While in New York City to attend annual meetings hosted by the International Forum of Bible Agencies, I was assigned to be a “listener-reflector” on a panel about next-gen believers. The panel was hosted at a new church plant called Gallery Church. True to its name, the walls were covered with paintings and prints of every size and color. The young pastor, Freddy T, described his calling to minister to the unreached … people of lower Manhattan.
Quite honestly, I didn’t expect to meet someone so focused on reaching unreached people in New York. As a native New Yorker, Manhattan is not a strange place to me. New York has long been celebrated for its diversity. Yet, I was shocked to learn that there are 800 languages spoken in New York. There are 60,000 people living just in this one neighborhood in lower Manhattan. How did Freddy T plan on reaching this diverse population?
He answered my unspoken question by taking us on a walk through his neighborhood. He showed us a new coffee bar and tempted us with glimpses inside flavorful restaurants. Those public locations serve as places to build relationships and lead people to the Lord. We walked through a hotel lobby packed with people sitting in groups of two or three. It was like a Starbucks on steroids. I couldn’t believe how dense the crowd was. People spent their day in that lobby, chatting over coffee and networking on their laptops. Freddy T invests his life in these urban environments because they are places filled with people that he cares about.
Urban life is lived in tight quarters. Though it sounds backwards, people have to go to public places to get alone with God. They go to a coffee shop, put on headphones, and spend time in the Word. This devotion to time with God is admirable. However, I was struck with the level of strategic thinking described by several of the panel members. They shared a newfound conviction for reading the printed Word in public places. They can read the Bible on their cellphones but people around them don’t know what they are reading. In contrast, reading the printed Word in public places opens the door to conversations.
I often share the company of young pastors living on the edge. Many of them have the same zeal as Freddy T. Most of them are raising churches in hard to access locations around the globe. As I listened and reflected on the challenges facing next-gen believers, I suddenly realized that we are all living on the edge. As this global world becomes a small world, our neighborhoods are changing. The person who once lived on the edge may now be living next door. Our spaces and places are being redefined. As such, we have the chance to be Jesus in diverse neighborhoods. This is true even in my neighborhood.
What does this have to do with the Bibleless? Everything. In order to serve the Bibleless there, we have to serve the Bibleless here. It’s a matter of principle. We can invest our time there and fail to invest our time here. Likewise, we can share the Word there and neglect to share the Word here. It’s both/and, not either/or. In order to serve the global church we must serve the local church.
Apostle Paul told King Agrippa: “I started preaching this life-change—this radical turn to God and everything it meant in everyday life—right there in Damascus, went on to Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside, and from there to the whole world” (Acts 26:20, The Message Bible). Paul started right where he was.
Now, I am not saying anything new. We all know these principles, but sometimes it takes a Freddy T to remind us of our calling to minister both here and there.