Michael Kelley — A passion for the Gospel
MOORE—Michael Kelley, 30, is a man deeply involved in the life of the mind. Talking with him is like peering into an ongoing conversation about the contents of one book—the Bible. He talks about its intricate details like others speak of fantasy football or some favorite poem. For him, it is more than the way he makes his living (though he is a young Southern Baptist minister). Kelley is part of a generation that questions everything and wants to know how the world fits together after post-modernity has blown it apart.
A native of Amarillo, Texas, Kelley is a graduate of Beeson Divinity School, where he earned the Master of Divinity degree. He remembers a particular class he took with Dean Timothy George on Calvin and the Reformation. He was obviously given a love of learning and a process for interacting with the Bible in ways which drew out the depths of its meaning through good and careful questions about the text of Scripture itself.
Currently he is the editor of a new Bible study series produced and published by Lifeway Christian Resources titled Threads. As a young adult, he is aware that many in his generation (age 18-34) are, for the most part, disengaged from local Christian congregations. The Threads series came about as the result of an 18-month research project of Lifeway Research. The study revealed that younger generations desired community (sincere relationships marked by transparency); connection (inter-generational ministry where older Christians were involved in the lives of younger believers); responsibility (a desire to be actively engaged in their world to the point that actively helping others played a prominent role in their lives); and depth (a desire to understand theology and doctrine as it applies to the difficult issues and questions of life). The curriculum seeks to “piece the Christian life together one experience at a time.”
Kelley was one of the first writers in the curriculum series and tackled some of the difficult sayings of Jesus with a two volume work by that very name—The Tough Sayings of Jesus. One of his favorite “difficulties” is the often-overlooked fact that Jesus deliberately did not travel a short distance to heal Lazarus as he lay dying. Rather, he let him die (or go to sleep as John 11:11 states) only to go and raise him from the dead at a time and place of Jesus’ choosing. Kelley considers this one of the remarkable actions of Jesus in the Bible, revealing the mind of God for many who do not see Jesus act in ways for which they prayed.
He isn’t fearful of facing the tough questions, and he believes that “discipleship has become the new evangelism.” By this he means that the methods and strategies of the recent decades where “Jesus was back-doored with people” are over.
“My generation wants to hear things straight and we want to be intellectually challenged to deal with the tough issues facing us,” he said.
Kelley mentions a name that is ubiquitous among many young Southern Baptists today—Tim Keller. The senior pastor of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, Keller is a hero to many young evangelicals because he “represents the very antithesis of what church growth consultants say will not work.” Kelley points out that the Redeemer’s worship is very “uncool” in that the musicians often play violins and the congregation sings very old hymns.
“The preaching is intellectually challenging and isn’t afraid to deal with the difficult texts of the Bible or the problems of today honestly,” he said.
Many Southern Baptist churches—though disagreeing with some of Keller’s Presbyterian polity and doctrine—are imitating the way he has built the church around the twin pillars of preaching and social action.
Even though Kelley works for a denominational publishing house, the local church is the focus of his passion and goal of his ministry. As a young Southern Baptist, he reveals that he is concerned about the direction of the denomination. At the same time, he states that he is encouraged about the possibilities for the SBC as the agencies and board of the Convention have “remarkable potential” to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“For most of my life in ministry, I did not concern myself with the bureaucracy of the Convention,” he said. “I have a renewed interest in the SBC because I see the potential impact of a generation who desires to be kingdom focused able to use the resources of the Convention in tremendous ways.”
Kelley has a fascination with decisively old methods of reaching people with the Gospel. He speaks of his desire for the modern church to be culturally relevant in ways that avoids moralistic preaching.
“There must be a re-discovery of the Gospel which impacts the real world around us,” he said.
For Kelley that means preaching and healing; teaching the Bible and building houses for the poor; real ministry in ways that are noticeable to a world quite skeptical of organized religion.
“So many young adults look at the church and see nothing there for which they can give their lives. We are eager for a change where preaching the Bible is a priority, where preaching is culturally relevant in ways that addresses real-world problems, physically challenging to young adults to get involved in the lives of others and help others and to take the Gospel to the ends of the world,” he concluded.