I read Tim Keller’s Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City toward the end of 2012, and found it extremely formative in regard to philosophy of ministry. Out of my 132 Kindle highlights, here are my top 12.
1. On the inescapability of contextualization
If we never deliberately think through ways to rightly contextualize gospel ministry to a new culture, we will unconsciously be deeply contextualized to some other culture. Our gospel ministry will be both overadapted to our own culture and underadapted to new cultures at once, which ultimately leads to a distortion of the Christian message.
2. On busting conservative/liberal categories with your philosophy of ministry
A missional church will be more deeply and practically committed to deeds of compassion and social justice than traditional fundamentalist churches and more deeply and practically committed to evangelism and conversion than traditional liberal churches. This kind of church is profoundly counterintuitive to American observers, who are no longer able to categorize (and dismiss) it as liberal or conservative. Only this kind of church has any chance in the non-Christian West.
3. On influencing the local culture with the gospel
Only if we produce thousands of new church communities that regularly win secular people to Christ, seek the common good of the whole city (especially the poor), and disciple thousands of Christians to write plays, advance science, do creative journalism, begin effective and productive new businesses, use their money for others, and produce cutting-edge scholarship and literature will we actually be doing all the things the Bible tells us that Christians should be doing! This is how we will begin to see our cities comprehensively influenced for Christ.
4. On designing worship services
As you design your worship, you cannot naively assume you are “just being biblical” about many things that are actually cultural and personal preferences. Think of who is in your community and skew your worship service toward them in all the places where your biblical theology and historic tradition leave you freedom.
5. On community as means of discipleship
The chief way in which we should disciple people (or, if you prefer, to form them spiritually) is through community. Growth in grace, wisdom, and character does not happen primarily in classes and instruction, through large worship gatherings, or even in solitude. Most often, growth happens through deep relationships and in communities where the implications of the gospel are worked out cognitively and worked in practically — in ways no other setting or venue can afford.
6. On community as means of evangelism
It is natural to think of “community” as a category separate from evangelism and outreach, or from training and discipleship, or from prayer and worship. And of course, we have done this by calling it a distinct ministry front. But to do so can be misleading. Community itself is one of the main ways we do outreach and discipleship, and even experience communion with God…The real secret of fruitful and effective mission in the world is the quality of our community.
7. On ministries for social reform
For both theological and practical reasons, I believe the local church should concentrate on the first level of assistance (relief) and to some degree the second (development). At the second and third levels, in the domains of community development, social reform, and addressing social structures, I think it is generally best for believers to work through associations and organizations rather directly through the local church…I have seen that most churches in the United States that are deeply involved in caring for the poor have found it wisest to spin off nonprofit corporations to do community development and reform of social structures rather than seek to do them directly through the local congregation under the oversight of the elders.
8. On faith/work integration
In the West during the time of Christendom, the church could afford to limit its discipleship and training of believers to prayer, Bible study, and evangelism because most Christians were not facing non-Christian values at work, in their neighborhoods, or at school. They did not need (or did not think they needed) to reflect deeply about a Christian approach to business, art, politics, the use of community resources, or race relations, to name a few examples. In a missional church today, however, believers are surrounded by a radically non-Christian culture. They require much more preparation and education to “think Christianly” about all of life, public and private, and about how to do their work with Christian distinctiveness.
9. On the inevitability of institutionalization, and what to do about it
Scripture suggests that churches cannot choose between being a movement or an institution; they must be both. And yet in this book we are emphasizing movement dynamics over institutional ones. Why? Because over time, movements inevitably become institutions. Therefore, it is necessary for churches to intentionally cultivate the dynamics that characterize a healthy movement. This process is difficult not only because movement dynamics push against organizational inertia but also because the movement dynamics themselves can be in tension with one another.
10. On the importance of planting new churches for maximum conversion growth
Studies confirm that the average new church gains one-third to two-thirds of its new members from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshiping body, while churches over ten to fifteen years of age gain 80 to 90 percent of new members by transfer from other congregations. The average new congregation, then, will bring new people into the life of the body of Christ at six to eight times the rate of an older congregation of the same size. Why is this so? As a congregation ages, powerful internal institutional pressures lead it to allocate most of its resources and energy toward the concerns of its members and constituents rather than toward those outside its walls.
11. On the importance of planting new churches where healthy churches already exist
Studies and anecdotal evidence indicate that if there is one church per ten thousand residents, approximately 1 percent of the population will be churchgoers. If this ratio goes to one church per one thousand residents, some 15 to 20 percent of the city’s population goes to church. If the number goes to one per five hundred residents, the number may approach 40 percent or more. The relationship of the number of churches to churchgoing people is exponential, not linear. We should not, then, simply aim to maintain the church’s traditional place in a city or society. We long to see Christianity grow exponentially in conversions, churches, and influence in our city. While it requires many kinds of ministries to achieve this outcome, aggressive church planting is the trigger for them all.
12. On relying on God to be fruitful in ministry
You can do this ministry with God’s help — so give it all you’ve got. You can’t do this ministry without God’s help — so be at peace. Jesus captured both of these truths in one verse recorded in John’s gospel: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; [but] apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Thursday, January 10, 2013