According to Tolkien, September 22 is special because it is the birthday of both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. However I will remember September 22, 2010 as the night Redeemer began its next chapter. It was the service to commission the pastors of Redeemer's four new congregations: David Bisgrove, John Lin, Scott Sauls, and Leo Schuster. It was an evening to celebrate how far God has brought Redeemer and to dream about where he will lead us next. It was a night to remember.
I walked into the Hammerstein Ballroom a few minutes late. Elaine Rollogas smiled hello and pointed me upstairs. I found my wife Jessica already seated with our friends Ben and Claire in the first row of the mezzanine, singing along with the rest of the audience. I saw Neal Winterhof in a box on the left. Bethany Jenkins was in the middle towards the back. I saw a lot of people I knew. It felt like a small church. It felt like home.
It was an intimate night. We saw photos of Redeemer services when there were less than a hundred people at the church, back when Tim had hair, and a larger meeting space like Hunter College Auditorium was beyond imagining. New York was a different place when Redeemer started. It was more dangerous. It wasn’t the city it is today. I couldn’t help but think that Redeemer might have been a small but important part of the city’s transformation. As I looked around at a ballroom filled with Christians, I whispered a prayer of thanks for the work God has done in our midst.
At the service we were introduced to the four “new” pastors through a video that detailed how they became Christians, how they entered the ministry, and how they got to New York. It was beautifully done and I learned a lot about each of them. I learned about David’s involvement with Redeemer dating back to Redeemer’s earliest days, meeting in an apartment. I learned about Scott bombing a job interview by explaining his life goal was to go to heaven and bring as many people with him as he possibly could. I learned that John’s advice to Leo for moving to New York was to buy jeans that were “tighter and darker“ than any pair he currently owned.
If you haven’t already, it is worth watching the service and the pastor profiles online: www.redeemer.com/september22. More than the laughs, the video is a moving portrait of four Godly men who will lead us in the years ahead. I came away excited to follow them as they follow the Lord.
This evening gave me a deeper sense of calling about Redeemer’s vision than I have felt in a long time. I got excited because I could see that I had a role to play in the next chapter of Redeemer’s development. When Redeemer began, it was started not by Tim and Kathy alone, but by a small group of dedicated individuals and families who were committed to planting a gospel-based church in New York. Now we have the opportunity to re-enact that exciting time by dedicating ourselves to planting four gospel-based churches out of one. It will be a lot of work. It will take a great deal of prayer. It will take all of us. And I expect it will be a lot of fun.
The service ended with a bang. It turns out that the next day was Tim’s 60th birthday. After we all sang to him, Kathy took the mic and did something quintessentially Keller: she made it a hobbit birthday. In hobbit culture, Kathy explained, one birthday tradition is reversed - the person having the birthday gives gifts to all the guests. So, she announced, they had fifteen hundred cupcakes waiting outside for all of us as we left. It was a fitting end to a magical night, and a reminder that like hobbits, we should seek not to be served but to serve. After all, that is what this next chapter in Redeemer’s story is all about.
Max Anderson has been a member of Redeemer since 2002 and is the author of The MBA Oath.