Sending EverybodyNovember 2009
by Tim Keller
In the September newsletter I outlined Redeemer's distinctive Gospel 'DNA' that has enabled us to do effective ministry in the city. In the October newsletter I introduced a '10-Year Plan' to transition Redeemer into being more of a ‘movement’ than we have been since our earliest days. Let’s reflect more on what that means.
Redeemer has been blessed. Every week I see or hear reports of things happening at Redeemer I never thought I’d live to see. I’m especially referring to the numbers of new believers and the creative ways they are engaging the city. Yet, perhaps unavoidably, Redeemer has become more staff and program-driven as our church has grown and the ministries have become complex and large. As a result, the church has grown into an institution dependent on small cadre of highly-skilled leaders, and especially me. In a ‘movement,’ everyone is united by a clear vision, and therefore everyone sacrifices, feels responsible for the church’s goals, and initiates ministry.
But in a traditional institution only a minority of people sacrifice and serve, while a large percentage of people come mainly to receive the spiritual goods and services provided. This then increases the church’s dependence on the smaller number of leaders. Is there anything to be done? Yes there is. In the mid-90s we sent out two groups of people to form the Village Church and Trinity Church in Westchester County. I remember particularly well the small group that went to Westchester— six couples and their children. The 20 or so people gathering on Sunday for worship grew to 40-50 almost immediately.Why? People who had not been able to reach out to their neighborhood began to invite their friends. Some people who, at Redeemer, had not been serving as officers began to serve. The finances pledged by the Westchester core group for the first year was much more than what they had been giving to Redeemer. Also, their prayer lives were profoundly enriched, because they found themselves attempting something they knew was beyond their abilities.They had been given the gospel vision, then sent out with the responsibility for ministry in their neighborhood, and the Spirit led them to step up and meet the challenges. Back at Redeemer (which at the time had 1200-1500 people in attendance) much of their talent, resources, and leadership ability had been untapped, but when they were sent out, they experienced ‘movement dynamics.’
So, is that it? Is Redeemer going to send some more people out? No—we are going to send everybody out. That’s what the 10-Year Plan means. As I wrote last month, over the next three years we will create three Redeemer congregations— east, west, and south of Central Park—each with its own dedicated pastors, staff, and lay leaders, rooted in their neighborhoods with seven-daya- week ministry space, taking responsibility for ministry in their communities.
Although these congregations will be large, there will immediately be scores of people having to make decisions, take responsibility, and exercise leadership as they never have before. Of course, as the Redeemer congregations combined hold 6, 7, and 8 Sunday services or more, and I continue to preach four times on Sunday, this opens up space for more preachers and pastors to speak and exercise leadership.And because this will renew our movement dynamics, and will draw our more leadership gifts, each congregation will become a ‘generative base,’ spinning off other worship sites and congregations in the coming years.
I know there are many people who will do the math, realizing that, while I am not preaching any fewer Sundays nor fewer times in a day, they will not hear me as often, and they may say, ‘but we want to hear you every Sunday.’ Whenever I hear that, it humbles and encourages me, of course. But it is also profoundly short-sighted. I had the opportunity to preach over 1500 different sermons by the time I was 33 because my first pastorate out of seminary was as a solo pastor that gave me the opportunity to preach three different sermons each week for nine years! That kind of practice and experience was crucial for my own development. (I did not have an experienced preacher as a mentor, but I had the next best thing, a theologically trained and spiritually wise spouse.)
The only way for me to train and raise up a new generation of leaders who can be effective in New York City is if I mentor and teach those who are actually shouldering the challenging tasks of ministry here. Our plan creates space for that to happen. If we give in to the ‘I want to hear Tim every week’ impulse, much of what we have learned at Redeemer over the last 20 will not be passed on to leaders who will sustain and grow the ministry in the future. I don’t want all that we have worked and prayed for to wither away after I’m gone, just because I lacked the foresight to raise up leaders who will carry on the movement.
Do you see why I entitled this article ‘Sending Everybody?’ I’ve occasionally heard people say,“I wish I was here in the early days, when it was so exciting.” Well, consider this. Someone recently e-mailed me after listening to a presentation about the 10-Year Plan. The note read:
“Everyone can see the way the Lord has blessed Redeemer over the last 20 years, and now we are at this juncture where we are intentionally placing our church in a position of vulnerability, trusting that God will do something great again. For those who weren’t here at Redeemer’s founding, it in effect gives us the opportunity to be involved at another critical point in Redeemer’s development where we don’t know how things will turn out.”
That’s exactly right. The ‘safe’ approach is just to rent bigger spaces and ramp up the programs larger and larger.We know we can do that. But that won’t renew our church as a movement, and it won’t renew our prayer lives and faith in the same way. In this plan we are doing what we did at the beginning.We will need to rely on God to send new leaders, to help us raise the money, and to give people the joy and courage to all minister in the city as we should. Everyone will have to ask, “What must I do? What sacrifice will I have to make? In what way must I step out far beyond my comfort zone in order to see this happen?”
We are sending everybody. Come and see.
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