Why Vance Pitman, pastor of a megachurch, resigned as leader of his Las Vegas church
(RNS) – Two decades ago, Vance Pitman and two Bible Belt friends went west to start a church in Sin City.
They started a congregation in Las Vegas, known as Hope Church, two weeks after the 9/11 attacks and it exceeded their wildest dreams, becoming a multicultural mega-church with more speaking congregation members. of 50 languages.
During the summer of 2021, Pitman and his wife started thinking about the future. Rather than focusing on building Hope Church and the Pitman Platform there, they wanted to spend more time with their grandchildren and help other churches get started.
In December, Pitman resigned as senior pastor of Hope Church — a rare move for pastors of megachurches in their heyday — to take on a new role as president of the Send Network, the church planting arm. churches of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Pitman spoke to Religion News Service in March, shortly after beginning his new role. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why resign as senior pastor of your church to take on this new position?
About 40% of America’s non-religious population lives in the Mountain and Pacific time zones, or about 75 million people. We dreamed of starting 300 new churches, and currently we are about 80 churches in this process. Last summer, my wife and I just spent some time before the Lord and we started to wonder, “Lord, what have you done with us?
There was a shift taking place in my heart that for the next ministry season, rather than focusing on Hope Church, it was going to focus on the “big C” church and the kingdom. Additionally, I get about five calls a year from senior pastors across the country who are retiring or about to end their ministry and who are looking for their successor and asking if I would be interested in taking over. I have been overwhelmed that we are not doing a good job of developing the next generation of pastors and church planters in North America. I felt it was the right time for us to take this step.
Will you still be a member of Hope Church?
For now, I will live here and be a member of the church here. My family will still serve here and I will preach occasionally – four or five times a year – but we are sent full time. We have formed an inside team that has already assumed leadership, we have passed the baton and so the church is doing well.
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What did you learn in Vegas as a church planter that you think could be helpful in this new role?
I believe that much of what is happening in church planting today is simply starting church services and not starting churches – by which I mean churches born as a result of cities engaging with the gospel and seeing disciples made in those churches as a by-product. We call starting church services “church planting” when a guy moves into town, sends mail, opens a storefront, and immediately invites people to attend a church service.
You can apply this strategy to Memphis, Nashville, Atlanta, or Birmingham, where Christians wake up to go to church on Sundays. In Las Vegas, when I moved here, 95% of our town was non-Christian and 60% was non-religious. You can mail all day, but no one’s trying to go to church.
Too many church planters show up in cities thinking like church pastors rather than missionaries, thinking about how to engage a city with the gospel. How do you start building relationship bridges? How do you create opportunities to serve the city and build those relationships that cultivate the impact of the gospel in a city?
Before moving to Las Vegas, I didn’t think about my city. I thought about the church I was pastoring and if the church I was pastoring was doing good, then I was doing good. But when God placed me in a place like Las Vegas, I began to think about a city and realize that the real success of the kingdom in that city isn’t just more people going to church.
When you say engaging the city with the gospel, what does that sound like?
It can be as simple as what some would call servant evangelism, where you look for needs in a community that you can meet and you begin to meet those tangible needs, not with an ulterior motive of sharing Christ but with an ultimate motive to share Christ. . I am not meeting this need so that I can share the gospel with you — I am meeting this need because God desires this need in our community to be met. But as I respond to that need, I look for opportunities to let you know who Jesus is in my life.
Two related questions: You were sent from the Bible Belt and Georgia to Las Vegas. Would you do this again – would you skydive again? And is it important for new churches to have a connection with other churches that send them?
Let me answer the second first. Yes, I had a strong relationship with our sending church. I believe by conviction that individuals do not plant churches. Denominations do not plant churches. Networks do not plant churches. Churches plant churches. I think the sending church is essential. This is a key part of our strategy at Send Network. We no longer allow anyone into our evaluation program if they do not have a sending church.
And yes, I would do it again because that’s what God called me to do. I believe it is both and. There are places where we have to parachute people. That’s what missionaries do. They go where the gospel is not. They go where the church is not and they take the gospel to new areas. When the missionary arrives and begins to raise up indigenous leaders and planters in the local context, that’s when you can begin to see a real gospel movement.
You are starting this new role at a time when there is a lot of conflict within the SBC and a loss of interest in denominations and larger institutions. Does accepting this new role reflect your belief in inter-church cooperation, which you have called a “kingdom-centered” or “big C” church?
I believe we are better together – that one church cannot accomplish the Great Commission by itself. And so, in order for us to truly accomplish the Great Commission, we must work together. And when I say that, I don’t even just mean with the Southern Baptist Convention. I believe that we, as multi-tribe kingdom believers, should work together. The kingdom of God is much larger than the Southern Baptist Convention. We are just a small piece of a very big pie of what God is doing all over the world.
I think you have to be careful in assuming things on the SBC because of what you see or hear on Twitter or social media. We just had 165 new planters in orientation last week and it was an incredibly diverse gathering where there was life, there was energy passionate about the gospel, about the nations reached. When you access social media and listen to the buzz, you may start to think of one thing. But if you start going out into the cities and talk to the churches, you see something else.
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