Because of my extensive travel and consulting schedule, I have the opportunity to visit an enormous number of churches during a typical year. This week, while in New York City, Kathleen and I dropped in on Pastor Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhatten. The church meets on the campus of Hunter College in the city, and it was quite an experience.
In an age of contemporary praise music, giant video screens, short films, rock bands, and more, Redeemer has none of that stuff. In fact, was just about as traditional as you can get. No words to the praise music projected on screens, no band, and no lighting effects. Just a simple organ, a trumpet, traditional hymns, and responsive readings. Pretty much everything you don’t see anymore in church.
And yet it was one of the most electrifying services we’ve been to in a long time. First, Pastor Tim Keller delivered an amazing message. He’s a brilliant speaker, and during a message of deep Biblical preaching, he laced it with quotes and stories from Shakespeare, Kafka, and numerous pop culture references. He preached as good a sermon as I’ve heard in years, proving that you can teach strong Biblical principles, and yet make it fascinating and compelling.
As I sat there in a service pertty much devoid of what most people think is needed to attract a crowd these days, I realized that compared to other churches with video, lighting effects, great music, and production values, here’s a church I’d feel far more comfortable bringing a friend to visit. It may not be as contemporary as many churches out there, but at least it wouldn’t be an embarrasment.
Perhaps most interesting about the visit, was the fact that the Hunter College auditorium was packed – even on Memorial Day weekend. Further, it was packed with 20-something’s. The vast majority of the audience looked like college students, which teaches us something incredibly important – you don’t have to chase production values, trends, or relevence to attract a new generation.
Remember – this is the same age group that bought The Da Vinci Code – a complicated story on the origins of Christianity. Yes – it was “hooey” as Tom Hanks called it, but it pointed out an amazing hunger on the part of this generation to dig deeper into the origins and principles of the Christian faith. While pastors out there were chasing “relevance,” millions of people were looking for something deeper, and most pastors missed it.
I believe Pastor Keller has created an important model for the 21st Century church. Certainly I’m all for local church expression, and I love churches that do the “production value” thing well – where it’s authentic instead of a distraction, and points people toward God. After all, I’m the “media guy” and I want to use technology to enhance the worship experience whenever possible and appropriate. And I understand that the Sunday night service at Redeemer is much more contemporary. So it’s not as if Tim Keller is against contemporary expressions of worship.
But remember this – he has shown us that people are ultimately looking for a compelling vision. And compelling vision can’t be found in a powerpoint presentation, a video clip, or a rock band. Real vision vision not only teaches us about the life changing principles of the Bible, but it causes us to reach out and impact our community.
Tim has done both, and as such, he needs to be looked at much more closely by pastors and ministry leadership. For a list of resouces by Tim, check here.