I am afforded numerous opportunities to see the church in its various expressions across North America. For nearly fifteen years I have traveled across the land speaking in congregations of all sizes and forms. I have preached to mega-churches and new church plants. I have tried to encourage older struggling small churches in decline and newer small churches seeking to grow and minister in hard areas. I have preached in storefront settings, rural country white frame churches, urban centers, and living rooms. I have spent most of this time with churches ranging from 100 to 300 people in Sunday worship. My favorite size congregation, for reasons well beyond this present entry, is about 250-300. In this setting there are enough people to cover the bases of organizational need while the group is about the right size for real pastoral care and hands on friendship building in the congregation. Usually such a church has only one, or sometimes two, ordained pastor(s) on the staff. The sense of collegiality between the pastor(s) and the lay leaders is often great. Vision is also rooted in biblical goals and a more historically conscious Christianity.
Yesterday, I spent my day with such a congregation; Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Rye, New York. Trinity is a church-plant of the well-known Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. It began with a small group of dedicated visionaries in 1994. Craig Higgins, who was in Georgia at the time, was called to be the first pastor shortly thereafter. Craig is a genial, warm-hearted Southerner, which I like personally since I fancy myself the same (Tennessee and Alabama in my case.) But Craig has the mind and missional vision of a northeastern church-planter. He fits, culturally and intellectually, far better in Rye than in Macon. His wife Ann, a warm-hearted Georgian as well, loves New York and has made it her adopted home. (This is a pre-requisite for church planters who succeed!) The three kids have done well and adjusted too. And Craig Chapman, a former Texas attorney and the first graduate of the Westminster Seminary degree program in Dallas, joined Craig Higgins on staff at Trinity three years ago. The two Craigs are well suited to the team and compliment the ministry of one another well.
Trinity is one of those rare congregations that have a vision and heart much bigger than its size of 250-300 people. Trinity has a number of business leaders who have a kingdom vision with a clear desire to see the gospel reach into the greater New York City area through every aspect of culture. I rarely engage in such missional conversation among men in a local church as I did yesterday. These guys, and the women as well, think big and they think renewing the church and planting new congregations throughout the region. They also resonated with the purpose statement of ACT 3 in an unusual way.
Trinity is a strongly Christ-centered church that joyfully celebrates the risen Christ in Word and Sacrament every Lord’s Day. It meets in a Catholic school gymnasium presently and hopes, someday, to build its own facility, or maybe acquire a suitable existing building for its long-term ministry in affluent Westchester County. The leaders will not simply build to put up a structure so design, appropriateness to the area and utility will all impact what they eventually do.
The people of Trinity are neither on the far left nor the far right politically or socially. I met Republicans and Democrats. I heard how both want to work for a moral society without the kind of partisanship that characterizes the Christian Right or the very liberal far left. The question is not “Does politics matter?” but rather “How can I make a difference as a Christian in my particular sphere of influence?” (I even heard about a wonderful ministry in the heart of Chicago that I didn’t even know existed until I came to Rye, which again shows the non-parochial nature of things at Trinity.)
Further, Trinity is a catholic church, with deep commitments to the whole church locally and beyond. I met people yesterday who were from various backgrounds, and whose spiritual journey was unique in so many ways. I met no one who was uptight about Catholics or other non-evangelicals. I saw a healthy confessional church, which preaches and incarnates the gospel, while it consciously drops the baggage of boundary issue emphases in every possible way. You will not find little lobby groups here that stress issues surrounding particular forms of Christian education, six-day creationism or militant anti-homosexual politics. These issues, which detract from the gospel itself, have been studiously avoided by the elders of Trinity.
Trinity is blest with many fine people but the simple fact is that Dr. Craig Higgins is the leader who guides this ship. This should not surprise anyone who studies the success of churches for long. Missional churches are led by missional pastors. Craig is a team builder, a real shepherd and a public intellectual, all of which is a perfect fit for Rye. I expect this congregation will be one of the truly great churches in the northeast in the next ten years. I do not mean, by this prediction, that it will be one of the largest, since size is not the major criteria for kingdom greatness. Large and giving hearts, a clear understanding of how the church exists to extend the kingdom of Christ into every aspect and corner of culture, the willingness to invest one’s people and resources in ministries far beyond the local church itself (institutionally), and a strong focus on the supremacy of Christ make a great church. Trinity has all of these in abundance. I do believe it has a future even brighter than the past twelve years. It will be one of those churches I watch and pray for hoping that it will keep using the blessings God has granted to it for the good of the nations. Churches and pastors would do well to learn from a ministry like Trinity Presbyterian Church. It is one of those role model churches that young ministers ask me about regularly.