aspects of pastoral ministry today.
2. New churches are all future. Old churches are a tug-of-war between the past and the future. Keller's story points to the importance of mission as a key to the vitality and extension of the church's reach in the world.
(HT: Bill Kinnon)