Posts Tagged ‘Tim Keller’

Note: This is an updated version of a previous post.

In his book, Generous Justice, Tim Keller states:

“All I know is, if I don’t care about the poor, if my church doesn’t care about the poor, that’s evil.”

Jesse Johnson, writing an article for The Cripplegate Blog, has a somewhat different perspective. He writes:

…the fact of the matter is that nowhere does the Bible command the church to care for the poor of the world, to lower the poverty rates in society, or to care for the homeless in our community. There are zero verses that command this, and several that even argue against it.

The question of the role of the church in culture, particularly as it relates to matters of social justice, is popping up in all sorts of forums across the Christian spectrum and has been addressed in various blogs, articles and books from men like Mark Dever, John Piper, Tim Keller and Kevin DeYoung et al. I have no wish to denigrate their (weighty) opinions but I feel that this subject needs more commentary from (a) the so-called ‘poor’ to whom many are referring and (b) actual practitioners of gospel ministry in deprived areas and not only to them.

My concern, in this post, is to ask the question of the role of the church as it relates within a poor community. That, to my mind, is a somewhat different concern than a ministry to the poor and oppressed. Reaching out to the poor and planting a church among them are two entirely different propositions. In spite of the reams being written and said, when I have visited many church’s in the UK and overseas, I haven’t exactly been trampled to death by the stampede of poor people attending their services, never mind being trained up for future leadership!

Let me clarify. I am not, unlike many, trying to build a church with a heart for the poor (although that is not a bad thing), I am simply seeking to build a church of God worshippers in the heart of a deprived scheme. That is a somewhat more complex task on multiple levels than if I were, say, coming into Niddrie twice a week to do some schools work or to operate some kind of ‘outreach’ event. The latter may be viewed as some form of mercy ministry/outreach (although I would contest that) and the former I see as building the local church. Now, I am with Jesse (and others) when it comes to understanding that the commands to love the poor and care for the widow etc are there for the benefit of the Christian Community primarily (although by no means exclusively). He, I think correctly, gives voice to the concern of over emphasising the needs of the poor (although I disagree with his premise below):

I am making the observation that when money is going to soup kitchens, it is not going to missions. To guard against that, the church is never commanded to show compassion to the poor as a means for expanding the kingdom. Simply put, you owe the poor the gospel; Jesus died to purchase for them the privilege of hearing the testimony of his death and resurrection (1 Tim 2:6).

Mark Dever is even more direct on this topic.

We, as a congregation, are not required to take responsibility for the physical needs in the unbelieving community around us. We do have a responsibility to care for the needs of those within our congregation (Matt. 25:34-40; Acts 6:1-6; Gal. 6:2, 10; James 2:15-16; I John 3:17-19) though even within the church, there were further qualifications (e.g., II Thess. 3:10; I Tim. 5:3-16). Paul’s counsel to Timothy (in I Tim. 5:3-16) about which widows to care for seems to indicate that the list was intended for Christian widows. One qualification seemed to be lack of alternative sources of support. Thus the instruction that family members should care for the needy first, if at all possible, shows the kind of prioritization of allowing for families—even of unbelievers—to provide support so that the church wouldn’t have to do it (I Tim. 5:16). We can extrapolate from this to conclude that support that could be provided from outside the church (for instance, from the state) should be preferred over using church funds, thus freeing church funds to be used elsewhere.

I couldn’t agree more in terms of the financial aspect of social action and/or community development (however you want to define it). At Niddrie we are not concerned solely with financial handouts. We have, at times, used an interest free loan initiative (for members and non) which, whilst we have received back our money, has not helped people as we hoped it would. If anything, we enabled their perilous lifestyle choices (that’s one for another blog!) and in some cases maybe even made it worse.

People in Niddrie generally aren’t lacking financially and the state, if anything, is a hindrance in many ways to community development, rather than an aid to it. Of course, there are those who are struggling badly but in almost every case it is down to lifestyle choices. Our main issues here are to do with mental health not (very often) people who can’t feed themselves. Obviously, we have emergency situations and we deal with them as sensitively and unobtrusively as we can. Will we give someone a fiver if their heating has gone or some food if the cupboards are empty? That depends. Can we help you look more closely at your finances to help you budget better for these occurrences? Those who don’t want that help don’t get our money. It’s as simple as that. It’s not the most mathematical scenario, and we’ve had our fingers burned many times, but it is the best we can do.

However, it’s one thing reading Mark Dever’s paragraph from the safety of our laptops in a leafy suburb and quite another when you live in the maelstrom of chaotic lives in a Scottish housing scheme! Even when we know people have done it to themselves, it is extremely painful to listen to story after story of suffering, abuse and horror without feeling some sort of emotional want to reach out and ease it. It’s hard to take the members only approach when we see so many people day in and day out on the scheme.  These people may not become members, but they certainly become an intimate part of our lives. Surely, we have a biblical responsibility to them? Let’s remember that Galatians 6:10 says, So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Many reformed pastors will emphasis the last three words as a proof text for Dever’s position, but the text appears to indicate helping all regardless of affiliation. So, how do we avoid getting swamped then? How do we avoid just turning into another ‘social agency’? Simply, as a church we have clearly defined our mission to our community and the world.

Glorifying GOD, preaching the gospel and making disciples of Jesus Christ

Our main concern on this estate is the spiritual well being of its residents rather than expending (too much) energy on changing societal structures or partnering with Jesus in cultural transformation (whatever that means!). Again, many have written extensively on the issue of the church in relation to culture. Tim Keller has produced the following, helpful, diagram. Click the link here to view. At Niddrie the question is not where do we fall on Keller’s diagram but how does what we do match up with our mission? Is it leading us closer toward it or taking us further away? I find myself frustrated by the diagram because, as usual, it is men trying to box other men into corners. I think personally, and as a church, we probably have people who fall into all the categories in one context or another. I agree, the answer to our community sin problem (its greatest need) is salvation though Christ. But, sooner or later, discipleship kicks in. So, yes, we can strengthen their Christology and biblical doctrine, but we still have to walk them through abusive relationships, sexual dysfunction, threats from drug dealers, mental health problems etc. That becomes about loving them and practically seeking, where possible, to help them relieve some of their (often) self-imposed troubles. Fighting the macro causes of their issues doesn’t even get put on the table. We just haven’t got the time here even if we had the inclination! The answer, for us, is to make sure we keep the gospel front and centre. We can make mistakes in all of the other areas but once that starts to slip then we really are going to have problems!

Many (not all) Reformed Churches in the UK have, generally, operated out of a separatist mindset in housing schemes (if they have ever really operated at all). Many have gone down the ‘Word only’ route. This has left us with some serious problems which my generation of pastors has now been handed. So, what we need is careful thought and consideration as we discuss and think these issues through. The only real hope for areas like ours are healthy, gospel centred churches. That is the foundational underpinning of 20Schemes.

I want to continue this article tomorrow and look at some key issues and why I think the local church must be the centre for change in housing schemes.


Some people can debate until the cows come home about the causes of poverty (and they do!): socially unjust systems, political bias, economic inequality, laziness etc. In Niddrie, that is not the issue. I have a church to pastor and a community to serve. I have to work every single day with what is. I will leave the debating to others with far greater intellectual capacity (and time) than I. I have to deal with the lady who has been raped by multiple family members, the rent boy selling himself to men to feed his meth habit, the murderer, the child abuser, the pimp. I have to bring the gospel to bear on these people and help them to work out what it means to walk in step with the Spirit of God as they begin the slow, painful walk of the Christian life. These people are not part of an outreach programme. We don’t do ‘ministry’ to them out of the back of a van every Thursday evening with a small group of believers. We don’t do it a couple of times a week in a school assembly. We do it day in and day out as we work and live in a broken, diseased and spiritually bleak environment. Mercy ministry is not a tag line or a line in our church’s financial budget because we happened to get hold of a copy of Generous Justice.

Tim Keller (and others) have argued for the complexity of poverty. Not all of the poor are lazy. There are other issues too. Poverty can be the result of oppression, disaster and sin. The issue I have is that in Brazil I saw injustices and people working 100-hour weeks for peanuts. But they slogged and still remained poor. The answer? The gospel. In the scheme here many people don’t work a jot (nor even intend to) and earn far more than a Brazilian could ever hope to. The answer? The gospel. Its pastoral out workings may be different and how we get there may be different. But it is the same gospel message to the same lost sinner in need of the same one and only Saviour. There is no deserving and undeserving poor. There are just undeserving people who may receive salvation through a great and gracious God. That is the bottom line in any of this debate. The only real, true way that love, mercy and justice work together is seen in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only the gospel that can truly paint that picture for our fallen world and our broken communities.  Feed people, clothe them, love them but, for goodness sake, hold out the gospel to them loud and clear. That’s the only thing that is going to save them from what is to come. If I have any time left after that I might consider thinking about the bigger picture. For now, I want to preach Christ, disciple His people, and begin to work on planting more churches in housing schemes across the country.

The rest I will leave to the armchair theologians.

There’s a great new resource coming out from Tim Keller on doing and being church in the Twenty First Century. The book, entitled, “Center Church” will be out later in the year but, for now here is a little promo video (look out for Niddrie!).

click on the link here.

I have had this book on the shelf for some time and recently got around to completing it. I was in NY when Tim and Kathy Keller were doing the promo work for the book. A certain Mark Driscoll was gaining headlines at the same time for his book on marriage but for altogether different reasons!

The first thing I would say about any book on marriage is that I feel a sense of conviction and belief about what is being written when I know the couple are mature and have been in “the fight” for many decades. It’s why I body swerved Driscoll’s book in favour of this. Let’s see what the old man (and his wife) has to say to us on this topic.

Firstly, and I say this with great respect, there is nothing new or groundbreaking in this book that you won’t find in many other Christian books on the market. He hasn’t found a key secret or some deep, new truth that is gong to blow you away. There are only eight chapters, although it does feel longer and somewhat repetitive in places. That being said, there is great truth it be found within its pages and needy reminders for our age which is currently lobbying to redefine the institution of marriage completely. It’s good to be reminded, for instance, that God ‘established marriage for the welfare and happiness of humankind.’ Tim is spot on when he reminds his readers that, ‘if God invented marriage, then those who enter it should make every effort to understand and submit to his purpose for it.’

There are some excellent insights, particularly concerning the nature of love, lust and attraction. Tom reminds us that, ‘when the Bible speaks of love, it measures it primarily not by how much you want to receive but by how much you are willing to give of yourself to someone.’ His whole chapter on the essence of marriage is a timely riposte to many in our culture who, guided by the media, have an overly subjective view of love. In the same vein, we read:

‘Wedding vows are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love. A wedding should not be primarily a celebration of how loving you feel now – than can safely be assumed. Rather, in a wedding you stand up before God, your family, and all the main institutions of society, and you promise to be loving, faithful and true to the other person in the future, regardless of undulating internal feelings or external circumstance.’

It’s a book that has been written (I suspect) with a largely skeptical audience in mind. It is a bit wordy for me to recommend to some of my people, although I have encouraged my wife to read it and I will recommend it wholeheartedly in a selective manner. The insights for single people, for instance, stand out as particularly good and the challenge to ‘rethink singleness’ is timely in an age when many are marrying much later in life than their forebears.

A good, solid read if you have not read much on the topic. Worth a punt.

By Andy Constable

One of the words that is dirty among the newer generation of Christians is the word ‘doctrine’. Christians of my generation think that doctrine hinders our ‘worship’ of God rather than helps. Doctrine is something that we don’t have to think about because worship is more about our experience of God with our emotions than what we think about with our minds. However, the Bible is very clear that doctrine is very important. Here are some reasons why.

Firstly, God cares about the truth. God calls us to love the truth about him in 2 Thessalonians 2:10. Jesus says that the truth will set us free in John 14:6.  God wants everyone to come to a knowledge of the truth in 1 Timothy 2:4. God reveals his wrath against those who suppress the truth in Romans 1:18. And Jesus says that he will send the spirit of truth to us in John 16:13. Therefore, God deeply cares how we view him and how we worship him. This is where doctrine helps us out. It helps us get a grasp on biblical truth and how God wants us to see him. Without doctrine we would simply create a God that matches the idols of our hearts and not the truth about him.

Further, everyone has a doctrine whether they consciously think about it or not. The word doctrine literally means ‘what is taught’. It is the set of beliefs that a person (or a church) holds on who God is and what he is like. Every person is forming a view of God as they understand it and by necessity teach others because people are constantly sharing their views about God with people around them. Everyone has a doctrine and so it’s deeply important that we think about how we are portraying God to those around us.

Secondly, if everyone has a doctrine then surely it’s important to have good doctrine. Paul writes to Titus: “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” Paul encourages Timothy to be very careful what he teaches others about God. He says refute false teachers and encourage others by sound doctrine. How can we have good doctrine? We need to study God’s perfect and infallible Word. This brings in another word that is dirty these days and that is ‘study’. It takes disciplined and patient study to grasp the truths about God. The problem is that we live in the ‘McDonalds generation’. We want a life changing devotion in 15 minutes everyday. We open our Bibles and get bored when nothing grips us after 2 paragraphs. But, disciplined study is good and helps us build good doctrine that honours the Lord.

Thirdly, our emotional experiences are wasted unless they are based on biblical truth. Regardless of what we think or feel, there is not authentic worship of God without a right knowledge of God. As John Piper writes: “The apex of glorifying God is enjoying him with the heart. But this is an empty emotionalism where that joy is not awakened and sustained by true views of God for who he really is.” God is to be honoured as he is revealed to us in scripture. If the truth of God from his word isn’t driving your worship then you are worshipping another god with your emotions. It is wasted energy and doesn’t bring glory to the Lord.

Then there are those who love doctrine more than God. They use it to boost their intellect and don’t allow it to impact their hearts. What I mean by that is that the knowledge of God doesn’t move their souls towards a greater love of Christ. This is very dangerous because those who love doctrine as an end in itself become self-righteous and disconnected from God emotionally. We are to worship God with our hearts and minds. Anything that we learn about God should fuel us to love God more and glorify him with our lives. When you look at the Apostles in Acts they were men who knew God’s Word very well. They taught the people the Old Testament and the truth that it points people to Christ. They knew their theology and doctrine and that set them on fire to share the gospel and glorify God with their lives.

The goal of revelation from God’s word is to change our lives. Religion through doctrine won’t change your life. It can command us to love God but only the truth of the gospel of grace set on fire by the spirit of God can change our hearts to love righteousness. We are to have doctrinal depth but revival happens as people are set on fire by these truths. We need to feel them in the very core of our souls and this causes us to love Christ more than anything else in our worship. Don’t reduce doctrine to just your minds but allow it to affect your hearts! Tim Keller writes this:

If we don’t find that our affections have been moved away from earthly idols toward God, we haven’t worshipped….if I leave Sunday mornings having had no emotional connection whatsoever, I haven’t worshipped. I must allow my heart to be touched to worship.”

In conclusion, doctrine is very important to God because he cares about the truth, and commands us to care about it also. Every person has a belief about God and the Bible is clear that we need to have good doctrine in order to worship God with mind, heart and soul. Our emotional experiences will be empty unless they are sustained by true views of God. Therefore, let doctrine fuel your worship AND let the truth about God set you on fire to treasure God more than anything else!

Thomas Chalmers, the well-known Scottish preacher, in his famous sermon, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” says it all: “Seldom do any of our habits or flaws disappear by a process of extinction through reasoning or “by the mere force of mental determination.” Reason and willpower are not enough. “But what cannot be destroyed may be dispossessed… The only way to dispossess [the heart] of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one.” A young man, for example, may “cease to idolize pleasure, but it is only because the idol of wealth has become the stronger and gotten the ascendancy,” and is enabling him to discipline himself for prosperous business. “Even the love of money ceases to have the mastery over the heart” if it’s drawn into another world of ideology and politics, “and he is now lorded over by the love of power.” But “there is not one of these [identity] transformations in which the heart is left without an object. Its desire for one particular object may be conquered, but . . . its desire for having some one object” of absolute love “is unconquerable.” It is only when admitted “into the number of God’s children through the faith that is in Jesus Christ [that] the spirit of adoption is poured out upon us. It is then that the heart, brought under the mastery of one great and predominate affection, is delivered from the tyranny of its former desires, in the only way that deliverance is possible.” So it isn’t enough to hold out a “mirror of its imperfections” to your soul. It’s not enough to lecture your conscience. Rather, you must “try every legitimate method of finding access to your hearts for the love of him who is greater than the world.”

There are two kinds of people in our churches. Those who are following Jesus and those who are not. If a person is not allowing Jesus to define their life, submitting to His will and His authority and living in a way that puts His priorities at the centre of who they are and what they do, the chances are that they are not Christians. We don’t get saved by giving it all to Jesus. Giving it all to Jesus shows that he has really saved us.

For a fuller discussion on this topic, Tim Keller has written an excellent article here  at the “Gospel Centred Discipleship” site.

by Andy Constable

I am very privileged to work in an environment that is gospel focused. I came onto the Niddrie team 2 years ago and one of the reasons for doing so was because Mez’s vision was and is to bring the gospel to bear in his life, the life of the church and into the community of Niddrie. I haven’t had to build a gospel community because the building blocks were already in place when I came and God was and still is blessing and using that gospel vision. Here are some things that I have learned that are key to building this sort of gospel community.

Gospel Centred Leaders. If you want to build a gospel community then the leaders driving that vision must be gospel centred. Leaders as much, probably more, than anybody else in the church need to live and breathe the gospel. This means that leaders need to preach the gospel to themselves each and everyday. The gospel is what excites them. The gospel is what drives them. If a leader isn’t gospel focused then they will either burn out or build a community that is religious. As leaders we need to guard our souls and make sure that we remind ourselves daily that we are not justified by the amount of work we do, the amount of meetings we attend, how good our sermons are or how nice we are to our congregation, but by the blood of the lamb. We are justified by the good news that on the cross Christ bore the punishment for us and died the death we deserved to bring us to God.

Gospel Centred Preaching. If a leader is gospel centred then by necessity their preaching should be gospel centred to. The Bible is one big story unfolding God’s redemption story culminating in Jesus Christ. This means that all of scripture points to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We need to set the agenda for our vision by preaching the gospel from the pulpit. We do not want a congregation who are little law abiders but have no deep change in their hearts. But we want people who are being changed daily by the grace of God. We want a people who are recognising their sin daily and their need for repentance but also a people who know the love of God shown to them in Jesus Christ deeply and intimately. We set the agenda through our preaching and it must be gospel centred. The gospel is not just for non-Christians but for Christians too. As Tim Keller reminds us “the gospel isn’t just the the ABC of the Bible but the A through Z.”

Gospel Centred Evangelism. If we are preaching the gospel to ourselves and to our church then, by necessity, our evangelism will be gospel centred as well. We need to proclaim to all we meet that there is judgment to come unless people repent and believe the good news. We need to proclaim this good news with sorrow in our hearts for those who are perishing but also with great joy because it is good news! Many Christians are not set on fire by the good news of Jesus Christ and so find it hard to get excited about the gospel. But it is good news to those who believe. It liberates the captives and is the only way to salvation!

Gospel Centred Discipleship. It is easy, particularly in schemes, to preach the gospel and then give people a whole load of laws to follow after. For example with a drug addict we can slip into legalism by sharing that they are saved through Jesus Christ and then give them plan x, y and z to get off their drugs. We want to be very careful that those who come to Christ are then counselled through the gospel. I really recommend CCEF material here as they are gospel saturated in their counselling approach. We must remind ourselves that it is the gospel that brings us to Christ and then continues to transform us. It is the only thing that can truly transform our hearts. If we teach people gospel + legalism then we will create a lot of self-righteous disciples. Eugene Peterson calls these Christians iatrogenic* disciples. They come in with one problem like drugs but then they pick up another – self-righteousness. They go around thinking that because they have come off their addiction that they are suddenly better than everybody else. They become legalists. If we want to build a gospel centred community then our counselling needs to be gospel centred to.

Gospel Centred Fellowship. The gospel should characterize us when we meet socially as well. If we want to build a gospel church then we need to spend concerted effort getting to know each other. Too many churches meet on a Sunday and Wednesday and then don’t see each other between. The early church was characterised by praying together regularly and sharing everything they had so that no-one is in need. When did we turn community into this individualised thing where we never meet! If we are gospel focused then we should meet regularly and share fellowship because we love Jesus and we love each other. This again is something that can’t be forced by telling everyone from the front to have fun and hang out with each other. This is something that happens organically as barriers are broken through the gospel and as leaders model it. We should not be scared to meet socially and hang out and have fun. We are a community of sinners who have been saved by the grace of God and are called to love each other. This happens as we spend time with people’s families and in people’s homes.

I am encouraged at Niddrie because I am seeing these elements worked out in the life of the church. We are seeing people come to Christ. We are seeing people having their lives changed. We are seeing a greater sense of community as people move into the area and get to know each other. This is not our work but God’s of course but he blesses the foundation of the gospel that is being preached and lived. Pray that we would continue to hold dear to the gospel in Niddrie and that this would continue to build a community that reflects the church that God’s wants us to be.

*this is a medical term describing people who come into hospital to get sorted for one problem and then pick up another problem while they are there e.g. MRI virus!

Right, let me get something straight right off the bat. I am not a conference junkie! It just so happened that I squeezed in these 3 during a manic 2 week period. In fact, this is the most conferences I have been to in 10 years! I do not usually like these things. I hate the crowds and the whole “famous speaker” thing but this can usually be offset by a decent book stall!


This conference was in Louisville, Kentucky and I was the guest of my friends at 9Marks. Some observations:

1. It was huge, almost 8000 people I think. That made it both good and bad. Bad in that it did feel a little impersonal and good that it was so powerful when we were all standing together singing some great hymns. It was such a powerful experience praising God with so many other people in one place.

2. Of the 9 main session: 3 were outstanding, 2 were good, 2 were OK and 2 were a disappointment (ironically, from the 2 speakers I was most looking forward to). As models for exegetical preaching, most of the talkers were poor but, as inspirational speakers, they were generally very good. I found the seminars and talking head things to be generally OK (ish), although they talked about issues which I feel are old hat for us in the UK (or maybe that’s just me). The one on famous pastors, particularly, (ironically chaired by famous pastors and even the guy against is famous for being anti famous) was bemusing to say the least. I think this part was weakened by the fact that every speaker (particularly CJ Mahaney) spent at least 10 minutes introducing each main session speaker by telling us why so and so was “the single greatest influence in my life as a believer and/or is perhaps the greatest treasure to the church today” or words to that effect. I don’t know if it is my European nature but I found this toe curlingly horrible.

3. It was brilliantly organised and there was a seamlessness to the event despite the huge numbers. Amazingly, it did not feel overcrowded at any point. All of the stewards were helpful and cheerful. The free book store was a brilliant idea and there was a massive selection of books to choose from. I only bought 1 because they gave so many quality ones away! I did find some of the stalls confusing. For instance there was a Gospel Coalition stall there which didn’t seem to do anything other than be a meeting place for painfully cool twenty somethings. I saw the odd person being interviewed but was otherwise mystified to its purpose. Other stalls were much clearer in handing out literature and promoting some of their work. Free sweets always works for me incidentally!

4. There was a great 2 day meeting afterwards at Southern Seminary. It was a retreat for pastors who had been invited by 9marks. I found that intense and immensely encouraging and enlightening. These are some Godly, friendly men and I have a real affinity and love for them. The way they invited feedback on the whole conference was a real example of humble leadership and wanting to learn. I bought myself a nodding Al Mohler doll for my shelf of tat at home (he sits alongside Obama) from the amazing on site book shop. The seminary just cracked me up. I noticed they had sold out to satan by allowing a Starbucks to sell their products in the place! It was a sort of theological Disneyworld with Al living in the princesses palace. His gaff seemed a little bit OTT for me!

Mark Dever and the 9marks team are just so open and generous with their time and resources. Truly amazing.


I have gotten involved with this group largely through a friendship with a guy called Al Barth. I also spent 5 weeks at Redeemer last year doing an intensive training programme for church planters. This particular set of meetings was for ‘network leaders’ from around the globe (sounds so grandiose when you say it like that)! Some observations:

1. I am still uncertain of the point of the event. It not really made clear (to me).

2. There were people from around the world and that was a good thing (in terms of shared ideas).

3. I felt some of the sessions were nothing more than psycho babble, business speak, seminar type things. One guy talked about having a crap-ometer and mine was in overdrive at certain points during the two days (and, ironically, particularly during his session).

4. Tim Keller, Al Barth and a couple of other people (one on prayer stood out) were on the money and spoke with a real authority and a distinct clarity. It was worth coming for that. The rest felt somewhat fragmented and lacking in cohesion. I observed that Tim pretty much disappeared straight away and I find him and some of his team strangely less accessible than Mark Dever and the 9marks staff.

5. It seemed very “American” in its “how to approaches”. In other words, much of what was presented would be a struggle to contextualise into Europe. Certainly, their heavy reliance on corporate models of church and leadership structures does not carry into our British types of churches (the majority at least).

7. The Bible was not really opened and expounded upon enough for my liking. It seemed to lack real theological foundation and punch. Maybe this was because this was not the purpose of the meeting? However, I would expect a room full of church planters from around the globe to get at it with the Word more. Very rarely was Christ and the gospel mentioned and certainly not really from the front.

8. I found it a more helpful trip in terms of establishing my relationship with a fellow gospel worker from Edinburgh, Neil Macmillan. We got to spend time together, (he got offered hookers and coke outside our hotel – always amusing), and we had many opportunities to talk about a vision for supporting church planters of all stripes in our city. That was perhaps the single biggest benefit of the time away for me. I also got to meet a couple of impressive men in the UK, not least of whom is a man called Neil Powell involved in Birmingham 2020.

9. The time away helped crystalise some thoughts about what’s next for me in my ministry and life.


To be frank, this was the one I could have done without. I was exhausted from my US trip (I was back a day and a half before heading to London) and only went along to do a seminar out of respect for Steve Timmis (and because I had made a prior commitment). If I’m really honest, I am not a big Acts29 fan in terms of all the machismo that sometimes come out of the US with this movement (cage fighting and beer drinking etc). I don’t find any of that stuff to be helpful in my context at all. I see the point that men need to be men (and not the feminised girly boys that mark so much of middle class Christianity in the UK) but at the same time I am trying to get guys to stop drinking (as much) and to see “being a man” as taking responsibility for their kids, not beating their girlfriends and/or spending their rent money on beer/drugs. Anyway, I digress. Some observations:

1. Straight off the bat it was gospel centred and it was gospel all the way.

2. The main preaching (I say this instead of ‘speaking’) sessions taken by JD Greear were on the money. By that I mean they were biblical, faithful to the texts and contextually applied to a European audience. This was a man who had done some homework and sought to engage cross culturally. He showed a great deal of humility in wanting to engage with us and not just turning up for the gig before being ushered out the door by his “personal aid” (other “speakers” take note).

3. The leading of the music by a couple of guys from Sojourn was profoundly biblical and extremely reverently done. I am not sure why it couldn’t have been done by someone from Europe but, regardless, outstanding and an example to any and all worship leaders (scrap that, everybody) in attendance.

4. The first day seemed to contain one too many sessions and I found the last speaker on the first day unnecessary in terms of what he had to say and how it fitted in with the overall message of the conference. Maybe I was tired but it didn’t resonate with me and those I was with. I think perhaps the problem was that Steve and JD can preach and, unfortunately, the gentleman concerned isn’t particularly gifted (in my opinion) to the same level (if at all).

5. As an outsider to Acts29WE I didn’t feel that I was given a full explanation of what they are about early on. I think there was a lot of assumption there and their 4 major principles could have been explained more clearly. I know there was a session on this somewhere but I got waylaid by people wanting to talk to me and missed it. Not the fault of the conference, but I would have appreciated this being explained in a session right at the opening of the couple of days so as to set the scene. As it was, Dai Hankey gave me a very good summary at lunch.

6. I am still unsure as to whom Steve Timmis is accountable in this movement. Who decides direction and strategy? Who keeps him from wandering off track? I am assuming his elders at TCH but how this will develop practically on the ground as this movement explodes (and it will) will be interesting. At the moment this looks like a movement largely bringing in those who are already planting churches, so it will be interesting to see how it develops as this first generation begins to birth them. I could smell the potential in the room and he is going to need a lot of support and prayer.

7. I found the seminar I attended to be pretty naff. The guy involved was from the states (a mistake I think) who used lots of illustrations that practically nobody in the room could relate to (he took a survey before ploughing on regardless). Many around me were playing on mobile phones or doing something else on computers. When I leaned in to the guy next to me and asked if he knew what was happening he just gave a resigned shrug. One guy at lunch said it “wasn’t the most helpful” thing he’d heard on the subject (posh speak for crap). It was a bit of a wayward presentation which didn’t seem to have any real connection in terms of application to the UK and/or European scene. I understood where he was trying to go philosophically but I didn’t really care how “Tinkerbell” fitted in to an overarching redemptive metanarrative! This space could have been used far more effectively for a seminar on Porterbrook, for example (see point 9).

8. The American contingent were extremely Godly, helpful, humble and insightful throughout the 2 days. They were a great example to some of their fellow countrymen who can sometimes present themselves in the opposite light when dealing with other cultures. I think Steve Timmis chose very wisely in this and, again, only strengthens my view that he is the right man for this type of movement from a European perspective.

9. The Porterbrook teaching material was there at a table but I felt it could/should have been given more prominence (there was a short talk given but it could have been clearer). There were some good interviews with planters and maybe an interview with someone using the material and how it has benefitted them would have been really helpful. This is a great tool for those of us trying to plant and train planters and I thought it deserved to be pushed more.

10. The interview(s) procedure(s) got various feedback. One of my friends found the chat intimate, friendly and helpful and another found it adversarial, aggressive and a bit hostile. Yet another, somewhere in the middle. It seemed to depend on “who you got” (and, to be fair, what stage you were at – all 3 were at different stages). As a person looking to perhaps join the network as a partner, I am not sure about this method (is there some universal questions to follow or is it more ‘organic’? – I suspect it is the latter given the feedback. I may be wrong!) and it’s purpose. It made me a little uneasy and hesitant to continue the process (more so for my shy wife than myself!).

11. Without doubt I would give the Acts29WE conference 11/10. I would have liked it to have gone on for more days and I left greatly energised and encouraged by God’s Word and the presence of so many planters out there with big dreams, battling in hard places. Steve and his team are to be congratulated for this.

In summary, T4G was a great experience. The pastors retreat afterwards was truly excellent. I love spending time with Mark Dever and his people. He is just such a great and supportive man. City2City was OK but often baffling. However, it gave me time to review what I was doing and the direction of my own ministry. Acts29WE was immensely encouraging and without doubt Steve Timmis will do the business. He is definitely the right man for the job. There were some great men there battling away in difficult places and it was a real pleasure and a privilege to get an invite. This is a movement that is going to grow and it will only be good for our continent and for the glory and fame of the Lord Jesus Christ. I would say that I left it with a confidence that Acts29 may have hit the jackpot in recent months with changes in personnel and the addition of Steve Timmis and those around him. Oh, and not a beer tasting competition or a cage fight in sight. Just good old-fashioned pubs and footie. Bliss!

I will be posting on the various talks in the coming weeks and trying to contextualise them for our housing scheme ministry. Watch this space!

By Andy Constable

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged that worship isn’t simply a Sunday activity while we sing songs but involves our heart attitude in all of life (see: The question that necessarily flows from this conclusion is – what is the point of meeting on a Sunday? If worship is an activity that happens in all of life then why do we need to meet corporately on a Sunday to worship God? Does anything particularly different happen on a Sunday compared to the rest of the week? Is there any point?

I want to argue that our corporate worship is distinct from, and supportive of, the worship of Christians in all of life. It is distinct because it is time when we gather together and hear God’s Word preached to us in a special way. And it also supports our worship because it is a time when we remind ourselves of God’s truth, receive correction and see the beauty of who God is corporately so that we can then go and worship him with all of life. I want to argue that there are 2 particular reasons why its important to meet corporately on a Sunday.

Firstly Sunday is important for edification. 1 Corinthians 14:26: “What then, brothers? When you come together, everyone  has a hymn, a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church..” The word strengthening here is from the Greek work oikodome and means “edifying, edification, building up.” Paul instructs the Corinthians that the Lord’s people need strengthening when they meet together.

The writer to the Hebrews backs this verse up in 10:24-25: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The writer to the Hebrews commands the church to meet together regularly to encourage and stir one another up. The Sunday is therefore supportive of our worship during the week. The meeting up on a Sunday is to be used to instruct people in God’s word and strengthen them towards glorifying God all the more.  In more modern, emotional centred churches the strengthening of God’s people is cast to the side. They say that the primary reason we meet is to “meet with God”. But Paul is very clear that the reason we meet together is to be built up for service. Teaching God’s Word correctly and simply must be an emphasis of our Sunday services.

However many churches would stop there. They would say that edification is the only reason we meet up. I would argue that there is a second reason to meet on a Sunday. The second reason we meet on a Sunday is to meet with God. Worship, as Carson writes: “is ascribing all honour and worth to…God because he is worthy, delightfully so.” We are therefore only truly worshipping God with our entire beings, including our hearts, when we are ‘affected’ by God’s glory because we see his worth. As Tim Keller writes worship is “obedient action motivated by the beauty of who God is in himself.” The second purpose of meeting on a Sunday then is to see the worth of God in all his fullness.

We see this in the Bible time and again. David writes this in Psalm 41:16: “But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, The LORD be exalted!” The Psalmist says those who follow the Lord are to rejoice, be glad and love the salvation of the Lord and result is that we want the Lord to be exalted. If our services are simply geared towards edification and our heads then we miss out the rejoicing in and being glad in and loving the Lord, which is geared towards our affections.

This is what the reformer Calvin believed deeply. Calvin believed that the goal of gathered worship was to bring people face to face with God. Calvin’s aim was not that people would simply learn information about God, but that they would truly hear God speak and know his presence in the service. Jonathon Edwards argued along the same lines when he said that worship had not occurred unless our “hearts are affected, and our love captivated by the free grace of God” and when “the great, spiritual, mysterious, and invisible things of the gospel…have the weight and power of real things in their hearts.” Thus, the goal of gathered worship is to make God “spiritually real” to our hearts. That is where truths by the Spirit’s influence become fiery, powerful, and profoundly affecting. It is not enough to be told about grace. But you need to be amazed by it.

The goal of Sundays is edification and meeting with God. Our heads and hearts are to be instructed and affected by the beauty and truth of God. This is what we want to see in Niddrie! A church that meets on a Sunday to support our worship during the week and that instructs our minds and affects the heart. We want to be set on fire by the fame of God’s name and his renown. Please pray for us as leaders that we would prayerfully apply the gospel and allow the Spirit to do his work in the life of the church!