All Tuesday classes at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College are canceled due to inclement weather. All offices on campus are also closed.
Update: the Philip Webb concert previously scheduled for tonight has been canceled as well.
Preacher: Russell D. Moore, senior vice president for academic administration and dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Text: 1 Kings 1:1-4
Moore recounted a story of Michael Card giving the back story behind his song, "Underneath the Door," where he spoke of sliding letters under the door to his father who was preoccupied with work.
Card respected his father as being a good man, but this self-preoccupied aspect of his father's life was still a reality. Card shared that this self-preoccupation was built on the false idea that his father was his gift, versus his father having a gift that he should use appropriately.
Moore was convicted recently that he was taking on the characteristics of Card's father through an interaction with his son, Benjamin.
You are not your gift
David in 1 Kings 1 is experiencing the kind of a collapse that comes when a man has not accomplished everything that he wanted to accomplish.
In David, we see a man who provides an example of what to do in the face of a giant and what not to do in the account of David and Bathsheba.
With this passage in 1 Kings 1, we see a picture of a man whose life did not turn out the way he had planned. The temple he desired to build was not built.
Some of you in this room have a ministry that is not playing out the way you thought it would play out. Some of you have a fear of failing in ministry, a fear of falling short of what you want to accomplish.
I want to encourage you to fail to the uttermost and to find freedom there.
Freed from the illusion of ego
David is attending to the people of God and protecting them from enemies. This is exactly what the pastor of a congregation is called to do. But David, this mighty warrior here, at the end of his life is not there with his sword. He is not his gift. He is a man.
Some of you in this room right now are in despair and exhaustion. Some of you in this room are planning out and trying to live a life of ministry that you can't keep all together. Some of you fear that you are going to fail and that your ministry is going to collapse.
Others of you in this room are holding back and not using your gifts out of a fear of failing. To you I say, "Fear. Fall. Collapse."
In this passage, David is on the verge of death. But God is gracious to him as he approaches death. David will not die as Saul did. David is here in bed about to die. Saul was left with illusions: he retained his title as king, dying in battle. He retained his role as leader. But Saul did not retain the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
David here is retaining what God has revealed to him throughout his life: he is not his gift and he is not his anointing. David is reminded consistently throughout his life that He is reliant on God.
David not being unable to get up out of his bed, lying in impotence while his kingdom is being fought for around him, while the temple he wanted to build is not built; David is failing, but he is failing graciously and gloriously. David is failing, but God is allowing him to fail graciously by exposing the illusion that David is his gift.
I am aware and grateful that God reveals to me something that must be cut down in me and that must be cut down in all of us: self-importance. We are tempted to live as if the advancement of the kingdom of Christ of necessity depends on us.
You who are self important and view yourself as the best exegete in your Hebrew class and the best preacher in your preaching class but never use your gifts because you are afraid of exposing your gifts for what they actually are, are lazy and fearful because you do not want to show yourself to be a failure.
Every person in human history has had this Messiah complex -- a self-important focus that says they can and must save the world -- except for the Messiah Himself.
Jesus's anointing with the Holy Spirit carried forward from the moment of His baptism to a death on the cross that linked His anointing with weakness.
If you are anointed with the Holy Spirit for a ministry that advances the kingdom of Christ, then you will minister in the midst of weakness.
David in his humiliation and in his weakness did something he could never have done in his power: he spoke the Word of God with the credibility of a humiliated man. He was freed for that and so are you.
Personal weakness frees you for the glory of Christ
In the Southern Baptist Convention, you have the reality that men who have served long in a church and seen success in a church, viewing themselves as the gift. Thus, they don't want to pass on their church, they don't want to pass on their ministry success, to someone else.
You also have a younger generation that is self-preoccupied and views themselves as the gift. They don't want to inherit a ministry from someone else.
We will never have renewal and Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention by replacing preening people of one style with preening people of another style.
David sees this because he knows that he is not his gift and he knows that there is a Gospel that lets you fail, that lets you fall, that lets you be frustrated, that lets you be chained and beaten or laughed at, but still stands.
We have a Messiah who was power through weakness. Who died, but then three days later rose again.
David failed. But David's failure gives us Jesus Christ.
Some of you are scared to death of falling, slipping or failing.
Some of you are scared to death of having a church plant that only has 10-15 people and where you have to go and explain why at the next conference.
You are scared to death of a failure, but you are not your gift. And the surprising ways that God takes you and the surprising ways that He allows you to fail are all in order to conform you to the image of His Son Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the ruler and I am not. Jesus bears the anointing and I get to share in it with Him. Jesus has the mission and He calls us to join with him. Let's be disappointed, let's fail, let's be humiliated, but let's do it to the glory of Christ as children who are not bringing our prizes to a father so that He lets us stay in the house but as children who are learning to say "Abba."
There is a freedom in that. You will be able to have a freedom and courage and a Spirit-fire in your ministry that enables you to say "I am free because of the Spirit of the Lord." Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
You are not your gift.
Are you encouraged by what you have seen among Southern Baptists, particularly young Southern Baptists, since the annual meeting last summer in Louisville?
Finn: Generally speaking, I have seen a lot of excitement about the Great Commission Resurgence. I think there is still a lot of questions and there are a lot of folks who are still confused about it; they're not 100 percent sure what the purpose of the task force is and you can tell that by reading some of the blogs and the discussions going on in state papers. But the vast majority of young people I have talked to are at least hopeful that something good is going to come from it and that we've established at least part of a road map to a productive future for the Southern Baptist Convention.
How do young pastors and leaders best serve in a local church where they are shepherding a congregation that is part of an older generation of Southern Baptists?
Finn: I think it is important for younger ministers to become bilingual. We don't have trouble talking about missionaries and church planters becoming bilingual and thinking contextually in places where they are serving, but every pastor or minister does contextualization and the primary thing for them is learning the language of the area. So, when a young man goes into a church with older folks who have gone through the Southern Baptist system and are part of that system, then that young man needs to learn how to exegete where those older adults are. That young man also needs to help them see the difference between some of the good and bad tendencies of that older programmatic identity and also to help them figure out how to connect with a community that is never going to be in a world of Training Union or Royal Ambassadors.
How important is it for the younger generation of Southern Baptists to learn about the lives and ministries of great men of God from the last generation of Southern Baptist life, men like Adrian Rogers, Paul Pressler and W.A. Criswell?
Finn: I think there are two things we've got to do as we pass on the faith to the next generation. On the one hand, we've got to do catechesis and we've got to pass on our beliefs and I think everybody gets that and we're talking about that and that's fine.
The second thing we've got to do is pass on our stories. We've got an entire generation that is coming up that, not only have they not heard W.A. Criswell preach, they don't know who Adrian Rogers is. The world is changing and this next generation is coming from a totally different context. We've got to convince them that all of our stories, including -- and maybe even especially -- the story of the last 30 years, are something they want to become a part of and they want to be in continuity with. If we don't do that, then I think some are going to be Southern Baptists by convenience, others will be Southern Baptists by conditioning, but fewer and fewer are going to be Southern Baptists by conviction. So it's not only passing on our beliefs, but passing on our stories as well.
In addition to the following story, check out these video shorts featuring Kevin Larson and Nick Nye:
- Larson on church planting: "excruciating and exhilarating."
- Nye on church planting: "Larson is wrong: it's easy" (just kidding).
- Nye on being affiliated with both the Acts 29 network and the Southern Baptist Convention.
Towers goes inside church planting with two Southern Seminary grads
With the Acts 29 Network kicking out church plants like Peyton Manning doling out touchdown passes, church planting is all the rage. Would-be pastors hear of churches grinding up formerly-eager men like a wood chipper taking out a 100-year-old dead oak and they cringe and think "Why not just plant? I can openly teach the theology and go with the church structure I believe is biblical right from the start. I'll get to handpick my key leaders and we can use the music I think is best right off the bat. What's not to like?"
Sounds great, right?
But what is church planting really like? How much time goes into it? What are the potential pitfalls, the struggles? Are there those moments where you think "I can't do this anymore and don't ever what to think about circulating flyers, visiting a coffee shop or having lunch with a prospective core team member again?" Do those moments span into days ... weeks ... months?
In sum: What is it really like to try and build from the ground up an expression of Christ's heavenly, eternal church here on earth?
Meet Kevin Larson and Nick Nye
Kevin Larson and Nick Nye are two men putting flesh, blood, energy and their families to the theory that is church planting. Both graduates of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Larson and Nye pastor churches they planted in Columbia, Mo., and Columbus, Ohio, respectively. Both churches are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and the Acts 29 Network (for more on these two groups, see the sidebar below).
Larson and his wife moved to Columbia in 2005 and he spent a year working in a coffee shop and getting to know people before launching Karis Community Church in the center of Columbia. Nye launched Veritas Community Church in Columbus' Short North arts district October 2008 after 10 months of preparation.
Both men had staff experience in local churches and campus ministries prior to planting. Larson led worship for five years at Glendale Christian Church in Springfield, Mo., and was involved in Christian Campus House, a ministry at Missouri State University in Springfield. Nye and his future wife started a Campus Crusade ministry at Wright State University in Dayton and Nye served as a worship pastor at a Methodist church in Dayton, Ohio.
"I was known in the Methodist church for taking traditional music and making it contemporary," Nye said. "So, I got passed around all the Methodist churches."
Preparing at Southern
Nye was converted in a SBC church and said he appreciates the denomination's sound theology and cooperation for the sake of missions.
When he first arrived at Southern, however, he wasn't sure if the seminary and the denomination were a fit for him.
"I struggled with the Southern Baptist thing at the beginning," Nye said. "I talked to Russell Moore one of my first semesters at Southern and said, ‘I just don't fit into this culture. I have tattoos. I feel like I am a freak here. I don't have a Southern accent.' And he was really reassuring, and others have been really been reassuring, that ministry is not centered on those things. That really impacted me."
Larson did not have a background in the SBC prior to his time at Southern. Like Nye, he said he appreciates the SBC's commitment to cooperation in missions and that the impact of Southern's professors has caused him and his church to remain affiliated with the denomination.
"I didn't know what I was getting into as far as Southern Baptists, but I loved it at Southern," Larson said.
"There are enough signs of life in the Southern Baptist Convention for me to stick around. The fact that (SBTS professors) Tom Schreiner and Bruce Ware would take a weekend and come over and hang out at the church ... and let us stay at their house (when we visit Louisville): those are significant things."
Why church planting?
So why did Larson and Nye want to plant a church?
"When I was at Southern, there were a couple of things going on," Larson said. "One, is I looked at the way I was wired and started to realize that there was a lot of entrepreneurial type of stuff in me that I thought would fit well for planting. Also, related to that, I just pondered the thought of going into an established church with all the chaos and building on another foundation and I just thought ‘I can't do that. I can't fathom doing that.'"
Nye said he also saw entrepreneurial desires and abilities in himself. The actual thought of church planting arose for him and his wife on their honeymoon in Seattle, as they saw the city's lostness and need for the Gospel.
"We thought and said to each other, ‘Wouldn't it be cool to start a church somewhere here?'" he said. "We started chatting about that and really had no idea about church planting at that time (but eventually it led to the plant in Columbus)."
Nye's degree emphasis at Southern was in church planting and he went to Columbus as a Nehemiah church planter with the North American Mission Board. Nye said Veritas has also received funding from the state and local Southern Baptist associations in Ohio, while the largest portion of the church's financial support comes from other local churches.
"Most of our funding ... has come from churches," he said. "We really spent a lot of the first several months getting out and connecting with churches and pastors and getting them to support us."
Larson also planted within the SBC, though he did not go the Nehemiah church planting route. Like Nye, Larson spent a lot of time meeting with local church pastors and most of Karis' funding has come from local churches.
Getting the plane off the ground: struggles and joys of church planting
Larson and Nye agreed that many of the challenges church planters face are those that any pastor must navigate, while there are others that are specific to church planting.
Larson described church planting as both the greatest and hardest thing he has ever done.
"I can't imagine doing anything else; it is really rewarding and I get a lot of joy out of it," Larson said. "And I know that a lot of the excruciating parts would be the same with any pastor as well.
"But starting from the ground up ... we have three kids and one of the hardest things is going into a culture that is very consumeristic and basically trying to build a children's ministry when you just don't have the bells and whistles that some of the other churches in town offer."
Larson said not having many other families with children in the church has been hard on his wife, which is something he said planters must keep in mind.
"My wife is really tough - tougher than I am in a lot of ways," he said. "When we do assessments here (with Acts 29) I think the guys have a little bit of an idea of what they are getting into, but I almost want to lovingly warn the wives a little bit. The pressure of being a pastor's wife and also a planter's wife is pretty huge."
Nye said with Veritas being in the middle of Columbus, he has had his life threatened on several occasions. While he doesn't really take the threats seriously, he said obviously they have a greater affect on his wife.
Nye also recently had three couples who were actively involved in the church leave because of Veritas' growth.
"We grew really fast in the last four to five months and the simple, house church-type thing was very appealing to them and so when we grew, they just didn't want to do it anymore," he said. "That was really tough for us because there was a lot of bitterness and frustration."
Through these, and other, difficulties, Nye said Veritas has been presented with amazing opportunities to speak truth and life into people's lives.
"Some of the joys are ... we have been able to connect well with the community through counseling, creativity and in mercy," he said. "A girl came to me recently ... She is Jewish and she wanted to talk because she had an abortion over the summer and was feeling really guilty about it. Being able to have those kinds of connections, where people are coming to talk to us about those kinds of things because they know that we are serious about life is amazing."
Nye said he has been surprised by the lack of people who have a grasp of solid theology. He said ministering in the heart of a city that doesn't have a great seminary has been eye-opening.
"We have so many new Christians, young Christians, and we don't have a seminary close by where we can pick from a group of guys and say, ‘Come help: you can get some training here,'" he said.
Instead, Nye said it is a struggle to find people who share similar theological convictions. Because of this situation, Nye said the commitment of Veritas to biblical truth has stood out.
"Some things we have done are preaching solid theology, preaching from the Bible, being Gospel-centered, in a culture where that is crazy," he said. "We stand out so much more because of that in a good way. People are confused. They think, ‘What is this church that is involved in the arts, they serve faithfully at the shelters and recreation centers and yet they are really hard core about Jesus being the only way?'"
Nye and Larson agreed that it is a fight to not equate success with numerical growth. They both minister in college towns (the University of Missouri claims Columbia as its home base; Ohio State University is in Columbus), which can result in vast swings in attendance, based on the college calendar.
"One of the hard things is with church planting they talk about critical mass: that you need a group of people to pull off Sundays and everything that you do," Larson said. "It is hard because not only are you tempted to covet what other guys have, but just practically, you don't want to preach to 19 people. It is just hard."
Larson said church planters, and all pastors, must continually remind themselves to stay focused on preaching the Word and not compare the size of their church to others.
"I have tried ... to preach to myself that numbers don't matter, but to instead look
at the lives that we have changed," he said. "One of the things that is encouraging about Acts 29 is they have been upfront about saying, ‘Preach the Bible, realize what normally happens in church planting and quit trying to measure against somebody else.' ... You just have to keep preaching the Gospel to yourself."
Larson and Nye agree: church planting comes with a great cost, but is well worth the effort.
Michael McKinley serves as pastor of Guilford Baptist Church in Sterling, Va., a position he has held since June 2005. Guilford voted to receive McKinley from Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC) in Washington, D.C., along with his family and seven other members of CHBC. This group joined the dozen or so regular attenders of Guilford for what McKinley calls a "revitalization" effort.
McKinley is the author of "Church Planting Is for Wimps: How God Uses Messed-up People to Plant Ordinary Churches That Do Extraordinary Things," a forthcoming work from Crossway due out at the end of April. Towers had the chance to interview McKinley and ask him some questions about the book and church planting/revitalization.
Why is church planting for wimps?
McKinley: Well, it's meant as a bit of a joke. In the book I argue that revitalizing churches is harder and in some ways more strategic than planting new ones. So in that sense, it's a good-natured jab at church planters.
But also, I worry that a lot of guys are scared away from church planting and church revitalization work because they think that you have to be some spiritual Superman in order to do the work. In reality, God seems to love to take messed up people and use them as he fixes them.
Why did you and Capitol Hill go the revitalization route with Guilford Baptist Church versus planting a new church?
McKinley: We thought this was particularly strategic. Guilford was a dying church, with a few faithful sheep and no shepherd. They had land, a building and a lot of money that wasn't being used to extend the Gospel. Rather than starting from scratch with nothing, we wanted to help those brothers and sisters and employ those resources.
You grew up in Philadelphia and describe yourself as one who loves punk rock and who once had green hair and wore combat boots to Capitol Hill Baptist Church (Washington, D.C.). Does the culture of your church reflect your tastes? Does it reflect the tastes of the 20-something generation?
McKinley: No, not really. Our services are long, serious and joyful. Some 20-somethings find that attractive, others are turned off because it's too slow-paced. In terms of the church culture, our church is a crazy mix of really conservative folks, folks born overseas and more quirky people (like me). But there's a lot of unity and love between different kinds of people.
You compare some efforts at contextualization to the homogeneous unit principle -- appealing to one homogeneous group of people -- and say this is not what the Bible has in mind when it speaks of contextualization. Talk about this idea of contextualization you have observed and explain what you think the Bible teaches about contextualization.
McKinley: Well, obviously we all should and must contextualize on some level. We make choices about where to meet, in what language we should conduct our meetings, what kind of clothes to wear, etc., based on the cultural context around us. That makes sense.
I'm made uncomfortable, however, by attempts to contextualize that in fact become efforts to cater to a small sub-group of the population. Some types of contextualization are so specific to a sub-culture that they in fact alienate a lot of other groups of people. I don't think that's how the church is meant to be. In the second half of Ephesians 2, Paul speaks to the diversity of the church as a display of God's wisdom. So if we make choices to "reach" 20-somethings by contextualizing our music, clothing and slang to make them more comfortable, but those choices make our church culturally inaccessible to people born in different cultures or people in their 40s and 70s then I think we've misstepped badly.
And as I understand what Paul is saying in I Corinthians 9, we're supposed to give up our personal preferences and "rights" in order to remove unnecessary barriers to the Gospel. Our contextualization shouldn't raise more barriers than it removes.
How have you sought to create a culture where every generation, every race and every social demographic knows they are welcome at your church?
McKinley: We try to keep our gatherings fairly "stripped." This means we read the Bible, we sing songs with fairly modest accompaniment, we pray and we listen to the Word being preached. Nothing very fancy, nothing we couldn't do if the power lines were cut and we were left in candlelight. In fact, it's not too different from what Christians do all around the world every Sunday. So while there are some things that are inevitably foreign to international folks (particularly the songs we sing), most of the service feels like "home" to them.
It's also important to be intentional about fostering this kind of unity in the church. It really doesn't happen very easily on its own. So we make a point of encouraging men from other cultures to serve as elders (assuming they are qualified, of course). We try to have a broad range of people involved in leading the service through prayer, singing or reading. And more than anything, it's a matter of doing the (initially) intimidating work of loving people who are different than you are. Folks know whether or not they are welcome pretty quickly.
One heading in "Church Planting is for Wimps" reads: "Without a vision statement, the people flourish." Explain what you mean there.
McKinley: Well, I think most of the emphasis that we put on vision statements is a little silly. There's nothing wrong with them, but most people put way too much time and hope into them. Preach the word. Love people. Share the Gospel. Pray. It's not easy, but it's not complicated either.
You talk about church planting almost wrecking your marriage, or rather your sin revealed in the crucible of church planting almost wrecking your marriage. What mistakes did you make in this area that you would warn other men about?
McKinley: Hmmm.... thanks for the opportunity to confess my sin to a bunch of strangers. Well, the number one thing I would warn other men about is the fear of man. If you want to be well-liked, successful and recognized as a good pastor (and let's face it, you do!), you'll have endless opportunities to sin against your wife and family by putting other people's needs before them. Resist that urge. Love your wife well, even if it makes some people think less of you.
What do you think an extraordinary work by a church planter/pastor consists of?
McKinley: Faithfulness. What's extraordinary about ministry is not necessarily the size of the church or number of converts, but the progression of the Gospel through "ordinary" means. When a church preaches the Gospel faithfully to the world around it and people are being built up in their faith and growing in grace that's extraordinary. It may not be immediately satisfying to our egos, but it is the amazing plan of God to spread his fame.
If you could emphasize three things to men about to launch church plants what would they be?
1. Make your plans, but realize that God will lead you in directions you may never have imagined.
2. Get other men in your life that will tell you the truth about yourself and ask you hard questions.
3. Have a lot of confidence in the Word of God. God delights in using it to accomplish His purposes.
On Feb. 6 the Great Commission Center at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary will host the annual Reaching Out Louisville event. The one-day experience brings together students from Southern and Boyce College, the undergraduate institution of Southern, and encourages them to engage in the community service and evangelism opportunities that the Great Commission Center organizes and supports throughout the year.
"The purpose of Reaching Out Louisville is to connect the Southern Seminary community with the city of Louisville and to minister to the city through evangelism and pure service," said Anthony Casey, Great Commission Center staffer.
Service projects on Feb. 6, detailed below, are open to men and women of all skill levels and include:
- Ministering to refugee community: Be a part of the team that regularly visits Village Manor Apartments to minister to a refugee group, largely comprised of Nepali and Middle Eastern people. Opportunities will include sharing Bible stories as well as assisting individuals in writing their resumes and also job interview coaching.
- Habitat for Humanity home build: As a member of a team, help build a home that will be given to a low-income family in Louisville. No experience or special skills are required and all appropriate materials will be provided.
- Organization for Pregnancy Resource Center: Female students and student wives can assist in organizing a donation clothing closet for A Woman's Choice Resource Center, a crisis pregnancy ministry that is dedicated to presenting the Gospel by assisting and educating women facing crisis pregnancies and protecting the lives of unborn children, and Necole's Place, a safe place dedicated tohelping mothers realizethe future and hope God has for them. The clothing closet available for ladies who need clothing for professional and personal use.
- Disaster relief training: A new, timely addition to Reaching Out Louisville is mission trip training for future outreach to the country of Haiti. Southern Seminary and the Great Commission Center have been working with Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC) Disaster Relief to provide aid to Haiti. Those interested in participating in a Southern-sponsored mission trip to Haiti April 2 - 11 must complete Phase I of the KBC's disaster relief training. Participants of Reaching Out Louisville can attend a Phase I training session on Feb.6 at 9th & O Baptist Church, 4401 Breckenridge Lane, in Louisville. Training costs $40 (cash or check) and includes a required background check, training materials and an identification card. To sign up for the disaster training please contact Jen Burton with Southern Seminary Campus Security, firstname.lastname@example.org, in addition to the Great Commission Center.
Those participating in the Feb. 6 events may turn this one-day experience into regular commitment for their community. Opportunities for sharing the Gospel throughout Louisville are abundant and the Great Commission Center can assist in finding a place for students to share their knowledge of God's word and also their desire to assist those in need.
If you would like to participate in any of the Feb. 6 Reaching Out Louisville projects, please register with the Great Commission Center by stopping by their offices in Norton 108.
In addition to the following story, check out these video shorts of Steve Timmis talking about:
Other such resources may be accessed at: www.sbts.edu/resources
Imagine four men, all members of the same church, having dinner at a local restaurant. Dinner has been ordered and the men are waiting for their food. The conversation turns to work. One man, Dave, begins to harp on his boss, grousing about how difficult he is to work with. Two of the others readily join in, eagerly divulging the weaknesses they see in their own superiors.
The fourth man, Matt, takes in the scene for about five minutes. As Dave is about to launch into another salvo, Matt suddenly interjects, "Guys, I thought we all believed in a crucified and resurrected Christ, but from the looks of things here maybe I was wrong."
Then Dave responds, somewhat begrudgingly, "Matt, you're right: I'm not reflecting Gospel hope. How do you guys think I can best represent Christ to my boss?"
Such a situation represents the crux of Steve Timmis' passion: teaching people how to live daily life with Gospel intentionality.
Meet Steve Timmis
Timmis is the co-founder, with Tim Chester, of The Crowded House, a church planting initiative in Sheffield, UK, and the co-director, also with Chester, of the Porterbrook Network, which trains and mentors church planters. Timmis and Chester are also the co-authors of "Total Church," a book on local church ministry that presents their ministry philosophy.
What is The Crowded House? Timmis described it as "A network of churches that are being planted that are committed to communicating the good news about Christ by word and deed, by the shared life together and the way that they impact the communities that they are a part of."
Gospel word and Gospel community
The Crowded House, and Timmis' overall ministry philosophy, centers on two foundational pillars: Gospel word and Gospel community.
"We take seriously the Gospel word -- we are confessional evangelicals. We have a number of values and a statement of faith that reflects that," said Timmis, who also serves as Western Europe Director for the Acts 29 church planting network. "We believe the Gospel word is a word to be spoken: we try and argue that very clearly in church (life). So, you can't talk about living a life without speaking the Word. If you do, then whatever you are doing, you are not evangelizing; you are selling the Gospel short. So, the Gospel word is very important to us and it is a word that focuses upon what God has done in Christ in redeeming a people for Himself who will enjoy Him for eternity.
"We also take seriously Gospel community in a way that, traditionally, confessional evangelicals haven't. Gospel community is a group of people who are being rescued by King Jesus and who live as His subjects together to demonstrate to the world what a great King He is. So, Gospel community is a demonstrating community: it demonstrates the nature of the Kingdom of God, the nature of Jesus's rule."
Fleshing out Gospel community
When Timmis says he and The Crowded House take Gospel community seriously in a way that confessional evangelicals have not traditionally, he refers to an emphasis on living out one's theology in the crucible of relationships with others who are seeking to do the same.
In "Total Church" Timmis and Chester make the statement, "The theology that matters is not the theology we profess but the theology we practice." Later they say what counts is teaching that leads to changed lives.
"As I look at the church and look at my own life, my problem isn't the theology that I know or the talks that I have listened to, it is the life that I live," Timmis said. "It is actually living out that life and being obedient as a child of God.
"So, I can talk about the sovereignty of God in lofty theological terms and I can cite Calvin and the ‘Institutes' until I am blue in the face. But if I don't submit to His sovereignty in the intimate details of my life then I know nothing of sovereignty. But (rightly understanding and living in light of) His sovereignty is that which, when my five-year-old is dying in the hospital, that His truth sustains me. That I fall back into His sovereign arms with my heart breaking because I know that He is a God who is good. So, that is what we mean by it (the theology that matters is the theology we profess)."
Timmis said that while confessional evangelicals have done a good job of teaching sound theology, their work at seeing people live out such theology has been lacking.
"What we want to do is equip the people not to be theologically smart so that they can pass exams, but people who are intentionally godly, who are radically godly in how they live their lives," he said. "So, we have got to place as much emphasis upon Bible learning as we have upon Bible teaching. We have been satisfied with preaching a good sermon. We have told the Bible well and we go home and we have a sense of satisfaction, patting ourselves on the back and that is just very dangerous. We have got to find a way to take that word and massage it deep into people's lives so it changes life."
Doing total church
What does Timmis think should come to mind when people think "church?"
"I think that what does come to people's mind is a building very often," he said. "If they are a bit cuter theologically it might be a meeting. But what I think should come to people's mind is a people, a people in relationship with one another living under the reign of King Jesus. It is a dynamic community of people in and out of each other's lives and loving God and loving others."
The Crowded House follows a unique church structure. Timmis, who said he could only speak for his section of The Crowded House network (each section is unique), described the structure as "modified Presbyterianism."
"The part (of The Crowded House) that I am part of is made up of seven Gospel communities," he said. "Our Gospel communities are our basic building block of church. That's church, just by another name. I reckon that if I was translating the New Testament I would take the word ecclesia and I would translate it Gospel community in terms of how Paul uses it in his letters.
"Those seven Gospel communities meet together on a weekly basis in a (combined) gathering. There the Bible is taught, we sing songs: it is church pretty much like people will recognize it. But the real life of church, life-on-life stuff, goes on in those Gospel communities day-by-day throughout the week."
Each Gospel community, which Timmis said is made up of 15-25 people, also meets weekly. At these meetings, someone leads a dialogical discussion/lesson that seeks to flesh out the sermon from the Sunday combined meeting. Timmis said they teach the men who lead those discussions to prepare for them just as extensively as they would a sermon.
The Lord's Supper, baptism and church discipline take place at the Gospel community level. Church discipline happens in each Gospel community, but then is shared between Gospel communities, Timmis said.
"We might (sometimes) do baptism in the larger gathering, but that is a decision that the Gospel community that that person is being converted in would make," Timmis said. "So the person being baptized might say, ‘Actually I have a lot of family who might think doing church in a house is a bit weird' (which could lead to him being baptized in the gathering)."
The combined gathering has several elders who are then each responsible for one or two Gospel communities. Timmis is an elder who oversees two Gospel communities, though he does not lead either one.
Does Timmis think smaller churches are better positioned to carry out Gospel community than mega churches? Not necessarily.
"One of the things that I am not saying to people who have got large churches is ‘You need to dismantle,'" he said. "One, that would just be silly: it wouldn't happen. Two, if they tried it would just be so disruptive it would deflect them from Gospel ministry and three, there is just no need."
Timmis sees significant freedom for how churches choose to organize, but he does believe every church must have a context where people grind out the messiness of daily life with Gospel intentionality on a one-on-one and Gospel community level.
"If people turn up at our gathering on a Sunday morning we will use the term church for that. And people will look at it and think ‘This is church,'" he said. "But if they turn up and do stuff that we do as a Gospel community then that is church also. So, what I would say is that people have got to do church at that small level. You have got to do it at the Gospel, missional, community level. Life on life is an essential part of what it means to be a Christian."
Organized programs can play a role in enabling church members to help each other work out the implications of the Gospel in each other's lives, but such programs should never become ends in themselves, Timmis said.
"I don't mind organizing yourselves as is appropriate, as best serves. I am not anti-structure at all," he said. "But structure has got to serve the mission and it is only valid so long as it serves the mission, so long as it helps you do what God has called you to do.
"The great thing about devolving Gospel communities and doing the life-on-life thing is you don't need to run complicated programs where you need specific staff servicing those. But because the Gospel communities are related to each other you also might decide ‘We are going to have somebody who is going help all the guys who are working with other guys do it better.' There is some benefit in it being organic, but there is also some benefit in resourcing the organic. We are sometimes viewed as being anti-structure, but we are not and it is important for people to know that."
For Timmis, success in ministry is seeing the fruit of the Spirit manifest itself in people's lives.
"I think success is being in it for the long haul with people and seeing the Word of God taken by the Spirit of God in the lives of the people of God and just changing them, making them more like Christ," he said. "And (non-believers) being attracted by the kind of corporate lifestyle (I have described) and seeing the Gospel as the only explanation for what is going on and them responding in repentance and faith. That to me is success. In some contexts, that will mean tens, twenties, hundreds, thousands. In other contexts, it will mean ones and twos. The Spirit blows where He wills."
The Jan. 25 Towers features a cover story on Steve Timmis and his approach to local church ministry. Timmis is the co-founder, with Tim Chester, of The Crowded House, a church planting initiative in Sheffield, UK. Timmis and Chester also co-authored "Total Church," a book on local church ministry that some church planters view as foundational to their philosophy of ministry.
This issue also spotlights Nick Nye and Kevin Larson, two Southern Seminary graduates who are putting their theological training to work through church plants in Columbus, Ohio, and Columbia, Mo., respectively. Nye and Larson talk about church planting is actually like.
Michael McKinley says church planting is for wimps: real men do church revitalization (Yes, he is poking fun at church planters). Author of the forthcoming work "Church Planting is for Wimps: How God Uses Messed-up People to Plant Ordinary Churches that Do Extraordinary Things," McKinley discusses his approach to church revitalization/planting in a Q&A with Towers.
Other features of this issue of Towers:
- "Does God hate Haiti?" R. Albert Mohler Jr. addresses the recent tragedy in Haiti and provides a Christian response. Look for more on how evangelical Christians in general and Southern Seminary faculty, students and alumni are ministering amid this catastrophic event in the next issue of Towers.
- Faculty profile on J.D. Payne. Payne serves as associate professor of church planting and evangelism and is the director of Southern's Church Planting Center. Payne is the author of Discovering Church Planting: An Introduction to the Whats, Whys, and Hows of Global Church Planting, The Barnabas Factors: Eight Essential Practices of Church Planting Team Members and Missional House Churches: Reaching Our Communities with the Gospel.
- Scott Thomas, director of Acts 29, answered questions about the church planting network at the Acts 29 boot camp in November of last year.
- Three questions with Nathan Finn, assistant professor of church history and Baptist studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Southern Seminary has been working with Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC) Disaster Relief to provide aid to the devastated nation of Haiti. This aid will be in the form of administering resources and staffing over the coming months.
Volunteers from the seminary student body, staff and community are encouraged to serve in any capacity they can. If you are interested in participating you must have phase I of the KBC's disaster relief training completed.
In the coming weeks the KBC will host two phase I training sessions. The training will cost $40 (cash or check) and includes a required background check, training materials and an identification card.
Phase I training sessions dates, time and locations are as follows:
- Jan. 23: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. (CST) at 2nd Baptist Church, 633 Bishop Avenue, Madisonville, Ky.
- Feb. 6: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. (EST) at 9th & O Baptist Church, 4401 Breckenridge Lane, Louisville, Ky.
To sign up for either of these sessions, contact Jen Burton with Southern Seminary Campus Security at email@example.com.
If you would are interested in the Madisonville training session, organized group transportation is available. Due to limited space, please secure your space as soon as possible with Burton. The Madisonville transportation will depart from the Legacy Hotel lobby at 7 a.m. and is expected to return around 4 pm.
For more information about disaster relief visit, http://www.kybaptist.org/kbc.nsf/pages/disaster-relief.html.
In the spring of 2003, I stepped onto a charter bus with 30 other college students. Nine hours, lots of laughs and a dinner buffet later, we rolled unto the campus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
We had missed the first general session of Southern's Give Me An Answer Collegiate Conference in our travels, so my other college buddies and I settled into couches in the lobby of Southern's Legacy Center Hotel to make our elective session choices.
The next morning, we arose and made our way to our respective classrooms. For my second elective, my good friend Joe Fuentes and I found ourselves in the front row. The man teaching seemed to be not much older than we were and not even as tall: "Russell D. Moore," I thought, reading his nametag. "Hmmm... kind of young."
Fifty minutes later Moore had convinced me that the Man on the Island would die and go to hell without the Gospel and that I needed to go and take it to him. We then made our way over to Alumni Memorial Chapel to hear a man named Albert Mohler present several of the most information-packed, theologically-robust messages I had ever heard.
The other elective sessions, with the late Ron Nash and theologian and historian Tom Nettles, were also compelling, and I returned home with my head hurting and my heart full of things to think about.
Two and a half years and a wedding later, I stepped into a Southern classroom again, this time as a master of divinity student.
Southern's "Give Me An Answer Collegiate Conference" was the first step for me in deciding to come to this seminary. A return visit for the seminary's preview weekend, "Scene@Southern," was an important step in the decision to come to Southern, but it all began with the Collegiate Conference.
As I heard a few of Southern's professors explain why Jesus is the Only Way and defend biblical doctrines related to that critical issue, I was able to see the seminary's devotion to biblical truth. And as I began to walk through my master of divinity here, I came to see that the faculty of Southern is committed not just to imparting the knowledge of biblical truth, but to pressing that truth into students' lives so that it changes them. So that it sinks deep into students, molding them more into the image of Christ, so that they can in turn do the same in local church and missionary contexts.
Southern cannot train men for local church ministry. Only local churches can do that. But Southern is devoted to assisting local churches, partnering with local churches, in training men for ministry. And that they do very, very well. With at least nine professors serving in staff roles in churches, and a number of others in other leadership positions, Southern's faculty is unique among seminaries in its combination of academic, theological and biblical acumen with practical, pastoral wisdom.
Just two night ago, two friends and I bantered about which class at Southern has been our favorite. As we did this, we quickly had to move to favorites (plural). After about 20 minutes, we shifted to the question "what classes have you not liked?" because the favorite category was so full.
For me, the starting point in all of this was Southern's Collegiate Conference. This year's theme is "Does God Still Speak?" If you have any thought of pursuing theological training for ministry, I encourage you to come. If you aren't planning on seminary, but want to be better equipped to take the Gospel to your college campus or your future co-workers in whatever career field you are preparing for, this conference is for you as well.
Just be warned: it might change your life.