If you imagine an ordinary moment at an intersection in New York City, and there is a pause because there is a streetlight, and some people are stopped and others in motion, and some cars are stopped and others in motion…you would realize that there’s a universe there of totally disparate intentions, everybody going about his or her business in the silence of their own minds, with everybody else and the street and the time of day and the architecture and the quality of the light and the nature of the weather as a kind of background or field for the individual consciousness and the drama that it is making for itself at that moment, and you think about that, that’s what happens in the city, in that somehow the city can embrace and accept and accommodate all that disparate intention, at one and the same time, not only on that corner, but on thousands of corners .
E.L.Doctorow from “American Experience: New York City”
New York was birthed in 1624 as a trading post into what is now the most significant metropolitan global hub. It was the first city defined by the vast influx of immigrants that drove their hope and opportunities. From 1800 to 1900, the population grew 50 times. No city in the history of young America experienced this, growing at such a pace or so large. It was the only city on earth that brought so many different kinds of people together in a singular place and time.
If there ever has been a narrative of planting, New York is a city of planters from all over the world, representing all the people of the world living in a single place. Where cultures either collide or collude, to new expressions of Gospel renewal in communities that are as unique as they are beautifully driven by opportunity and the chance to redefine.
After two years of such change and challenges, New York City is entering a period of great hope and opportunity. The local church is experiencing renewal from so much loss and looking for an opportunity to reset our mission and vision for the city. We recognize that the challenges we faced during the pandemic required new ways of thinking and doing ministry. Ministry that, if we are honest, will require a much more collective vision for missions. We are seeing new ways to meet the challenges of the city by working together as a defined way of doing ministry.
Coming out of the pandemic, the church is seeing how it exposed our idolatry of our own church institution, creating for ourselves our own little kingdom. Now, as we reimagine that the desire is not to return to the previous status quo but to move forward stronger than before, we want to ensure our new way of doing ministry is less about the single church and more about a community of people with a rich theology of place, living out faithful gospel presence inside in our community. This will require new ways for churches to work together and collaborate.
That it will require a new way of seeing the work of comprehensive collaboration with all the different spaces where kingdom builders work together to minister to their community. One of the aspiring visions of the kingdom is that as God moves diverse humanity into cities, we are to be a gospel community that is as connected as we are gathered and scattered as Christ’s ambassadors.
As God moves people to cities, they are pressed together — practically, racially, economically, and spiritually. New York City is no different. As the church, we are called to have a kingdom mindset. What would it look like if more and more NYC churches had a vision for the city? We seek a growing movement with dynamic expressions of philanthropy, justice, mercy, reconciliation, integrity, and hope in ways that advance the common good for everyone in the city.
In Colossians, there is a vision of the preeminence of Christ to Him as the head of the church and that he is seeking comprehensive reconciliation.
Colossians 1:1–29 (ESV):
And he is before all things, and in him, all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
Challenge a Culture of Competition
So many churches operate from a position of scarcity. Churches can be seen as a marketplace for competition where marketing is really about consumers vs conversion. Rather than focusing on community flourishing, the desire is to create experiences for Christians instead of living on mission. This can create a silo effect and reinforces that we, collectively as Christians, are not one family, sharing the same God and walking with a common vision.
At best, churches coexist in communities, but can easily shift toward operating as a threat to the other. However, when able to pursue collaboration and shared vision among churches, we can have a posture of celebration of the other’s accomplishments and look for opportunities to make connections in unique ways. Rather than a threat, we create occasions for leveraging that God would provide a way for reaching our diverse neighbors. In the yearning to reach every person, we need to recognize the limitations of one church to meet everyone’s needs and work toward operating as a community of churches with a myriad of opportunities for any kind of person.
Connected and Collective
One key way to move towards cooperation and collaboration is pursuing connectedness and friendship between churches, a friendship that is formed and forged by a fellowship of trust and mission. In a recent CTC gathering, Pastor Derrick Puckett shared his heart about his work of building community around a table of friendship and connection. This collective bond enabled each around the table to envision gospel growth in the city much greater than one church. This collective vision of gospel growth was more than just one dimension.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
Cooperation and Collaboration
One of the most significant ways to move from relationships to renewal is to tether our churches in prayer for one another and for the neighborhoods. Having prayer walks together is one of the significant practices that will bring these collective connections with an insight into a creative engagement.
What would it look like for churches in a neighborhood to pray for more churches to occupy the neighborhood? To have a spirit of welcome and praise for more collaboration, reminding us that God is seeking to provide his abundance of his people for a heart of scarcity? To be able to come together as churches composing a mosaic that can reach people together?