Tim Keller on Effective Ministry

Tim Keller on Effective Ministry June 8, 2008

The Dwell Conference talks are now online, and you can download them.

I love the people at Resurgence. They keep sharing more and more video and audio—all for free. After my pastor, Tope, reported his experience in New York I wanted to watch some Tim Keller as, bizarrely, I hadn’t yet listened to him or read anything by him. The Dwell talks are not online yet, so I watched Tim Keller’s Gospel Coalition talk. I was totally blown away by it! Here are a few of the highlights I picked up.

Tim KellerEarly on Keller explained that the gospel-bringer is not like an adviser coming to tell us a set of how-to’s, telling us to fight for our souls. Rather they are a messenger telling us what God has already done. The result of both models might look similar. In both cases you would want to do something in response. But, if the gospel is merely a how-to, you will obey out of fear. If the gospel is a declaration of what has already happened, you obey out of joy. Because it is a message (not a method!) words are critical.

Keller quoted Luther’s Larger Catechism in which he claimed that the first commandment comes first because the other commandments are only broken if you have already broken the command to put God first and have your satisfaction in him. Therefore, sin stems from idolatry, making something more important than God. The only way we change is through honoring God, and we learn to do this in worship. This challenged me. We must keep coming back to God in adoration and gratitude to him. If you are not being generous, it is because your heart is not given over to God.

The purpose of preaching is not just to make the truth understandable, but to make it real. It is important that it is crystal clear, but that its is vivid. He quoted MLJ on Edwards’ view of the purpose of preaching. He commented that he doesn’t mind if people are taking notes at the beginning of his message, but that if they are still do so by the end he feels he has missed the mark.

Keller also argued strongly that every sermon must be about Jesus. Christ needs to be taught every Sunday. The difference between a lecture and a sermon is that in a sermon Jesus shows up. If a sermon is just about what I should do or believe, people will just feel more guilty. Instead, if you say this is what you must do, but, by the way, you probably can’t do it, but there is one who did it on our behalf—if you understand what he did for us—then you will begin to be able to do it, too.

Tim KellerJesus is our true wealth, giving status, security, and stability. The Bible is basically about Jesus and what he has done, and not me and what I have to do. Tim spoke about how each of the main OT characters are examples of Jesus. For example, Jesus is the true Esther who didn’t just say, “If I perish, I perish” but “When I perish, I perish.”

Even becoming a Christian is not something we do. We are instead converted, something happens to us. We are born again from outside. We must have God reveal to us the state of our hearts. Keller repeatedly quoted Doctor Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and said that he learned how to preach by listening to tapes of the Doctor’s evangelistic sermons. He gave the following example, which so impacted me I found myself sobbing real tears alone in my room.

The Doctor apparently said that if he was to come home and someone was to say, “O, while you were out a bill came, so I just paid it for you,” he would not know how to respond. He would not know how happy to be. He would not know whether—if it had been some extra postage, just a few pence—to simply say “thank you,” or whether—if it was hundreds of thousands of pounds—to fall on his hands and knees and kiss the person’s feet. We have to appreciate that Jesus has paid a MASSIVE debt for us, and when we do so, gratitude will well up in our hearts. Our problem is that we have become immune to the size of the debt by over-familiarity.

Tim also spoke about the need for us to avoid the twin dangers of (1) isolating ourselves from the world around us through cultural withdrawal, and its opposite (2) cultural assimilation and accommodation. We need to be countercultural, but engaged and caring. Tim explained that in New York people love what the gospel has to say about forgiveness and hate what it has to say about sex, while in some other countries they love what it says about sex and hate the concept of forgiveness.

He also explained in closing that the gospel is not simple. It is not boring. It is infinitely deep and complex and stimulating and thrilling. As Peter says, even angels long to look into it. We therefore need our preaching to reflect the richness of this wonderful truth that saved us.


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