The Keller Model for Pastoral (and Congregational) Burnout

Over at the Old Life Theological Society, D.G. Hart has an interesting post on Dr. Tim Keller and his model for city church growth. Hart wonders whether Keller’s influence is waning and points out that Keller sounds fatigued in his recent posts. Hart sees a good reason for exhaustion in Keller’s latest model for city church growth:

Although Keller’s failure to be the Presbyterian minister his credentials say he is aggravate the bejeebers out of me, this time his call for a gospel movement seems tired, bordering on #sotenminutesago. It used to be that a megachurch in New York City receiving favorable press coverage in both religious and secular publications was novel. Now it’s not. …

In this case, though, Keller himself sounds fatigued. The reason may be that the only way he can conceive of transforming the city is to concoct a set of hoops and ladders that only the Navy Seals could negotiate. According to Keller, a gospel movement requires three things: a contextual theological vision, church planting and church renewal movements (that’s only one thing even though its a mouthful and a bit redundant — you need a movement to have another movement), and specialized ministries. Here’s where tiredness sets in, at least for readers:

Hart then quotes from Keller’s most recent book, Center Church:

Based in the churches, yet also stimulating and sustaining the churches, this third ring consists of a complex of specialty ministries, institutions, networks, and relationships. There are at least seven types of elements in this third ring.

1. A prayer movement uniting churches across traditions in visionary intercession for the city. The history of revivals shows the vital importance of corporate, prevailing, visionary intercessory prayer for the city and the body of Christ. Praying for your city is a biblical directive (Jer 29:4-7). Coming together in prayer is something a wide variety of believers can do. It doesn’t require a lot of negotiation and theological parsing to pray. Prayer brings people together. And this very activity is catalytic for creating friendships and relationships across denominational and organizational bounderies. Partnerships with Christians who are similar to and yet different from you stimulates growth and innovation.

2. A number of specialized evangelistic ministries, reaching particular groups (business people, mothers, ethnicities, and the like). Of particular importance are effective campus and youth ministries. Many of the city church’s future members and leaders are best found in the city’s colleges and schools. While students who graduate from colleges in university towns must leave the area to get jobs, graduates form urban universities do not. Students won to Christ and given a vision for living in the city can remain in the churches they joined during their school years and become emerging leaders in the urban body of Christ. Winning the youth of a city wins city natives who understand the culture well.

You can read the rest of Keller’s 7 elements and the conclusion of Hart’s post here. I really recommend you do.