The Measure of a Church

How do we evaluate a local church, or even a denomination? (Not that I think we have to do this, but at some level we will begin to use terms that border on or express our evaluation of a church.) We will say things like “That’s a good church” or “There’s something special going on” or “That church is dead” or one of the more common ones “That church is totally irrelevant.” What term would you use?

In what I think will prove to be the Book of the Year (Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City) for seminaries and churches and denominations and pastors, Tim Keller sketches three models for evaluation a church:

Success measured by numbers: conversions, membership, giving.
Faithfulness measured by Bible and Theology: the pastor’s sermons and ideas and the church’s ideas are faithful to the Bible and to the church tradition.
Fruitfulness measured by how the word “fruit” is used in the NT: conversions, moral character, good deeds.

Since Keller doesn’t think the first is adequate and thinks the second too often falls short, he opts for a term that in essence combines the second with terms like “impact” and “productive” and “thriving.” I’m not sure he entirely escapes “success” with his term “fruitfulness” but I agree with him: we evaluate a church by its faithfulness and with the belief that the aim of ministry is to have an impact. So perhaps “fruitfulness” combines success with faithfulness at a deeper level.

Tim Keller’s church, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan NYC, has become a model church for those who want to minister in an urban context. Not that this book is just for city ministries — we’ll see if it expansive enough for all — but Keller’s church has been so “fruitful” that pastors have been asking him for years how it happened — and this book is the result.

The “secret” to Redeemer is a Theological Vision, and much of the Introduction seeks to spell this out. He is rooted in Richard Lints’ book The Fabric of Theology. For Keller “theological vision” mediates one’s doctrinal foundation (theology, what to believe) into one’s ministry expression (what to do). So it looks like this:

Theology –> Theological Vision –> Ministry Expression

It is not, in other words, one’s doctrinal statement or ministry philosophy but a theological vision that combines theology with culture in such a way that it becomes default orientations. He defines theological vision:

It is a faithful restatement of the gospel with rich implications for life, ministry, and mission in a type of culture at a moment in history.

Thus, theological vision is about what you are going to do with your theology/doctrine in a given context.

At the core of Center Church’s vision is gospel, city and movement, with movement meaning relationships to community and heritage and other churches.

What do you think of this concept of “theological vision”?

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