Starting a church is like starting a business.
The only difference is that in this “business” the “business partners” won’t be getting a financial return; the “employees” pay (tithe) the company for the privilege of working for free; “customers” are asked to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus; and the “product” is a message that is offensive to 90% of the people who hear it.
That’s why I’ve come to a few conclusions about what it takes to start a church:
- It takes an act of God to start a church.
- That act of God always involves the people of God.
- It’s up to God to get the right people in the right places at the right time.
- God mobilizes some people to go down into the mine and some people to hold the ropes.
An Act of God
Our journey to start churches in New York City proves that it takes an act of God to start a church.
The Apostle Paul traveled 13,000 miles on his missionary journeys.
According to the NYC Department of Transportation there are 12,750 miles of sidewalk in New York City.
If Paul could travel 13,000 miles to bring the gospel to those who had not heard, is it crazy to think that we could walk 12,750 miles to do the same in New York City?
The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 tells us to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…”
There is no more strategic place in the world to “go” and make disciples than New York City.
To begin with, there are people speaking 800 languages from 500 distinct people groups living in Metro New York.
So, pursuing Jesus’ mission in New York City literally involves walking across the street or down the block or to the store and interacting with people of all nations “as we go”.
With that in mind, I’m inviting you to join me on a Sidewalk Missionary Journey.
The Sidewalk Missionary Journey is a walk down all 12,750 miles of sidewalk in New York City to see the city, pray for the city, serve the city, and preach the Gospel.
I was recently at a missions forum put on by the International Mission Board (IMB). This forum happened a couple of days after I blogged about reaching unreached people groups in US cities. The opening session was led by David Campbell of the IMB and the title was “Challenges to Reaching the Unreached”. I want to share some of David’s talk and use that as a springboard to go a bit deeper into what I previously wrote about reaching the unreached.
According to various sources (IMB, Joshua Project, etc.) there are something like 11,600+ people groups in the world today. The IMB definition of a people group is “the largest group through which the gospel can flow without encountering a significant barrier”. About 6,750 of those people groups are unreached (which is defined as a people group with less than 2% evangelical).
David listed physical, religious and safety issues as some of the challenges to our missionaries in other nations.
- Travel time – Many of the unreached peoples of the world are in areas that might take 2-5 days to get to.
- Climate – Some of these areas take a lot of adjustment (high altitude, rainy, extreme heat or cold, etc.).
- Daily life – It’s just a different pace and a different way of life for some people of the world.
- Isolation – Once a missionary gets to the field it might be months or years before he or she can make contact with friends and family back home.
- Health concerns – I’ve been on more than one short-term mission project where participants went home with deep illness. Water is almost always an issue in some hard to reach areas.
- Physical exertion – I’ve trekked through the Andes from one village to another and the high altitude almost killed me.
There are people from at least 62 unreached people groups living in New York City.
One way to reach them would be to train and deploy 62 missionaries in 62 countries who would spend 2-3 years learning the local dialect and culture, and be supported financially for the rest of their lives to live in those countries (where they may never be fully accepted).
This, I think, is our primary international missions strategy and it is effective. We need to continue sending missionaries to live and serve in nations around the world. We need to count the cost and go to them.
Where are the Unreached Most Reachable?
However, in our great cities, the nations of the world are coming to us. They are sacrificing everything for the privilege of living in my neighborhood. They are leaving family and severing strong social bonds to be here. They are learning our language.
We can show them kindness by helping them adjust. We can share a meal with them and provide for basic needs. We can help them learn the language. We can help them create strong social bonds here with the Christian community.
Before Jesus left the planet, He promised His followers that they would become Spirit-empowered disciples pursuing His mission.
When the promised Spirit filled them on the day of Pentecost, He turned ordinary fishermen into extraordinary fishers of men.
Simple Galileans began preaching the Gospel in the languages of the nations. Peter, who had denied Jesus three times preached a powerful message of the Gospel and 3,000 people were added to their numbers.
A movement began.
The next day, and the next, and the one after that, the new believers committed themselves to one another and to God.
Acts 2:41-47 is a record of those first few days and weeks of the movement. These verses reveal some key traits or marks of a Spirit-empowered follower of Jesus.
1. Wholehearted Worship
Then fear came over everyone…
Wholehearted worship is active. Worship is sacrifice. Whether “in the temple complex” (large gatherings) or “from house to house” (smaller, more intimate gatherings), when we are together with other believers, our worship should be filled with energy and praise.
Worship is both ritualistic and relational. A spirit-empowered disciple will dedicate himself to the celebration of communion, to prayers, and to other elements in a consistent way with other believers. On the other hand, worship is also spontaneous and from the heart. There ought to be a holy awe that permeates our corporate worship and our private worship because God’s Spirit is on the move.
Tim Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, often speaks about God’s mission for the great cities of the world. Below, I’m including a 16 minute video of Keller’s plenary session at Lausanne Cape Town 2010 Congress in which he shares God’s global urban mission.
Here are a few thoughts from Keller’s talk about why we must reach the great cities of the world with the gospel and a few of my own reasons for sharing the Gospel in New York City specifically.
Reason #1: Cultural
According to a Foreign Policy article:
The 21st century will not be dominated by America, China, Brazil or India but by the city.
In an age that is increasingly unmanageable, cities rather than states are becoming the islands of governance on which the future world order will be built. Time, technology, and population growth have massively accelerated the advent of this new urban era.
Already, more than half the world lives in cities and that percentage is growing rapidly.
Just one hundred cities account for 30% of the world’s economy and almost all of its innovation.