Leaders Speak: A Talk with Pastor Ryan Taylor of Apostles Church NYC
Here’s the second interview in our FaithStreet Leaders Speak series, a series of interviews with Christian leaders in New York City. This week we* interviewed Pastor Ryan Taylor, Pastor of Administration at Apostles Church NYC. We talk with Ryan about integrating work and faith, leaving investment banking to become a pastor and what gives him hope for NYC. Apostles Church NYC is an interdenominational “growing network of neighborhood congregations (currently meeting in the Upper East Side and near Union Square).”*
During our first conversation, you mentioned that you want Apostles to “be like the church in Acts, doing life together. Teaching, exhorting, encouraging and sharing with each other…” instead of just coming together for services and events. How does someone who works 80 hours a week even begin to engage with that?
That’s a great question, we ask that a lot. Our church is full of people that work demanding jobs in education, finance, fashion, social work and they’re wondering the same thing. First, I think people should start where they are. If you work 80+ hours a week, assess what you’re doing with the margin you do have, regardless of how small. Are your Saturday mornings free? How do you spend that time? Are you strategic in leveraging that time? Also, we don’t stop being Christians when we’re at work either, how are we seeking to proclaim Christ in word and deed at work? Invest the time you do have with gospel-intentionality. Share meals with believers in your neighborhood, go to the same restaurant or pub with the intention to bless the employees, seek to meet the needs of the marginalized in your neighborhood. I know of a lot a people in our community with intense jobs that are doing this really well; it’s encouraging. Secondly, I think we all have to regularly ask ourselves, “why do I work?” Career achievement is one of the biggest idols of our city, and we can easily make it the most important thing in our lives, me included. That’s why it’s so important to be invested in a community of people that love God, know you well, and love you enough to help you see when your career is bigger than God.
Speaking of long hours, you left investment banking and became a full-time pastor? How did your family and friends back home react? Do you ever have second thoughts?
I think they were a little surprised, just like I was. They asked me some good questions about my motives for the shift, but have been really supportive the whole way. I never set out to work in ministry, nor to be a pastor, but I’m so thankful for the work I’ve been entrusted. No second thoughts yet, I continue to be affirmed in the shift.
Apostles and a few other churches spread the word by purchasing advertising space on Google. Other churches buy out entire cars on the Subway or big ads on city bus stops. What is the reasoning behind doing this kind of outreach? Have you found advertising on Google effective? Why don’t you think more churches do this kind of advertising?
I can’t speak for the strategy of other churches but we use Google because there are a lot of people looking for a church and they use Google to find it. I meet someone every couple weeks at our services, usually new to NYC that found out about the church by searching online. More than advertising though, we talk about “gospel enjoyment” a lot at Apostles. A people who truly enjoy God and are being transformed into his likeness by his radical love are contagious to be around.
Why do you think some New Yorkers have a negative view of church?
I don’t think New Yorkers have issue with church, I think they have issues with things that are disingenuous, and the Church has often been guilty of that. My experience, however, has been that when people truly encounter Jesus in the Scriptures they find someone who is anything but disingenuous. Also, I don’t think a lot of people are too pumped to hear that they need saving and that they can’t do it themselves, New Yorker or otherwise.
What would you say to a New Yorker who says, “Why should I put my faith in God?”
I’d ask what are you putting your faith in now? You’re putting it in something; it’s your job, your stuff, your looks, your relationships, your kids, something. None of those things are big enough to live for, and all of them will let you down eventually.
**During our first conversation you said, “We always want to be a welcoming community to anybody interested in checking out the faith, but at the same time we don’t shy away from proclaiming the scripture.” Apostles has seen some great growth – why do you think people respond well to this upfront approach? **
Any kind of meaningful growth has only been a work of God. People respond and are changed when they get to see who God really is, who He’s shown himself to be through the Scriptures and through His Son. I would like to think that God’s used our church because we aren’t ashamed of the gospel, as the Apostle Paul declared, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” (Romans 1:16 ESV).
Do you think NYC churches do a good job of working together?
I think church cooperation can always be better but I’ve been really encouraged by the way we’ve been blessed by and been able to join in prayer with other churches in the city like Redeemer Presbyterian, St. George’s Episcopal, Trinity Grace, and others. We’ve learned a great deal from these churches and we’ve also had the privilege of providing financial support and coaching to other younger churches in NYC, too. From Apostles’ perspective I’d say we’re experiencing increasing partnership with other churches in NYC, and we think that’s a good thing.
What discourages you about NYC? Gives you hope for NYC?
I find myself getting discouraged most times by the extreme brokenness of the city – the huge number of poor and marginalized, the high abortion rate, the number of single parents, the thousands of kids in the foster care system, and the way we New Yorkers can act like we don’t notice because we’re more concerned about our own agendas and establishing ourselves. The millions of people in our city that don’t have a trusting relationship with Jesus Christ weighs on me heavily, too. What gives me hope is that since the beginning of creation God has set a plan in motion to renew all things through his Son Jesus Christ, and he’s very much carrying that plan out even though it may not always seem apparent (Mark 4:30-32). I think we can see this though through the growing number of gospel-rooted, Scripture teaching churches and Christians popping up in our city. NYC is a place of great influence, and if it’s transformed by the gospel it will go a long way toward transforming our nation and world.
Where do you go in the City to relax?
I love hanging out in the new Brooklyn Bridge park and anywhere along the water on the Manhattan side. Jack’s Coffee on Front St. is my favorite place to read and relax in my neighborhood.
If you weren’t a pastor, what would you be?
Honestly, there’s nothing I’d rather do with my time than invest in God’s church and shepherd his saints. But if they wouldn’t let me serve as a pastor at Apostles or anywhere else, maybe I’d try to be a NASCAR driver, that always sounded fun as a kid.
New York is a very transient city. Is it frustrating doing ministry with people who often aren’t going to live in NYC for more than a year or two?
At first it definitely was. After our first year anniversary as a church we had about half of our leaders move…that’s always fun when you’re starting a church. But now I think we’ve come to understand the rhythms of the city more and are more realistic about how long people will be here. At the same time, Christians are to be people of blessing wherever they are, so we invite and challenge our people to do just that no matter how long they’re here. I was planning on leaving the city after my first two years in finance, but through the loving challenge of our church to consider investing here long-term I ended up staying. Not everyone is supposed to spend their life in NYC, but I’d challenge any Christian not to move from this city for any reason but the call of God.