Panel | A Passion for the Gospel: Gospel-Centered Ministry for the 21st Century


– [Don Carson] Brothers and sisters,
very often in these sorts of meetings, one of our highlights turns out to be
these sorts of panels. And, I have nothing to do with it this
evening other than to introduce the chair, who is Stephen Um. He’s the good looking one at the end. I’ll let you to guess which end. – [Ligon Duncan] That’s easy. It’s the guy with hair. – [Don Carson] He’s the pastor of the…
I never get it right, New City Church… – [Stephen Um] Citylife. Citylife. – [Don Carson] New Citylife
Church in Boston. And it’s a church that is flourishing,
where he is turning out to be a wonderful mentor. He writes as well as he preaches
and teaches, gives wisdom on many, many fronts. We’ve really enjoyed having him
on The Coalition council. He is chairing this meeting tonight. He will introduce the speakers
any way he wants. And will ask questions to do with
ministry in the 21st century. Would you like me to open in prayer? – [Stephen Um] Yeah, that’d be great. – [Don Carson] We thank you for the
reminders we have just heard of the eternal realities that
we deal with all the time. Oh Lord God, make your word
burn within us. We thank you, too, for the years of
practical experience in ministry represented now by the people
on the panel. In different locations,
different denominations, different cultural settings, but years
and years of preaching the gospel, of mistakes, of stupid turns,
of wonderful victories, things we’re ashamed of,
things we’re so thankful for. And still the power of the Spirit of God,
and renewed focus again and again on the cross, watching people get
converted and being conformed to Jesus. And we pray now that in this next hour,
something of that experience will be communicated. The challenge, the joy,
maybe the tears, to a new generation of preachers who are coming along and
looking for models to absorb, to imitate even as the apostle dared say,
“Be imitators of me even as I also am of Christ,” in whose name we pray. Amen. – [Together] Amen. – [Stephen Um] It’s my great privilege
to moderate this panel. When I thought about introductions, the
only person who really needed to be introduced was myself since most of you
know these four men and most of you do not know who I am. But I do want to highlight one thing, that
four of these men are pastors of local churches. You know them, their names are associated
with different movements and different ministries, but I think
it’s important and I think all of them would like to be introduced as
pastors of their local churches. So, we have a Ligon Duncan over there,
who is the senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Jackson,
John Piper, the pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist,
Tim Keller, senior minister of Redeemer Presbyterian,
and Crawford Loritts, senior pastor of Fellowship Bible Church
in Roswell, Georgia. I think what’s interesting about this
panel is that these are four experienced men and preachers of God’s Word,
who come from different settings, different social locations, but yet
who are all committed to the power of the gospel and the effects of the
gospel for pastoral ministry. And so, what I thought we would do here
was…I was thinking about some of the questions that I would ask. And if you were in my position, what sort
of questions would you like to ask these men, because I’m sure you’ve heard
comments and statements written in articles, other interviews
through their writing. But what sort of questions would you ask? I thought about a few. I thought that first I would ask
questions related to gospel ministry center questions. And secondly, vision
strategic center questions. And lastly, I think this is something that
many of us want to know, ask personal questions to kind of humanize
these men a little bit to see how they apply the power of the gospel in their own
lives and in every dimension of their ministries. So, if we could, let’s just
start off with you, Tim. If we could ask this question,
how does your understanding of the gospel shape the way your church does evangelism,
in your context, in New York City? – [Tim Keller] You know,
I actually think you just… that Ajith just gave
a pretty good outline. I mean, a very good outline. If it’s true that at the heart of the
gospel is substitutionary sacrifice, that means that… I was just very taken
obviously with the address. It means, for example,
that if the gospel…if the Christian message was, “Jesus is the leader,
you do what he says, and then God will bless you,” kind of a traditional
understanding of what most people think Christianity is about. You try to be like Jesus, you try to
follow Jesus, and then God blesses you. You’re the right and
everybody else is wrong. You’re not going to have a servant
attitude toward anyone else. You’re just going to say bow and scrape. But if you really understand that the
gospel is about substitutionary sacrifice, then there’s this what looks to the most
people like almost a contradiction of servant attitude toward your neighbors. Real humility in talking to people, at the
same time boldness about the uniqueness of Jesus. In the world’s eyes,
those two things don’t go together. You just to show them that they do go
together and so shock them by this combination of boldness and humility of
preaching the absolute truth of the word and sacrificial love for your neighbor no
matter what they believe. That people start to say what possible
message would hold those two things together in the way in which
your church does ministry. And Ajith gave an incredible… You know, it show the inner logic of it
and then said you have to make people want to know the inner logic of it. So, I think he explained it. I’m really glad he did so I could just
tell you what he just said. – [Stephen Um] I want all of you to know
that feel free to follow up with any of these questions and add
anything you feel to like. Lig, I wanted to ask you,
your name is obviously associated with many ministry movements like the
Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, ACE, Together for the Gospel, T4G,
and also you teach as an adjunct professor at Ed Reform. There are many things that you’re involved
with besides your responsibilities as the senior minister at your church. I want to know, and I think many people
here want to know, why have you intentionally decided to be a
part of The Gospel Coalition? I mean, can we ever get to a point where
we have too many movements? Can we ever get to a point where we might
have to be selective and say, “This is very strategic and central,
but this is something that I might not have the resources to commit
my time to at the moment?” So, could you respond to that? – [Ligon Duncan] Yeah, well,
certainly, we can. I mean, evangelicalism has had a tendency
for about 100 years now, at least, to incredible proliferation of
institutional organisms that sometimes compete with one another. And I actually think that Together for the
Gospel, and the Alliance, and The Gospel Coalition have worked pretty hard
to keep that from happening. We see ourselves as having sort of
overlapping concentric circles of aim and of commitment. Together for the Gospel is
basically a friendship. We say that Mark Dever is human velcro. And he brought together Al Mohler,
and C.J. Mahaney, and me over the course of years. And our love for John Piper, and John
MacArthur, and R.C. Sproul, and Thabiti Anyabwile, pulled
together these eight friends. And we love one another because of our
common commitment to the gospel but also because of the strong commitment to truth
and a willingness to care about truth that we disagree about in a way in which we
still love one another. And I think that overlaps with what
the Alliance does and what The Gospel Coalition does. The Alliance is the product of a
half-century-long ministry that started to support Donald Grey Barnhouse’s
preaching and teaching ministry in both television and radio and elsewhere,
continued in the ministry and supporting the ministry of James Montgomery Boice. And then in the early 1990s,
Jim was convicted that the church was theologically anemic, that God
didn’t matter much to the church, and that the gospel was being
eroded in the church. And he wanted to call the church to
repentance for its loss of God and its loss of the gospel. And then he read David Wells’ book
“No Place For Truth”, and it had a bracing effect on him, and he gave up what was
essentially a ministry focused on promoting his personal pulpit ministry
and said, “I want to see if I can pull together evangelicals from a variety of
denominational backgrounds who can band together to work towards the recovery of
God and the gospel for the evangelical church so that we can have a powerful
gospel witness to the to the world.” It seems to me that The Gospel Coalition
is taking that a step further, both in terms of ministry networks and
trying to connect evangelical theology with evangelical ministry methodology, and
cultivating that back into a whole variety of networks in the local church. I love the fact about all of these groups
believe that God has a plan for taking the gospel to the world and it’s called the
church, and there is no plan B. I love that about each of these groups. And we’ve tried to work really hard. I know Don and Tim have
to not step on one another. And there may be a day when there’ll just
be one group when it’s all said and… we don’t know. But however we can supplement,
and augment, and complement one another’s message,
we want to do while it exists. – [Stephen Um] I’m very grateful for
Don and Tim’s leadership in this coalition. I don’t know if you are,
but they’ve really got [inaudible]. John, thank you for preaching
the word of God yesterday for us. You emphasized towards the end of your
sermon from 2nd Timothy 1, the emphasis of the word preached as
mediating God’s grace on the spot for the people, and how Paul emphasized
grace to you in his introduction and ended his epistles with, “Grace be with you.” And we clearly know that John Piper, and
whatever you do, and your affiliations, the ministry that you’re a part of has
always emphasized the primacy of the preached word. What I’d like to ask you, and I think
many of us would like to know… That’s a given. The centrality of the word and the
preached word. But how do you apply a word-based ministry
to everything that you do in your local church and the ministries that you’re
involved in besides merely preaching? How do you emphasize that
and all other aspects of ministry? – [John Piper] What I’ve stressed for the
last 29 years is that we lead by teaching. Which means that the way this book becomes
the chair of the various councils is that you teach your elders,
you teach the deacons, you teach the committees such that
you feed into every single meeting the Word of God. Our elders, they are 34 of them
and we’re in different structures, but when they gather there,
they’re in this book and in prayer for 45 minutes to an hour. I’ve been on many boards where
that would be considered a colossal waste of the evening. “Get to work for goodness’ sakes. We’ve got stuff to do.” So, you model that. That’s the way you do it. You model it. So, you come to a church,
these newer pastors, perhaps they’ll come to a church,
that won’t be the model, probably. A lot of business types
will be on the boards. They’ll think it’s inefficient to spend
time in prayer and in the Word. And little by little, you ask for the
privilege to do a devotion, and you minister the word, and you take
some aspect of the word, the gospel, and you relate it to what this is
about and how you’re doing it. The principle behind that is,
if Jesus is the Lord of the church, shepherd and we’re under-shepherds here,
how does that work authoritatively? How does that feel? How does the command structure work? And I am breaking my back. I mean you heard a little bit
of it in the message. I’m breaking my back not to be the
authority in this church, but this to be the authority. And I look at my people right in the eye,
saying, “If I say anything that doesn’t fit here, don’t care. And if it’s here, you care infinitely.” And which means get your nose in this book
while I’m preaching, and preacher, get nose in this book while you’re
preaching and constantly land on the text. There’s way too much preaching
hovering over the text. I mean, most of you hover over the text,
which means you’re drawing attention constantly to yourself,
constantly to your authority, your stories, your insights,
your psychology, your analyses, and they’re not seeing it. So, whether it’s the pulpit or whether
it’s in the committee, you’ve got their nose in it. The first part of the verse
begins with this. And the second part begins with this. And this word means this,
and these words mean this. And I promise you, if you’ve been told
in seminary that’s boring, it isn’t. It isn’t boring if it’s taken you. The reason pastors don’t do that in
committees, and boards, and sermons, it hasn’t taken them. They’re getting more juice flowing from my
books and his books than they are from this book, and that’s why they
preach the way they do. Because they haven’t been taught
how to go here. So, you go into these committees and you
just do the same thing there that you did in the pulpit. You push their nose down in the book and
you show them it relates, it relates. So, when I drop dead,
you can do this. More or less that way. – [Stephen Um] I think we all
appreciate your passion. – [John Piper] Yeah. – [Stephen Um] But I think…
let me follow up on that thought because even though you place so much emphasis,
and rightfully so, on the text, I don’t think you’re suggesting because
two people who have had a great amount of influence in your life, C. S. Lewis
and Jonathan Edwards, were extremely creative in the way they
used their imagination. Once again, in terms of their commitment
to the Scripture and how it affected them so that they would be able to illustrate
the text consistently. So, can you just follow up on that by
saying, because some people might hear that and say, “I don’t need
to give illustrations. I don’t need to talk about the culture. I don’t need to exegete my community.” You’re not saying that. Can you just respond to that? – [John Piper] I just wish I could take
everybody and just pin them down for a few days and talk to them. Because the very fact that you would ask
that question after what I said shows how rampant the misconceptions
are of what I mean. It’s just tragic. It’s tragic. That having your nose in this text phrase
by phrase, to see what every precious word means for your soul,
for your church, and for this world would result in unimaginative,
boring disconnectedness from the world is ridiculous. It’s just ridiculous. Where in the world did that
ever come from? Well, it from boring preachers who are
disconnected from the world and have their nose in the text, I suppose. But, so, what can you say? I mean, Jonathan Edwards
knew this book so well that when he saw the word fire or,
“Their worm will not die,” he really believed that’s horrible. And the horror that he felt at that moment
dealing with these specifics of the text produced a urgency to make it
feel horrible. Why wouldn’t that work? Why doesn’t everybody respond that way to
the glories and the horrors of the Bible? And there isn’t much other than glories
and horrors in the Bible. So, no, I’m not saying what you just said
some people might think I meant to say. You shouldn’t walk through the world
with your eyes closed. And I don’t just mean watch TV, and read
the internet, and read fiction. I mean, watch the sunrise,
listen to ambulances go by, look at the tears in the eyes of your
child when you come home late or leave early. Look at everything. Be totally alive. And Lewis is golden
for helping us do this. Is he not? I mean, who has not read Lewis
and had their eyes made wide open? And, of course, I’m not saying
read only this book. You couldn’t even read this book if you
didn’t read other books because you learn how to read reading other books. And you wouldn’t know what this…
And I really believe you should know this book too. This is the Greek New Testament. And I don’t have a…
Where did they come from? – [Stephen Um] Thanks, John.
– [John Piper] I didn’t plan [inaudible]. – [Stephen Um] Crawford, you
want to add to that? – [John Piper] That’s a really good
follow-up and others should maybe respond to that. – [Crawford Lorrits] Yeah, I want
to get back to something that you said earlier, though, John. One of the things that disturbs me
profoundly about this generation of preachers is that there’s
a tacit arrogance when we make the assumption that
God is somehow inarticulate. And you got to be careful of that,
where somehow another… Yes, use windows, and mirrors,
illustrations, stories, put the clothes of the audience on,
that kind of thing. We all get that. But you got to be very careful
about what you project. The process is not the destination
when you preach. Preaching is a word from God for the
people at a moment in history. And whenever you use gadgets and the
attention is taken away from this book and the person who’s anointed and given the
message that comes from this book, you put yourself in an arrogant
perspective, you end up manipulating people, and you become a communicator
and not a preacher. And there’s a huge difference
between the two. A huge difference between the two. One is audience centered,
the other one is transcendent. And we’ve lost transcendence because one
of the reasons why we don’t do expository preaching, number one,
it’s hard work. It’s just hard work. But number two, the other reason why we
don’t do it is because we lack the confidence in God and this book
to faithfully preach it. And if I could just pound the table and
weep here a little bit, there are only two…the Bible teaches that there are two
times, two things that’s done in that. And when the people of God are gathered,
where the Holy Spirit guarantees to show up. When Christ is exalted and his word is
proclaimed, he is called the Spirit of Truth. And you must believe that. Forgive me for preaching,
but this is a burden on my heart. And we have done you all a
disservice by giving you the mechanics of preaching, but not marrying the dynamic
of the Holy Spirit, and the truth of the Word of God, and the development of your
skill to proclaim this book. – [Stephen Um] John. – [John Piper] To say it
as simply as I can, if it bores you, it’s going
to bore your people. – [Crawford Lorrits] Yeah. – [John Piper] And if you read the text,
you get a little outline, you have the “explanatory” factor down. You say, “What am I to do? I’m going to read some Keller. [inaudible] Piper.” Why don’t you just quit. Because… It’s not funny. You’re reading the Bible, stay there. I think we’re so into quickness. You’ve got to linger over words,
and mull them and mull them. They’re like lozenges inside. We jump to a commentary and believe me,
commentaries are sermon killers. They’re just killers. Because commentaries are
not written with flame. They’re not. You never…I mean just somebody stand up
if you’ve ever read a modern commentary with the word O in it. How can you write a commentary
without the word O? They’re killers because they
teach not to say, “O.” So, where do you get it? You get it by pleading with the Lord over
words, and phrases, and connections. You plead, “God, I won’t let you go until
I see something that satisfies my soul and makes me angry, or sad,
or joyful or…” whatever. And then you get up into the pulpit and
deliver what you’ve got and the people will feel like, “He’s been with God.” You try to get all that second-hand,
they’re going to know that just like that. And it’ll be as boring to them
as it was to you. We’re constantly spicing… You have so few models, you young men,
so few models of people who’ve stayed with it until it has become what
you wanted it to be when you asked those three
follow-up questions. Until it has become that for them
because they’ve lingered there, they’ve stayed there, and then because it
came from here, in their sermon styles, they’re constantly showing
where they got it. Instead of ending the sermon that people
haven’t a clue where they got their points. It’s sort of sounded vaguely connected
with the text, but they don’t have a clue where it came from. That over time will de-authoritize this
book, arrogance was your beginning word, and lift you up if you’re good at it,
and cause you to jump from church to church if you’re not good at it. So, I’m just pleading that you stay close
here until it’s on fire in your own soul, meaning is on fire, implications are on
fire, social implications are on fire, relational implications are on fire,
family, global, missiological, every kind of relationship is burning from
that text, and then you just take them phrase by phrase and blow them out of the
water with the relevance of this book. – [Stephen Um] Thanks, John. – [Tim Keller] I’m sorry [inaudible]. – [Stephen Um] That we’re
in agreement with you, John. We are in agreement with you. That was great. Tim, you want to add something? – [Tim Keller] No, it must’ve been
a great questions. – [Stephen Um] I’m just asking
the questions, okay? Crawford, we talked earlier a little bit
about discipleship and your burden for developing the person in a holistic
way with the powerful effects of the gospel and the finished work of Christ. How does your understanding
of the gospel shape the way your church does discipleship? – [Crawford Lorrits] Well, our mission
and vision there at Fellowship is at Colossians 1:28 and 29. We want to present every man,
passionately present every man complete in Christ. And it’s really simple. Our whole ministry strategy is to know
Christ, experience Christ, and to serve Christ. It’s to exalt him in all things. And one of the things we’re fighting very
hard at at our church is not to be process and program driven. It’s amazing how growing churches
gravitate toward complexity and how they gravitate toward how to and framework and
where you can actually think that because you have information disseminated, or
you’ve got relevant programs, or you got all kinds of groups to meet all kinds of
needs that you’re being effective at discipling people. But the measurement is Christ’s likeness. And so, we keep drawing our people back to
Christ and we keep driving every program, literally every program, how does that
reflect maturity in Christ? How is what you’re teaching, what
you’re doing in your men’s group, your women’s group, the small groups,
whatever, how are people reflecting the character of Christ? And it’s in asking that question that
causes us to keep the programs, to keep the emphasis on the person
growing and maturing in him. And, you know, to underscore what John
said, too, I think the other piece is that the word of God is pre-eminent
in everything that we do. It’s a person of Jesus,
and you lead from the Scriptures. There are seven things in every one of our
ministries at our church that we measure things by. And I won’t go through all seven,
but at the top of the list is Christ’s likeness and then you lead
from the Scriptures. And you do that very practically. And so, that’s kind of how we do thing. You know, all ministry, at the end
of the day, is about transformation. It’s about life change. And so, we seek to measure what we’re
doing by people coming to Christ, growing in Christ, becoming more like him. – [Stephen Um] Thanks, Crawford. Phil Ryken emphasized in his sermon
yesterday from his texts about an evangelical succession. It’s not merely about reception,
but transmission and trusting, right? The theme of our conference is trusting
the next generation with the gospel. So, in trusting faithful men with the
preaching of the gospel, Tim, what are you doing right now through your
various networks, and ministries, and things you’re doing within your
local church to promote, to develop this evangelical succession
for the next generation? – [Tim Keller] Most of our concentration
as a church, as an institution, has actually been on people to plant churches,
which, of course, means… In other words, we’ve been pretty
specialized at this point. We haven’t talked… I’d like to do more and I want to do more
about just helping people learn to preach. Just the evangelical succession. We spend more of our metabolism on, you
might say, a bigger package, trying to find folks who are also willing to start
churches through gospel preaching, not just simply go to churches
and gospel preach. And because of that, we perhaps haven’t
spent as much time on the preaching. In some ways the fact… I taught a DMin
course at RTS in Orlando for three or four years with Ed Clowney, it was one of the
highlights of my life because he was a mentor of mine. And I was a little shocked at the
reception of the… RTS put one year where they taped our courses, not terribly
good quality of taping either, but… And they put it on iTunes,
I think, last year. I mean, and the number of folks that
snarfed that up is pretty astounding. It made me see that probably I need
to do more in that area. But up to now, we’ve got some really great
ways of training church planters and preaching is part of that,
but that’s been our main focus. – [Stephen Um] You want
to add to that, Lig? Because you’ve been involved with
Twin Lakes Fellowship and you had a conference just recently. And what are you doing within your
ministry context? – [Ligon Duncan] Well, again,
my involvement with The Gospel Coalition, and with the Alliance, and with the
Together for the Gospel is all about investing in the next generation
of pastors in different ways. Investing in them through the friendship,
investing through the resourcing that we try and do through the Alliance, investing
in them through the resourcing that The Gospel Coalition is going to do. The Twin Lakes Fellowship is a ministerial
fraternal that’s designed to recruit men for church planting, encourage men
that are pastoring, and to get both pastors and church planters
focused on the important work of church planting. So, while we’re feeding them and
encouraging them, we’re also asking them to look outward and to be kingdom
extending instead of just sort of kingdom protecting or kingdom rearranging. And those are ways to get guys…the focus
off of themselves and the congregation, off of sort of an interned focus to being
focused on the kingdom and focused on the gospel. And we want them to be robustly
theological, but we want them to be gospel motivated and oriented. And through each of those structures,
we’re trying to encourage another generation
of faithful gospel ministry. – [Stephen Um] Rest of you, would you
like to add anything to that? – [John Piper] The one thing I would say
that’s transferrable to all the pastors in here…because I think we can tell our
big structural stories and it would just discourage, I think. You move from 25 years old to 63
years old and whatever you guys are, I think I’m probably the oldest here. You move from there to here not with
grandiose visions, but daily faithfulness. He who is found faithful in little will be
found faithful in much. At first, I taught 7th-grade Sunday school
and I gave it my absolute all, and they moved me
to 9th-grade Sunday school. And then they moved me to the
Galilean Sunday school class of young couples. And then William Sanford LaSor
asked me to be a TA assistant in Greek. And then I tried to be a faithful Sunday
school teacher in Germany. And then when I taught at Bethel,
I tried to teach faithfully a Sunday school class every morning
for six years on Sunday. And then I felt called to the ministry,
and I had zero plans to be sitting here. It was absolutely… So,
if you want to raise up men for the ministry, faithfully do the kind
of thing you’d like them to do, and do it so well, they want
to hang around and have it rub off. That’s all. Just do it. Do it really well. Don’t plan a school,
don’t plan some big thing. Say, “I’m going to have a TBI
or I’m going to BCS,” or whatever. Just say, “I’m going to preach as
faithfully, love my people faithfully, reach this city faithfully.” And if you do it and you do it well,
somebody is going to want to hang out and watch. And in 5 or 10 years, you’ll have a little
band of people who want to learn from you. Let’s transfer where everybody
can do their best. – [Stephen Um] I’ve thought carefully
about this last question for all of you. Many of you influence my own thinking,
and my ministry, and my preaching. Because many of us look at you, and
certainly, you don’t present yourself that way, but you’re high-profile pastors, who
have been in ministry with a great amount of experience and have influenced
many of us here in this room and in the evangelical world. And I’m sure there have been bottomless
pits of despair, and discouragement, and disappointment in your ministry
and also in your own personal life. How have you handled that, as you
think about the power of the gospel on your heart and the way you evaluate
everything that you do? I think we’d love to hear
from all of you if that’s possible. – [Tim Keller] Let me start because
actually I’ve been… I think what I want to say actually might supplement
what we’ve been talking about up here. Because the sub-text behind…
Stephen gave a question to John that, you know, made John say, “Look,
you have to be faithful to the word.” I mean, the questions about, “Don’t you
have to exegete the culture? Don’t you have to use illustrations?” They are questions of, “Don’t you have to
know how to apply,” and people… And you know, Don started out yesterday
by comparing me and John, and saying, “Tim gets the text and then goes into
application perhaps more than John does.” I think that was the implication. In other words, I’ll leave the text to go
and say, “Here’s five ways that might be seen,” and John might stay
in the text longer. And actually people have
talked to me about that. It would be a real great mistake to think
that they’re somehow…that you pit those two things against each other, you know,
exegeting the text and coming out of the text to apply it. John is right. Essentially, what you have to do is you
get yourself in the text. Ed Clowney had an old proverb. He didn’t come up with it. He told me it was a Dutch proverb. He says, “Don’t let the pulpit drive you
to the word, let the word drive you to the pulpit.” In other words is, don’t say,
“I got to find something to preach on.” He says that’s death. It’s absolute death. If you’re looking to find something to
preach on, you should be so in the word that you start seeing things. “Oh my, look at that. Look at that.” That’s what John’s talking about. You’re in the word so that it just puts
a fire in your bones, you know, as Jeremiah said. And you have to preach on it because
you can’t wait to bring it out, because you’re amazed at it yourself. That’s what John says
is the heart of good preaching. But here’s the fact, when I was in my 20s,
I would read M’Cheyne’s Bible reading calendar, and I would read it,
and I’d get some great ideas. And I would preach on them. And I do it now, and I hate to tell you,
I’m a lot better preacher than I was. And I really don’t think it’s a matter
of exegesis skills or things like that. The fact is you don’t see all kinds
of things in the text because you haven’t suffered. You haven’t had much
of experience of life. You haven’t had any major failures where
you realize you’re a lot more sinful than you ever dared believe. You haven’t had major sicknesses,
you haven’t had…you haven’t suffered. You haven’t been broken. And, you know, the very same
exegesis skills, Bible reading that in your 50s gives you
all kinds of insights, you know, reading something,
“Is it really say that? I’m absolutely amazed at that.” And you go to your commentaries
to confirm that you’re not reading some… you know, that you’re not looking at too
superficially, and then you are amazed and you preach on it, and you’re way better
than you were 30 years before. You know why? The real difference I don’t think is
usually exegesis or theology. In some ways, your exegesis skills might
be just a little more well honed, you know, when you’re
right out of seminary. It’s the fact that you’ve been in life,
you’ve spent time with people, you’ve watched people die, you’ve been
in jails, you’ve been out there. And frankly, life application happens
if you have had a life. And you haven’t had much of a life when
you’re in your 20s, I don’t care what’s happened to you. You know, I mean if you’ve had… So,
you know, the point is, John’s right, that that’s the key. And I don’t want you to think that somehow
in your 20s or 30s that there’s other things I’ve got to do. I’ve got to exegete the culture and
understand cultural distinctions. And that’s all true, but actually,
it comes much more naturally when you yourself have been
out there in the world in life. And that is what enrich… And therefore,
I’m really trying to say… I’ll just…one other thing is I remember
Dr. Lloyd Jones…I have a little tape by Dr. Lloyd Jones teaching the Christian
Medical Society in London in 1953. He was actually teaching them on Jacob
wrestling with God in Genesis 32. And he remembers that when he was a young
minister he heard four old Welsh ministers talking in Welsh about some new young guy
that was an incredible preacher and everybody was going to do very well. And you know, I’ve used this, I think,
illustration when I was teaching at Desiring God Conference. And Lloyd Jones said the older
Welshman said, “Until he’s broken, it doesn’t matter how good
a preacher is, doesn’t matter his, you know, exegetical skills. He’s going to have to be humble or he
actually won’t really be touching people’s hearts with the text.” And I think that’s right. You know, I mean, my sufferings
have been garden variety. I had thyroid cancer, my wife has
had a lot of physical problems. Anybody who’s church has grown knows
there’s all kinds of heartaches that go with that. All kinds of people that disappoint
you, you disappoint. In other words, just garden-variety
suffering is the best possible thing, you know, to make your
sermons really live. That’s all. – [Crawford Lorrits] You know,
one of the painful truths I’ve come to embrace is what you just said. You know, the truth of the matter is, God
never uses anything over the long haul that comes to Him together. And, I don’t like that statement,
but it’s true. It is the crushing and the breaking,
and it’s cyclical. It’s the rich marinade
of life of ministry. You can take a piece of chicken
and throw it out on the barbecue, and come back and throw some salt
and pepper on it and it’s fine. It tastes good. Or you can stick it in a refrigerator
in some juices and other stuff and let it marinade, and it’s rich. And, you know, those are the jewels
of ministry I’ve come to embrace. I wouldn’t have talked this way 15,
20 years ago, but it’s the losing of a daughter. It’s the loneliness of leadership. And let me just say a word
about that here. Listen to me. The very word leadership implies
you’re at a place by yourself. The very term. Leadership is prophetic in its nature. And one of the things that give you the
ability to lead with deep integrity is that you know what it means when the text
says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord.” When you have to drive home from elders’
meetings that didn’t go well. When you can’t say things
and you’re weeping. When your friend is not there,
your mentor is not there, and you’ve got to fall
on your face before God. When you have to preach when
there are storms in your bosom. When your children have made bad choices. When there’s pressure. That’s when you know the delivering sweet
power of God and the presence of Jesus is rich, and wonderful, and real,
and He drops you into that marinade and you soak it in. That’s the reality of ministry. Ministry is not a gig or a game. It is a life. It’s the life that ministers,
it’s the life that preaches, and it’s that pilgrimage. The difference between David and Solomon,
I don’t want to make too much of this, but perhaps Solomon was set up for a fall
because his path wasn’t the path of his dad, who ran from Saul
for 16 years, and hid out in caves, and knew what it meant to be
spanked by God, to be alone, and that gave him a depth
of the richness that’s there. You know, over time,
God will give credibility to your life not because of your gift. In fact, one of the things I tell younger
guys all the time, please, please, please don’t be defined by your gift. Your gift is only something that God uses,
it’s not the statement of your identity. And that’s the reason why extraordinarily
gifted people are not necessarily the most effective people. The greatest preachers are
not always the best preachers. You want a life that preaches. And so, I’ve learned to embrace suffering
as a friend, as an ally, and as a jewel. And, I can give you a litany of failures
that I’ve had and miscalculation of things and egg on your face that you have
to own up to all of those things. But it’s the marinade of the Spirit of God
to give depth and perspective. – [Stephen Um] Lig, any thoughts on that? – [Ligon Duncan] I’m schizophrenic. I’m temperamentally content. I absolutely love what I do. I can’t believe that people pay me to
preach and teach God’s word. I do it for free. Don’t tell my elders. I suffer from an almost terminal
lack of insecurity. And at the same time,
I quietly wonder all the time whether anything that I’m doing is of any eternal
consequence and is having any effect whatsoever that is useful for the kingdom. And I know that ultimately, the service
that I’ve given to the local church, well, proximately the service that I give to the
local church won’t be seen to have produced fruit until I’m gone. It’s the next guy that’ll get the benefit
of whatever labors of usefulness I’ve done in my congregation, just like I’m the
beneficiary of my predecessor’s good work. But ultimately, I won’t get
my report card til heaven. And I think that every preacher has that
struggle because you can’t see and you can’t quantify ultimately the effect
of your labor here. Because sometimes fruit that looks real
here doesn’t turn out to be real fruit. And then sometimes things that don’t look
like they’re fruitful here turn out to be incredibly fruitful. And I can’t see into the hearts of the
people that I serve. So, I think that’s why all of the things
that Paul is saying to Timothy in 2 Timothy are so important for all of us,
that our goal doesn’t end up until we’re watching the King of Glory
pass along his way. And at the end of time,
and I’m standing there and I’m saying, you know, “Al, this is what
we did this for. We wanted to see a multitude of men, and
women, and boys, and girls that no man could number from every tribe,
tongue, people, and nation praising the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is what we live for. Nothing else matters. And so, I just live there. – [John Piper] Maybe just one other thing. Recently, okay? Recently all kinds of challenges. So, Noel and I, we date on…
bare 40 years. We date on Mondays, we go to Eddington’s. I like the breadsticks there,
and she likes the soup. And we were talking and it hit me
on our 40th wedding anniversary. We went away for three days. It hit me that at those dates we have
become absolutely phenomenal experts at the analysis of our kids’ problems, and
our problems, and everybody’s problems. We’re so good at analyzing why people are
the way they are, and we’re done and we feel terrible. This is a date, this is supposed
to be renewing. This is my day off. We’re supposed to get life from this,
but we’re really good at it, and it leaves us feeling awful. And we were reading Psalm 40 on our 40th
wedding anniversary thinking that God might have an appointment for us there. And He did. He did. Big time. We got to verse five, we’re sitting on a
couch in Northern Minnesota, and God came down, mainly to me. The guy’s the leader, he’s supposed
to fix things under God. And, here’s what verse five says,
“You have multiplied, Oh Lord my God, your wondrous deeds toward us. None can compare with you. They are more than can be numbered. I will tell of them, yet they are
more than can be told.” I will tell of them. And I just looked at Noel and said,
“I am so sorry that at Eddington’s, and Pizza Hut, and Panera Bread,
I don’t tell of them. I preach them like crazy. And I don’t tell them to you. I don’t tell you the gospel. I don’t tell you God can handle this. I don’t quote a verse to you
and say, ‘He can do it. It’s going to be okay. We’re going to make it. The boys are going to be fine. Their wives are going to make it,
our 10 grandchildren, 1 in heaven. We’re going to make this,’
and give gospel reasons. What’s wrong with me? Why do I preach this so well and speak
this at Eddington’s so poorly?” So, I said, “We’re going to say this verse
to each other every day the rest of the year. And I’m going to tell the church that’s
what we’re going to do. At least I am. You don’t… I don’t have
to hold you to it.” That’s another part of our problem. So, just example, I wake up in the morning
now, alarm goes off. She wakes up. I wake up, and I say, “He has
multiplied His wondrous deeds and thoughts toward us. They are more than can be told,
yet I will tell of them.” And then I’ll say some thought about
Christ, “Its going to be an okay day. God is here. He’s with us, Noel.” I’m just trying to speak the gospel,
speak promises and good news more in my family. Forty years into it. I can save you a lot of trouble. If you would just start, husbands,
just start living, speaking the gospel, being gracious, loving gracely,
being like Christ, dying to yourself. But verbally, verbally good-newsing your
children, verbally good-newsing your wife. – [Stephen Um] Amen. Thanks. – [Ligon Duncan] Yeah. Stephen, that made me think
that if we maybe name the two most discouraging things
about my ministry would be one, just watching families struggle,
professing christian families, whether it’s husbands and wives, or
parents and children, or adult children and adult parents. And two, me, I’m the most discouraging
thing about my ministry. And because of that, the doctrine of
progressive sanctification is my hope. If I am as good as I’m ever going to be,
I just want to end it all now. I’m serious about that. And it leaves me more dependent
upon God’s grace to work in my life for any effective ministry. – [Tim Keller] Stephen, I got to… – [Stephen Um] Yeah, go ahead. – [Tim Keller] You need to get used
to this reality. This is a proverb around our house. Once you become a parent, for the rest
of your life, you’ll never be happier than your unhappiest child. – [Crawford Lorrits] Yes, sir. That’s it. In other words, you’ll never be able to be
happier that your unhappiest child because your heart’s tied to your kids. And by the way, not that that’s…
And one of mine’s here so not that… I want you to realize that that’s not…
my kids have been really merciful to me. But, it’s a way of learning the gospel. Because, what I said before, until you
have children, you don’t realize what it means that God suffers for your sins,
He has to, He has to suffer for your sins. Because when you have children,
you suffer for their sins. Your heart’s tied up to them. And what John was saying about probably
the key to a marriage, the key to keeping a marriage going is
simply reenacting the gospel with each other. You can talk about communication skills,
you can talk about…and they’re all good, and there’s a lot of good books,
but basically knowing how to forgive and knowing how to repent. If you know how to forgive and you know
how to repent…and that only happens through the gospel. People who don’t understand the gospel
have barely a sense of what that means. If you can forgive and repent,
if you both can forgive and repent, it doesn’t matter how different
you are, you’ll be okay. You know, two Christians who are married,
no matter how incompatible, if you know how to repent and forgive. So basically, your marriage and your
family gets you down into the gospel and makes you a way better preacher
than you would’ve been. And yet, as John said,
it’s really one of the…you know, it’s definitely one of the quiet
sufferings that all ministers have to deal with under any circumstances. – [Stephen Um] Thank you so much. That was very helpful because the common
pastor wants to know in the moment of your weakness that you recognize the power
of the gospel to be sufficient for your needs. And it’s very important
for us to hear that. This is what I wanted to do. I wanted to allow Tim to close the session
for us by telling us what’s next, what now, you know… – [Tim Keller] You mean
for The Gospel Coalition? – [Stephen Um] Yeah, for
The Gospel Coalition, right. It’s brought us here. And what do you anticipate, obviously
anticipate how God’s going to lead us? – [Tim Keller] Okay. Real brief. What I like about this city,
the possibility of the city is this… – [John Piper] You mean, the network. – [Tim Keller] Yeah. Well, I like the city too,
but I meant…yes, I meant the program. The Gospel Coalition is in some ways
a movement of movements. I think it’s more than most… Somebody
recently in another country told me that. They said, “What you’ve actually got
at The Gospel Coalition is quite a few movements going on, and many of the
leaders of these movements have come together in The Gospel Coalition. And one of the reasons for that
is because sometimes the generals of movements get along better and their
lieutenants think that our movement is going to save the world,
nobody else’s will. Then you come into a meeting like The
Gospel Coalition, and you start to get to know the people of the other movements
that you’ve been a little suspicious of. Then you realize, ‘Boy, those people
pray a lot better than I do or we do.'” And The Gospel Coalition
is a movement of movements. It’s trying to bring a number of movements
that we think are essentially… they all agree on the gospel. They’re going at it
somewhat different ways. They’ve got somewhat different foci. And we’re coming together for, frankly,
for the unity, for doing better things because we are cooperating and
pooling our resources. Also, to humble one another so our
movements don’t become…you know, wisdom perishes with us. We’re the only ones that know
what’s really going on. I think that’s already begun to happen. What’s exciting to me about the
possibility of thousands of people saying… You know, The Gospel Coalition
is really basically a centered set rather than a bounded set. This is Don Carson’s approach. We’ve been very, very careful
about defining gospel ministry, what the gospel is
in our foundation documents. But past that, we’re not going to be
putting out position papers all over the place. What we want is, we would like to have
thousands of people who say, “Yes, I believe in that too,” to come together
and begin to in regions, in other countries, even though we’re not
going to do Gospel Coalition in other countries, we don’t want
American hegemony, as Donald says, but we want people to come together. And I think this city is a great way of
getting people to come together to say, “What are the implications of the
gospel for this, that, this, that? Let’s do things.” I know that 1 out of 10
of my ideas is good. One out of 100 of my ideas is great. And that’s true of almost everybody. So, if 100,000 people are all coming
together to generate ideas on how we can work together, and how we can reach our
culture, and how we can find new ways of communicating the gospel, and how we
can be better expository preachers, if there’s 100,000 people doing that and
they all are coming up with 1 idea, there’s going to be 1,000
incredibly good ideas. We need grassroot spontaneity. You should not be saying, “Oh,
we have 50 or 60 really great gospel preachers, and every couple of years, we
come together to listen to them preach.” That’s not The Gospel Coalition. Gospel Coalition is a very small
organization that wants to catalyze a very big movement. It wants movements to come together to
say, “We’ve got our unique foci and gifts, and, you know, visions but we also want
to do things together as much as we possibly can.” I’m sure that if you get 30 folks through
The Gospel Coalition that get together in a particular city that begin to say,
“How can we begin to map the idols?” Somebody asked me about this. How do we figure out a way
of mapping out idols in a city so that we can preach better to them? I mean, people are going to come up with
zillions of ideas and some of them are going to be great. The only way you do it is to have lots of
people involved, lots of energy. And I see the beginning
of that right here. But this really isn’t a passive…
we don’t want you to be passive. We don’t want you to come together
and listen to the pearls of wisdom coming from us. We actually do want you to meet each other
where you live in your vocations, and your regions, and your cities,
and begin to say, “What can we do to…basically to go in and out?” Actually, again, if you don’t mind,
I was just so taken with what Ajith just did. He was saying, “Why don’t you go to the
frontiers of the culture?” Where it used to be you went to the
frontier of the West, where the… you know, it was dangerous there,
and people were moving in there, and when you went to your
Western frontier in America, that’s where America was happening. It was kind of dangerous,
but you went there to minister. Now, our frontiers are…they’re
cultural frontiers. You know, actually Hollywood, Harvard,
The New York Times, those are frontiers. Making movies, writing scholarship,
preaching in ways that actually equip people to go into those places in a way
that maybe ministers can’t. I sure liked the call to filmmakers and
writers to say, “Now that you understand the gospel, find ways of making that
more culturally accessible. Get out there and do it.” I would love The Gospel Coalition to be a
movement of young people who go to that cultural frontier and begin to work. So, we’re here just to
inspire you to do that. You’re not here just to come and take
notes and then go home and put them in your notebooks. So anyway, I’m actually quite excited that
coalition council people are going to keep on deepening our friendships and trying to
come to more oneness of mind on issues and stirring each other up to love
and good works. But what excites me is the idea of,
you know, 100,000 people involved through the city network that we showed
you before to begin to generate grassroot spontaneity, ingenious ideas that are
going to come bubbling up from the grassroots, inspired by
the foundation of the gospel. That’s my idea. – [Stephen Um] Well, men, thank you
for your openness and your willingness to allow us to be a part
of this conversation. If you would like to join me
in thanking these [inaudible].

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