Pitman seeks to win cities for Christ
JEFFERSON CITY—Vance Pitman is a 36-year-old church planter from Las Vegas who has seen God grow Hope Baptist Church to around 2,000 in weekend worship in a little more than six years.
His ideas about how to do church don’t fit neatly into a box.
“Typically church planting says you start the church, gather a crowd and then out of the crowd you try to work backwards and make disciples, and then engage the culture,” said Pitman, who is scheduled to deliver the last message of the Tuesday afternoon session of the 173rd annual meeting of the Missouri Baptist Convention at around 3:40 p.m. Oct. 30 at Tan-Tar-A.
“We did it reverse. We really felt like we were missionaries, and missionaries first engage the culture, then make disciples, and out of disciples being made, churches are born. There really is no mandate in Scripture that says, ‘Go plant a church,’ but there are mandates that say, ‘Go make disciples.’ Churches are the natural outcome out of disciples being made.”
Church planting in a place like Las Vegas, where the culture is non-traditional with a pre-Christian bent, has been invigorating for Pitman.
“The tragedy of today in Southern Baptist life is, Billy Graham has even said that he thinks 80 percent of Southern Baptists are lost,” Pitman said. “The reality is we have a lot of what I call evangelical Catholicism. By that I mean this: We have a system that says you go to church, do the best you can, give some money, try to do good to your neighbor, read your Bible, pray, and you hope you go to heaven when you die. That’s really no different than Catholicism.
“A lot of people in evangelical Christianity, in traditional Christianity, have bought into just another system of religion when Christianity at its core is a relationship. It’s an intimate, personal relationship with God that manifests itself through the person of Jesus Christ in my life, and as I grow in relationship to the Father I’m being conformed to the image of Jesus, and He’s changing me—transforming me from the inside out.”
Hope Baptist Church in the glitz and debauchery of “Sin City” produces an interesting type of convert.
“I do thoroughly love the environment that God’s placed me in, because there is no pretense,” Pitman said. “Even people that don’t know Christ, they don’t put on a façade when I come around, whereas where I grew up (in Alabama), when the pastor came around, everybody would stop cussing, stop drinking, stop smoking, just because the pastor’s there. Here they don’t know they’re supposed to do that.”
Pitman refers to the West as a pre-Christian culture. He describes it as an environment that can lead to a refreshing sort of purity in the flock.
“The Eastern United States and even the Midwestern United States have had great awakenings, great movements of God, great revivals,” he said. “The Western United States really has never had that. A lot of the West is still unchurched. Now I know a lot of the Northeast is unchurched, but the difference is the Northeast has had the great movements of God, the great revivals. It’s never really happened in the West.
“In a church, it presents a very pure Christianity. By that I mean there’s no cultural Christianity in Las Vegas. In our church on the weekend, we’ll have close to 2,000 people, and every one of them will be there because they want to be. Nobody’s here because going to church on Sunday is what you do, because in Las Vegas, it’s not what you do. So everybody there either genuinely knows Jesus Christ, or they are legitimately seeking the answer to the question, ‘Is He what I need in my life?’”
At Hope Baptist, “you may see a guy with a tie on, but that will be rare. You’ll see guys with leather and tattoos, riding up on motorcycles. You’ll see people from diverse races. Our church is about probably 60-65 percent white, about 20 percent black, and the rest Asian and Hispanic and Polynesian, with others mixed in there.
“It’s a lot of heart righteousness that is growing and manifesting itself in practical day-in and day-out righteousness, but it’s not as defined as it would be in some other parts (of the country) where Christianity has been established for much longer periods of time. It’s very raw.”
In a Sept. 27 interview with The Pathway, Pitman indicated that his word to the messengers at Tan-Tar-A will likely revolve around his understanding of the concept of kingdom. He said God has expanded his view over the last seven years.
“The kingdom of God, I believe, is God’s sovereign activity in the world resulting in people being in right relationship with Himself,” Pitman said. “By that I mean God’s at work all over the world. We’re living in the greatest days in the history of Christianity. There are more people coming to Christ today on a daily basis than at any other time in human history. A lot of churches have lost sight of that.”
Focusing on cities is more true to Scripture than focusing on one’s own church, Pitman said.
“The goal is not to grow the church,” he noted. “The goal is to expand the kingdom, and that’s a bigger picture. When we get that picture, it changes the way we do everything. It’ll change the mentality of a Sunday School teacher when they realize that God’s activity is not limited to the four walls of their Sunday School class, that they can join in what God’s doing in China, eastern Europe, and South Africa, and still be a member of a church in Missouri. So I think what I’m going to do is come and challenge them with the opportunities to join in God’s kingdom activity in reaching cities and nations for the glory of God.”
One of the best examples of this in the Bible is the book of Jonah, which is all about God’s heart for a city.
“God’s called us to reach a city with the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Pitman said. “We’re so focused on the sustaining and perpetuation and growth of our churches that we’ve lost sight of the reality that it’s really about our cities. Every church in the New Testament that Paul wrote a letter to was identified by its city, and yet today we’ve become irrelevant in our cities.”