FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Vance Pitman believes the next Great Awakening in America will rise from the West with church planting at the epicenter of the movement, and he hopes the 2011 SBC Pastors’ Conference in Phoenix will serve as a catalyst.
Pitman, pastor of Hope Baptist Church in Las Vegas and Pastors’ Conference president, voiced his vision for next summer’s sessions and for a church planting movement in America in an interview at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“We are theming the conference out of Romans 15:20, where Paul said, ‘I aspire to preach Christ where he’s not been named,'” Pitman said. “We’re calling the conference ‘Aspire: Yearning to Join God’s Kingdom Activity.'”
Pitman said his goal for the conference — scheduled for June 14-15, 2011, prior to the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix — is to unite older and younger pastors with a vision for church planting and reaching the nations. He hopes to assemble a unique lineup of speakers, including international pastors and small church pastors. And he wants to leverage the conference offering for reaching the ends of the earth.
“Typically at the conference,” Pitman said, “there’s always an appeal for an offering to help cover the expenses. Our prayer is to come up with a way to completely cover the cost of the conference. We’re going to ask for an offering, but we’re going to ask for the largest offering that’s ever been given, and we’re going to target an unreached people group through the International Mission Board, and we’re going to give 100 percent of the offering away to hopefully make a major impact in targeting an unreached people group so we can say, ‘Just because we had the conference, the Gospel has been taken to a people group that has never heard it before.'”
Additionally, Pitman appealed for seminary students to ask God if He would have them give their lives to church planting in the western United States.
“I personally believe the last great hope for America to experience a sweeping movement of God will come from the western United States,” Pitman said. “I believe if it’s going to happen in America again — and there’s no guarantee it will — I believe it will come from the West, because the West is the last hope for the church to look different.”
Pitman planted Hope Baptist Church nine years ago in Las Vegas, a city far removed from the Bible Belt where he grew up and gained early ministry experience.
“The difference where I am as opposed to where I grew up is that I’m now living in a pre-Christian culture,” Pitman said. “The West is the last pre-Christian culture in America. The Southeast, Northeast, Midwest, they’ve all seen the movement of God. They’ve seen revivals, they’ve seen church explosion.
“Forty percent of our country’s lostness is in the Northeast, but the Northeast is post-Christian. The Great Awakenings have been there and moved on, and there’s a skepticism about the Gospel and the church. In the West, it’s pre-Christian — never had the great movements of God; never been exposed to the Gospel.”
Pitman challenged those called to church planting to come to the West. His passion for church planting in the West spawned from the vision God gave him for Las Vegas, which has resulted in Hope Baptist planting seven additional churches in the city as well as two more — in Chicago and Tucson, Ariz.
“At the very beginning,” Pitman said, “we had the passion to plant a church that would multiply churches with a heart for the nations. We understood that in church planting it was never just about a church but about the expansion of God’s Kingdom. We really saw God’s call on our lives to the city of Las Vegas. God didn’t really call us to a church but to a city, and to reach a city, you need to multiply.”
However, Pitman exhorts prospective planters to verify their calling prior to venturing out; otherwise, when difficult times arise, they will give up.
“Too many guys and gals,” Pitman said, “are out trying to be involved in church planting today because it’s en vogue, because they don’t like church as it exists in their culture. They’re non-traditional, non-conformists, wanting to do something different. It’s novel; they’re following guys … who have planted churches and think it’s the cool thing to do. Church planting is the absolute hardest work you’ll ever do in your life. That being said, it is the most joyous, rewarding experience of my life.”
The Southern Baptist Convention’s approval of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force’s recommendations in June foreshadows great things for Kingdom work, said Pitman, who also serves on the Nevada Baptist Convention’s task force. He said he is excited at the potential of more funding ultimately being freed up for church planting in pioneer areas.
“The changes that have been made, although it will be a slow process, are a step in the right direction toward penetrating the lostness of our country and ultimately of the world,” Pitman said. “As a church planter in the West, I am ecstatic about the changes and about the direction. I’m more encouraged than ever before.”
Pitman preached in Southwestern Seminary’s chapel service Aug. 24, urging students at the Texas campus to put intimacy with God before ministry.
“Ministry is what God does out of the overflow of intimacy,” Pitman said.
Preaching from Acts 1, Pitman pointed to the disciples’ unifying passion for Christ that pushed them to faith-filled obedience and desperation-driven prayer. This same passion, he said, can unite churches and the denomination as well as ignite the fires of spiritual revival like those seen in the Book of Acts.
Keith Collier is director of news and information for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (www.swbts.edu/campusnews). To watch, listen or download Pitman’s chapel message, visit www.swbts.edu/chapelarchives.