Tim Keller has been a big influence in my view of mission in the city and world. His church is set on reaching the city of New York with a view to reach the world. I was reading his article on why we should plant churches. I offer this humble critique as the stepping stone for dialogue with how we view and practice church.
There are four reasons Keller offers for why we, as Christians, should plant churches:
1. We want to be true to the Biblical Mandate
2. We want to be true to the Great Commission
3. We want to continually renew the whole body of Christ
4. It is an exercise in Kingdom-Mindedness
Keller seeks to respond to three arguments against planting churches in cities that already have churches. A) We need to churches we have to be full before we plant more churches; B) New churches will just take people from the other churches; C) Help struggling churches first and then plant more. While I have heard all three of these arguments in my short existence as a man who desires to plant churches, all of which have an element of veracity, Keller does a good job of answering these three issues in his article.
I am going to take a risk and disagree with some things Keller says – not for the sake of contention and indivduality – but because I think there may be some presuppositions that I do not think are justified. These is much I owe to Keller (especially by way of how all of the Bible applies to the individual Christian’s life).
In Keller’s first argument, he makes the assumption that we must plant churches in order for there to be true evangelism of changed lives. While much of traditional evangelism seeks to merely get a decision, a culturaly relevant church wll do what he says only church plants can do. In fact, he goes on to say that there are many people who are converted in the context of a church plant, but their journey ends up in an established church (due to the frequent instability of a church plant (see point 4 under argument three).
Keller then cites the Apostle Paul’s example of planting churches to be set up as our modern-day example. Keller says, “Once he had accomplished this in a city, he moved on” (emphasis added). Paul moved on because he assumed those churcheshe planted would continue to expand the Kingdom through evangeism and cultural engaged-ness. Surely Paul didn’t continue to plant churches in Ephesus. How does this vision of having an established outpost mesh with Keller’s view of planting churches? I am not sure.
Keller’s second argument is the one that sits the least well with me. He says that established churches do not ‘reach younger generations.’ While it is true that we want to reach younger folks, we also want to reach middle-aged and elderly people. Far too many church plants make the mistake of being hip and abandoning those who listen to the oldies of 1960’s and 70’s and 30’s. I see Keller’s point, but it doesn’t have to be that churches become monolithic and cadaveresque. Perhaps the implosion of new churches would be prevented with more stability. Additonally, there wouldn’t be the pressure inherent in a church plant to get someone in leadership before they have proven themselves in the small responsibilities.
There is a need to reach people of diverse backgrounds.
I think what Keller is insisting on is that churches not be content to be stagnant and aim to have their buildign paid off. I figure this from the fact that Redeemer Presbyterian is a church that is infiltrating the culture with grace and truth. I see in some excited church planters that put a primacy on planting without counting the value in revitalizing a church. So many scoff at the situation the church is in and figure they will go plant a church to start their own brand of church.
What frightens me is the implicit pride of abandoning the things that God and his people have done to reach the community around them. There are some dear saints in First Baptist Church of Anytown, USA. They are starved for the Word of God. They are ripe for spending their sage-like years investing in young people who need to get a little perspective on the world. The work of revitalization is difficult – no doubt.
What we need to do is bring the Gospel to bear on ovetilled ground and begin planting seed. We also need to be pro-active in sending men out to plant churches in order to reach the city with the Gospel. This way there can be accountability to a ‘mother church’ as well as the financial stability available. Not only this, but because of the relationship, the ‘mother church’ would get a taste for mission and their fires would be stoked. That is, instead of a competitve reason to reach the community there would be a co-operative effort. Instead of saying, ‘Everyone is going to that new church down the road.’ People would say, ‘Why don’t you try out that new church down the road.’ What a beautiful day when Christians co-operate rather than tear down or operate out of a greedy heart.
I know that this is the road that Keller espouses due to what his church is doing. They are a church that plants churches. The thing I want to make sure is that church planters do not disdain the ministry that God is doing in the establied churches.