Tim Keller on First Impressions
There’s a “Keller Clause” in the contract of all Summit employees. Because he and our lead pastor are besties, we have to quote Keller roughly every 20 minutes, or our tithing rate goes up significantly.
The following is a guest post by Clayton Greene, the First Impressions Director for Brier Creek’s North Venue on Sunday mornings (try fitting that on a business card). Clayton is one of the braniacs behind why we do much of what we do in the realm of guest services. If you’re looking for a robust theological defense of guest services, you’re going to love this:
I was recently reading Center Church by Tim Keller. This book, without directly mentioning first impressions, gives a framework for the necessity of intentional planning for your guests each weekend. Chapter 23, “Connecting People to God,” is one of the chapters full of wisdom in encountering the outsider, specifically at your weekend worship gathering.
About halfway through the chapter Keller switches from talking about worship preferences to talking about what characteristics describe an evangelistic worship service. The thesis of this section is that “The weekly worship service can be very effective in evangelism of non-Christians and in edification of Christians if it is both gospel centered and in the vernacular.” (ironically, I had to look up the word vernacular, which means “native language”. Apparently vernacular is not in my native language)
He talks about Acts 2 and how the worship of believers should be attractive to outsiders. This attraction can and should lead to conviction and conversion, therefore making the worship evangelistic.
In the last section he talks about making worship comprehensible to nonbelievers. Here are some of the gold mines for why we do first impressions.
He starts off saying “our purpose is NOT to make the nonbeliever “comfortable.” They will not be comfortable because as 1 Cor 14 and Acts 2 say, “a non-believer will be convinced by all that he is a sinner” and that “the secrets of his heart will be laid bare.” These descriptions of a nonbeliever in a worship service describe anything but comfortable. However, it is a conviction of the heart that is the goal here. What he does not encourage is any personal offense other than the gospel.
Keller goes on to say we need to “speak respectfully and sympathetically to people who have difficulty with Christianity.” He also says, “it is extremely important that the nonbeliever feels we understand them.” Essentially, everything about our time together in and surrounding a worship service should be sensitive to the guest to allow the offense and un-comfortableness come from gospel application to the heart.
He goes on to discuss which truths of the gospel are discussed each week in their services and why some truths may not be discussed on Sunday morning. Some truths are left out on Sunday morning because they are applications or truths that must come from the basis of an understanding of the gospel. Although some truths may be left out, he says they are not pulling any punches with the nonbeliever in the service. He says the truths they teach “are not only theologically substantial; they are also controversial. But we are choosing to contend and argue for the basic truths of the faith, of the gospel.” “Evangelistic worship is not avoiding the bold proclamation of the truth; rather, it is leading with the offense of the gospel instead of with the truths that are predicated on the gospel.”
At the Summit, on our first impressions teams, we always say, “the sermon starts in the parking lot”. So let me apply this discourse on the truths discussed in the sermon to what happens in the parking lot.
For our guests, we don’t want to lead the sermon off (in the parking lot) with any offense other than the offense of the basic truths of the gospel that will be on display through the worship and spoken truths of the worship gathering. This is why our number one plumbline for what we do on the first impressions team is, “The Gospel is offensive, Nothing else should be.”
Are you allowing your worship service to offend the hearts of nonbelievers with the truths of the gospel? Or is something else offending them before they even find their seat?