My Top 12 Quotes from Tim Keller’s “Center Church”


I read Tim Keller’s Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City toward the end of 2012, and found it extremely formative in regard to philosophy of ministry. Out of my 132 Kindle highlights, here are my top 12.

1. On the inescapability of contextualization

If we never deliberately think through ways to rightly contextualize gospel ministry to a new culture, we will unconsciously be deeply contextualized to some other culture.

2. On busting conservative/liberal categories with your philosophy of ministry

A missional church will be more deeply and practically committed to deeds of compassion and social justice than traditional fundamentalist churches and more deeply and practically committed to evangelism and conversion than traditional liberal churches.

3. On influencing the local culture with the gospel

Only if we produce thousands of new church communities that regularly win secular people to Christ, seek the common good of the whole city (especially the poor), and disciple thousands of Christians to write plays, advance science, do creative journalism, begin effective and productive new businesses, use their money for others, and produce cutting-edge scholarship and literature will we actually be doing all the things the Bible tells us that Christians should be doing! This is how we will begin to see our cities comprehensively influenced for Christ.

4. On designing worship services

As you design your worship, you cannot naively assume you are “just being biblical” about many things that are actually cultural and personal preferences. Think of who is in your community and skew your worship service toward them in all the places where your biblical theology and historic tradition leave you freedom.

5. On community as means of discipleship

Most often, growth happens through deep relationships and in communities where the implications of the gospel are worked out cognitively and worked in practically — in ways no other setting or venue can afford.

6. On community as means of evangelism

Community itself is one of the main ways we do outreach and discipleship, and even experience communion with God…The real secret of fruitful and effective mission in the world is the quality of our community.

7. On ministries for social reform

I have seen that most churches in the United States that are deeply involved in caring for the poor have found it wisest to spin off nonprofit corporations to do community development and reform of social structures rather than seek to do them directly through the local congregation under the oversight of the elders.

8. On faith/work integration

 In a missional church today, however, believers are surrounded by a radically non-Christian culture. They require much more preparation and education to “think Christianly” about all of life, public and private, and about how to do their work with Christian distinctiveness.

9. On the inevitability of institutionalization, and what to do about it

It is necessary for churches to intentionally cultivate the dynamics that characterize a healthy movement. This process is difficult not only because movement dynamics push against organizational inertia but also because the movement dynamics themselves can be in tension with one another.

10. On the importance of planting new churches for maximum conversion growth

The average new congregation, then, will bring new people into the life of the body of Christ at six to eight times the rate of an older congregation of the same size. Why is this so? As a congregation ages, powerful internal institutional pressures lead it to allocate most of its resources and energy toward the concerns of its members and constituents rather than toward those outside its walls.

11. On the importance of planting new churches where healthy churches already exist

Studies and anecdotal evidence indicate that if there is one church per ten thousand residents, approximately 1 percent of the population will be churchgoers. If this ratio goes to one church per one thousand residents, some 15 to 20 percent of the city’s population goes to church. If the number goes to one per five hundred residents, the number may approach 40 percent or more. The relationship of the number of churches to churchgoing people is exponential, not linear.

12. On relying on God for fruitfulness in ministry

You can do this ministry with God’s help — so give it all you’ve got. You can’t do this ministry without God’s help — so be at peace.