Trying to follow God’s call on our lives, my wife and I moved from Central Florida to Northern Virginia in 2000. I came to work for a start-up IT training company. Things went well until the IT bubble burst in 2001 and I found myself unemployed.
As you can imagine, there was a lot of second-guessing. Had we misunderstood God’s call? Should we move back to Florida? (We had rented out our house in Florida.)
My wife suggested we attend a mission conference at our church that weekend. “I hate to go to mission conferences,” I said, “They are always so boring. Who is speaking?” My wife replied, “Some guy named Tim Keller.”
My Introduction to Tim Keller
You need to understand even though Keller planted Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City in 1989, he wasn’t that well known in 2001. His landmark book, Reason for God, would not be published for seven more years. City to City, Redeemer’s church planting group, had just begun earlier that year. The conference was to lay the groundwork for a partnership between our church and City to City to plant a new church in Washington DC.
Tim started the conference by discussing the importance of planting churches in major city centers. By the lunch break, my wife and I were both blown away. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to sit under some of the best teachers in Christendom. Still, unlike anything I had heard, his presentation and context had a freshness and quiet intensiveness.
On the way home, we both agreed that God had called us to the DC area. Why? We weren’t too sure. But we were confident that God, through his Spirit, would show us the next steps. It was also not the last time Tim’s ministry would impact my life.
Over the last 20 years, I’ve listened to Tim’s sermons and read almost everything he has written. His ministry has had a significant influence on my life. Interestingly that is not the end of the story.
Faith & Work
In 2007 I called Katherine Alsdorf, who was running Redeemer’s Center for Faith and Work. We discussed the possibility of me coming to NYC and spending time with her to learn more about their Faith and Work ministry. We were considering doing something similar at our church. She said that she needed to come down to the Washington DC area, and we should meet for lunch.
During our phone conversation, I told her about some things we were already doing in our church’s Faith and Work space. She was particularly interested in our Capital Fellows program.
I invited the director of the Falls Church Fellows program to lunch with Katherine because we had modeled our program after the Falls Church Fellows program.
Katherine was able to take the Fellows Program model and modify it to meet the NYC environment. So was born the Gotham Fellowship, which is now the cornerstone program for their Faith and Work ministry.
Opening the Reformed Theological Seminary NYC
In late 2008 I was having a discussion with my pastor. He was a good friend of Tim Keller and had just been with him the week before. He told me they were having trouble recruiting young pastors to attend Redeemer’s City to City one-year training program.
After listening to my pastor for a while, I said, “So what you are telling me is the guys in NYC are surprised that after a student has spent three to four years in seminary he is reluctant to come up to Redeemer on his nickel and spend a year at their school? And in the end, City to City might let him help plant a church.”
My pastor nodded and said, “When you put it that way, I can see why it’s a problem. What can they do?”
Almost joking, I replied, “They need to let us come up and start a Reformed Theological Seminary campus in NYC designed to serve City to City. We could put together a two-to-three-year degree program with a church planting specialty. We would have students lined up to get a seminary degree and learn church planting from Tim Keller.”
Amazed, my pastor responded with, “That’s a great idea. Can I tell Tim about it?”
“Sure,” I told him, thinking to myself, “This will never happen.”
About a week later, I got a call. “Hugh, this is Tim Keller. I heard you had a great idea. Would you be willing to put it into writing and come up here and present it to us?”
What could I say? Our first meeting was on December 1, 2008. For the next six months, I made three to four monthly trips to meet with Tim, his staff, and the accrediting agencies in New York State and NYC. After a few more unexpected delays, Reformed Theological Seminary and City to City announced the opening of RTS NYC.
God Wants To Use You
Now, I don’t tell you these two stories to elevate myself but to make a significant point. Tim Keller is a five-talent guy (Matt. 25:14-30). On my best day, I’m a two-talent guy. Yet God, in his wisdom, used me to help add two significant pieces to Redeemer’s ministry.
The point is this: through your work, God wants to use you to do things you could never dream of doing. You only need to be willing to follow God’s Spirit as he leads you through the work he has called you to do. The book of Proverbs puts it this way:
Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank (Prov. 22:29).
If I had to describe Tim Keller’s work in one word, it would be faithfulness. The author of the book of Hebrews writes, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7). Tim Keller’s example is not a bad place to start.