Tim Keller’s Lessons for Church Renewal Leaders

Written by Bill Whitt
June 13, 2023

Tim Keller's life was filled with lessons for those of us who work in church renewal. Here are five ways his life inspired me.

Church planter and author Tim Keller recently passed away, leaving behind a rich legacy for those who work in church renewal. Keller planted and grew a thriving congregation in Manhattan, co-founded The Gospel Coalition, launched a church planting network, and wrote numerous best-selling books about how to reach today’s culture with the gospel.

  • Keller’s life was filled with lessons for those of us who work in church renewal. Here are five ways his life inspired me.
Five Ideas for Church Renewal Work by Tim Keller
Idea 1: Church as Usual Will Not Work
  • Keller knew that the gospel message never changes, but the way it is contextualized never stops changing. He was humble enough to learn what would work and what would not work in his location, rather than mindlessly importing a ministry philosophy from another location.
  • This principle is not just for Manhattan. No matter where you are located, adaptability is a superpower in the work of church renewal.
Idea 2: Precedent Means Nothing
  • Keller was not afraid to try new approaches to ministry. His wife, Kathy, said, “When I say we committed ourselves to not doing anything because that was the way we’d seen it or enjoyed it in another setting, I really do mean nothing.”
  • For all of us, the temptation to keep doing what we’ve always done can be strong. Keller teaches us, though, that we should feel free to try a variety of approaches and simply scrap those that do not work. There is freedom in knowing that you don’t have to stick with anything that is not effective. (That is the sunk-cost fallacy.)
Idea 3: Know Your Opponents’ Arguments
  • Keller was perhaps best known for his winsome approach to apologetics. The first step was coming to know skeptics’ worldviews, philosophies, and objections to Christianity better than they did themselves! Because he understood their deepest longings, he could point them to the only One who could truly fulfill their longings.
  • It is easy to create a straw man argument and then destroy it during a sermon. Keller points us to a better and a more effective way, but it requires us to spend as much time exegeting our culture as exegeting the Bible!
Idea 4: Love Your Opponents
  • What motivated Keller was not winning an argument. No, at the heart of Keller’s sermons, books, and presentations was a true love for skeptics. He longed for people to reject idolatry and to place their trust in the One who is trustworthy.
  • Keller’s church was known for its love of the city and its neighbors. What are our churches known for? According to Jesus, it should be love (John 13:35).
Idea 5: Engage Culture Without Assimilating
  • Some Christians withdraw from culture. Other Christians fight against the culture. Still others assimilate into culture fully. Keller was different. He had a missionary mindset. He knew it was possible to be a “faithful presence” within culture.
  • Whether we realize it or not, like Keller, we are also missionaries to a post-Christian culture. We, too, are called to equip our people to represent God in every part of culture.

What lessons have you learned from Tim Keller’s legacy?
Reply and let us know how they have affected your church renewal work!

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