Can Redeemer Presbyterian Church Be Redeemed?

The bloggers over at Mere Orthodoxy linked to an article by Tim Keller on the size and culture of congregations which still has me scratching my head. Originally published in 2006 in The Movement, and then again by one of the Vineyard Church’s publications, now it reappears in Redeemer’s City to City on-line magazine.

The head scratching part may also reveal my Bible-thumping past. But when a minister of the Word talks about the church wouldn’t you expect more references to Scripture than sociological hunches? Take, for instance, Keller’s nonchalant observation that size is a given and cannot be changed:

Every church has a culture that goes with its size and which must be accepted. Most people tend to prefer a certain size culture, and unfortunately, many give their favorite size culture a moral status and treat other size categories as spiritually and morally inferior. They may insist that the only biblical way to do church is to practice a certain size culture despite the fact that the congregation they attend is much too big or too small to fit that culture.

Now I am loathe to grant an inch to biblicism, but why wouldn’t the teaching of Scripture at least provide a greater check on congregational culture than the fixedness of size? For instance, if a pastor is called to perform the tasks that Paul gives to Timothy – you know, the pastoral epistles? – then if a congregation becomes too big or too small for a man to carry out those divinely appointed tasks, then perhaps the pastor and session need to reconfigure the congregation so the pastor can do what God has called him to do.

But when Keller describes the senior pastor of a large (400-800)-to-very-large congregation (above 800), the biblicist impulse is hard to suppress. He writes:

The larger the church, the more important the minister’s leadership abilities are. Preaching and pastoring are sufficient skills for pastors in smaller churches, but as a church grows other leadership skills become critical. In a large church not only administrative skills but also vision casting and strategy design are crucial gifts in the pastoral team.

The larger the church, the more the ministry staff members must move from being generalists to being specialists. Everyone from the senior pastor on down must focus on certain ministry areas and concentrate on two or three main tasks. The larger the church, the more the senior pastor must specialize in preaching, vision keeping and vision casting, and identifying problems before they become disasters.

This may be a digression, but does the bit about large churches nurturing specialists say anything about ministers of the Word — what Machen called, specialists in the Bible — sticking to Scripture rather than dabbling in sociology, even ecclesiastical sociology?

At the same time, where in the Word does it say anything about pastors as vision keepers? Or leadership for that matter? Pastoral authority held by an undershepherd is one thing, leadership is twentieth-century management-speak. So what exactly is biblical or true about these ruminations on size dynamics within a congregation? Again, I’m all for the light of nature and godly (even unregenerate) wisdom. But without some kind of biblical reflection on pastoral ministry, these ideas are even less compelling than pious advice.

The part of Keller’s article that has me scratching the other side of my scalp is his bold admission of the problems that attend very large congregations.

Of course the very large church has disadvantages as well:

Commuting longer distances can undermine mission. Very large churches can become famous and attract Christians from longer and longer distances, who cannot bring non-Christians from their neighborhoods. Soon the congregation doesn’t look like the neighborhood and can’t reach its own geographic community. However, this is somewhat offset by the mission advantages and can be further offset by (a) church planting and (b) staying relentlessly oriented toward evangelism and outreach.

Commuting longer distances undermines community/fellowship and discipleship. Christians coming from longer distances are less likely to be discipled and plugged in to real Christian community. The person you meet in a Sunday service is less and less likely to be someone who lives near you, so natural connections and friendships do not develop. This can be somewhat offset by an effective small-group system that unites people by interest or region.

Diminished communication and involvement. “A common pattern is for a large church to outgrow its internal communication system and plateau . . . as many people feel a loss of the sense of belonging, and eventually [it declines] numerically.” People are no longer sure whom to talk to about things: in a smaller church, the staff and elders know everything, but in a very large church, a given staff member may know nothing at all about what is going on outside his or her ministry. The long list of staff and ministries is overwhelming. No one feels they can get information quickly; no one feels they know how to begin to get involved. This can be offset by continually upgrading your communication system. This becomes extraordinarily important
in a very large congregation.

Displacement. People who joined when the church was smaller may feel a great sense of loss and may have trouble adjusting to the new size culture. Many of them will mourn the loss of feeling personally connected to events, decision making, and the head pastor. Some of these “old-timers” will sadly leave, and their leaving will sadden those who remain in the church. This can be offset by giving old-timers extra deference and consideration, understanding the changes they’ve been through, and not making them feel guilty for wanting a different or smaller church. Fortunately, this problem eventually lessens! People who joined a church when it had 1,500 members will find that not much has changed when it reaches 4,000.

Complexity, change, and formality. Largeness brings (a) complexity instead of simplicity, (b) change instead of predictability, and (c) the need for formal rather than informal communication and decision making. However, many long-time Christians and families value simplicity, predictability, and informality, and even see them as more valuable from a spiritual standpoint. The larger the church, the more the former three factors grow, and many people simply won’t stand for them.

Succession. The bigger a church, the more the church is identified with the senior pastor. Why? (a) He becomes the only identifiable leader among a large number of staff and leaders of whom the average member cannot keep track. (b) Churches don’t grow large without a leader who is unusually good in articulating vision. This articulation then becomes the key to the whole church. That kind of giftedness is distinctive and is much less replaceable even than good preaching. This leads to the Achilles’ heel of the church—continuity and succession. How does the pastor retire without people feeling the church has died? One plan is to divide the church with each new site having its own senior pastor. Lyle Schaller believes, however, that the successors need to be people who have been on staff for a good while, not outsiders.

This is a perplexing passage since, first, it seems to reflect the dynamics at Redeemer NYC (especially the part about the problems of succession — who will fill Keller’s shoes, Marc Driscoll?). In other words, Keller would know these problems first hand. Second, of all the other church cultures he describes, from the house congregation to the very large one, he does not devote a separate space to the problems inherent in these other sized churches. Keller does, to be sure, comment on ways that the other churches need to change if they are to become very large, in which case, being smaller is implicitly a disadvantage. (But if you’re in a place like Hillsdale, Michigan, with a population of 8,000, how could you ever become very large without putting all the other congregations out of business?)

Furthermore, Keller does mention the advantages of very large congregations. One of these is the following:

“Research and development” for the broader church. Again, the larger church is usually a good place for new curriculum, ministry structures, and the like to be formulated and tested. These can all be done more effectively by a large church than by denominations, smaller churches, or parachurch ministries.

But I thought that was the point of belonging to a denomination. After all, Great Commission Publication, the joint-effort of the OPC and the PCA, does precisely what Keller here suggests of the very large church. And what is more, they do so under the oversight of the General Assembly, which is, if you read your Bible aright, the God-appointed way to try new curricula. The assemblies of the church are, in fact, “ministry structures” in their own right.

So with all of the defects of the very large church, why is its size a given? And if Redeemer is experiencing the difficulties Keller describes, why do so many congregations want to be Redeemer-like. Maybe small is not just beautiful but – dare I say – biblical.

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88 thoughts on “Can Redeemer Presbyterian Church Be Redeemed?

  1. “When we are commanded to take heed to all the flock, it is plainly implied, that flocks must ordinarily be no greater than we are capable of overseeing, or ‘taking heed to.’ God will not lay upon us natural impossibilities: he will not bind men to leap up to the moon, to touch the stars, or to number the sands of the sea. If the pastoral office consists in overseeing all the flock, then surely the number of souls under the care of each pastor must not be greater than he is able to take such heed as is here required.” Richard Baxter, the Reformed Pastor (pg. 88- Banner of Truth Edition).

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  2. I’ve had the awful privilege (?) of serving in the nebulous role of church staff (non-ordained director position) at two different mega-churches in two different denominations. One was the largest PCUSA congregation in the nation with 6,000 members on the roles and a staff team of almost 20 people. The other congregation is one of the largest in the EPC at around 2,000 participants and a total of ten staff members.

    This same article or something similar by Dr. Kellar was distributed at a staff meeting at the EPC church while I was there. In my experience, what Keller says is true or must be true for these churches to maintain their large size. This type of thinking is becoming the norm in evangelical churches of these sizes.

    “The larger the church, the more the ministry staff members must move from being generalists to being specialists. Everyone from the senior pastor on down must focus on certain ministry areas and concentrate on two or three main tasks. The larger the church, the more the senior pastor must specialize in preaching, vision keeping and vision casting, and identifying problems before they become disasters.”

    “Complexity, change, and formality. Largeness brings (a) complexity instead of simplicity, (b) change instead of predictability, and (c) the need for formal rather than informal communication and decision making. However, many long-time Christians and families value simplicity, predictability, and informality, and even see them as more valuable from a spiritual standpoint. The larger the church, the more the former three factors grow, and many people simply won’t stand for them.”

    This is true (to my experience) of how these churches thought. My specialization at one church was to oversee young adults (post-college to arrival of first child) and community group development (routing congregants into small groups and recruiting, training, and coaching small group leaders).

    The PCUSA church used phrases like “delving ministry” and “getting the right people in the right seats on the bus (from Good to Great by Jim Collins). The Sr. pastor was like a CEO and referred to himself as a “Rancher”. Picture the Marlboro man herding all the cattle on the Chisholm Trail. The primary images used in the EPC church were “entrepreneur”, “artist”, and “architect”. Can you creatively (artist) design a ministry structure (architect) that has scalablability (entrepreneur)?

    All the lingo of the bible is almost but not completely replaced with the lingo of business leadership books. This is considered savvy, cutting edge, and culturally relevant. And it seems to work in terms of numerical involvement in the congregation. The image of Shepard had almost completely disappeared from both these congregations except for when talking about what small group leaders are suppose to do. The concept is not all together rejected but downgraded to the emotional care you can get in any small group. The Shepard metaphor has been rejected as too foreign to the modern, non-agricultural sensibilities of your average 21st century citizen. The most influential pastor/leader for most of these churches is Andy Stanley of North Point in Atlanta. He’s hipper than Hybels or Warren but they are all in the same galaxy. In this configuration the pastor is more your “life coach”, as Horton says, than your Shepard. For those who are trying to keep the Shepard image they have upgraded it for one that’s considered more hip: Sherpa. You don’t have a Shepard you have a guide who helps you scale the mountain of life.

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  3. So with all of the defects of the very large church, why is its size a given?

    Who says it is? Redeemer is in the midst of a plan to basically split the church into four congregations. There’s a lot of marketing going on there, but it has the potential to be a solution to both their succession and size problems.

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  4. I’ve had the awful privilege (?) of serving in the nebulous role of church staff (non-ordained director position) at two different mega-churches in two different denominations. One was the largest PCUSA congregation in the nation with 6,000 members on the roles and a staff team of almost 20 people. The other congregation is one of the largest in the EPC at around 2,000 participants and a total of ten staff members.

    This same article or something similar by Dr. Kellar was distributed at a staff meeting at the EPC church while I was there. In my experience, what Keller says is true or must be true for these churches to maintain their large size. This type of thinking is becoming the norm in evangelical churches of these sizes.

    “The larger the church, the more the ministry staff members must move from being generalists to being specialists. Everyone from the senior pastor on down must focus on certain ministry areas and concentrate on two or three main tasks. The larger the church, the more the senior pastor must specialize in preaching, vision keeping and vision casting, and identifying problems before they become disasters.”

    “Complexity, change, and formality. Largeness brings (a) complexity instead of simplicity, (b) change instead of predictability, and (c) the need for formal rather than informal communication and decision making. However, many long-time Christians and families value simplicity, predictability, and informality, and even see them as more valuable from a spiritual standpoint. The larger the church, the more the former three factors grow, and many people simply won’t stand for them.”

    This is true (to my experience) of how these churches thought. My specialization at one church was to oversee young adults (post-college to arrival of first child) and community group development (routing congregants into small groups and recruiting, training, and coaching small group leaders).

    The PCUSA church used phrases like “delving ministry” and “getting the right people in the right seats on the bus (from Good to Great by Jim Collins). The Sr. pastor was like a CEO and referred to himself as a “Rancher”. Picture the Marlboro man herding all the cattle on the Chisholm Trail. The primary images used in the EPC church were “entrepreneur”, “artist”, and “architect”. Can you creatively (artist) design a ministry structure (architect) that has scalablability (entrepreneur)?

    All the lingo of the bible is almost but not completely replaced with the lingo of business leadership books. This is considered savvy, cutting edge, and culturally relevant. And it seems to work in terms of numerical involvement in the congregation. The image of Shepard had almost completely disappeared from both these congregations except for when talking about what small group leaders are suppose to do. The concept is not all together rejected but downgraded to the emotional care you can get in any small group. The Shepard metaphor has been rejected as too foreign to the modern, non-agricultural sensibilities of your average 21st century citizen. The most influential pastor/leader for most of these churches is Andy Stanley of North Point in Atlanta. He’s hipper than Hybels or Warren but they are all in the same galaxy. In this configuration the pastor is more your “life coach”, as Horton says, than your Shepard. For those who are trying to keep the Shepard image they have upgraded it for one that’s considered more hip: Sherpa. You don’t have a Shepard you have a guide who helps you scale the mountain of life.

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/scalable

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/global/printer.html?/le/currenttrendscolumns/leadershipweekly/cln60327.html

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sherpa

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  5. Dr. Hart,

    You state “[f]or instance, if a pastor is called to perform the tasks that Paul gives to Timothy – you know, the pastoral epistles? – then if a congregation becomes too big or too small for a man to carry out those divinely appointed tasks, then perhaps the pastor and session need to reconfigure the congregation so the pastor can do what God has called him to do.”

    Implicit here is that there is one pastor. Even in medium-sized reformed-type congregations, it seems like there is a pastor for everything – pastor for christian education, pastor for seniors, pastor for youth, pastor for counseling, senior pastor, pastor for young adults, ad infinitum.

    Assuming there should only be one pastor, and this one pastor can no longer effectively shepherd the congregation- what does reconfiguring the congregation look like? More than one service (eck)? Church planting?

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  6. I found this part of Keller’s article interesting and telling. When speaking of a pastor moving from a small to a large church he states……

    “The difference between how churches of 100
    and 1,000 function may be much greater than the difference between a Presbyterian and a Baptist church of
    the same size. The staff person who goes from a church of 400 to a church of 2,000 is in many ways making a
    far greater change than if he or she moved from one denomination to another”

    Exactly! True but sad. More often than not our Presbyterian churches become Baptist or Anabaptist like when they become very large. Said another way when a Presbyterian church (or any church) becomes very large there is a great tendency to sacrifice truth and our Presbyterian distinctives at the alter of Pragmatism. Which is why Redeemer style Presbyterain churches don’t really feel all that Reformed or Presbyterian. They feel and usually are Saddleback/Willow Creek like.

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  7. More often than not our Presbyterian churches become Baptist or Anabaptist like when they become very large.

    I’m not completely sure that’s fair, and it certainly isn’t a particularly charitable reading of Keller’s statement. He didn’t say that Presbyterian churches become more Baptistic as they get larger, he said that a Presbyterian and Baptist church of the same size might have more in common, operationally, than two Presbyterian churches of radically different sizes might.

    He’s not wrong, either. In a church of a hundred, there’s probably no more than one full-time employee, with maybe one or two part-timers for things like secretarial and custodial work, though those may well be handled by volunteers. The pastor is going to do most of the heavy lifting in terms of the day-to-day operations of the church, though there will probably be a small committee of lay leaders who handle the finances. This is true for just about all Protestant churches, regardless of tradition. So a Presbyterian church and a Baptist church each with about 100 people can look pretty similar in terms of the way things are actually accomplished. But a Presbyterian church of 2500 people is almost certainly going to have multiple people employed full-time and a lot more things will be delegated to paid staff, even if they’re doing a better job with their ecclesiology than a small church.

    What you call “Presbyterian distinctives” may well be cultural or logistical accidents. I think the reason a lot of Presbyterian churches, “Redeemer-style” or no, don’t “really feel all that Reformed” is because there’s an acute lack of edifying preaching, not because big churches are somehow inherently incompatible with the tradition. Calvin certainly didn’t seem to have that notion.

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  8. My church of about 200 is building a new meeting place that will expand to seat about 350-400, no more. If we grow larger than that the plan is to plant and divide. We don’t believe a size much larger than that is feasible to properly oversee.

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  9. Ryan,

    I think it is fair and true. I did not say that a large church is always incompatible with the tradition. I said “more often than not…..”

    Very true that small churches can have there many sins and problems just as a large church can. I would agree however that the Biblical command to shepherd seems to favor a smaller church. When a small church grows, plant another so that not only the shepherding can be logistically handled but also so pragmatism and logistics are not the chief concern. It would be a good thing if the ordinary means of grace were the main concern of a church. (I did not say only concern, I said main) A church becoming huge is not an accident. It is leaders/managers planning it out that way verses deciding to plant another.

    “When we are commanded to take heed to all the flock, it is plainly implied, that flocks must ordinarily be no greater than we are capable of overseeing, or ‘taking heed to.’ God will not lay upon us natural impossibilities: he will not bind men to leap up to the moon, to touch the stars, or to number the sands of the sea. If the pastoral office consists in overseeing all the flock, then surely the number of souls under the care of each pastor must not be greater than he is able to take such heed as is here required.” Richard Baxter, the Reformed Pastor (pg. 88- Banner of Truth Edition).”

    Do you know of a Presbyterian church that is 2500 or more in size that has held to a conservative confessional Reformed ministry approach? I ask honestly.

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  10. I enjoyed this sentence from Perimeter’s website, which Mark linked above: “Communion is also served, on a limited basis, during our morning worship.” Early bird gets the worm (or drinks the blood) or however the figure of speech would work in this case. Also, the “Taste of Perimeter” information was interesting. It’s like going to Epcot’s Taste of the World. Maybe my wife and I will stop there on our to Virginia Beach for this year’s GA in June.

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  11. The last sentenced should have included the word “trip.” Unfortunately, iPhone blogging can become textually irresponsible.

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  12. One other problem of large churches, as I’ve experienced them (one non-denominational and one PCA), is that the small group usually becomes peoples’ de facto church, albiet without the Belgic Confession’s three marks that truly make them churches (preaching of the word, administration of sacraments, and administration of discipline).

    In the better situations there’s an elder who’s appointed to oversee each small group, but I don’t think this happens very often, so there ends up being almost zero accountability for what gets taught and how people get shepherded in those small groups. Imagine a church of 2000 people; figure one elder, who has a day job and can’t spend nearly as much time discipling as a full-time minister, could effectively shepherd maybe 25 people (one (large) small group); at that rate you’d need 80 elders. What Presbyterian church has 80 elders?!? You’d need a separate “Elders’ Pastor” to shepherd all of them.

    And people who aren’t committed enough to join a small group just show up Sunday mornings, often do not become a member of the church, and thus don’t participate in the third mark of the true church.

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  13. Paul,

    That was spot on, This comes from the same methodologies where Warren and Hybels contend that Pastors feed their flocks too much and that Pastors need to teach their people to be SELF-FEEDERS. When their own studies show that congregations using this Seeker/Purpose Driven Models were spiritually starving their people preaching to their felt needs. The answer for them for to teach their people to be Self-Feeders and not to stop feeding their people spiritual junk food, and not to re-examin the Pastor/CEO model constructed from Leadership Network and teachings of Peter Drucker.

    God Bless
    Joe

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  14. As a pastor of a small church plant in DC with 30-40 members, I feel that it is incredibly difficult already to care for those souls under my watch. We’re still quite young and immature, and we plan to lean heavily on our elders, but I can imagine 200-300 being an incredible lift, even with strong elders and even an assistant. And while good elders can share this burden, a good deal of work goes into training and sustaining the elders in this task.

    We are agreed among our leadership that as soon as we are large enough to pay our own bills we will look to send people out and divide and plant. I don’t think one can name a number at which this should take place, but I can’t fathom why one would blow through this size and take on all those difficulties of a large church. Why not call planting pastors not to care for knees or elbows or spleens in the body, but whole and entire bodies. What better way to fight the culture of celebrity, than to keep from becoming one in the first place.

    Seems to me that every true advantage of a large church can also be reaped from a group of churches functioning as a healthy Classis or Presbytery, while avoiding most if not all of the downsides.

    As Darryl suggests, it seems like most everyone in this discussion assumes the givenness of large churches, and thinks about the costs or burdens of breaking them up, as though small-church proponents are on the offensive, seeking to break up the big or obstruct growth. Yes, they exist… in that sense they obviously are a given. But should they exist?

    DGH is making biblical arguments, and I haven’t seen the biblical arguments for big church. See Driscoll and MacDonald shouting down Dever when he defined “ekklesia” in the multi-site discussion Darryl posted here a while back.

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  15. And people who aren’t committed enough to join a small group just show up Sunday mornings, often do not become a member of the church, and thus don’t participate in the third mark of the true church.

    This is curious. How is “just” showing up every Sunday morning (and evening) a predictor of not participating in the third mark? I’ve always thought that since the first two marks are the means of grace that attending to them was in point of fact the very definition of participating in the third mark. And why is the test for committment joining a canticle? Historically canticles were designed draw folks away from the ordinary means of grace in order to demonstrate an extraordinary piety. If anything, it seems like the other way around: those who aren’t committed enough to attend the means of grace twice a week and just join a small group often do not become members of the church, and thus don’t participate in the third mark of the church.

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  16. Zrim,

    You make an excellent point in all this. Churches like Reedeemer put a heavy emphasis on social/community connection. Community is not a bad thing, but the best ones are where God is big and people are small. There is definitely an assumed and even un-Biblical bias in the typical evangelical community. Even many Reformed churches have been highly influenced by this community. Thinking that a Christian is really not up to par if they “just” attend the ordinary means of grace. I have in the past been a member of a large Presbyterian church where many were made to feel like 2nd class citizens or at least not as mature in their faith if they were not connected to the small groups. The small groups were the emphasis not the ordinary means of grace in worship. What went on mostly in those small groups was not Reformed in focus. Rather it was typically Arminian, semi-Pelagian, Willow Creek like in theology. A fruit of that emphasis in being a member of the small community group vs. the church was some would make the small community group the priority over the worship service. Attending it over the worship service if having to choose. After all the small community group is where the “relevant” stuff happens. The test can become not only am I desiring God enough? But also am I involved with community enough?

    See R. Scott Clark’s post on Community.
    http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/when-community-isnt/

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  17. Zrim – I hear you. I didn’t explain it clearly, but I was just trying to say that people who don’t become members aren’t participating in that third mark of the church. I had in mind the type of people who be just as happy listening to a sermon online as attending worship. I agree completely that attending to the means of grace is the standard, not being involved in numerous other activities like small groups.

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  18. Kane, associate pastors are an option, or at least one. But once you get to a size where you need more than one assoc., why not start a daughter church? It’s not as if we lack for mobility.

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  19. Ryan, why do you think Calvin was a proponent of large churches? Do you have any idea the size of Geneva in his day (10,000)? And do you know how many pastors the city had? I don’t. But I have a hunch that he had a lot more pastors and congregations in Geneva than just St. Peter’s Cathedral.

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  20. I met one Presbyterian (OPC) elder who had the idea that a church should plant when the loaf of bread in communion could not commune all the sheep. He went to the “one bread” passage of 1 Corinthians 10:17. It is an intriguing idea to me. It obviously would depend on the loaf size. But I think one would be hard up to find a loaf that feeds 800, let alone 200, unless you have a miracle worker who can multiply the loaf. I just liked that he connected church growth and church planting with the means of grace and not mere sociology.

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  21. Paul, thanks.

    E. Burns, bingo. It also seems like a function of the so-called democratization of the church, as in, “Ask not what your church can do for you but what you can do for your church.”

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  22. Yep. This understanding of “how church should be done/doing church/ doing the gospel” is not really a surprise when we consider that the assumed focus in evangelical communities is that we primarily come to church to do something or find our ministry job rather than a focus on coming to church to recieve from God Almighty. That assumed focus is now such the norm that typical evangelicals look at you as though you have a second head or are virtually heretical when speaking about an ordinary means of grace ehtos/focus. I’m talking about Reformed Christians too.

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  23. As a former member of Redeemer (I moved away last year), I just wanted to add a few observations. First of all, I understand the concerns that Zrim and E. Burns express above. But at Redeemer the Sunday worship service is clearly the emphasis – I never felt that they made the mistake of emphasizing small groups over the Word and Sacrament of corporate worship. I participated in a small group led by teaching elder, and found it wonderfully edifying. That said, it was no replacement for Sunday worship, nor was it intended to be.

    Pastor Keller wrote a lengthy study on community in the church, which would take some time for me to dig out of storage now. I don’t remember all the specifics, but I do remember he believed small groups were the backbone of a large church community because they allow members to edify each other in ways that would be much more difficult – if not impossible – without them. For example, how can Christians “confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16) unless there is more intimate interaction and knowledge than a large Sunday worship service? How can we rebuke, exhort, pray for, etc without intimate contact? All of these things are good and important and much more easily facilitated with small groups. And not that small groups are a necessary means of grace, but my most consistent spiritual growth occurred as a result of those groups.

    Lastly, I wasn’t around in the early days of Redeemer, but from what I understand Tim Keller and the early leadership were not anticipating or expecting the rapid growth they experienced. I understand they rapidly grew to hundreds of members within 1-2 years. They had to expand quickly just to meet the practical needs of the current members (eg, location for worship), never mind formally splitting into daughter churches. And remember, Redeemer was the only Reformed church in New York City (aside from some very liberal PCUSA congregations) at the time it particularized. If they turned people away, they had no good Reformed alternative. I would also add that Redeemer is in the lengthy process of splitting into smaller congregations over the next decade. The plan is for 10 or more churches across Manhattan, though that is a longterm goal.

    All that to say, while I understand the concerns over a Warren-esque model, I don’t think Redeemer has gone, or is going, in that direction. The church is in a very unique situation in a very unique place with a uniquely gifted pastor and teacher. Redeemer certainly isn’t perfect, but the leadership has worked to shepherd a massive and diverse congregation while remaining true to the basic Reformed and biblical principles Dr. Hart notes in his original post.

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  24. I don’t think any here is talking about “turning people away”. Rather they idea was plant another church.

    I can’t directly speak to being a part of Keller’s Redeemer church, but I can say without a doubt his ministry model was the most influential to the very large Presbyterian church I was a part of. Hence forth I can say that this model did put an over-emphasis on this idea of how to do community and an over emphasis on “doing the gospel” & “being the gospel”.

    Even using those terms. I am certainly not questioning motives. I guess the question is……is that the most Biblical approach to doing church?

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  25. I am fresh from a Redeemer membership seminar / class (it ended at 2pm). The importance of going to small groups was heavily stressed. “It’s not enough to attend church, even regularly.”

    At the membership seminar today, Larry Christiansen and Steve Tan (both Redeemer REs, co-leading the membership class) told us the numbers of members, REs, TEs, and attendees at Redeemer. The breakdown is as follows:

    -Attendees = 5,000
    -Members = 1,800
    -Teaching Elders = 5
    -Ruling Elders = 25

    Steve Tan mentioned that many people would consider the number of elders to be too low considering how many members there are at Redeemer. Larry Christiansen responded at that moment that it was Redeemer’s structure that allows it to effectively operate with such few elders, specifically pointing to the small group system that is in place and noting that each small group has a small group leader that was trained by a small group leader coach, and that each small group leader coach is overseen directly by the elders. Thus Redeemer elders watch out for the souls of the members by watching out for the souls of the small group leader coaches, who in turn watch out for the souls of the small group leaders, who in turn watch out for the souls of the small group members (which are composed of both members and non-members).

    I asked if there was any special care from the elders to the members that is not given to mere attendees. Mr. Christiansen said that there is not. The main differences between members and non-members according to Mr. Tan and Mr. Christiansen is that members can be subject to church discipline and get a vote on certain things.

    Mason,
    You say that you never felt Redeemer emphasized small groups over Word and sacrament, yet you later say that Keller considered small groups the “backbone” of a large church community. That sounds like pretty strong emphasis to me.

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  26. 25 RE’s for 1800 members/5000 attendees? Wow, it’s a challenge to care for 120/200 with 8-10 elders and a like number of deacons! No wonder Keller needs all those deaconesses.

    Like

  27. Any given ministry emphasis can make all the difference in the world.

    I find this perspective and emphasis to be the more Biblically faithful.
    http://wscal.edu/resource-center/resource/what-is-the-gospel1

    When compared and contrasted to this one where preaching/teaching is clearly not all that important, but “doing the gospel” in a community setting is clearly the emphasis.

    We have come a long way away from Reformation truths when 8 out of 10 Protestant evangelicals think that the St. Francis of Assisi phrase “preach the gospel and if necessary use words” is right on the money. We come further still when “reformed” leaders claim the same emphasis.

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  28. Do you know of a Presbyterian church that is 2500 or more in size that has held to a conservative confessional Reformed ministry approach? I ask honestly.

    It may be an honest question, but it’s also a No True Scotsman question. I haven’t attended a church larger than about 100 since 2005, and that was Anglican, so I’m not really in a position to answer either way. But the plural of “anecdote” is not “data,” so I’m not convinced this is a legitimate line of argument.

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  29. Ryan, why do you think Calvin was a proponent of large churches?

    I’m not saying that he specifically was, but I don’t think he specifically wasn’t either. I don’t seem to recall anything on the subject in Calvin’s writings, probably because it wasn’t all that pressing an issue. The population of the world was only 10% what it is today, and it would be less than a century before the Thirty Years’ War caused significant population declines across much of northern Europe. After that, the world’s population would increase explosively for an uninterrupted four centuries.

    The simple fact is that the church has never really figured out how to deal with this. In industrial-era England, it got to the point that rural churches were almost empty and there were not enough pews in the cities for everyone to go to church on Sunday. The old parish model completely failed to deal with shifting demographic realities. Indeed, population growth and demographic change are the two things to which I would attribute a significant portion of the problems society faces today.

    Look: Redeemer PCA is one of the only places in New York City where you can get anything even approximating edifying preaching. I’ve lived there. I’ve looked. Sure, one can name another handful of pastors preaching the good word, but even if we distributed the congregants equally each individual congregation would still be well north of a thousand. So what, pray tell, is the session of Redeemer supposed to do? Send people away because large churches are inherently incompatible with Reformed theology? They shouldn’t be sending people away at all! Instead of criticizing them for trying to make the best of the situation in which they exist–which really just starts to look spiteful–should we not try to figure out how the church is supposed to deal with it? Because aspects of their situation are the same as a lot of other places, i.e. churches sometimes just have a way of growing more quickly than its institutions and officers can handle all at once. Yes, there are problems with growth, but anyone complaining that it’s a problem that several thousand people are traveling sometimes as much as an hour to hear the Word preached in a city that has little use for the Gospel needs to seriously re-evaluate their priorities.

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  30. Ryan,

    Do you honestly think anyone here is advocating turning people away or that anyone here is making the argument that it’s a problem that several thousand people are traveling to hear the Word? The problem is that they people are not well served when you have 25 ruling elders for 1800 members. The sheep are not being well served in this scenario. If church was just coming to church to listen to preaching then there would be nothing to complain about. As an under-shepherd you are in the business of feeding, protecting, rescuing, guarding and herding sheep. The shepherds of these large churches do their flocks a disservice as there is no way they can do this adequately. Instead, imagine several thousand people traveling to the city to hear the gospel in dozens of churches spread around the city where they can be cared properly by men who are given a chance to exercise their god-given ability to shepherd.

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  31. Ryan, the answer is to plant more churches that are Presbyterian and small instead of being the cutting edge of a city church phenomenon — you know, Redeemer City to City? (Plus, the PCA has lots of men seeking calls.) But could NYC afford to pay for a lot of pastors? Probably not. Do church planting strategists ever really consider the cost of “doing” ministry in NYC?

    Please also discount Keller’s celebrity as a draw, which he himself implicitly recognizes and which will prove to be a real issue for RPC once he retires. Is the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association the same with even the same genes (eg, Franklin Graham)?

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  32. Joseph Hansen –

    Couple of points. First, you are correct that there is a strong emphasis on small groups – I never said there wasn’t. But I have never heard Tim Keller or any other TE/RE at Redeemer make the statement that small groups are more important than Sunday worship (ie, Word and Sacrament). Yes, small groups are emphasized and great importance is placed on them, but not at the expense of the two essential marks of a church.

    Second, your description of the small group structure is basically correct but your practical application is misleading. I was a small group leader at Redeemer and completed the training. It is not true that there is a hierarchy, or chain of command, within the small group structure. The TEs who taught the classes on small groups were emphatic that any shepherding or even theological questions should be referred directly to a TE. So it’s not accurate to say that the TEs care for the small group coaches who care for the small group leaders who care for the members. That’s not the way it is supposed to work and from what I’ve seen is not the way it works. If a shepherding issues arises, it is referred to the TEs or REs, as it should be. Some of you may not like this model, but I have been a member of PCA churches in all parts of the country, including a small church with 30 people, an average church with 100-150, a large church with 350-400 people, and in addition to Redeemer another large church with 4000+ members. Of all of those, Redeemer was by far the best at shepherding.

    Finally, I have no problem with members or prospective members of Redeemer (or any church) having problems with the way the church does certain things, nor do I have an issue with online criticisms of Redeemer in general. But I loathe the idea of members coming on a blog and voicing their complaints without first pursuing the proper channels – a similar thing happened on the Heidel Blog this summer, and I found it appalling. I have read previous posts of yours here and on your own blog, and in none of those did you say anything positive about Pastor Keller or Redeemer. In fact, a few months ago you commented that he didn’t have the “bona fides” when it came to preaching on sin. I wonder why you want to join a church you have so many problems with in the first place. But I also seriously doubt you have discussed this in any detail with any TE, RE or Pastor Keller himself. As a prospective member, those are the channels you should pursue before posting complaints on a blog. There is absolutely no biblical or Reformed historical precedent for airing personal issues with a church in a public forum. The Baylys have a “source” who is either a member or regularly attends Redeemer. He gives them info on the goings-on at the church, and pretty much all of it they use to criticize the church and especially Tim Keller. Again, deceit and effectively spying on other churches is gross duplicity and is unprecedented in Reformed churches. I’m not accusing you of such, but I hope you don’t fall into that trap.

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  33. Mason,

    Everything Redeemer related that I have discussed on this blog or on my own are public. So, I’m a bit mystified at your statement about “proper channels.” I am not discussing private personal issues. Or would you also characterize Dr. Hart’s commentary in this blog post as “personal issues” with Tim Keller?

    My comment about “preaching against sin bone fides” was couched with doubt (i.e., “I’m not sure Tim Keller has…”) and related to how Tim Keller would be perceived when he teaches social justice from the pulpit and his Church engages in extensive social justice programs. My idea at the time was that, where you hear strident warnings against the sins of our age (we all remember Keller’s response to another pastor’s question about preaching against homosexuality) from a minister who then tells you in no uncertain terms that you need to be more generous toward the poor, such a minister is insulated from being perceived as a liberal. It was a comment about the future (how Keller will be perceived – something inherently uncertain even if critical.

    In any case, I see I have at least offended your aesthetic taste (“appalling,” isn’t it?). Please let me know if it’s more than that.

    If I’m spying on Redeemer, I’m doing a pretty lousy job. Redeemer has my name, address, phone number, email, and the REs Steve Tan and Larry Christiansen know exactly what I look like.

    “I wonder why you want to join a church you have so many problems with in the first place.” Since you were wondering, my decision to consider membership at Redeemer has to do with its location, its theology, and its churchly obligations.

    Given where I live in Manhattan, Redeemer is the best nearest reformed option for me. I have investigated this quite thoroughly. There is one URCNA church planted by Steve Schlissle (a FV guy, maybe you’ve heard of) in lower Manhattan. There is a Redeemer church plant in the Village which tends to be overly emergent for my taste (e.g., as part of the liturgy one Sunday the Pastor had a member read “something inspiring” which happened not to be from Scripture). Then there is another Redeemer church plant on the Upper East Side meeting at Columbia (121st & B-way), which I would attend but for the long distance from where I live in the Village. There are other PCA church plants in some of the burrows, but quite a long distance from me. Then there are OPCs in either direction, but all over an hour away from me. All that to say, like Pearl Jam, “I can’t find a better man” than Tim Keller. Furthermore, given my Bible thumping background and transient student life over the last ten years, I have never been a “member” anywhere. Couple that with my convictions about churches honoring their commitments (in this case to the Book of Church Order), I won’t feel right about participating in the Lord’s Supper until I am either a member or the session has examined me (I think those are the two options, if I am not mistaken).

    And, since you wanted to hear positive things about Redeemer: (1) It is Presbyterian and subject to the rule of the PCA, obligated to adhere to the WCF and the PCA’s Book of Church Order. I consider these to be very good things. If all other things about Redeemer remained constant except that Redeemer was not a member of a functioning Presbyterian denomination (like the PCA), I would not consider becoming a member there. Their PCA affiliation means they are not a Lone Ranger church. That is very good. (2) And while I don’t consider what Tim Keller does to be “preaching” (his style is more of the teaching/pontificating sort), when he treats topics from the pulpit he tends to do so with an abundant wealth of insight and scriptural knowledge (even when I disagree with him—which is not most of the time).

    Mason, you must know that no Church is perfect. Sometimes, Christians must choose between bad options. I think that’s where I find myself.

    You say: “Yes, small groups are emphasized and great importance is placed on them, but not at the expense of the two essential marks of a church.” What I see is no mention of the importance of attending to the Sunday worship and lots of importance ascribed to “getting plugged in to a small group.” “That’s where people really feel cared for,” etc. It is not as if the elders are saying “Your first priority is attendance at corporate Sunday worship and then a small group if you can swing it.” To be most charitable, perhaps they would say that if they perceived lack of Sunday worship attendance to be a problem. On the other hand, how would they know if the members are attending to Sunday worship or not?

    My practical application may not be correct. You would know more about small group leader training. However, I was a member of one small group and we constantly had theological disputes (the leader was an open-theist—how could such disputes be avoided?) and what we did was discuss them among ourselves making the best biblical/theological case we could muster against the other’s opposing view. Maybe we should have stopped and said “Well, you should really go ask an elder about that.” But, really, do you think that’s practical or likely? How much time is that going to take up every week—especially with Redeemer’s 3000 small group participants (another statistic mentioned by Larry Christiansen at the membership seminar)?

    Why didn’t Paul recommend joining a small group? Is a small group an extraordinary means of grace?

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  34. “But could NYC afford to pay for a lot of pastors? Probably not. Do church planting strategists ever really consider the cost of “doing” ministry in NYC”

    I’m not sure I understand this – it sounds like you are saying that it’s impossible to do ministry in NYC in the way in which you suggest as NYC is too expensive a place to do that sort of ministry in.

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  35. DArryl,

    I agree with Chris; I don’t understand what you are saying about ministering in NYC. Your arguments about cost seem to undercut your preference for all these church plants.

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  36. —-“They shouldn’t be sending people away at all! Instead of criticizing them for trying to make the best of the situation in which they exist–which really just starts to look spiteful–should we not try to figure out how the church is supposed to deal with it?” —

    No we are not for sending people away, or against small group communities or fellowship, nor is this perspective spiteful any more than I am a racist because I disagee with Jessie Jackson’s politics.

    It is those who elevate managerial and pragmatism techniques over Biblical and doctrinal truth that need to seriously re-evaluate their priorities. It is indeed the builders that are responsible. 1 Corinthians 3:10-20.

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  37. Joseph,

    I would agree with Mason on this. This blog is not the proper place to air your gripes about the TEs and/or REs of a church where you are considering membership.

    I find myself in an analogous situation to yours in a mid-sized city in the South. I’m in the process of joining a PCA church here. While I have some concerns about this church, I have concluded that it’s the best option. I have spoken to one TE about some of my concerns. We didn’t reach a resolution, although we heard each other out. I’ve decided that these concerns are not so substantial as to prevent me from joining the church. So, I believe that it is proper for me to hold my tongue out of deference to those under whose authority and care I’m placing myself.

    If you don’t believe that you can do this at Redeemer, then perhaps you need to consider other options.

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  38. Mason, so far it sounds like you’re saying that small groups are pretty vital but not as vital as Word and sacrament. I have to say I’m not all that convinced. I don’t have RNYC experience, but I do have fifteen years experience in what could be considered more or less the Dutch Reformed CRC version in Little Geneva (don’t worry, I’m not publically airing my grievances, just making a point). RNYC is sometimes held up as a role model.

    I hear the same thing in my environs: “Yes, small groups are emphasized and great importance is placed on them, but not at the expense of the two essential marks of a church.” Again, from what I’ve observed, I’m not convinced that Word and sacrament don’t suffer where “great importance” is placed on small groupism. If not dismissed altogether, the dismally attended second service is one place to see the effects—who needs to clutter up their Sunday evening when they’ve got a small group somewhere else during the week to make up for it? Another parallel is the all-of-life-transformationalism: here is where Word and sacrament become worship-as-homeroom, where everyone, if they can manage it, checks in for glorified updates, a little enlightenment and marching orders for the coming week. In a word, small groupism and transformationalism actually have devastating effects on Word and sacrament, which is to say churchly ministry. Maybe Keller’s RNYC has a secret my Dutch Reformed circles don’t and you guys really can have it all, but if real human beings are involved I find it very hard to believe.

    But I also wonder, since you appeal to the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition in your defenses of RNYC and to the extent that the confessional formulations represent that tradition, where is there any emphasis on canticles in the tradition? One might expect that if the tradition thought as highly of canticles as you suggest that we might see whole chapters devoted to their importance and practice in the confessional formulations. While I see a lot of language about the church, I don’t see anything like that in WCF. The Belgic Confession Article 28 speaks about the obligations of church members to submit themselves to the church, etc. The Articles that follow delineate the sacraments. I don’t see anything about canticles. Joseph hints at a biblical case for canticles. But I am wondering, since the confessions are expositions of Scripture and if they are of such great importance, what is the confessional case for canticles?

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  39. the answer is to plant more churches that are Presbyterian and small instead of being the cutting edge of a city church phenomenon — you know, Redeemer City to City?

    So, basically, they’re already doing that. Taking a slightly more charitable view of the situation, one could say that the session has recognized a problem and is taking steps to correct it. Again, should we not be trying to help them rather than sniping?

    (Plus, the PCA has lots of men seeking calls.)

    Probably. Though I have to say, I wonder if this is really the right way to do this. Isn’t part of Reformed ecclesiology that the church calls men to ministry rather than men notifying the church they are looking for a call. I’ve seen a lot of pastoral interns, and to be honest, I didn’t really want many of them to be anywhere near a pulpit. The ones that showed the most promise were the ones that the congregation had pursued rather than the ones that were pursuing a congregation.

    And this is to say nothing about the large number of men filling pulpits who can’t preach their way out of a wet paper bag.

    All in all, I’d say the problem is a lack of truly qualified elders, and I don’t see the church doing a whole lot to rectify this. We seem to largely limit ourselves to those young men who decide they want to go to seminary straight out of college, leading to the rather odd arrangement of “elders” shepherding men old enough to be their fathers rather than the other way around.

    Please also discount Keller’s celebrity as a draw, which he himself implicitly recognizes and which will prove to be a real issue for RPC once he retires.

    Fair enough. My question is what exactly he or anyone else is supposed to do about this. Keller has certainly made a name for himself, but unless you are suggesting that this is what is primarily motivating him–which does not seem to be the case–I’m having trouble coming up with a reason to criticize. The implication seems to be that drawing a crowd because you’re good at what you do is inherently bad. So Keller’s ministry has proven to be popular. So what? I mean, that comes with its own problems, but they seem to be a better set of problems than, say, having no one show up. This isn’t to argue that size is the same thing as success, but unless there are specific things that RNYC is doing which are somehow contrary to the gospel, I’m not finding a whole out of grounds for criticism, particularly as many of the problems you and others mention seem to be on the session’s radar already.

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  40. Continuing the whole “lack of elders” motif, I’ve been in several PCA/OPC churches that are in desperate need of better leadership but really have nowhere to turn, as something like 75% of the adult men are already on the session, regardless of whether or not they are otherwise qualified. I’ve even met elders whose wives go to church elsewhere, believe it or not. Unsurprisingly, these are some of the most dysfunctional places I’ve ever been. The need for new and better elders is in no way limited to RNYC in particular or even large churches in general. The laborers always seem to be few.

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  41. Ryan, you have admitted in places that certain phenomenon like celebrity and popularity are problematic. And then in other places you have accused of sniping or otherwise been critical of criticism. Could it be that much of this discussion is to take up what you admit is problematic with more honest criticism than snipe? Or by “problematic” do you mean merely “imperfect”?

    If it’s sniping at Keller you’re troubled by maybe you should stroll by the Blog Bayly. Otherwise, it’s beginning to look more like contrarianism for its own sake.

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  42. Chris E., my point is what is the justification that allows for the extraordinary costs of living in NYC? I’m not saying that these should prevent church planting in expensive areas (think Boston, L.A., and San Francisco as well). But if a denomination has limited resources, some decisions have to be made about allocation of funds. So I wonder how many church plants were not started outside NYC because of Redeemer? And I also wonder if Redeemer’s model is as much a function of economics as it is of sociology — I mean, if you can’t afford to pay one pastor six figures, how are you going to afford several associates?

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  43. Ryan, here’s the deal. Does any one in the conservative Reformed world consider Redeemer to be a failure? Do church planting types, or seminary professors, or leading pastors, ever say, “well, you know what’s going on in NYC has lots of problems from a Presbyterian point of view.” The answer is no. Instead, Redeemer and Keller are held up as models for successful ministry. What is more, the folks at Redeemer have not been all that vocal in saying, “well, we happened to get the providence of the draw on this one, lots of factors that we could never have anticipated, so don’t look to us how to do ministry. We’re just trying to get along the best we can and blessings on your own efforts.”

    Aw shucks has not been part of the Redeemer model. I am willing to concede that Redeemer did not initially cultivate its reputation. But once PCA execs glommed on to the Redeemer model, I didn’t detect that folks at Redeemer declined to be used as a model.

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  44. Ryan, BTW, I understand that celebrity comes with publications. But if a pastor (like Keller or Piper) finds that he is getting more attention for his writing than for his pastoring, then perhaps he could take a break from the ministry and simply be an author. Or he could go to an academic position where writing is part of the responsibility. Do you actually think Piper or Keller would have trouble landing a job as a seminary professor directing a D. Min. program? But do you think they would have nearly the status that they do as one person among a company of professors?

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  45. Dr. Hart,

    I guess I’m still not following you. Here in Dallas, when church plants get started they use schools, libraries, YMCA, Daycare center, spaces in strip malls, etc….. until they can afford their own building. My OPC Church is renting a 7th Day Adventist Church on Sundays.

    Now if your saying that a Large Church is hindered to plant other churches or split the congregation into several churches because the Large Church would no longer have to the means to pay a Celebrity Preacher anymore then I do follow your logic.

    God Bless
    Joe

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  46. BTW- I do think that Redeemer probably follows too closely to the Hybels/Warren/NorthPoint model and buys into its leadership model more than it ought to. My question would be: how DID guys like Calvin (and Moses) pull off immense bodies of followers in a biblical way? Without buying into the Drucker/Covey/Peters model of leadership?
    Also, I tend to give Redeemer a lot more credit though than most of the PCA churches that have gone purpose driven/seeker sensitive/self-feeder.
    Redeemer follows a typical liturgy and has kept to a more traditional worship style, while other PCA mega-church types have given up A LOT more on the reformed aspects (offering communion only 3-4 times per year, etc.)

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  47. But once PCA execs glommed on to the Redeemer model, I didn’t detect that folks at Redeemer declined to be used as a model.

    Now that I’ll grant you. I’ve spent a fair amount of time at a church which was explicitly trying to be its city’s version of Redeemer but just struck me as being way too trendy for its own good. Despite being perhaps a tenth the size of Redeemer, they seemed to have almost as many kids, which should tell you something about the demographics. A lot of good stuff was happening there, but they were clearly trying to reproduce something which cannot exist outside the rather unique context that is Manhattan. Didn’t help that the pastor was pretty clearly trying to emulate Keller’s preaching style without having the scholarly or oratory skills to pull it off. Then again, I’m willing to put a fair amount of the blame for the way the rest of the PCA has tried to emulate Redeemer on said “PCA execs” rather than on Redeemer itself.

    There’s plenty of good criticisms to be leveled at Redeemer in general and Keller in particular. Frankly, I’m bothered quite a bit by his tendency to psychologize Scriptural texts rather than read them in their redemptive-historical context. I’m also rather unhappy at what I perceive as an unwillingness to really engage with the rest of the denomination in favor of doing their own thing more-or-less unilaterally. But I don’t think Redeemer’s size, or the way it chooses to handle it, is really where I want to start that conversation.

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  48. Joe, I’m talking less about buildings and more about the cost of living for pastors. If you can support 5 pastors in small towns for what it costs to sustain one in an expensive city, how do you decide?

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  49. As a New Yorker who has attended Redeemer, I can tell you that the Redeemer phenomenon is entirely about the charismatic leader. The flock moves from location to location from week to week trying to keep up with Keller. Keller is therefore coy about where he will be on a given Sunday. Now, I don’t think Tim Keller set out to become a “rock star” pastor but that is what happened. I doubt Redeemer will survive his retirement at anything like its current size.

    As for myself, I’ve found a home in a small congregation where the Lutheran liturgy, hymnody and sacraments take center stage. The preaching is good too, but it feels much more like a congregation than a rock star’s fan club. We’ve had pastors go and come and we’ve survived the transition just fine. In addition, I think it is important that your “worship space” look and feel like a real church. Environment is important. Architecture, symbolism and decor can also be quite effective in conveying the Gospel. Storefronts, coffee houses auditoriums and gyms were designed for purposes other than Christian worship.

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  50. Re: Missional Manifest

    Lovely. Looks like they gave a facelift and new twist to old mainline Liberalism and it’s Jesus.

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  51. If you decide to accept the mission, Dr. Hart, here is another interesting piece of the puzzle. According to the Redeemer Church in NYC – this is the gospel:

    The ‘gospel’ is the good news that through Christ the power of God’s kingdom has entered history to renew the whole world. When we believe and rely on Jesus’ work and record (rather than ours) for our relationship to God, that kingdom power comes upon us and begins to work through us.

    http://www.redeemer.com/about_us/vision_and_values/core_values.html

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  52. Joe, I don’t know if you will find this of interest, but the more I researched the Missional Manifesto, the more it reminded me of Leonard Sweet (Emerging Church guru). He’s been around for quite awhile and is a man who was allowed to teach seminars at our seminaries and some of our district conferences before we were able to elect a new synod president. Color me crazy, but look at the similarities in thinking:

    #9 The mission of ministerial education needs redefining. Thus the focus will not be on “theological” or “ministerial” education but on “missional” education–not on the certification of leadership for denominationally credentialed ministry but rather on the content and context requirements of missional ministry that can effectively build diverse bodies of Christ for this emerging culture. Theological education is too clerical in orientation and not sufficiently focused on the priesthood of believers.[v] It is too captivated by the heresy of clerisy.

    #12 We need to explore self-organizing, complex adaptive approaches to contextual learning where students can choose participation in a network of teaching churches and public/corporate sector opportunities across the globe along with web-based interaction for ongoing coaching. An open-source system trusts faculty mentors to guide learners to other faculty whose competencies and interests best suit that student’s particular needs.

    #13 Words that need to focus future discussions include: narrative, systems, strategic, missional, relational, incarnational, prophetic, contextual, culture-engaging, open-source. It is a waste of time to get bogged down in asking political questions like “Does Seminary Education Help or Hurt Pastoral Ministry?” or “Does training for ministry have to be formal theological education?” or “What’s Wrong with Theological Education as it Now Stands?”[ix]

    #16 We need to make the congregation into a learning organism: organize the congregation’s learning around mission and ministry arts rather than teaching and programs.

    #17 One’s baptism is one’s ordination into ministry and mission. Every baptized disciple has both a ministry to the body and a mission in the world.

    #18 In the 21st century, WHO you studied with will be a more important question than WHERE you studied. The name-brand used to be the school; the name-brand in the future is the name, the image, the mentor who can steer the spiritual formation of the person through forming a life shaped by biblical relationships, a passion for knowing God, and an indigenous expression of faith in a specific cultural context.

    http://www.leonardsweet.com/article_details.php?id=51

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  53. Anyone

    I came across this article because I’ve been rummaging around the web looking for info.
    A copy of – Church Membership Application for Redeemer NY.
    And the Covenant that is to be signed if that membership is accepted.

    I did have a question Because I read this article by Tim Keller.
    http://byfaithonline.com/the-case-for-commissioning-not-ordaining-deaconesses/
    Where Tim Keller, says It’s “Biblical” to have “unordained, commissioned deaconesses”

    Senior Pastor Dr. Tim Keller – says – “There are several good **biblical** reasons
    for having *commissioned deaconesses* in a congregation.”

    Personally – I can NOT find “commissioned deaconesses” in the Bible.
    How can Senior Pastor Dr. Tim Keller say *commissioned deaconesses* is “Biblical? If NOT in the Bible.”

    Seems in the PCA, BCO, Ch 9 pg 3, the PCA, only ordains men as Deacons – Yes? – NOT women?
    But at Redeemer they get around, ignore, that – and have “commissioned deaconesses.”

    Why does the PCA allow this? Have they granted a special dispensation to Tim Keller?

    Jer 50:6
    “My people” hath been “lost sheep:”
    **their shepherds** have caused them to *go astray,*

    1 Pet 2:25
    For ye were as *sheep going astray;*
    BUT are now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

    I’m Blest… I’ve returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of my soul…

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

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  54. Redeemer NY no longer ordains their male deacons (clearly wrong) to maintain equality of practice with the female deacons — both are only commissioned. Last time I checked they called the females deacons (not deaconesses) and the head of the diaconate was a female. Redeemer and TKNY swim in their own pond according to their own rules. Several PCA churches have left Metro NY presbytery for the EPC so they can do their thing even more fully than Keller & Company. Tim is too big to fail — or err — apparently.

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  55. A Biblical Basis

    The ultimate reason for any church to have deaconesses should not be practical and historical, however, but biblical. There are several good biblical reasons for having commissioned deaconesses in a congregation.

    1. The woman Phoebe is called a diakonon in Romans 16:1. The word diakonos elsewhere in the New Testament can mean deacon (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8) and also minister (Colossians 1:25;4:7) but it can also be taken in a non-official sense as servant (Mark 10:43). So which meaning fits here? It is interesting that older conservative Bible commentators, such as Charles Hodge and John Calvin, concluded that Phoebe was a deaconess, while more recent conservative commentators, such as Doug Moo and Thomas Schreiner (as well as John Piper), all believe that Phoebe held the office of deacon.

    Robert Strimple, author of the minority report in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s 1988 “Report on Women in Church Office,” makes a detailed exegetical case for why the weight of evidence indicates Phoebe was an office holder. Here’s just one example. When Paul refers to Phoebe as (literally) “being (ousan-feminine accusative present participle) … diakonon” he is using a participial phrase that is consistently used to identify a person’s performance of office in the New Testament. Examples of this usage are found in John 11:49 (“Caiaphas, being high priest that year”), Acts 18:12 (“Gallio, being the proconsul of Achaia … “), and Acts 24:10 (“Felix, being a judge to this nation … “). The case for reading Phoebe’s description as one of office is a strong one. Indeed, Calvin says that Paul is commending Phoebe “first on account of her office” to aid her as she discharges her ministry in Rome.

    2. In the New Testament, women were recognized for their diaconal work. Besides Phoebe, Tabitha is noted for her work with the poor and widows (Acts 9:36-40). It was women who served Jesus’ disciples as they traveled (Luke 8:2-3), literally “deaconing them out of their own means” (see Dorcas, Acts 9:36). Most interesting of all, 1 Timothy 5:3-16 describes an order of widows who were financially supported and who were “devoted to all kinds of good deeds” and dedicated themselves to “helping those in trouble.” Qualifications for membership in the order of widows so approximates an office that Calvin saw a close connection between the work of the diaconate and the 1 Timothy 5 widows. This is why he actually established two ‘“orders” of deacons, one the procurers, administrative workers who collected and managed funds, and hospitaliers, actual care-givers to the poor and sick. The latter order included women (the first did not).

    Calvin, then, established an order of commissioned (not ordained) women who did diaconal work. Given the examples of Phoebe, Tabitha, and the order of widows, it is not surprising that the early church developed an order of deaconesses quite early. Pliny the Younger, just a decade after the death of the apostle John (his letter is dated 106 A.D.), attests to the existence of deaconesses in the early church.

    3. To me, the most compelling biblical case for a recognized body of “deaconing women” is 1 Timothy 3. Paul gives Timothy screening criteria for elder (v.1-7) and deacon (v.8-13) candidates. However, right in the middle of the description of deacons is v.11 that reads, “the gynaikas [wives or women] likewise must be worthy of respect, not speaking evil of others, self-controlled and faithful in all things.” Then, after this statement, Paul goes back to describing deacons.

    The first question almost all exegetes ask is who—who are these women? Since the word gynaikas can mean either wives or women, that is a natural question. On one side are those who say that, if this word meant deacons’ wives, the possessive pronoun ‘their’ (auton) would have been used, but it wasn’t. On the other side are those who say that Paul could have made it clear these were women deacons by inserting tas diakonous (so it would have read “the women who are deacons”), but he doesn’t. This debate goes back at least to the Greek fathers—a very important point. If the church as a whole has not been able to settle this conclusively, we should exercise tolerance toward those who disagree with our opinion instead of calling our opponents “crypto-chauvinists” or “proto-feminists” as much of the blog chatter does.

    A more revealing line of thinking starts not with the question “who” but “why”—why are these women being screened for their character? One answer is that these are deacons’ wives, and therefore the deacons are being qualified for their jobs by looking at the character of their wives. But why, then, were they singled out for evaluation and the elders’ wives were not? Surely, if anything, the standards for elders and elders’ wives would be higher! If the purpose of the women’s descriptors was to qualify their husbands, why was there no such list for the elders’ wives? Some have suggested that the elder candidates were better known and did not need such scrutiny, but if that was the case, why was the elders’ list of qualifications longer than the deacons’?

    By far the most likely conclusion is that the deacons’ wives were being screened with selection criteria because they were going to be appointed to do diaconal work in the congregation alongside their husbands, while the elders’ wives were not sharing in the husbands’ work of discipline and oversight. The key adverb “likewise” (hosautos) further supports this. It precedes the description of elders (v.1,) deacons (v.8,) and women (v.11). This indicates that the evaluation list functioned similarly in each case as a selection criteria for doing work in the congregation.

    There is your Biblical basis for women deacons.

    Chortles, that’s gossip, please check yourself with the Bible.

    D.G., you’ve grossly misread Keller, are actually of one of the false mindsets he speaks of (thinking it moral (Biblical, as you say) to be small—please provide a text for your conclusion since you judge Keller for not doing so, and you’re, from your article, guilty of slander and, if not yet, really need to check your actions with the Word of God and repent where necessary (Assuming you will open you ears to hear—and yes God is Sovereign over your ears, I know; still I really, in Christ, urge you to check yourself)

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  56. “from your article, guilty of slander and, if not yet, really need to check your actions with the Word of God and repent where necessary (Assuming you will open you ears to hear—and yes God is Sovereign over your ears, I know; still I really, in Christ, urge you to check yourself)”

    What, that Terriblus guy is going to Redeemer now?

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  57. Sean, my guess is some guy in skinny jeans did a Google search to see if anyone was ripping TKNY™ over their deaconing persons and he ended up here.

    Logan, the issue with Redeemer NY™ is not the biblical basis for deaconesses or your (or their) interpretation of the NT. It would be if Redeemer™ was an independent, autonomous brandchurch.. For now Redeemer™ is a PCA church and ought to be bound by the PCA Book of Church Order. Is it gossip or opinion for me to say they clearly are not?

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  58. What’s next after no “ordination”? How many times does the book of Acts talk about “the administration of the sacraments”? Or was it the Lord Jesus in the gospels who told us that the “ordained” were the ones who “normally” would “administer the sacraments”.

    Do what you want, but perhaps one should unsubscribe to a confessional statement, not cherrypick the confession on an “as needed” basis.

    We think you should still do it, so it’s “the moral law”.

    We don’t think you have to do it on the seventh day, so that part is “the ceremonial law”.

    We don’t want to sing Fanny Crosby, but also we don’t want to get into that secret stuff about election, which has nothing to do with covenant, so let’s stick to the parts of the Confession which talk about covenant but not the…

    but being cynical is not so healthy….

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  59. I just found out I can’t like mikelmann anymore. His smash sensation blog post was liked and shared by the tooliest Redeemer guy I know. Just another reason why FB is lame. I went ahead and told him he was part of the problem, breaking all sorts of FB nicety rules. I do what I want.

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  60. Logan,

    Just a few things in response:

    1. Even Douglas Moo, who you cite, qualifies his belief in Phoebe as a “deacon” when he states,

    “We put ‘office’ in quotation marks because it is very likely that regular offices in local Christian churches were still in the process of being established.”

    Echoing this is Joseph Fitzmeyer who states,

    Paul calls Phoebe διάκονον, which may designate her generally as an ‘assistant’ or as a ‘minister.’…There is no way of saying whether the term refers at this time to the diaconate, an ‘order,’ which clearly emerged [later].

    2. Women were recognized for their work and I personally have no problems commissioning deaconesses. As a matter off fact, the original ratification of the BCO in 1974 9-7 left a provision for deacons to assist the deacons. This was later changed (and was a mistake in my opinion).

    You’ll notice how criticism #1 informs statements you make in your second section. Just because the word “diaknoia” is used does not always entail an the office of the deacon.

    Furthermore, Calvin’s exegesis of 1 Timothy 5 is honestly torturous and very few modern commentators follow him in seeing an order for widows being established in that passage. Paul is actually talking about how to enroll the widows for care in the church.

    3. You are right to ask, who are these women in 1 Timothy 3. The answer is most clearly that these “women” whoever they are, are not elders or deacons because they have been called the “gynaikas.”

    4. Probably the most important work on the diaconate has been conducted by John Collins and is available here: http://www.amazon.com/Diakonia-Re-Interpreting-Ancient-John-Collins/dp/0195396022

    Collins points out how the office of “deacon” is not properly defined as “menial service” but the word denotes that one is a “commissioned emissary.” This may include mercy ministry, but it was not confined to that–and analysis of the activities of deacons in the early church substantiates this. This is the fatal flaw in the argument of men like Keller and their position for female deacons [NB: Keller does not advocated for deaconesses, he is an advocate for female deacons. This may seem like a semantic quibble, but it explains why he refuses to ordain men and women. There are plenty who would find it fine to commission women to their service as deaconesses while also supporting to ordination of their qualified deacons].

    The position is one of authority in the church–it is not merely an office of service as is so often assumed in these debates.

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  61. Brandon – The answer is most clearly that these “women” whoever they are, are not elders or deacons because they have been called the “gynaikas.”

    Erik – If you walk up to a woman on the street and call her that, wear a helmet.

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  62. I originally wrote,

    “left a provision for deacons to assist the deacons.”

    I may be dumb, but I’m not that dumb. Here is what I meant,

    “left a provision for *women* (and I should have added that only women were mentioned) to assist the deacons.”

    Erik,

    LOL!

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  63. “I just found out I can’t like mikelmann anymore. His smash sensation blog post was liked and shared by the tooliest Redeemer guy I know. Just another reason why FB is lame. I went ahead and told him he was part of the problem, breaking all sorts of FB nicety rules. I do what I want.”

    I’m confused – you mean you have liked me thus far?

    Sean, I’ll have to speak in code. See, I stand by the road with my thumb out. Car pulls over, door opens. I get in the car, the door is nearly closed, and then Muddy comes flying out of nowhere to go along for the ride. And once you’ve let Muddy in the door, well, you know the kinds of things that can happen. Wink wink, nudge nudge.

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