Panorama of the sanctuary of New Jersey's oldest church, Old First Presbyterian in Newark.

Panorama of the sanctuary of New Jersey's oldest church, Old First Presbyterian in Newark.

Your Church Can Be A Strategic Neighbor

You are really doing something great and I want to praise you for it! What I say right now is perhaps more important than anything you may take away from what I say in the 8 minutes that follow. Here is that one, important thing:

I want to praise you for making the wise decision in choosing the Rev. Dr. Glen Misick as your pastor. (Congratulations to you, Glen, and to your wife, Jennifer.) If not already, you will soon learn that Glen is compassionate, competent, and courageous. What then, does that make you, the congregation? A truly wise congregation with a new future.

You have called the right minister, and now I’m going to charge you to do more.

Who thinks more is better than less?
More is better, right?

I really enjoy the AT&T commercial with actor Beck Bennett talking with a group of kids sitting in a circle on the floor. He asks them if more or less is better. Without hesitation, a little girl answers in a breathless sentence.

Man: Who thinks more is better than less? Okay, why?  Girl: More is better than less because if stuff is not less… if there’s more less stuff then you might, you might want to have some more and your parents just don’t let you because there’s only a little.  Man: Right.  Girl: We want more. We want more. Like, you really like it. You want more.  Man: I follow you.  Voiceover: It’s not complicated. More is better.

In most cases, of course, more is better. Jesus thought so, too. He asked a crowd if more or less is better. It went this way:

“Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish’ (Luke 14:28–30, The Message).

The City of Newark is New Jersey’s largest city, and this church was the first gathering place for the worship of God in this City, in 1666. Puritans called it New Ark, a container, a place for peace and prosperity for every citizen.

I want to praise you today for the ways you have been open to showing God’s love to the City of New Ark.

From this place, a city was birthed.

From this congregation, pastors were not to exclusively meet the needs of those inside, as if the church were a silo on the street, but Old First’s most powerful moments occurred when your most loved pastor’s pastors were pastors to the city at large.

From this session, in partnership with Newark Presbytery, new congregations were formed and deployed. throughout Essex county.

From the people gathered in this place, people just like you, people who sat where you are sitting this morning, people were gathered and then sent out to bless the city.

I think history is about to repeat itself. Why do I say that?

Remember the little girl’s advise, and Jesus’ story about investing resources to get the right job done, more is better:

Who would start to build a new house, if they didn’t first consider the cost. You have chosen to build a new house, a new ministry, establish a clearer mission, build on your wonderful past to grow and change to build a new future. What gifts you have received.

Today, we recognize that your pastor is not only a follower of Jesus, which he is.
He is not only a member of Newark Presbytery. Which he is.
He is not only the pastor of Old First Church. Which he is.
Today, we recognize that Dr. Misick, with the session, with the entire congregation are all possibilities that the city of Newark will be transformed in the name of Jesus Christ.

Using the same wisdom that resulted in today’s installation of Dr. Misick, Old First can make the best choices about your church’s priorities, processes, and resources to energize new expressions of ministry and new clarity about your mission. What’s more, those who gather and are sent out from here can increasingly have a sense of satisfaction and be energized for action. What God does with you here on Broad Street matters to the city of Newark, and beyond.

Can history repeat itself? What do you think?

Could this congregation build upon your already good programs and good intentions, which are honorable?

Could this congregation improve upon its outputs, which are faithful?

Could this congregation pay attention to its ministry outcomes, which are essential?

And most importantly, could this congregation start measuring, and be accountable for, its mission impact on the city of Newark? If you can do this, your future will be greater than the greatest moments of your past.

If you answer Yes!, we can build on our programs, we can improve our ministry outputs, we will start measuring, paying attention to, and holding ourselves accountable for our mission impact, then, you will become healthier and more vital.

You could be the possibility that God’s love will change the lives of an entire city, once again.

You will be the possibility that citizen residents, commuters, businesses, those in education and government, students and immigrants, teachers and public service workers, will experience spiritual and social impact. Old First Presbyterian Church can be a strategic neighbor in the city.

What do I mean by, Strategic Neighbor?

My mentor and colleague, the Rev. Dr. Robert Lupton of Atlanta described the characteristics of strategic neighboring:

"Strategic neighbors” are “the best thing we can offer an urban neighborhood.” He argues that strategic neighbors are different than “urban workers” and volunteers who enter into the neighborhood to “help” and then drive back home after their shift. We want to send out from our places of worship…people who have a deep commitment to loving God and loving their neighbor…they are the frontline troops who go into neighborhoods where good neighbors are in short supply. They buy houses, join neighborhood associations, help organize crime watches, build relationships with neighbor kids, offer support to single moms, take seniors to the grocery store, give voice to the powerless, offer themselves so that the health and peace of the whole community is improved. In short, they are the embodiment of good news…essential to the return of wholeness to an urban community…[they are] committed neighbors who will make the neighborhood their own.

Prov. 11:11   Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed.

Could this congregation, could you, be that strategic neighbor, a new expression of God’s love this city deserves to see?

Could this congregation, poised with 347 years of fantastic ministry, and a caring, competent, and courageous pastor, along with Newark Presbytery and other partners, move to a readiness state of re-committing to a new vision of your congregation’s purpose to be on the planet?

Fill in the blank: “My congregation is the possibility that ____________", and for the next six months, focus 60% of your resources, priorities, and processes to make that possibility a reality.

Today I pledge the attention and commitment of Newark Presbytery through its staff, committees, teams, and gatherings, to resource that new future.

Thank you for your partnership in the Gospel: God so loved the world, that he gave, more, and more and more. Thank you for choosing Dr. Misick as your new pastoral leader. Thank you for being a gift from God to the city of Newark. Thank you, Dr. Misick, for your gift to me for the privilege to share with your congregation in this way today.

Thank you for choosing to do more, to be a strategic neighbor, building something new that you will finish to the glory of God!

  1. Edited from a message to the congregation of Old First Presbyterian Church, Newark, NJ, New Jersey on the occasion of their pastor’s installation. Old First was founded in 1666 making it the oldest church in New Jersey. It is one block from City Hall.  ↩

  2. Renewing the City: Reflections on Community Development and Urban Renewal by Robert D. Lupton and Raymond J. Bakke (Aug 3, 2005)  ↩