A couple of weeks ago I began a short series in response to a spring-break trip to New York City, in which my family and I visited Redeemer Presbyterian Church. As I explained in my first blog post in this series, Redeemer is an exceptional church in many ways. It has received plenty of attention because, among other things, it has grown in the last twenty years from nothing to a vibrant community of over 4,000 worshipers each Sunday. And all of this in New York City, not exactly the place we’d envision as a greenhouse for new church development and prodigious church growth.
Why? Why is Redeemer Presbyterian Church thriving today? And why is Redeemer attracting thousands of younger people, who, according to recent studies, are notoriously uninterested in church, even though they may have a warm spot in their hearts for “spirituality”?
You might think Redeemer is thriving because they feature cutting edge worship, with a hot band leading the latest worship music, lots of attention-grabbing visuals, encouragement of social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) during the service, and a trendy “worship in a dark warehouse lit only by candles” experience. It’s true that the worship service I attended was led by a high-quality band. Yet I wouldn’t call them “hot.” And some of the music they led was quite dated. We worshiped in a well-lit auditorium, and I could see no sign of liturgical art or mood-altering candles. There was no digital projection. Nor were we encouraged to exercise our texting thumbs during the service. What impressed me most about the worship service at Redeemer was its lack of cutting-edge gimmicks, combined with its solid theological integrity. The point was not for any of us to have a sweet experience. It was for God to be worshiped in Spirit and in truth.
The mention of truth makes for a nice segue to the sermon. It was preached by the Rev. Dr. Timothy J. Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer. In addition to leading Redeemer for the past twenty years, Keller is a best-selling author and highly-regarded national church leader. Before my visit to Redeemer, I had read several of Keller’s works, but I had never heard him speak. (Photo: Tim Keller preaching at the Hunter College evening service of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, March 14, 2010)
When Tim Keller came to the front of the auditorium in order to preach, he didn’t look like the kind of charismatic figure who draws thousands of people, especially young people, each week. He looked rather professorial, actually, though dressed in black pants and a sweater rather than a tweed jacket. His almost completely bald head and pleasant visage reminded me of Professor Charles Xavier as played by Patrick Stewart in the X-Men films. (Photo: Patrick Stewart. Public domain.)
Like the worship service at Redeemer, Keller’s sermon didn’t utilize any bells and whistles. When the female worship leader finished reading the Scripture passage from which he was going to preach, Keller stood up and began to remind his congregation of the recent focus of his preaching, a series of sermons focusing on the Servant of God from the latter part of Isaiah.
To be continued . . . .