Krish Kandiah on Tim Keller’s Transition

Very well done by Krish Kandiah, who reflects on five lessons from Keller’s ministry:

1. Transition is difficult so plan for it

This deliberate transition is a bold move. Keller is still one of the most well known and well loved preachers in the world. He is at the top of his game and is surely the biggest reason that new people visit Redeemer church. Two years ago in an interview I asked Keller candidly about the fact that so many mega churches struggled to transition from the founding preacher/pastor. Rob Bell moving on from Mars Hill Grand Rapids decimated church attendance and Mark Driscoll moving on from Mars Hill Seattle meant the end of that whole church network.

Keller explained then: I think that any church that gets really remarkably large under a founding pastor is something of an unstable compound. The same sort of thing happened to Westminster Chapel after Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones left and a similar thing happened to the Metropolitan Tabernacle after CH Spurgeon left. I am not sure that it is completely avoidable.’ He shared with me then his plan to transition into three separate congregations. ‘I share the preaching. I only preach half the time. One week you get me. One week you get the local pastor. In about two years I step out and those churches belong to them.’ Those two years are up now and true to his word Keller has announced that he is stepping down. This demonstrates an impressive amount of intentionality and planning. If we are going to transition leadership well there is a lot to learn from Keller in this move. …

3. Theology is worth investing in

Some people might read Keller’s decision to step down and move into theological education as a code, a bit like when politicians say that they are stepping down ‘to spend more time with their families’. But I have long believed that investment in the life blood of the church must include the training of leaders, both theologically and practically. Before he planted Redeemer, Keller taught pastoral theology at Westminster Seminary. The richness of Keller’s preaching flows out of the deep investment in training himself and others how to think deeply on scripture, culture and theology. I am excited that he is taking all that he has learned at Redeemer and is going to plough that back into equipping leaders.

The other step Keller is making is into Redeemer’s church planting network, City to City. The network has helped to plant more than 381 churches in 54 cities.

I guess I am slightly hesitant about a New York megachurch training the world in church planting as it could smack of old-school colonial paternalism. There are a couple of warning indicators for me. First, I have read almost everything Keller has published when it comes to theology and he does not often quote positively anyone who isn’t white, male and western. I am open to being proved wrong but when it comes to his work I can’t think of an insight he has gleaned either strategically or theologically that he would attribute to a leader in Africa, Asia or South America.

Second, only one of the 25 staff members of the network was born and lives outside of the USA: Andres Garza is a Mexican-born church leader with a PhD in town planning so he is definitely a positive example of indigenising leadership.

Third, and this is a something I have raised with a number of US global church planting initiatives, I ask whether, in any of these 54 cities they planted in, there were any viable local churches that could have benefited from help and support rather than another new church plant on their doorstep. Perhaps this indigenisation challenge is something Keller is seeking to resolve.

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