What Gospel-Centered Churches Do and Why

Have you ever wondered what your church should be doing, and why you should be doing it? In his latest book, Center Church, Timothy Keller answers those questions. In Keller fashion, his answer stems from an understanding of the gospel. Before we get to what our churches should be doing, let’s start with an outline of the gospel.

The Gospel Outline

  1. The Son of God emptied himself and came into the world in Jesus Christ, becoming a servant.
  2. He died on the cross as a substitutionary sacrifice.
  3. He rose from the grave as the first-fruits of a whole renewed world[1].

From this outline Keller develops the following categories, which coincide with the outline above and provide us with the answer to our questions: What should our churches be doing? And why should they be doing it?

Gospel Categories and Church Ministries

The Incarnation and the Upside-Down Aspect of the Gospel

Jesus gave up all to serve all. His humble and servant actions serve to turn the world’s idea of life on it’s head. In doing so, “He creates a new kind of servant community, with people who live out an entirely alternate way of being human. Racial and class superiority, accrual of money and power at the expense of others, yearning for popularity and recognition – all are marks of living in the world. They represent the opposite of the gospel mind-set”[2]

The Upside-Down aspect of the gospel teaches us that our church should have or be doing the following:

  • Deep Community
  • Cell Groups or House Churches
  • Radical Giving and Sharing of Resources
  • Spiritual Disciplines
  • Racial Reconciliation
  • Living with the Poor[3]

The Atonement and the Inside-Out Aspect of the Gospel

“Jesus took our place on the cross and accomplished salvation for all, which we freely receive as a gift”[2]. This is the opposite of Traditional religion, which teaches that “if we do good deeds and follow the moral rules in our external behavior, God will come into our hearts, bless us, and give us salvation”[4]. The gospel is the opposite. Instead of obeying to get God, the gospel tells us that we obey because we have God.

The Inside-Out aspect of the gospel teaches us that our church should uphold the following doctrinal convictions and should be doing the following:

  • Personal Conversion
  • Experiential Grace Renewal
  • Evangelism
  • Outreach
  • Church Planting[5]

The Resurrection and the Forward-Back Aspect of the Gospel

“Jesus is resurrected but we are not. He has inaugurated the kingdom of God, but it is not fully present”[6]. This means that we live in the “already/not yet”. We now experience the results of Christ’s reign, but we will not fully experience them until He returns. While we enjoy His reign now, we look forward to His return.

The Forward-Backward aspect of the gospel pushes us as a church to:

  • Seek the Welfare of our City and Neighborhood
  • Civic Involvement
  • Cultural Engagement
  • Training Congregants to Work Out of a Christian Worldview in a Secular Vocation[7]


If we want to be a Gospel-Centered and Gospel-Driven church, we must first understand the gospel, then allow the gospel to inform us as to what actions we are to take, what ministries we are to have, and what we are to belief. A church with the gospel at its center never wonders what they are to do, nor why they are doing it. As well as they never lack the power to accomplish their ministry and work in their community and city.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Why does your church have the ministries it has?
  2. What is your church missing from this list?
  3. What does your church do well on this list?
  4. In what areas will your church need to change in order to become a gospel-centered church?


[1] Timothy Keller, Center Church, 46.
[2] Ibid., 46-47.
[3] Ibid. 47.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., 47-48.


3 thoughts on “What Gospel-Centered Churches Do and Why

  1. Hi Pastor Casey (wow, that has a great ring to it)! Still following along with your work here, we don’t interfere often for knowledge of your obligations and schedule, but wanted to chime in on this one. A couple of us are working through Marshall and Payne’s “The Trellis and the Vine.” It seems to take a similar approach to the need for gospel centered churches (examining why we do what we do). We may take Keller’s work on next as it seems you are recommending it as profitable.

    Anyway, just wanted to say hello good friend. Blessings…

    1. Great to hear from you. I am glad you are still reading. Yes, I started my first pastorate about 7 months ago. Things are going great! I love pastoring and preaching. The Trellis and the Vine is an excellent resource. So is Kellers new work, Center Church. He has a great grasp on how the gospel affects every area of your life and ministry. Let me know how things wrap up with The Trellis and the Vine. What you guys got out of it. Maybe you can write a post reflecting on it. Would love to read it.

      Take Care,

      Casey Lewis

  2. Pingback: The Missing Link « L.E.G.A.C.Y.

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