By Timothy Keller
In order to have the greatest impact on the city and to reflect all aspects of gospel transformation, we seek to achieve a balance along five key ministry fronts.
As part of its founding mission to be a church in and for the city, Redeemer seeks to balance its work among five core ministry fronts. While ministry balance can be difficult to achieve, we seek to emphasize equally the following church ministry commitments: evangelism, community, word and deed, faith and work, and church planting.
The Gospel and Its Implications
Foundational to everything we do is the gospel message that God entered the world in Jesus Christ to achieve a salvation we could not achieve for ourselves. This good news is first of all grace-centered. Jesus lived the life we should be living (but rebelliously will not live), and he paid the penalty for the life we are living (so we do not have to pay it ourselves). Therefore, we are not reconciled to God through our efforts and record—as in all other religions–but through his efforts and record.
Second, this good news is kingdom-centered. Jesus is not ultimately saving individual souls by removing them from the world, but rather he is bringing the life and power of God down into the material world to eventually renew and restore it. Therefore, we seek not only the conversion of individuals but also the peace and prosperity of our city. In this way, the grace and kingdom emphases of the gospel compel us to be very city-centric as God instructs in Jeremiah 29:1-7 and as Paul demonstrates in his urban-centered mission in the book of Acts. Grace-centeredness reminds us to love the city, not despise it. Kingdom-mindedness leads us, as citizens of the city of God, to be the very best citizens of our earthly city.
The Five Ministry Fronts in the City
From this understanding of the gospel flow five ways to minister in the city. First, we are a church that seeks to be highly effective in evangelism to skeptical people. The gospel, unlike religious moralism, produces people who do not disdain those with whom they disagree. Rather than simply confront those who don’t believe, the gospel prompts us to sympathetically find ways to address common cultural hopes and aspirations in light of Christ and his saving work.
Even our worship is evangelistic worship. We can achieve both the edification of believers and effective evangelism of unbelievers in worship at the same time, because the gospel of grace is always the main thing that everyone needs. What Christians need to grow is the application of the gospel to different points of need. And this is the main thing non-believers need as well. So worship and preaching must present the gospel in a fresh way each week. In addition, our worship models to Christians how to articulate the gospel coherently in a secular, pluralistic culture.
Second, we are a church that seeks to provide spiritual formation primarily within the context of community. Many people who get an “A” on their doctrinal exam can still be mired in spiritual blindness and deadness unless the implications of the gospel are worked out practically through continual reflection, admonition, and modeling in community. Growth in grace and wisdom and character does not happen so much in classes as in deep family-type relationships and countercultural communities where the gospel’s distinct implications are lived out. A strong individualistic strain exists in Western Christians, in which people will drop into church for inspiration but will not give of themselves in service to the city or in community to one another. Only this kind of commitment to community, however, will work the gospel into every part of our lives.
Third, Redeemer seeks to minister in both word and deed. The Bible’s basic narrative points to the restoration of the whole world, material and spiritual, as the aim of salvation. Christian churches, therefore, must work for justice and peace in their neighborhoods through service, even as they call individuals to conversion. Indifference to the poor and disadvantaged demonstrates a lack of understanding of grace and God’s free salvation. A church that grasps the gospel will be more sacrificially involved with the poor than many “liberal” churches and more effectively evangelistic than many “conservative” churches. It will be holistic in both word (Bible teaching) and deed (acts of service).
Fourth, Redeemer seeks to help its people integrate their faith and work for the purpose of cultural renewal. Most American Christians seal off their faith-beliefs from the way they work in their vocations. The gospel is seen as a means of finding individual peace instead of a transformative worldview—a comprehensive interpretation of reality that affects all we do. A rich understanding of the gospel, however, has a deep and vital impact on how we handle business transactions, perform music, lead in government, work in the media, or engage in scholarship. Therefore, Redeemer is highly committed to supporting Christians’ engagement with culture and seeks to help them work with excellence, distinctiveness, and accountability in their professions. Developing humane yet creative and excellent business environments out of our understanding of the gospel can be part of the work of restoring creation. Bringing Christian joy, hope, and truth to embodiment in the arts can make a lasting contribution to a project or performance.
Fifth, our church must be the catalyst for a major movement of new churches. As part of our mission to be a church for the city, Redeemer seeks to help start gospel-preaching churches, which in turn focus on these same five ministries of renewal. If over the next generation, hundreds and thousands of new gospel-centered churches were started in the greater New York City area, it would increase the number of active Christians by ten to twenty fold. This dynamic population overhaul would in turn transform the culture of New York City.
The Importance of Balancing All Five Ministry Fronts
It is quite demanding to press forward on all of these ministry fronts at once. Traditionally, churches that are very good at one or two of these emphases are weak on the others. So why should we at Redeemer try to do them all?
First, we do this because all of these ministries are required by the gospel. They are not optional. The grace-orientation of the gospel makes evangelistic worship and deep community both possible and necessary. The kingdom-orientation of the gospel makes holistic ministry and the integration of faith and work imperative. Both grace orientation and kingdom mindedness provide the motivation for the hard work of church planting.
Second, we do this because all five ministry fronts are interdependently necessary if we are going to have a long-term impact on the city. Holistic ministry, in which Christians work sacrificially for the common good, is the necessary context for any convincing evangelistic call to believe in Jesus. (Why should the people of the city listen to us if we are simply out to increase our own church numbers and influence?) Additionally, culture cannot be changed simply through numerous conversions if Christians continue to segregate their gospel-beliefs from their professions and public lives. Finally, church planting is ultimately the only way to increase all these other ministries in the city. Only if we do all of these ministries at once will any of them be effective. They are interdependent and interlocking.
Many Christians move to the city after college to live and work. While this can be a boon to city churches, the city-transformation God outlines in Jeremiah 29:1-7 will not happen if Christians do not reorient themselves once they settle here. Frankly, most Christians are not good at speaking winsomely and sympathetically about their faith to skeptical people. In addition, modern Christians are highly individualistic and even consumer-oriented about church instead of pursuing church membership and deep community. Many come to use the city for fun and advancement rather than committing themselves to the common good of the city and service to its needy. And very few know how to thoughtfully integrate their Christian beliefs with their vocations. Unless new Christians from New York and Christians new to New York are equipped to do ministry on all five fronts, the city will remain unchanged. If, however, in New York City—the city that most influences our culture—we generate thousands of new church communities which regularly win secular people to Christ; seek the common good of the city; care for the disadvantaged and poor; and encourage Christians who write poetry, make movies, start businesses, produce artwork, fund new ventures, and author prose, then we will see our city prosper. “Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” Jeremiah 29:7.
Copyright © 2004 by Timothy Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church. This article first appeared in the Redeemer Report, February 2004. Please do not use or distribute without prior permission.