One Pastor’s Conviction and Hope for Church Planting
Church planting is a command, a necessity, and both a joy and burden. For the Citylight Family of Churches, it is a shared value and one of the main components of our DNA. This past spring, at the Citylight Family pastor’s retreat, Erick Whigham, co-lead pastor of Citylight Council Bluffs, was reminded of this mission with a new and fresh perspective.
“I think I was originally drawn into the Citylight world,” Erick shared, “with the fact that this is a church that doesn’t just believe the Bible talks about church planting, disciples, and church multiplication, but longs to live that out. In the Bible, James says we aren’t just hearers of the word, but also doers. God calls us to multiply disciples and churches. I asked myself “Do we still do that?””
Up to 2019, the answer was obvious with over eight churches planted. And then the pandemic in 2020 hit and with it came many challenges. Looking back, Erick considered if church planting slowed down.
“For me personally, one thing I love about our church Family,” Erick said with humility, “is that we are doers of the word. In this season, what we know to be true is the call that God has. For me, I’m not satisfied standing still and looking back saying that’s all God will ever do. I celebrate and I am encouraged by what He’s done with the churches that have been planted. He gets the glory, and I don’t want to diminish that. However, I don’t want to say our work is done but instead say “God, would you do it again?” Now, I am wondering if our heart is to do it again and if so, then where do we jump in?”
Erick processed out loud and started with what he called “the language of movement and monument.” Erick shared that “In scripture we see both of those things. We are called to remember what God has done. Over and over in the Old Testament, people have built monuments of who God is and what He has done. In modern days we have movements and monuments too. For instance, church buildings given to churches because God did something long before we showed up. He provided for us with our turn and the process of memories and monuments of what God has done and who He is continues.
The Bible says that God is not a God of the dead, but of the living. He is still at work now. So, we don’t only look back at the monuments of what He has done, we also get the grace of the movement of what He is doing right now. The angst of not standing still. God is still seeking and saving the lost. He is still sending witnesses to the ends of the earth and redeeming people from death to life. We have the honor to be the hands and feet of that work. For me, let’s take those steps of faith, get in the game, and continue to be a part of this.”
After the retreat, Erick got out his phone and texted the pastors within the Citylight Family who, like Council Bluffs, are a part of the Christian Missionary Alliance (CMA). Not long after, the CMA pastors in the Family got together. The morning of, Erick began to lose confidence in his conviction and determined he didn’t really have a plan. What ended up happening was better than what he expected. A space was given for pastors to come together, to give and receive encouragement, and much conversation was exchanged.
“We talked about the front and back end of church planting,” Erick recounted the conversations. “Citylight Family is good with vision, and we know what the Bible says about multiplication. We know God’s heart for the nations and we can cast that vision well. That’s the front end. The back end is commissioning and we are good at that. For instance, there’s a team in Greeley and Orlando and we are excited about this so we send dollars and people and celebrate what God is doing in and through that.”
What was discussed as an opportunity for growth is what happens between vision and commission. Erick has determined that’s where all the hard work happens. The questions are what is that and how can that improve? What do we do in between vision and commission?
“Well, first we prepare,” Erick shared what was concluded. “For me, it’s identifying at least a person with a passion for a place. When we identify the place first, it’s because leaders have a passion for this place and then they pray into it but don’t have the leaders or core team to send. If you have a people first, like a resident or small group that is eager to multiply but don’t know where to go, that’s the best place to begin. I think in that prep stage, in between the vision and commission, we need to ask God not what is already here but instead what passion can you give us toward the place or people. And then we ask how we move toward that. The prep stage is all about praying for a people and a passion and for a place. When those three things come together you are then ready to move.”
Another reality discussed was on traction. How can the Church engage in that neighborhood around the place, and then train and prepare the people to go? Not just dream about it, but do it. With most churches, a vision to prep to traction to vision exists. But, where are we at and what tangible steps can be taken next? Erick concludes with this,
“The movement matters as much as the monument. Let’s get after that today. And be encouraged over and over. We need to consistently share that with one another. Those stories inspire faith. In Acts 1:8, Jesus says you will be my witnesses…what do we do when we get there? We witness what God has done and how He got there. I appreciate what we did at the pastor’s retreat. To have all the guys in one space sharing stories. This helps remind us who we are, the God we serve and what He’s called us to do and the unique place we have in that story. Let’s not forget and lose that. Let’s remember and remind each other. There is not a better vocation to have, and I’m humbled by it. God give us grace.”
Erick Whigham is a co-lead pastor at Citylight Council Bluffs. He is married and has four children. Contact Erick at email@example.com