Tag Archives: tim keller

The Challenge of Planting a Church in NYC – Part 2

You can check out Part 1 of this series here.

In many ways, the challenges I will discuss in this series are issues that most church planters/pastors face in any context.

Living in NYC simply exacerbates some of these challenges (for instance the disproportionate cost of living here, as mentioned in Part 1).

For instance, when it comes to the financial pressures of any start-up, these anxieties exist for any entrepreneurial endeavor.

However, the pure financial costs are higher here, simply put.

One could talk about the “greater risk, greater reward” mantra to describe the merits of planting a church in NYC… but it’s exceptionally difficult to quantify the great “reward” of planting a church in NYC vs another city/context when ministry “success” entails so many different elements.

If one were to speak purely of numbers of people when it comes to church “success”, there are significantly larger churches and church plants around the country, a fact that can easily cloud the merits of investing significantly more money to plant a church here rather than say, South America.

But I digress…. (although you’ll see how church size will come up later in the post).

The next challenge I wish to write about is one that is ubiquitous regardless of context… and yet there are some peculiarities to NYC.

Here’s Challenge #2: Planting a Church in NYC is Awfully Lonely. 

Church Planting in NYC can be an isolating experience.

Church Planting in NYC can be an isolating experience.

Non-profit management guru Peter Drucker once said that the four most challenging jobs in the US are the President of the US, the CEO/President of a Hospital, a University President, and a Pastor.

It’s already hard enough being a Pastor and navigating the different “hats” one has to wear (which, along with the other 3 vocations Drucker mentions, is why being a Pastor can be one of the most challenging jobs), but adding the element of being an entrepreneurial Pastor can make the task of Church Planting profoundly more difficult and complicated.

Both Pastor and Entrepreneur are inherently stressful positions, and adding NYC to the equation makes for a particularly combustible context.

I believe this to be true of most pastors/church planters I meet in NYC, but what makes the feeling of loneliness more acute here is the feeling that I’m never quite measuring up.

This goes back to the discussion about measuring ministry “success.”

If one were to go purely based on Sunday attendance (which is generally the standard measurement across time/place in church planting in the States – as much as people would hate to admit), then “success'” is difficult to come by in NYC when compared to one’s previous context (usually a mega-ish church in the suburbs of middle America) or even in the shadows of more established churches in the City (so many great, longstanding churches to name).

The above paragraph reveals even more nefarious messages that I often tell myself as a church planter – I’m measured against other Pastors/Churches.

All in all, the stress of financial worry, family adjustments, and the inescapable cloud of comparisons to peers or my past can lead me to isolate myself from feeling what is reality to so many of us:

Church Planting in NYC is financially taxing, a stress on my family, and not quite as glamorous as the big city itself.  

Yes, I’ve been there.

I suspect most of us have.


Thankfully, the above news is something that many have reflected on before, and as a result, ministry heroes of mine have tried hard to keep Pastors/Church Planters in NYC from isolating and growing cynical.

Here are a few folks I’d like to highlight:

1) Redeemer City to City & NYC Leadership Center – I link these ministries together not because of any official connection but because these organizations have long been advocates of resourcing and connecting church planters for decades now.

I’ve written about the spirit of leaders like Tim Keller and Mac Pier before, and I truly think these guys have been forerunners to much of the camaraderie and friendship enjoyed by Pastors in NYC today.

Also, shout-out to Parakeleo, a ministry of mutual support for church planting spouses that I’ve heard great things about.

2) Emotionally Healthy Spirituality – I can’t emphasize this one enough.  My heritage obviously comes from New Life Fellowship, so it’s no surprise that I want to advocate for every pastor to learn from Pete & Geri Scazzero and Rich Villodas in living an emotionally healthy life that allows my marriage and family to flourish.  Church planters especially can use a healthy dose of EHS.

3) Christ Tabernacle – Ever since I’ve known the CT guys, I’ve been amazed at their hospitality and willingness to serve/connect church leaders in NYC.  Pastor Michael Durso is part of that wave mentioned above, and Adam Durso and the rest of CT are some of the most generous folks I know.

4) Recovery House of WorshipTrinity Grace Church & “Network” Church Planting – I LOVE the RHOW folks. They are a church planting movement doing amazing work in the city and beyond, and are some of the most mission-minded church planters I know.  I learn so much from them about mission and discipleship whenever I’m around them!

TGC is another family of parishes all around NYC.  Their kingdom vision is really genuine and inspiring, and the ways they plant churches by 1) empowering/contextualizing and 2) serving with a Central Office is something that many church plants and churches have learned a great deal from (including Hope).

I LOVE how these folks fight against the isolationist spirit of church planters by creating a network of mutual support.


And helpful.

5) So many Pastors/Church Planters in NYC who now embody the Kingdom Spirit – Reach out to any of us.  I think you’ll realize we’ll share the following:

– Church Planting is Hard in NYC

– Church Planting is Rewarding in NYC

– The City is Too Big to be Thinking So Small

– I Don’t Have to Do This Alone

– I Desperately Need a Gospel-Centered Approach to My Identity, Our Church, and Our City.

Together – and only together – can we be part of something significant in this Great City.  


Why I’m Thankful for Redeemer Presbyterian Church

I’ve been meaning to write a post about this for awhile, but it seems most appropriate to write this following a weekend in which Redeemer Presbyterian Church celebrated its 25th anniversary.

As someone who has lived in NYC since 2001 (and first visited Redeemer in 2000), it’s been really cool to get a first-hand look at how Redeemer has impacted our city and world for 13 of those 25 years.

Much has been said of Redeemer’s influence over the years, and I thought I’d write my own list of things I’m grateful for from the perspective of a pastor/church planter in NYC.

1. I’m thankful for the ways Redeemer has resourced, blessed, and celebrated other churches in NYC – I sat down with a friend of mine in the Bay Area a few months ago, and he mentioned that the pastors in NYC all seem to know each other, which was odd to him.

But more than that, he mentioned that the pastors seem to speak highly of each other.

He asked me why this was the case, and I was taken aback by the question because I thought that’s how all cities worked together.  He assured me that this isn’t the case in other cities.

Much of this unity can be attributed to the tireless and prayerful work of Mac Pier, Concerts of Prayer, and the NYC Leadership Center, and I think that Redeemer embodies this so well.

This general positivity toward other churches has filtered down to all the church plants that Redeemer has had a hand in resourcing, and it’s truly a joy to see church planters/pastors celebrating the work of all churches around the city.

As a church planter I can’t articulate how beneficial this is.  Redeemer really does embrace the idea that it takes a movement (and many churches working together) to bless a city, and I’ve been greatly resourced by the folks at Redeemer City to City (Robert Guerrero & Mark Reynolds & their team come to mind most readily) and Redeemer without them asking for anything from me.

Love it.

Sounds like grace to me.

2) I’m thankful for Redeemer’s theological vision for all-encompassing urban renewal – Back in 2000 when I stayed in NYC for the entire summer, I was extremely refreshed to witness a church that had a vision for serving the needs of the disadvantaged in the city (Hope for New York), as well as the wealthy upwardly mobile class (Center for Faith and Work – although this center speaks to all classes).

Back in 2000, when people referred to “Urban Ministry”, I’m pretty sure people were referring to the ‘hood.

This makes sense because in 2000, cities were just in the beginning stages of becoming attractive areas again, so most of the models of urban ministry had to do with working with the least of these while so many had fled the cities.

Fast forward to 2014, and Williamsburg is now Williamsburg.

Redeemer has really introduced a new way of thinking about “urban” ministry as including service to the disadvantaged and service to “Center City” folks (I believe Tim is the one who first used the term “Center City” when referring to the large upwardly mobile urbanites that now largely inhabit spaces like Manhattan).

3) I’m thankful for Mike Keller – Mike currently leads City Campus Ministry in NYC, and he’s also a PCA Pastor who preaches at Redeemer from time to time. Mike grew up at Redeemer.

The I first met Mike in 2001 on a car ride to Nyack College.

We’ve been friends ever since.

Mike truly lives out what’s outlined above.

Not only does Mike LOVE this city, but he’s extremely supportive and generous toward other churches and works in the city.

He’s someone who thinks deeply about people in every sphere of society, and he has this unpretentious way about him that allows him to connect with people from various diverse backgrounds.

I love the guy, and I love watching the guy do ministry (especially when he has no shame playing basketball on asphalt courts while being good for 25 fouls/game).

He married up with Sara, too. 🙂  It’s really neat to see how much they BOTH love this city and want to see it flourish.

It makes sense that Mike and Sara possess so much of Redeeemer’s DNA, and they’re first-class people that I’m proud to know.


As a church planter, I would not be where I am without Redeemer.

As a church, we would not be where we are without Redeemer.

Thanks for the ways you’ve impacted all of us, Redeemer.


Church Planting and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Church planting has humbled me in many ways, and I think one lesson/appreciation I’ve gleaned the past few weeks has been the great value of “a long obedience in the same direction”, a phrase coined by Eugene Petersen.

I’ve been particularly grateful for many of the stellar leaders who have gone before me, doing the long, plodding work of ministry and faithfulness so that younger people like me can stand on their shoulders – often times unbeknownst to them.

I was fortunate to spend a week with Leith and Charlene Anderson along with other pastors/leaders.

I recently took a week-long class at Fuller with Leith Anderson, now retired pastor of Wooddale Church and the President of the National Association of Evangelicals, and I was absolutely floored by all of his insights into Scripture, leadership, and life in general.  His wife Charleen joined us for the class as well, and it was such a privilege to have her there to answer questions and interact with us.

Leith shared that he had just retired as pastor at Wooddale after 35 years of being the senior leader there.  Wow.  That means that Leith was the senior pastor at Wooddale longer than I’ve been alive (sorry Leith, I never shared that out loud, but I was startled by this fact).

As we’re in the first few weeks of Hope’s launch team gatherings, I’ve wondered to myself what a long obedience in the same direction would look like.

Most of all, I’m wondering what it would look like to remain faithful in living and leading well, both in my family and in a church.  The Andersons are such great examples of this, and I’m humbled and grateful for their long service.

I’m also grateful for the many mentors I’ve had throughout my life, all of whom have modeled faithfulness in different ways.

I feel indebted to many church leaders with long-standing histories in NYC too, people who have paved the way for many years.  People like personal mentors Pete & Geri Scazzero, Craig & Ellen Fee, Mark & Pam Taft, Jim Owens as well as people I’ve learned from afar like AR Bernard, Michael Durso, Robert Johannson, Floyd Flake, Tim Keller, Mac Pier, Joseph Mattera, and Marcos Rivera (just to name a few).  These church leaders have faithfully served this city for decades (along with their spouses), and now younger leaders like me get to run with the baton that they pass on to a new generation of leaders.

I think one of the biggest leadership lessons I’ve learned in recent weeks is the difference between the question, “can we do this?” and “should we do this?”

My youthful impatience often propels me into the first question.  Wise friends and mentors at Hope (as well as mentors past) have directed me toward the second question.

With that said, I return to the serenity prayer once again, a daily discipline for me as I hope to live with a “long obedience in the same direction.”

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

God, grant me a humble, attentive heart, one that will commit to a long obedience in the same direction.

Thoughts on Spiritual Maturity – Part 2

You can read Part 1 of this series here.

I mentioned how evaluating spiritual maturity based on spiritual practices can be problematic, but by no means does this indicate that spiritual practices should be done away with altogether.

In fact, I’d argue that spiritual practices are necessary for growing spiritually, even if they might not be the most accurate indicators of spiritual maturity.

In other words, spiritual practices are not signs of spiritual maturity, but they are catalysts of spiritual maturity.

To succeed in any task, there is some form of practice or discipline that helps me to excel in that task, even if the task might be somewhat amorphis like “loving my wife,” a highly unquantifiable endeavor.

There are practices and disciplines that I must implement for a better marriage, for example, things like telling Tina how much I appreciate her, trying to serve her whenever I can, and actively listening to her whenever she speaks to me.

Growing in any area of my life takes work, and that work usually fleshes out as “practices” or “disciplines.”

Sidenote: Whether single or married, you should really pick up Tim and Kathy Keller’s new book The Meaning of MarriageIt’s an extraordinary bookone of the best books I’ve read on marriage with helpful advice to singles.  

In it, the Kellers talk about how disciplines and practices can lead toward feelings of love in marriage.  The same is true for the spiritual life! End of Sidenote

Alas, any kind of maturity takes work.

As I mentioned last time, some have to work harder than others due to nature/nurture, but nonetheless healthy maturing takes some measure of “a long obedience in the right direction,” as Eugene Petersen would say (Pete Scazzero calls building a framework of spiritual practices “Developing a Rule of Life.”

For each person the practices and disciplines are different.  However, we all need some sort of discipline in order to grow more loving, more healthy, more whatever the aim might be.

At this point it’s easy to react by saying, “the spiritual life is all grace!  you’re advocating some sort of works based system!”

Now, while it’s true that grace is the foundation of everything, we can too readily dismiss any type of healthy striving as an overreaction against anything that hints of dare I say, work.

The key, I believe, is that our end goal always be in mind when it comes to our disciplines – to fall more deeply committed and in love with Jesus – instead of having the list of spiritual disciplines as our measuring stick of spiritual maturity (a la the Pharisees).

In my next post, I’ll share one practice that has really challenged me this year, and I’ll mention the little book whence it came.

Church People

“All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him…” – 1 Samuel 22:2

A friend of mine joked the other day that this will be the theme verse of Hope, the church we’re planting.

In this verse, David has the odds stacked against him, running from the powerful king and his army.

David’s trying to lead a movement, and these are the folks who show up.  Those in distress, in debt, and discontent.

Sure sounds like a church to me.


Lately I’ve been walking around Astoria, specifically around the area that we’ll be having our Sunday gatherings for Hope.  I’ve been praying that God leads me to the right people to talk to, guiding my steps and my conversations at every turn.

Yesterday, I happened to walk outside of a dry cleaner, and there were three people gathered, two gentlemen and a woman with a young child.  I knew immediately that I was supposed to talk to them.

So I introduced myself.

“Hi, my name is Drew, I’m a pastor and I live on Roosevelt Island with my wife.  We’re starting a church in this neighborhood.  Would you be interested in being part of it one day?”

The three of them looked at each other, bemused perhaps by my gumption, searching for a way to respond without laughing out loud.

“We’re not church people,” the woman said, with the others nodding in agreement.  Then they laughed.

I laughed too, because it was funny that they thought the question was funny.

Then I asked, “Why not?  Do you think this neighborhood could use another church?”

“Oh for sure this neighborhood needs churches!” The woman responded.  “But we’re not church people.”

One man (I’ll call him Brian) chimed in, “I’m not gonna lie, I like the bottle, and I’ve been drinking since I was a teenager.  I really don’t want to change.”

The other man (I’ll call him Tom) said, “I haven’t been to church.  I was locked up for 20 years and there really hasn’t been a reason for me to go to church.”

The woman (I’ll call her Cynthia) laughed and said once more, “We’re not church people.”


One of the reasons I’ve fallen in love with church planting is because it’s an opportunity to reach and serve more people, a way of revitalizing the Church’s mission to speak and demonstrate the good news of Jesus in tangible ways.

If you check out this article by Tim Keller, you can see why church planting is an important dynamic for continual growth and advancement of the gospel, particularly for very people who are “not church people.”

Lyle Shaller puts it this way: “The single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches.”

For those of you put off by the word “evangelist”, it’s a word that literally comes from the greek words “good”, and “news” or “messenger of”.

I think we could all use a little more good news in this city.  I think we could all use more good messengers, too.


“What if I told you that you are church people, but you just didn’t know it,” I said.

They looked at me skeptically, but interested.

“Because here’s what I believe about you.  I believe that deep down you’re willing to give God a chance if he showed you he was real and powerful.  I believe that if he revealed himself to you in such a supernatural, life-giving way, you’d follow Him anywhere.”

“What if I told you that despite what you’ve done in the past, God has something new for you?  What if I told you that ‘church people’ are just messed up people with broken pasts and presents who believe that somehow, God is in our midst and inviting us into a new reality, a new life?”

“What if I told you that we’d also have free donuts and coffee at our church gatherings in homes and on Sundays?”

We all laughed.


We talked for over 30 minutes.  People passed by and said hello, almost every person asking Brian if he had some beer, to which he would reply, “No, but let me introduce you to this Father.”

“Just call me Drew,” I would say.

We spoke of the suffocating grind of the city, the broken families that we see and experience ourselves, the need for hope where this is none.

We spoke of Jesus and how He gives life.  We spoke of how our neighborhoods need something, anything to revitalize us.

As our time came to a close due to errands that needed to be run, I asked, “Can I pray for you?”

“Sure,” they responded.  “Why not?”

One by one, I prayed for them.  Brian who was a self-described drunk.  Tom who was the self-described ex-con.  Cynthia who was the self-described “just trying to survive” person. I even prayed for the young 2 year-old grandson of the woman.

I don’t remember exactly what I prayed, but I knew I was asking God to guide my lips and my words, to speak truth and love over these kind people, and communicate whatever God wanted me to say.

I know one word that I continued to pray was “Hope.”

As we finished praying the Cynthia was in tears and the men were smiling.

As we were saying our goodbyes, Brian said with the others nodding in agreement, “We’d love to come to the church.  When does it start?”

Highlights from February

It’s been a fast and fulfilling month.  I have much to be grateful for as you can see in the following list.

Some friends who joined us in watching the Packers beat the Steelers. So gratifying.

1. The Packers Winning the Super Bowl – If you were to ask me at the beginning of the season which team I’d root for to win the Super Bowl, I would have said the Packers.  I know, I know, I’m still working on the Jets being my team, but Aaron Rodgers and Jahvid Best (former Cal players) are easily my favorite players in the league.

I was so happy for Aaron Rodgers and Packer nation, including Carl and Chris Park.

2. Extraordinary Seminar with Ron Vogt on “Bearing the Cross: Being Real and in Relationship. Ron has influenced me greatly, and to hear some of his latest reflections felt like drinking from a deep well.

3. Seeing Peter, Jenny, and Eli on President’s Day Weekend.  I couldn’t be happier to see them.  Seriously.

4. Reading Tim Keller’s newest book, King’s Cross. The book is quite splendid – I simply pause, ponder, and soak in the beauty of Christ at the end of each chapter.

5.  Seeing Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) and Kenneth the Page (I don’t know his real name) filming an episode of 30 Rock in Long Island City. NYC is the coolest city in the world.

It was quite random to see them filming, so I just parked and Kimberly Jones and I kept inching closer and closer until one of the crewmen asked us to go to the other side of the street.

I’m pretty sure Tina Fey said “hi” to me with her unassuming glance.

6.  Retreat-ing with 43 others last weekend. Highlights included: Worship in Singing times (thanks Craig and Heriberto!), Shaming Shame rituals, Bearing One Another’s Shame, Taboo (Unlimited Passes, Stool, Menus or “Men use”), Raw and Honest Conversation, Hitch, Conversations about Awkward Christian Dating, Sweet Clementines, and quite simply, Connecting with some really wonderful people.

Good Times in Bloomingdale, NJ, minus a few friends who missed the picture.

Special shout out to Dr. Jay Feld, therapist extraordinaire, retreat speaker, and dear friend.  It’s hard to believe we’ve partnered together for this retreat  for six years straight.

Thanks for sharing, Jay.

Movement Day 2010

Today some of our team from New Life Fellowship attended Movement Day, a one-day conference to catalyze gospel movements in urban settings.  Today was the first time this event was held, and the main speakers were Tim Keller, Ray Bakke, Brenda Salter-McNeil, and Bill Hybels.

You can follow some of the live blog via twitter here.

Here are some of my thoughts after this inaugural event:

1.  It was really great to gather with other ministry leaders in NYC This was probably the coolest part of the day for me – connecting with other folks from different ministries in the city.  Shout out to Charles Galbreath, the Epic folks, the folks in the youth track, and Christ Tab.  I’m a big fan of these people.

2.  I loved all the speakers in the main session, and probably could have heard more from them – Tim Keller was usual Keller with aplomb and insight, giving us a case for how gospel movements (forged through partnerships) are what’s needed in the city.  I can listen to the guy all day and never want to leave the city after hearing him talk about the gospel and NYC.

Ray Bakke was amazing, and gave some really interesting insights about worldwide trends when it comes to cities.  I want to meet the guy and ask him a million questions.  He had the line of the day – “Christians began to flee the riots of Chicago and Los Angeles and they all met in Colorado Springs.”  I was dying.

Brenda was stellar.  She talked about events that can be seen as either catastrophic or catalytic, and she urged us, particularly when it comes to the changing, diverse world, to be a reconciled community that witnesses to the world.  I hope Brenda can come to New Life again someday.

Bill Hybels capped off the time with an incredible devotional talk rooted in an exhortation to pray, pray, and pray some more.  I was floored, and I’ve been thinking about what he shared all day.

All in all, really relevant, thoughtful, and compelling talks.

3.  After the morning, I was exhausted – I had so much to think about, and the idea of going into another four hour meeting was really daunting.  I was originally signed up for Life-Giving Leadership, but I ended up switching after taking a long break after lunch.

4.  The Mentoring Millenials Track was really challenging/inspiring – The track went right along with the heart of our church, wanting to impact young people, especially those who are clearly disadvantaged when it comes to resources and education.

Jeremy Del Rio and others did a fantastic job of mixing up teaching, panel discussions, and interactive elements to tackle some of the larger challenges we face in serving the youth of our city.

This conference was unique in that almost our entire staff was there, and being able to brainstorm with other new yorkers in a tight, typical nyc basement, felt right.

5. I love our team from NLF – We just have wonderful people from diverse backgrounds.  We certainly have our share of conflicts and struggles, but man, straight up great people.

*Btw, I finally met the person who said our leadership was hipster.  He approached me and confessed that he was the one that said that about our staff!

He told me that he meant we were “hipster” in that we are relevant to young people.  And, of course, he thought Peter Rohdin was hipster.  Funny.

6.  I’m looking forward to more – There were so many “wins” from today.  Just to have a chance to meet with others in NYC felt worthwhile, even amidst all that’s happening right now.  And the morning talks blew me away, as well as the brief learning time I had in the afternoon (I wasn’t there for the whole afternoon track).

Thanks to Mac and the team for making it happen.  I’m looking forward to next year!