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The Message That Ruined Me

In their blog this week The Gospel Coalition commemorated John Piper’s famous 2000 Passion Conference message “Don’t Waste Your Life” (aka, the “seashells” talk). It not only fixed Piper’s influence in the hearts of the 40,000 twenty-somethings gathered in Memphis on that afternoon in May but also became, as the blog notes, “formative for a generation.” For many, Dr. Piper’s words were prophetic, arresting, and spoke to them in the deepest of ways. I call that kind of a message a life message. It’s the kind of message that ruins you for all the right reasons and boldly changes the trajectory of your life.

It got me thinking about my own life message. I heard a talk (also a conference message) that spoke to me in the deepest of ways. It was one of those rare moments when you read or hear something by someone who puts into words what you believed but couldn’t put into words yourself. You just can’t quite formulate it yet. It was like an essential code in the back of your mind (and the middle of your heart) always frustratingly suspended on the verge of being broken. But the second someone finally deciphered it and you beheld its long-awaited clarity in all its glory, it became the Aha! moment where you shouted, “That’s what I believe!”

My “seashells” message was given by Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan. This was before he had written his bestselling books or attained national notoriety. It was 2007. A friend of mine in NYC encouraged me to listen to “this Tim Keller guy” whenever I had the chance, so when I came across a video of his address to the newly minted Gospel Coalition in May of that same year with a message entitled, “Gospel-Centered Ministry,” I thought it something I needed to hear. I settled into my office, closed the door, and watched his 55-minute address.

I was spellbound almost from the word ‘go.’ Dr. Keller’s struggles in church paralleled mine. Yet his answer to those struggles was exactly what I’d thought but couldn’t put into words: a theology of gospel-centrality. My growing angst in ministry had finally found the answer. Indeed, as I heard him eloquently speak about not only what the gospel is but how it should intersect all ministry, especially the pulpit (as he also was a preaching pastor), I kept saying aloud, “Yes.” “Yes.” “Yes.” Although his address wasn’t significantly animated or charismatic like John Piper’s message, I was continuously moved to tears throughout it.

Finally, I had the clarity I was looking for. The code was deciphered in my head and heart. It was such a “moment” for me I watched it again. Another 55 minutes of me nodding my head, dabbing tears from eyes, and saying in my heart, “This is what I believe!” In author Jared Wilson’s parlance, I was experiencing a gospel awakening.1

The grace in it all was Keller’s ability to not only put into words what I couldn’t about gospel-centered ministry but to provide a framework and paradigm for it as well. Now that I had it (or better yet, it had me), I was dangerous because I knew what this meant. I knew this would define me, my ministry, and the local church I served. There was no turning back. I wanted to know everything I could from those who sought to keep the gospel central to ministry. In short, I was ruined.

I read a lot, studied a ton, and even chose my doctoral work based on a seminary that would deepen me in gospel-centered ministry. I began to dialogue with those who were way ahead of me. I couldn’t get enough! I even called up Redeemer and asked for their discipleship materials, and our executive staff spent weeks working through them.2 Needless to say, gospel-centrality would be a defining mark of CCCC. Indeed, ten years later, it has. In a survey a few years ago of our staff and small group leadership, when asked what makes CCCC “CCCC,” at the very top of the list was our commitment to the centrality of the gospel in all things.

So, for all my Passion friends who were marked by God through Piper’s words, Keller’s did the same for me with this message3:


  1. For a great book on the pathos of gospel-centrality, I highly recommend Jared’s Gospel Wakefulness. I can’t tell you how closely his journey to gospel-centrality resembles mine.
  2. In a surprising twist, I would later author a popular article on Gospel-Centered Children’s Curriculum, some of which content was eventually used and referenced by Redeemer’s own children’s ministry. Talk about full circle! That specific content was probably TK’s to begin with. ;)
  3. Interestingly, The Gospel Coalition site has an abbreviated version, whereas dailymotion hosts the entire 55-minute video.
Picture of Yancey Arrington
Dr. Yancey C. Arrington is an eighth generation Texan, Acts 29 Network and Houston Church Planting Network fan, and Teaching Pastor at Clear Creek Community Church in the Bay Area of Houston. He is also author of Preaching That Moves People and TAP: Defeating the Sins That Defeat You, and periodically writes for Acts 29 and The Gospel Coalition.

6 thoughts on “The Message That Ruined Me”

  1. I look forward to listening to that message Yancey. Thanks for sharing.

    Narrowing down one message that impacted my life more than any other is very difficult as there were different messages at different seasons of my life that God used in powerful ways. But there were two those messages that I will never forget:

    One was by John Piper at a Shepherds conference in 2001.

    And the other was by David Platt at T4G.

    Both of these messages had a profound impact on me

  2. Thanks for this, Yancey. I was there when Piper preached that sermon in 2000, and you’re right, it was life-changing. I just listened to Keller’s….nailed it. I couldn’t write fast enough (grateful for pause and replay). So blessed and encouraged by how God is using you. I remember many GREAT conversations with you in my Family Life Center office many, many years ago. I knew then that God had some amazing things in store for you, but He far exceeded my expectations…which is just like God to do. Keep pressing in, brother. Love you.

  3. Yancey Arrington

    I haven’t forgotten those times either, Greg. I appreciate the fact that you took time to genuinely share with me about how you were growing in God, the books you were reading, and the thoughts you were working through. Grateful for you and the fidelity you’ve demonstrated in ministry, brother! Much love!

  4. Yancey Arrington

    Thanks Phil. One of Keller’s stories will be traveling with me to the PNW for the ManCamp. 🙂

  5. Thank you for sharing this sermon! It was awesome! I can really see how this message has shaped your preaching and CCCC. I love how Keller’s wife played such a crucial role in giving honest feedback about his sermons – pointing out that when he points to CHRIST, it is a whole different sermon. Not making you feel guilty, but making you feel loved and grateful. It is encouraging to me that a conversation with his wife played a role in how a whole generation of pastors has reoriented their ministry around the gospel of Jesus.

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