Keller calls for church leaders to move away from thinking about their ministry purpose in the false binary of either simple faithfulness to God, or “successful” with growing sunday attendance. The problem lies in the fact that one can be faithful and see little “success” (like the missionary who commits his life to a people and sees no converts), or one could be unfaithful but because of some reason or another, your church grows exponentially. Therefore, Keller advocates that pastors should aim for “fruitfulness” in their churches and he uses the garden metaphor to explain.
Pastors need to be faithful in their work and skilful at what they do – but ultimately the gardener cannot control the success, only God can. Other key variables for the pastor/gardener are: soil conditions (the receptiveness of the people to the gospel) and weather conditions (what the Holy Spirit is doing). Therefore, “When fruitfulness is our criterion for evaluation, we are held accountable but not crushed by the expectation that a certain number of lives will be changed dramatically under our ministry.” (p.14)
To discover a pathway to fruitfulness Keller invites us to learn how to integrate the different types of books in the “how to do church” library. Instead of looking for techniques for ministry effectiveness, learn how to make your own decisions that are centered on the gospel. Be wary of attaching models of ministry to your church divorced from their doctrine and cultural context. Keller uses a computer metaphor of Hardware which is your doctrine, software as ministry, and middleware as the software between the hardware and operating system. In the case of the church, one’s middleware is the vision for how “how to bring the gospel to bear on the particular cultural setting and historical moment.” (p17)
Keller Illustrates it this way (p. 20),
Doctrinal Foundation (What to believe, theological tradition…) ->
Theological Vision (How to see, ministry dna, emphases, philosophy of min) ->
What to do (Ministry expression, local and cultural adaptation, style etc…)
I will be planting out of a flagship evangelical Anglican Melbourne church, which attracts church goers (in part) because of its popular mainstream ministry model: strong children’s and youth programs, a big network of small groups, and relatively “safe” low-church worship services (five songs, a sermon, and some occasional prayerbook liturgy). It would be easy for me to try and repeat this model in the inner-city in the thought that I could attract other mainstream Anglican evangelicals. Or, I might try and improve on the model by sending my leadership team out to do some reconnaissance to ten other key churches in the area to borrow their best ideas. Or, like many church planters, maybe I’ll try and emulate my transatlantic ministry role model?
Keller is arguing that before I get into focussing on programs and models, I should clarify my doctrinal foundation, then work out my theological vision, and then after that look at programs and models.