the shape of leadership

Jesus Loves NY

A profile of church planters Taylor and Kristen Wilkerson

At 24, Taylor Wilkerson had his future mapped out.

A cousin of Teen Challenge founder David Wilkerson, he would soon graduate Princeton Theological Seminary and marry his fiancée, Kristen. The couple would honeymoon in Cambodia, where they ultimately planned to work full time in environmental and humanitarian projects.

Then, a week before his wedding, Wilkerson received an unexpected invitation: Would he be interested in planting a church in New York City? Wilkerson might have turned down the offer immediately had it not come from his parents, Rich and Robyn Wilkerson, pastors of Trinity Church, a nationwide ministry based in Miami.

The historic Glad Tidings Tabernacle church of New York had given Trinity a building in Harlem, just a mile from Columbia University, 5 miles from Times Square, and 10 miles from Wall Street. It was a former nightclub, previously owned by heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson. Wilkerson’s parents explained that this was a prime location for evangelizing the city, but they needed someone to do the work.

“I pulled one of those classic Christian evasive tactics and said, ‘I’ll pray about it,’” Wilkerson recalls. “I did start praying about it, and started getting all these surprising confirmations.”

Reading through one of his old prayer journals, Wilkerson came across an entry he wrote when David Wilkerson died. Pondering whether there was any ministry goal his cousin had not accomplished, he had written, “Would you fulfill any unfulfilled dreams through me?”

“There can never be enough churches.”                     — Taylor Wilkerson

Wilkerson opened a copy of David’s book, The Cross and the Switchblade, and noticed the story started in Harlem. In the book, David prayed while walking the same neighborhood the church plant would serve. Yet David never based a ministry in Harlem.

Wilkerson and Kristen recognized God’s call, though they didn’t understand what it would mean.

“It sounded too cool — New York City, Manhattan, an old nightclub,” Wilkerson says. “It almost sounded too glamorous for it to be a God dream.”

Once they arrived, the couple quickly realized there was nothing glamorous about it. Located across the street from one of the largest government housing projects in Manhattan, the building’s windows were shattered, and it bore ugly scars from stray bullets.

One morning Wilkerson found bloodstains in the snow outside the front door of the church. Alarmed, he notified authorities. The police confirmed there had been a homicide and informed him that cleaning up the sidewalk was the church’s responsibility.

Trinity Church Harlem officially launched in spring 2016. A year later, Easter Sunday attendance topped 700. The growing congregation is diverse; it includes single moms who live across the street, as well as Wall Street bankers who commute to Harlem for services. But as Wilkerson scans the skyline of America’s largest city, the immensity of the unreached harvest field seems staggering.

“There can never be enough churches,” he says. “This is one of the many neighborhoods in Manhattan. There are millions of people here on any given day — rich and poor — who need to know Jesus Christ loves them.”

This article originally appeared in the August/September 2017 edition of Influence magazine.


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