On the East side of midtown Manhattan, overlooking the East River, is the United Nations headquarters building. With 193 member countries and 2 observer states represented, over 6,300 staff at the Manhattan HQ, and a sophisticated corps of 120 interpreters translating proceedings into its six official languages (English, French, Chinese, Russian, Spanish and Arabic) – the UN is almost Babel-esque in its attempt to overcome the confusion of tongues and unite the nations of the world.
In stark contrast, sitting just two miles away on the West side of midtown Manhattan, overlooking the Hudson, was the Jacob K Javits centre, host to the Movement Day Global Cities conference last month. Three thousand Christian leaders representing many hundreds of unity for transformation movements had gathered from 95 countries around the world, united by a passion to see their cities touched and transformed in every sphere of life by the power and love of God.
A move of God has been sweeping through the world over the past 30 years and we had gathered in New York to share and compare the stories of what’s been happening. This “movement” has sprung up independently in thousands of cities and towns in over half the nations of the world, and everywhere it’s found it bears the fingerprints of God. It is characterised in every place by believers coming together across denominational, cultural and ethnic divides and humbly uniting in prayer and mission to bring influence and transformation to their local communities. It is a Gospel movement – in the words of the Lausanne Covenant “the whole church with the whole gospel for the whole world”.
There were more than a hundred UK delegates, including Andie and Sue Frost, Robert Danso and Brendan and Marianne Munro from Haringey. The wide-angle snapshot of the Body of Christ from around the world was stunning – with delegates from China, Australia, Africa, the Middle East, India, South America, North America and most of Europe. And there was a refreshingly strong presence and participation from the millennial generation!
We heard story after story of how the church of Jesus around the world is uniting in prayer and partnership to impact cities with the Gospel. Whatever the circumstances - from the tragedy and trauma of the refugee crisis in Syria to persecution in China, poverty in India or complacency in the West – believers are overcoming the obstacles and through prayer, innovation and collaboration are bringing hope and transformation to their communities.
Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church, Illinois, spoke of a personal “spiritual awakening” when he realised that without the unity dimension a vital aspect of the revelation of God was missing. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, spoke of how we would need to be resilient and tenacious on this journey of city transformation but that he took great hope from the fact that throughout history the church was at its best when facing the unknown, that God always led us forward. Mac Pier, founder of the New York City Leadership Centre and one of the facilitators of Movement Day Global Cities, said that by 2020 the world population would hit 9 billion and that 70% of the people would be living in cities – the church simply has to reach the cities if it is to win the world.
But it wasn’t just church leaders telling encouraging stories, we also heard from Christians who through faith, prayer and unity are impacting their spheres of work and creativity - people like Wall Street asset fund manager Bob Doll, managing director of Morgan Stanley Phil Schaffer, Manchester museum curator Lesley Sutton and a host of others.
So what about us here in Haringey? We’ve been stumbling along the journey of unity for transformation for over 20 years now. We’ve built some great cross-church friendships; we’ve done much to improve the church’s civic engagement in the borough, especially with the police and the council, and we’ve seen many community facing projects birthed and sustained, including homeless shelters and foodbanks. But I’ve personally returned from New York with four areas of challenge uppermost in my heart.
Firstly, prayer. Regardless of location or the nature of what God was doing, the common denominator that linked every story we heard in New York was prayer. Not just personal prayer, but united prayer. In New York for instance 2,000 pastors get away to pray together for two days at the start of every year and throughout the year many thousands of believers and church leaders unite in concerts of prayer for their city. Pray Haringey itself was birthed in prayer with hundreds and sometimes thousands of believers from across the borough’s churches coming together time and again to pray with power and passion for the needs of the community (often with amazing results!). Dozens of pastors and leaders prayed together early Wednesday mornings, and a group of cross-church intercessors prayed every Thursday night. But the united concerts of prayer have stopped; only a handful still pray together on Wednesday mornings and Thursday evenings, and a few leaders gather to pray on the First Friday of every month. We need to revisit the call to united prayer.
Secondly, unity. The cross-church friendships that were formed in the heavenly fire of those early days of Pray Haringey have stood the test of time. We ate together, prayed together, laughed together and cried together. In humility we preferred one another and blessed one another. Out of those friendships great things happened. Yes “busy-ness” is always an obstacle but somehow we always find time for the things we value most. We need to revisit our unity in a spirit of humility and repentance and once again nurture our cross-church friendships.
Thirdly, the millennials. We’ve come far on this road of unity for transformation and it would be a tragedy if all we’ve learned is lost to the next generation. We need to mentor the younger up and coming leaders in this journey – not just “giving them things to do” but gradually passing the baton of missional unity so that they can go further than us.
And fourthly, we need a more holistic vision of mission. We need to see all believers resourced and supported to influence and impact the spheres of life they occupy – whether in the arts, media, health, education, science, business, government or sport. Pastors and preachers alone cannot transform an entire city – evangelisation requires, in the words of the Lausanne Covenant, the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world.
It’s easy to look at the size of the task before us and become dispirited and discouraged and end up doing nothing. But both the Bible and real life are full of stories of how cities, nations and even the course of history have been changed by just one person who prayed and obeyed. I’ve returned from Movement Day Global Cities conference with renewed hope for Haringey.