A Place of Discontentment
Vision often comes from a deep dissatisfaction with what is, combined with a clear idea of what could be. For the first several years of our ministry, Bethany and I traveled all over the country ministering in hundreds of different churches. Preaching several times a week, meeting new people, making new friends, and seeing lives changed were some of the highlights of our evangelistic ministry. As thrilling as it was, there was a growing discontentment in my heart.
The excitement of new places and new adventures was overshadowed by the growing concern for churches and their overall health. Divided over preferences, distracted by lesser goals, and driven by ego — it seemed like the church was just broken.
I would hear one pastor denigrate a fellow pastor down the street because he was a little bit different from him. I have witnessed churches that occupied the same city, and that had the same message and mission, refuse to work together or even pray together. Honestly, I was beginning to lose hope that the church was capable of being the salt and light it was called to be (Matthew 5:16-17).
Admittedly, my perspective of the Christian church was limited because I was a part of a faction of Christianity that was known for its division, and for its hyper-separatist nature. But I do believe that this discontentment gave rise to a desire to see something different.
A Desire for More
I no longer wanted to travel around and just preach in churches. I no longer wanted to play the politics to get opportunities to preach. I no longer wanted to be a part of a movement that was marked by division or distraction. I deeply desired to work alongside people who, though not perfect, were focused on Jesus, and advancing his kingdom. I wanted to see something that reflected the mentality of the early church.
During this time of prayer and searching, I happened to be studying the book of Philippians. My good friend, Stephen Boyce, and I decided to preach through the epistle together while I was transitioning from evangelism to church planting. One thing I noticed right away was that this letter was not written to one church, but to all the saints in Philippi.
Paul begins this book by celebrating the fellowship and partnership of these believers in the gospel (Philippians 1:3-6). He prays that they would continue to make excellent choices that prioritized the gospel (Philippians 1:9-11).
After sharing his misfortune of being in prison, he surprisingly adjusts the reader’s perspective by stating that this happened to the advancement of the gospel (Philippians 1:12-26). He then calls these believers to share this commitment to the gospel by living in keeping with its message and by standing side by side with one spirit for the furtherance of the gospel.
He continues this theme by calling the believers to have the same mind, the servant-like mind of Christ. He instructs them to work out the reality of their salvation (Philippians 2:12). He reminds them that they are lights in the world (Philippians 2:14-15). After sharing examples of men committed to the gospel (i.e., Timothy / Philippians 2:19-24, Epaphroditus / Philippians 2:25-29, Paul / Philippians 3:1-16), Paul instructs these believers to emulate their lifestyle and to be steadfast in the Lord (Philippians 3:17-4:8). He closes the letter by encouraging contentment in Christ (Philippians 4:10-13), by celebrating their gospel generosity (Philippians 4:14-20), and by urging them to continue to create a gospel-shaped community that extends God’s welcoming love to all (Philippians 4:21-23).
This letter to the Philippians wrecked me.
I read it over and over again.
The more I read it, the more discontented I became.
I longed to see something like this happen in a church and among churches. Ironically, the book that talks a lot about joy created an internal angst in me.
But out of this discontentment emerged a dream. A God-given dream I could not get away from and that became the basis of the vision for CityLight Church.
I envision a church where every element of our culture is thoroughly influenced by the gospel. A people from every walk of life and nationality worshiping Jesus together. A people committed to the scriptures, leveraging their resources generously for the gospel. A place where broken people find wholeness and rest, where the inquisitive find their questions welcomed. A place that focuses on making disciples that make disciples. A place that is more about people than programs. A place where preferences are laid aside and the spread of the gospel is prioritized. I envision a church that is intentional about starting other gospel-centered churches that work together to see the gospel move throughout the city and around the globe.
After much prayer and processing, there were three key words that kept surfacing when I would talk about our vision.
City. Gospel. Movement.
In 2015, God made it clear that Seattle was the city where he wanted us to begin. After we knew the context where he wanted us to plant a church, the vision became clear.
CityLight Church would exist to create a movement of Christ-followers who are shaped and driven by the gospel.
A Dream Realized
In 2018, we made the move to Seattle, Washington, with a team of committed church planters. After a year of building community and developing our leadership team, we launched our first CityLight Church.
In 2021, God has opened the door to expand the CityLight vision, by starting two new CityLight churches, one in Malaysia, and one in Asheville, North Carolina. Our family of churches is now working to develop resources and structures to facilitate future church plants.
Believe me when I say that though the vision was started with me, it was the team of people that God gave me that made it a reality. In our minds, this is just the beginning. Our desire is to be a catalyst for gospel-centered church planting.