Q & A with Dr. Mac Pier
Mac Pier is the founder and chief executive officer of the New York City Leadership Center. Christian Union: The Magazine recently interviewed Dr. Pier regarding his insights on the transformative power of movements and networks.
For the last five years, Dr. Pier and the New York City Leadership Center (NYCLC) have hosted Movement Day, an annual conference that has gathered ministry and marketplace leaders to inspire gospel movements and collaborative ministry in cities around the world. In October, representatives from 86 countries convened in Manhattan for Movement Day Global Cities. The three-day conference addressed the refugee crisis, human trafficking, poverty, fatherlessness, and under-performing education.
Prior to founding the NYCLC , Dr. Pier was the president of Concerts of Prayer Greater New York, "a Christ-centered network of pastors and churches promoting a culture of prayer across racial, economical, and denominational lines." Most notably, Concerts of Prayer directs The Lord's Watch, an ongoing, 21-year, 24/7 prayer movement that focuses on four R's—Revival in the Church; Reconciliation between Churches and Races; Reformation of Society; and Reaching Out with The Gospel.
Dr. Pier's latest book, A Disruptive Gospel: Stories and Strategies for Transforming Your City, was released in November.
CU MAGAZINE: You have written and spoken about "The Anatomy of a Gospel Movement," saying there are three key components: the Foundation of Corporate Spiritual Disciplines (prayer, scripture reading, and fasting); the Foundation of a Leadership Pipeline; and the Activity of a Movement (church planting, prayer, and humanitarian engagement). Please elaborate on each one.
MAC PIER: I believe that the foundation of any kind of spiritual movement is the role of united prayer and the role of corporate Bible reading. This reminds us that if anything happens, it's really because God initiates it first. He motivates us to pray. The way the mystery of prayer works is that He puts in our hearts the things He wants us to pray for because He's prepared to do something. It is a mystery, but that just seems to be the way God works in the Bible and in the great prayers of the Bible.
Prayer is important at a foundational level—and not just personal prayer, but corporate prayer. The real power of prayer is praying in agreement with other people. The foundation of a movement takes place when you have an increasing number of people agreeing on the same thing. There's real power in agreement, and I do believe that part of what happens in a movement is that we realize that what we do together is actually more important than what we do. Starting with the foundation of prayer and Scripture is the place to start.
CU: Regarding a "Leadership Pipeline," you emphasize bringing in young leaders to movements. Why is this important?
MP: In his book, Student Power in World Missions, Dave Howard states that most spiritual movements are started by people under the age of 28. That's why high school and university ministries are critical, and it also corresponds to the greatest challenge facing the church today, the absence of millennial churches.
I believe that the foundation of any kind of spiritual movement is the role of united prayer and the role of corporate Bible reading. This reminds us that if anything happens, it's really because God initiates it first. He motivates us to pray.
At a conference in Bangalore, India, Dr. Elias Dantas, a professor in Nyack College's doctoral program, said the average age for Christians worldwide is 55; the average age for Buddhists is 32; and the average age for Muslims is 25. I think this is definitely true in the Western hemisphere. I don't know if it true in Africa or parts of Asia, but in parts of the world, this is an important demographic.
CU: What are some key factors regarding "The Activity of a Movement?"
MP: What's critical is that you have an alignment of churches—churches that know each other and really want to do something significant together. And that's been part of the legacy of the annual Pastor's Prayer Summit that Concerts of Prayer started 25 years ago. Leaders got to know each other after years of praying together. You have this body of churches, sometimes it's a denominational group, sometimes it's a group from a part of a city. And then you have a big idea. It could be planning; it could be global missions; it could be some kind of social justice or compassion effort. You have an alliance, you have a big idea, and then you have a world-class partner that has expertise in that arena.
With Concerts of Prayer, we have done a lot of work with World Vision; and they've applied their expertise and combined it with a network of churches and there's a big idea. In the early 2000s, with the impact of the AIDS pandemic, we were able to find sponsors for 11,000 children and each sponsored child benefitted 60 people. If you do the metrics, a network of churches in one city ended up impacting 600,000 people living in HIV and poverty. That's a very powerful multiplier.
CU: Do you see this emphasis on prayer, Scripture, and social action in movements as an example of what the Apostle James talks about regarding faith and works?
MP: Yes, that's how I would describe it. What makes Christianity Christianity is the incarnation. It's the presence of God in real, physical expression. It's when you are meeting the spiritual and physical needs of individuals and communities. James 1:27 talks about real religion and I think that's why God has prospered groups like World Vision and Compassion International, because that's the bull's-eye of what James writes about.
CU: Regarding Gospel movements, what can happen when networked and engaged leaders unite?
MP: The power of a network is simply creating the relational and strategic capacity to scale a big idea. I think about when Redeemer Church was planted in Manhattan. One of the stories that Tim Keller told me was that they had about 150,000 people within the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) who agreed to pray every day for the successful planting of Redeemer. He said there was nothing like it—before or since—and that really explains the phenomenon of Redeemer. The PCA represented a network, a denominational network. They took the big idea of planting a multiplying church in Manhattan and got the network to engage it, pray around it, participate in it, and invest in it. That's also why I think networks tend to be more vibrant when they're connected to cities.
I was reading the book of Acts recently and what struck me was how day-to-day life in the first century church would have felt like real struggle, real life and death kind of issues all the time. But because God used the church in cities, Christianity grew from 25,000 at the time of the Ascension to 20 million by the year 312 when Constantine declared himself to be a Christian. Christianity grew 800 times in 300 years. A lot of that took place through the network that had developed in the faith community in cities in the Roman Empire. That's a little bit of what we're seeing today, as leaders and agencies and churches in New York and other cities become attached to other global cities, this global network begins to develop.
CU: What are your favorite Bible verses when you think about your ministry over the years with Concerts of Prayer Greater New York and the New York City Leadership Center?
MP: I would say two bodies of Scripture. I think there are passages between Isaiah 56 and Isaiah 62 that are a prophetic vision of what a revived city looks like. Isaiah 56:7 says, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations." Isaiah 58 talks about the "true fast," which is the whole theme of justice. There is Isaiah 61, which was Jesus' inaugural address, when He said, "I came to bring good news to the poor." And then Isaiah 62 which is, "Give God no rest; give yourselves no rest"—that's a real call to prayer. In the New Testament, it's looking at the Gospel and its movement in the book of Acts, starting in Jerusalem as the capital of the world, and ending up in Rome, the political capital of the world.
You see the centrality of cities in the book of Acts.