I mentioned last week that I had the chance to visit Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. If you have read this blog for long, you probably know how much I appreciate Redeemer's pastor, Tim Keller, and his ministry. This was my first opportunity to attend a service, although I did attend an Open Forum at Redeemer last year.
Redeemer meets in three locations at five different times on a Sunday. We attended the 10:30 AM service at Hunter College. Four preachers share the load, although Keller does most of the preaching. I've noticed that there is no longer a way to know who is going to be preaching at what service, so you never know who is on at the service you choose. There's wisdom in this, although I'm curious to know how much Redeemer is successful in dealing with those who really want to hear Keller. At least they're trying. (The other speakers are not Keller - nobody else is. But they are solid, and I appreciate listening to them.)
We arrived shortly before the service, and had the same problem we encounter everywhere: trying to find out where the children's program meets. This is a fairly common problem when we visit other churches. We eventually found it, but it took a bit of work and a few bad directions.
In one sense, Redeemer seems to break all the rules. There are no big signs outside. The facilities are simple but suitable. It was hard to find the children's program. The music in the morning services is classical (jazz in the evening), and done very well. There is no sound and light show. The worship leader and Keller wore suits. This is about as far as you can get from the seeker movement. Although Keller has a large following, he doesn't draw any attention to himself. This should not work, and yet Redeemer's impact in the city and the world is increasing. The congregation is young, and the church is growing.
It's not that these things work against Redeemer. I know enough of their philosophy to understand that everything I just described (except our problems finding the children's program) is deliberate. Redeemer knows what they are about, and they also know what they want to avoid.
As the service continued, and especially as Keller spoke, it was hard to pay too much attention to the church or the speaker. Our attention was directed to the gospel. That sounds like a cliche, but it's true. Keller talks about sermons being like Sunday School lessons until they get to Jesus, but when they get to Jesus, watch out. The service and the sermon got to Jesus, and I wasn't thinking about Redeemer much at that point. I think they'd be happy with this.
We could have stayed last week for the Open Forum in the evening. They only happen a few times a year. We would have had to drive all night to get home, but we were still tempted to stay. We didn't, but I've just downloaded Keller's talk to my iPod, and I can't wait to listen to it.
I doubt that Redeemer is looking for tourists to invade their services, but if you're in New York City you may want to check them out. If not, you can always subscribe to their sermons. I think we have a lot to learn from them.