What is the church? Are we engaging with people or debating the issues? Are we looking at men and women and seeking to show them the love and grace of God? What if we could create a community where black and white, man and women, Hindi and Christian could come together and converse? What if we could create a church that looked like Christ and loved like Christ? I’m thrilled to introduce you to a friend of mine who has created such a community! Blake Bennett has create an environment that is life-giving and life-altering. His church, The City Church is reaching out to the community and creating a place of community – he’s creating a church that reveals the heart of God to the executive, the single mom, the gay couple, the homeless and the intellectual. Check out Blake’s interview below. I know you’ll be encouraged!
Andy Stanley once stated, “I want to be known, to make God known.” What compelled you to form this mission statement? Why do you want to be “known” as a church, as a Christian and as a pastor who loves, honors and accepts all people?
Blake Bennett: Our church name and vision comes from the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world, like a city on a hill for all to see… In the same way let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Heavenly Father.”
There is a myth going around that our spiritual lives are personal only – not to be talked about or demonstrated in public. Jesus never promoted this viewpoint of spirituality.
Any recognition we receive, or reputation we develop, as we love and serve our city must point people to a savior who gave His life to restore relationship with Him. That’s what we want to be famous for.
Your mission is, “To Love, Honor and Accept all people with inspirational hospitality – whatever their story.” I LOVE this statement! Is this mission REALLY for all people who walk into the doors of your church? Have you had anyone question the integrity of your statement and test the church’s sincerity?
Blake Bennett: The VIP Promise is our promise to our community that if you were to attend a Worship Experience with us, this is what you can expect.
Most conversations with people in my city go like this…
Hey, my name is Blake and I recently started a new church near downtown.
Oh cool – what type of church are you? Are ________ people allowed to come?
Do you accept people from other faiths?
Does your church love the gay community?
What if I don’t believe in God?
What if I am divorced?
What if I… like you know… smoke a lot of weed… you know like A LOT?
(To be honest that one made me laugh).
TheCity.church is for the people who ________. It’s for ALL people. (Which is good news because I fall in the category of ALL.)
We’re both are BIG fans of Judah Smith! What about his ministry influences that way you do church? What other pastors do you admire? What makes a pastor worth copying?
Blake Bennett: I do love Ps Judah Smith! The preacher in me loves his ability to make things “sticky”. He says things in such a way that make it easy to remember next Thursday at work.
As a young leader, I think it’s wise to imitate before you innovate. When making a decision I like to look for someone a little further down the road that has already been there.
I love how your values are equal to your beliefs on your church’s website. One of the greatest frustrations of our generation is being in a church without room for conversation. How do you converse and allow for dialogue in the areas of theology? Do you invite people to differ in their perspective? How does this openness allow for healthy discussion within church? Should more churches be EQUALLY based in “values and beliefs”?
I believe theology should shape methodology and a clearly displayed Jesus is the most relevant church model there is. We aren’t called to be God’s “PR guy”. I don’t have to gloss over sin or change core doctrines to get people to “buy in”.
At the same time, the local church should be a place where people can belong before they believe. Said differently, our methods should allow space for people who differ in our theology.
For example, if you were to attend TheCity.church this Sunday you might be surprised to find out that the young man running the lights identifies himself as a Buddhist.
I love the guy! His heart to serve is amazing. He even comes at 6 am to help setup (I can’t even get most Christians to do that!)
What compelled you to church plant? Did you hope to replicate the church or create it in a NEW and CREATIVE way? Did you hope to fix the church?
BB: I am a 4th generation church planter and it’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. God was really kind to me by clarifying my call early in life.I don’t want to fix the church because I don’t believe the church is broken. Click To Tweet
I think it’s trendy right now to bash the church. Maybe that’s because so many of us have had a negative experience at a church. If you have had a tough time at church – I’m so sorry.
The truth is, when we peel back the layers of the hurt it wasn’t a broken church that let us down… it was a broken person(s). The church is filled with broken people (we have room for one more if you want to join!)
Church is beautiful. It’s the thing Jesus is currently building. It’s God’s chosen vehicle to bring revival to the world. It’s the Bride of Christ. The local church is the hope of the world.
I don’t spend anytime trying to “fix” the church. However, I spend hours and hours every week helping people “fix” the brokenness in their lives.
What was it like growing up a PK? Did that influence your walk with Christ? How so?
BB: I loved being a pastor’s kid. My parents were incredibly real and authentic with their faith. My dad is the same guy preaching that he is at home.
It made it easy for me to want to follow Jesus too. I also think it has allowed me to better understand what it takes to plant a church.
When did you understand Christ as LORD? When did you realize that salvation demanded a response? Did you ever struggle with understanding God’s ultimate calling for your life?
BB: I confessed Jesus as my savior when I was 5 years old. I was called to ministry at the age of 12 during a summer camp. That call was clarified to church planting when I was 16.
I’ve had fear of “failing” as a leader, but I’ve never questioned my calling. I love my story because it makes it so easy for me to believe in the potential of young leaders. I’ve been there. I am there.
How would you encourage other millennials who feel led to accomplish BIG things at an early age? How can we encourage others to live out their purpose, regardless of age?
BB: Galatians 6:9 says, “So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.”
I think most people don’t achieve their dreams because they give up too early. It’s not that God isn’t faithful, it’s that I didn’t have enough faith in the Faithful One.
Our generation grew up with microwaves, cell phones, and the Internet. So when things take a little longer than expected we are quick to “get tired of doing good”.
What has been the most difficult part of following Christ from an early age? Did life ever feel lonely? How did you get through those times of feeling alone?
BB: Sometimes it was tough or lonely, but God was always faithful to bring new people into my life. The most difficult thing about following Christ from an early age was how quickly I was given opportunities to lead.
I started and pastored a youth ministry while I was still in High School. Why any parent trusted their teenager with me for a week long summer camp is beyond me!
I had some massive growing to do and made a lot of mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes hurt people. Sometimes those mistakes were embarrassing. But you learn and move on.
What can the church do to mentor young men and women who are called to pastor and lead in ministry? Do you feel that the church is accomplishing discipleship? How could it improve?
BB: Developing young leaders is an important role for the local church. Practically, I believe that looks like finding creative ways to allow young leaders to grow in their giftings and even fail a few times.
I believe the role of the local church in discipleship is to train and equip believers with the tools and skills to develop their own relationship with God.
You’ve heard it said, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” That’s my approach to discipleship.
It’s the role of the local church to train people how to study the Bible, pray, walk in the Holy Spirit, and maintain Biblical community.It’s the role of the individual believer to commit to the process of discipleship. Click To Tweet
How do you want to be remembered?
BB: I would like to be remembered as a man who helped others become great.
Your awesome wife co-ministers and leads the church alongside of you. How do you balance your relationship and ministry life as a couple? What advice would you give to other married couples who are walking together in ministry?
BB: Cierra currently serves on our staff and leadership team as a full time volunteer. “Working” together at the church has been amazing and incredibly difficult.
The number one thing we’ve learned is how to appreciate the other person’s gifting and callings. I would encourage others in a similar situation to meet with a mentor frequently.
Cierra and I meet with a local pastor and licensed Marriage and Family Therapist 1-2 times a month. It’s helpful to involve a 3rd person in processing the tension that comes from serving together.
What advice would you offer to young men and women who are praying about planting a church? Did anything surprise you about the process? What did God birth in you through the process?
BB: If you can imagine yourself doing anything else then go do that instead. If you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else, the 1st thing you should do is find a local church and serve there.
Be honest with your leadership about your desire to plant a church and wait for the right season. The right season is when you are “sent” with a blessing. To many millennial church planters don’t wait to be “sent” they just “go”.
That is short sighted and out of alignment with God’s word. Even the Apostle Paul (the greatest church planter of all time) waited for several years before his local church laid hands on him and sent him out (Acts 13).
If you could stand before the world and have 5 mins before all of humanity, what would you say? What message would you leave?
Blake Bennett: I would share the Gospel. 4 minutes of preaching then 1 minute for an altar call, because I am a preacher 🙂
Why “The City Church”? Do you hope to reach beyond Jacksonville, FL? What do you envision in the next 5 years?
BB: TheCity.church exists because there are 1.3 million people in the greater Jacksonville area and as of 2012 (According to research from Lifeway) only 8% attend an evangelical church on any given Sunday.
Our divorce rate is insane. 1 in 5 kids go to bed hungry. 68% of black males drop out of high school. More churches are closing doors than we are able to plant them.
In the next 5 years I would like to see those numbers change in our city.
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