One of my heroes is going to serve God in a different way.
Rev. Tim Keller is 66 years old, and he announced this month that he is stepping down as senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Mentored by legendary theologians Edmund Clowney and Harvie Conn, he began his ministry as a pastor in Virginia and worked for the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) as a church planter. The PCA then called him in 1989 to plant one in the biggest city in America. Starting with a handful of people in a prayer group, the congregation grew to a three-site megachurch with weekly attendance of over five thousand. How counterintuitive is that?! The PCA is on the more conservative end of Christianity, and Redeemer is located in one of the most politically liberal places in America. The big cities lead the nation in the growth of the percentage of people who list atheist, agnostic, or “none of the above” in their “religious preference,” and many longtime congregations are shrinking and dying. What explains Redeemer’s phenomenal growth?
Tim Keller is the reason. He doesn’t do it with glamour (just Google his picture). He is a deep thinker; a clear, winsome, and persuasive speaker; and a fascinating and simple writer. He committed himself to an urban ministry at a time when many top church leaders were heading for the suburbs and exurbs. If he were asked about his “secret sauce,” he would probably answer simply that he set out to engage skeptics, unbelievers, agnostics, and the fallen away. He has written extensively about how to do that: with patient listening, compassion, true interest in others, intelligent answers drawn from the Word, and the unconditional love of Jesus.
Several generations ago, English author C.S. Lewis was the leading apologist for Christianity in an England that was fast losing its faith. Books of his like Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters are still read today. Tim Keller is the C.S. Lewis of the 21st century. He has published at least 23 books, among them The Reason for God, Encounters With Jesus, Making Sense of God, The Prodigal God, Counterfeit Gods, Generous Justice, The Meaning of Marriage, and Center Church.
I have spent my entire pastoral ministry working in a central city. I know how hard it is, and that makes me respect and appreciate Tim Keller all the more. But I know firsthand also how thrilling and enriching it is to build a community of people not like you in the Christian dialogue. Tim, may you find new and interesting ways to use your formidable gifts to serve the Lord and engage the lost with the best news humanity will ever hear.
Pastor Mark Jeske has been bringing the Word of God to viewers of Time of Grace since the program began airing in late 2001. A Milwaukee native, Pastor Jeske has served as the senior pastor at St. Marcus, a multicultural congregation on Milwaukee’s near north side since 1980. In addition, he is the author of six books and dozens of devotional booklets on various topics.
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