On Friday, 19 May 2023, Pastor Timothy Keller went to be with the Lord after a three-year-long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 72.
Based in New York, Pastor Keller was a spearhead for numerous impactful movements:
- 1989: Oversaw miraculous growth in Redeemer Presbyterian Church after joining as senior pastor
- 2005: Co-founded The Gospel Coalition
- 2009: Launched Redeemer City to City, a leadership development organisation focused on church planting
Pastor Keller was also a prolific author who wrote many best-selling books including The Reason for God and Every Good Endeavour.
He was all those things, and he was also my favourite pastor – though it wasn’t always that way.
I was a young man when I first learnt of Timothy Keller on Twitter, which was also where I encountered many of his views often expressed on the platform as thought-provoking one-liners.
To my mind, this was a guy who was trying to make simple things complex or say them in an unnecessarily convoluted way.
Looking back, I was simply too dense to understand the points he was putting across. And over the years, I would learn and come to see that he was actually doing the opposite – making complex things simple, and accessible to all.
As I began to take Christianity more seriously and as I faced challenges, questions and troubles that life threw at me – whether in my personal life or in the lives of those I lead – I came to lean on Pastor Keller’s sermons and teachings as a resource to help me navigate through some of life’s trickiest quagmires.
For instance, there was the brother who faced frequent self-condemnation; the brother who did not understand how work could be purposeful or filled with joy; the sister who struggled with trusting God for a child; my own understanding of the gravity of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
Pastor Keller helped me make sense of the messier things in life, and turn them into messages that edify and encourage.
For me, Pastor Keller’s sermons were like a comfortable diner I could return to. Whenever I would pick one of his messages to listen to on Spotify, sometimes I’d get the sense that I was choosing a dish that I wouldn’t normally order at a restaurant.
But Pastor Keller would get to work preparing the dish, ingredient by ingredient, seasoned with dry humour and tasteful anecdotes.
Somehow, by the end of the last ingredient, when Pastor Keller would close with his familiar “let’s pray”, the “dish” would all come together and I’d realise that actually I had been starved of a spiritual lesson I didn’t even think I needed.
And that was why I kept coming back to Pastor Keller’s diner over the years, because he always had something new to say about timeless topics – and he said it in a way that reached both the head and the heart.
Pastor Keller always had this accessibility and “word in season”, not because of his easy way of speaking or his knowledge of the Word (which was deep and profound), but because he was a man whose life leaned on the Bible and whose message was gleaned from it.
How clearly it showed, whether in the words of his writing or the sounds of his sermons!
Here at Thir.st, much of the communications work we do here in this team that tangles with culture, and the personal ministry we engage in as church leaders and cell leaders, are closely related to Pastor Keller’s skillset and his approach to ministry.
For me, he is a role model of integrity and winsome witness, and if I even have a fraction of the impact he made with his life – I would be more than grateful for it.
I never got to meet the man in person, but he was a friend and father to me on a spiritual level. I never shook his hand, but he touched my life in a real way.
I can only hope to do something similar for my generation with what time God gives me.
- What’s a quote or teaching by Pastor Keller that has stayed with you? Why not share with us in the comments?
- Have a teacher of the Word or pastor you look up to? This week, be a blessing to them in a practical way.
- Say a prayer for the Keller family.