Four Fronts in a Church’s Ministry

How does your church do in ministering on all four of these fronts?

In Tim Keller’s book, Center Church, four fronts of local church’s ministry are given a chapter each:

1. Connecting people to God through evangelism and worship. He speaks of a biblical theology of worship; then the historic tradition which was liturgical; eucharist. One’s culture shapes what is most appealing. And one’s temperament is involved as well. Keller thinks churches can be both evangelistic and edifying to believers; he has some good introductory ideas in this section.

2. Connecting people to one another through community and discipleship. He believes in “ecclesial revivalism,” which means nurturing folks into the faith without avoiding evangelism and without becoming just a revivalist service. How so?

* preach for conversions but honor communicant status
* examine candidates for membership
* recover catechesis
* recognize that seekers need process
* realize baptism and reception of members can become much more instructive and a bigger part of worship
* use the anticipation of the Lord’s Supper as a springboard for a season of preparation

3. Connecting people to the city through mercy and justice. This is where Justice comes into the picture, making justice largely a public, secular issue and not enough of an ecclesial issue. Both-and is what I’m suggesting.

4. Connecting people to the culture through the integration of faith and work (Keller’s definition of culture wobbles in focus for me but I see here his focus on vocation). A brief sketch of how faith impacts vocation: motivation, conception of work, ethical standards, re-conceiving how work is done.

Niche churches often specialize but Keller calls us to as much balance as we can achieve.

My critique of this approach by Keller is that I believe the focus of the Christian is the construction of an alternative culture through the local church; his approach is much along the line of Richard Niebuhr’s famous conversionist/influential model found in the Reformed model of connecting church to culture. I suspect #1 and#2 are close to what I am saying for it is there that a “gospel” or “Christian culture” is constructed, though I’d want to focus on the altera civitas, or the church as an alternative society/culture.

Put differently, when folks today mention “justice,” and I see this in lots of authors, including Keller, that term refers to what we do in public. I would contend that we are to participate in the church as a just culture, work hard to make sure justice is done within the fellowship, and then let that just culture be a challenge to the public culture. Not that Christians need to withdraw from culture but that it is a two-fold kind of justice work and not just a public-sector justice.

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  • Great line: “I would contend that we are to participate in the church as a just culture, work hard to make sure justice is done within the fellowship, and then let that just culture be a challenge to the public culture.”

    I see both too. Living it within the church, an alternate society within culture reflecting the justice of God among people. Overflowing into culturestanding against injustice, standing for justice in small and large ways.

  • Michael


    I appreciate the fact that you pay attention to what Tim Keller writes about. Both, you and Tim Keller, are two of my favorite authors to read. I appreciate the both of you a lot because even though you differ on some subjects, you and Keller are amazingly well thought out in your beliefs. It seems to me that the areas that you do differ on, it’s not because either one of you have not done your homework. In a blogging age it is becoming more and more common just to have knee-jerk reactions to certain movements and statements. It’s inspiring to see guys like you have such a passion for following Jesus. Living in the Grand Rapids area, I look forward to hearing to speak at Mars Hill in February.

  • Tim OK

    Scot, I think your critique is a really good one. Two qs:

    -Where would you point to for theological support on a “justice community”? Perhaps you’ve written about this elsewhere? I think the distinction is an important one
    -what do you think is at stake (ie, what do we lose) if we ignore this type of “justice community” and just go out and do social work outside of the church community?

  • re: ‘ I would contend that we are to participate in the church as a just culture, work hard to make sure justice is done within the fellowship, and then let that just culture be a challenge to the public culture.’

    Yes. The church functioning as a prophetic witness both to the negative effect of injustice, and the positive that there is an alternative way of living in relationship with others.

  • scotmcknight

    TimOK, the key is creating a just community from within first: when someone is wronged, by the outside or inside, things are made right for them; if they are compromised personally by racism, the church is where that stops and where equality is found; if someone loses a job, the Christians help that person … when a young couple has a baby, the church helps get them support and what they need… etc.

  • Jeff Y

    TimOK (3) My thoughts on theological support for a justice community – is to just look at the inspired source: – Scripture. It is replete with the idea of being a justice community. This is one of the foundational points of Christianity: Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35; 6:1-6; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8-9 – what we see here and elsewhere is that churches and Christians were a justice community – caring for “any who had need” (Acts 2, 4) and for widows (6:1-6) among their own. As Keller himself rightly points out in Ministries of Mercy (a very good book and I think Keller’s most sound exegesis on justice), the early Christians / churches focused on caring for their own number (they became a kind of “light” to the people around them). But, then, individual Christians did engage in “justice” (caring for others) as they were able – see, for example, Gal. 2:10, 6:10 and James 1:27. So, individuals serving the community/ people around them do have an important role in the church model.

    Further, there is the picture drawn from the exiles in Babylon that Keller and others have employed – where Jeremiah calls them to “seek the welfare of the city and pray for the city (Babylon), for in its welfare, you shall be blessed.” And, Bruce Winter – in his book of this same title (Seek The Welfare) – notes that NT disciples, men and women (people like Erastus and Phoebe) did the same.

  • Why should people care what the church does or models?

    The Mormon church probably is among the better examples of this in practice, but I don’t see a lot of reverberation in our society.

    I also don’t see how the church entirely encapsulates the whole of life, unless someone works and lives in an entirely Christian context such as pastoral work or a University. The church exists in the culture like a fish exists in the water. A fish tank doesn’t provide a real substantive counter-example, even if the life experiences for such inhabitants might be entirely better.

  • This just seems all to neat and programmed for my liking. This may be ok in a large church with staff to help carry and process the load but considering most of us are solo pastors or on a small team who has time to think about things like this? 😉

  • Hi Scot (and others) –

    Thought I’d drop in. Thanks for your thoughtful series on Center Church. I just wanted to add that under the third ‘front’–the church as counter-culture–I do stress the importance of exhibiting to the world what a just human society should look like. That is the Anabaptist insight, that perhaps the primary way we do justice is in our corporate witness to the justice of the kingdom by how we live together. Like you, I think it is both-and. We do justice not only out in the world but also in the way we live in community. But I see I could do a better job of naming our counter-cultural community ‘doing justice.’

    By the way, no one was better than Newbigin at combining these two aspects–internal and external. Newbigin put so much stress on the church being ‘the hermeneutic of the gospel’ that the Anabaptists like to claim him. But he was Reformed, and in “Faith and Power” even argues that it is possible to have a Christian society/government.