By Maina Mwuara
Born and raised in the heart of the Bible Belt, Vance Pitman never imagined he’d be ministering in “Sin City,” but that’s exactly where God led him.
A mission-minded pastor, Pitman had been doing ministry in the South. As he read Scripture one morning—Luke 4, to be exact—something stopped him dead in his tracks.
“I saw some stuff in Jesus that wasn’t in me in regards to the Kingdom and reaching the cities,” he says.
Two weeks later, he was approached about planting a church in the fastest growing city in North America at that time—Las Vegas, Nevada.
Pitman and his wife instantly knew this was where they’d been called.
“We’d never been west of the Mississippi River,” says Pitman. “We’d never visited the city of Las Vegas at that time. You couldn’t have picked a place that was further off my radar. Where I was born and raised in Alabama, people don’t go to Las Vegas. And if they did, they don’t tell anybody. But after I read Luke 4 that day, my wife and I surrendered to Jesus that we would do what He wanted us to do.”
Twenty years later, Hope Church in Las Vegas is still going strong.
Along the way, Pitman has identified three characteristics needed to effectively minister in a relatively unchurched context.
An understanding of the primary call (hint: It’s not ministry)
“Your primary call isn’t ministry—it’s our intimacy with Jesus,” Pitman says.
“The Lord has taught me that everything about the Christian life is about intimacy with Him. It’s about being who we are in Christ and allowing Christ to be who He is in and through us.”
For Pitman, Jesus didn’t call them to plant a church. He called them to be with Him and He’ll plant a church through them out of the overflow of intimacy with Him.
A heart for the city
“Church planters need to think city, not church,” says Pitman, when it comes to planting any church, Bible Belt or not.
“But too many church planters think church and not city. What’s happening today in North American church planting is we’re not starting churches, we’re starting worship services.”
He says church planting is much more than finding a storefront or school to rent for services, or sending out mailers inviting people to come to the church service.
“That’s not church planting,” he says. “That’s inviting people to church who already have been exposed to the gospel to come to a new place—to go to church.”
Pitman adds that when a congregation engages a diverse city with the gospel, the church becomes a reflection of the city.
“Any church that does not at a minimum reflect the diversity of its city has a missiological issue in how they’re engaging their city with the gospel,” he says.
“If you engage a city with the gospel the church will be a reflection of that city because the gospel doesn’t discriminate. The gospel reaches everybody in the same way. Multiethnic church is not a new way of doing church; it’s the New Testament Church.
“When we start worship services around our philosophies of ministry, we attract one homogenous demographic.”
New Testament missiology, Pitman emphasizes, starts with the city.
A passion for multiplication
Pitman says when a church effectively engages a city with the gospel other churches are born as a byproduct.
“One church can’t reach the city by itself. I don’t care how fast it grows, church planters should think about how are they going to multiply and reach others.”
But ultimately, Pitman says, it’s not about planting churches; it’s about making disciples.
“Jesus never said anywhere in the Bible to go plant a church,” he says. “He said, ‘Go make disciples of the nations.’ And go make disciples of the cities. As a matter of fact, He said … ‘I’ll build my church.’”
Maina is a freelance journalist and minister who lives in the Atlanta area with his wife, Tiffiney, and daughter Zyan.