In the last 10 years Tim Keller has become one of the most prominent voices calling for renewed faith in the gospel of Christ and reformed ministry practices that conform fully to the Scriptures. I remember hearing his sermon on practicing a gospel-centered ministry at The Gospel Coalition’s first National Conference in 2007. That sermon was key for the transformation of many ministries and churches to better reflect God’s Word. My prayer for the last few years has been that the church in Latin America would experience a similar awakening, where the gospel is central and the Bible is the foundation for everything in life.
Keller is the senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and along with Don Carson, co-founder of The Gospel Coalition. I corresponded with Keller about the upcoming TGC Spanish pre-conference and church planting in Latin America.
One of the topics of the conference in church planting. Why is this an important topic for the church in Latin America today?
New churches are four- to six-times more effective than older churches at reaching non-churched and non-Christians. That means that, in general, unless you always have a good proportion of a city’s churches that are new (less than 10 years old), you won’t really be significantly winning a greater and greater percentage of the population to Christ. You will mainly be re-circulating Christians from weaker churches to stronger ones.
How does the gospel change the way we practice our ministries in the church?
Paul contrasts the gospel (in Romans 3-4) with both religious moralism (in Romans 2) and pagan licentiousness (in Romans 3). Ministries that derive from a legalistic, works-righteousness will be unnecessarily culturally narrow—they will generate lists of forbidden behavior that go well beyond what the Scripture says. And they will carry a tone of severity rather than of love and joy, because they will aim to coerce the will rather than renew and change the heart. Ministries that derive from a more relativistic view will be too culturally compromised—trying too much to fit in with popular opinion. They will lack any note of judgment or warning at all, which means that the cross will not be understood as Jesus bearing all divine wrath for us—and that weakens our appreciation of the depths to which Jesus went to love and save us. Finally, ministries too adapted to the culture will merely aim to include people in community and not convict and change the heart.
What advice would you give to pastors who are in the first steps of planting a church or feel called to church planting in Latin America?
You should not do it without lots of support. First, the support of an inner call and burden from the Lord. Second, the support of a church or denomination of churches that recognize your gifts and promise financial support and accountability. Third, the support of at least one other mentor who knows church planting from experience and who will walk with you for at least the first two to three years, and who will help you derive a plan for ministry from a knowledge of the Bible, of your own gifts and limitations, of the local culture, and of the abilities of the Christians whom God has gathered to you.