For the past two months, I’ve had the privilege of watching the vision for Redeemer Lincoln Square turn into a reality on Monday nights. This meeting, which takes place every week at the W83 Ministry Center, is called Catalyst, and there are about eighty of us who have been attending.
A class called Catalyst — which Google defines as a "change agent" — initially raised some questions as to its meaning and purpose. Would we talk about how to change congregations? Perhaps we would focus on what might make this Redeemer congregation different? While both are good questions, they turned out not to be the focus of Catalyst. This class is about something else.
When we meet, we sit at tables. Around mine there’s an immigrant, a West Side Deaconess, a professional musician, and a comedian. While Michael Keller always opens with a teaching, the bulk of our meeting is spent considering the evening’s topic in discussion with the people at our tables. Topics have ranged from cities and idolatry to faith, work, and justice.
For me, the most intimidating topic we’ve discussed is evangelism. As a native New Yorker, the thought of sharing my faith with classmates, colleagues, strangers and neighbors has always been agonizing. Even scarier is how they might respond to my openness. At Catalyst we wrestled with this as a community, and I’m glad we did.
Together, we considered Christ’s call to be witnesses and salt to those around us, and what it means for the church to be a city on a hill. I was encouraged to learn that evangelism, or witnessing, isn’t a one-man job.
First, if you’re a witness, you have to actually be a witness of something. That means listening, knowing and understanding not only God’s Word, but also the stories of our neighbors. Second, evangelism is salty — it’s culturally preserving and socially sustaining. Third, it can be the work of our entire church — a safe, supportive and welcoming community.
Evangelism is about being emotionally engaged in the lives of the people around us. It’s about listening and earning their trust, encouraging their spirits, and, if allowed the opportunity, sharing our hope with them. I wondered, “Who does this?” And more than that, I thought, “How can this happen in New York?”
Then I looked around my table. Eight weeks ago, we were strangers. But with time, vulnerability, and grace, we had changed. Today, we’re friends. In many ways, without even knowing it, we were already learning the skills needed for evangelism.
I’ve learned a lot at Catalyst. But what I will remember most about this class won’t necessarily be the material we’ve covered, but the divides we’ve crossed. I’ve seen how God’s grace connects people who would have no reason to be friends otherwise. And I’ve learned how, together, we can help each other — not only how we can better understand our role in the city, in our jobs, and in our homes, but also how we can respond to God’s call to make disciples of all people, even to the lower ends of the Upper West Side.
Far from being a class about the things that are changing at Redeemer, Catalyst has provided an opportunity for me to experience grace through a new community. And though the class is over, I’m looking forward to the next chapter: leading a community group in the Lincoln Square neighborhood. I really don’t know who will show up, and frankly, I’m not too concerned about that. God says he’s there where two or more are gathered in His name, and I’m excited to witness that.