(This is a re-post of a piece I wrote about three years ago. After recent legislation has deemed that New York City churches meeting in public schools must be out of those schools by February 12th, I wanted to bring some encouragement to dear friends at one such church in Brooklyn.)
From a young age, I’ve always had a fascination with New York City. For example, when I was seventeen or eighteen, I read a book entitled “Jesus Doesn’t Live in Brooklyn,” the story of a man named Bill Wilson and his work amongst mostly youth in Brooklyn through a group called Metro Ministries. The title was derived from the seemingly hopeless spiritual situation Wilson first encountered upon beginning his work in Brooklyn…thousands of children growing up in broken circumstances with no knowledge of Christ. He arranged for literally bus loads of children to be picked up and taken to church each Sunday and looked out for them during the week as well. Whether he continues his work today or not I don’t know but Metro Ministries is still active.
The title though really caught my attention and now, living in Brooklyn, I can see why it would be easy to conclude at first glance that surely Jesus does not live here. Like my older sister commented while visiting last week, “I can just feel that New York is so spiritually dark.” One has only to hear about the rough beginnings of our three and a half year old church to know the very real and unabashed hatred towards Christianity in this neck of the woods. As the first urban church plant Sovereign Grace Ministries began (they typically plant in suburban areas), no one knew what lay ahead for our congregation or what particular challenges would be faced. Almost immediately, some became clear: Persecution and hatred.
Meeting in an abandoned church turned apartment building, our congregation first faced obvious hostility from the apartment tenants who would tear down signs temporarily put up each Sunday to advertise our church, do anything they could to disrupt the services with such drastic measures as calling fire trucks to come to the building. They said the worship services were too noisy, continually complaining even after many sound proofing measures were enacted. The tipping point came when they had a lawyer who lived in the building draw up a lawsuit and sued what was then only approximately twenty or thirty members for one hundred million dollars!
Now, a few years later, our church is still alive and a vibrant community. It is a beacon of light in a city that can seem so spiritually dark. We may never be a large congregation so if you count success in numbers, then perhaps we’re failing. We don’t have a church building…sixteen or so schools and other random facilities have been our “home” instead, so if you think four grand walls or an immense church building project deems health and success, we have no hope.
From the stories I hear though, the success Jesus has granted our church is the greatest of all because it is eternal. He has thwarted many efforts of Satan on our behalf. Obviously our tiny band of people poses as much if not a greater threat then a large mega church might because our pastor and leaders are dedicated to bringing a bold, uncompromising gospel to Brooklyn. We believe that “blessed are those who are persecuted.” It is this very act which gives us assurance we are bringing the right message across. Wasn’t Jesus hated and ridiculed for most of His ministry? He said the world would hate us too…it is the inevitable result of truly striving after Him, of not watering the gospel down to make it palatable. Easy and compromised.
So, in a humble elementary school auditorium, His spirit dwells each Sunday and with the passion which fills the place for those few hours, I’m sure throughout the week as well. How incredible that the King of kings and Lord of lords does not ask for a dwelling of gold or silver or bronze. Aesthetics mean nothing to Him. The savior who took his first breaths in a lowly stable and died in the open air asks only for our lives and our hearts. It is with those “materials” that He builds His church.
Now, almost ten years after reading of Wilson’s ministry, I feel truly privileged to be able to bare witness to the fact that yes, Jesus does indeed live in Brooklyn!
“And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us…”- Martin Luther.