Pastor Resigns from Las Vegas Megachurch to Equip Church Planters

By Bob Smietana
vance pitman las vegas
Send Network President Vance Pitman. (Photo courtesy of Send Network/Hope Church)

Two decades ago, Vance Pitman and a pair of friends from the Bible Belt went out west to start a church in Sin City.

They launched a Las Vegas congregation, known as Hope Church, two weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks and it grew beyond their wildest dreams, becoming a multicultural megachurch with congregation members who speak more than 50 languages.

During the summer of 2021, Pitman and his wife began to think about the future. Rather than focusing on building up Hope Church and Pitman’s platform there, they wanted to spend more time with their grandkids and on helping other churches get off the ground.

In December, Pitman resigned as senior pastor of Hope Church — a rare move for megachurch pastors in their prime — to take a new role as president of the Send Network, the church-planting arm of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board.

Pitman spoke to media in March, not long after starting his new role. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Why step down as senior pastor at your church to take this new job?

About 40% of the unchurched population in America lives in the Mountain and Pacific time zones, which is about 75 million people. We had a dream to start 300 new churches, and currently, we’re about 80 churches into that process. Last summer, my wife and I just spent some time before the Lord and we began to ask,”Lord, what have you made us to do?”

There was a shift taking place in my heart that for the next season of ministry, rather than be focused on Hope Church, it was going to be focused on the “big C” church and the kingdom. Also, I get about five calls a year from senior pastors across the country who are retiring or getting ready to finish their ministry and looking for their successor and asking if I’d be interested in taking over. I got burdened that we don’t do a good job of developing the next generation of pastors and church planters in North America. I felt like this was the right time for us to make this step.

Will you still be a member of Hope Church?

For now, I’m going to live here and be a member of the church here. My family will still serve here and I’ll preach occasionally — four or five times a year — but we are sent out full time. We raised up a team from within that’s already taken the mantle of leadership, we passed the baton and so the church is doing great.

What have you learned in Vegas as a church planter that you think might be useful in this new role?

I believe what is happening a lot in church planting today is just starting church services and not starting churches — by that I mean churches being born as a result of engaging cities with the gospel and seeing disciples made in those churches as byproduct. We call starting church services “church planting” when a guy moves into a town, sends out a mailer, opens up a storefront and immediately invites people to attend a church service.

vance pitman send network
Vance Pitman speaks for the first time in his capacity as Send Network’s new president at an orientation for 165 of the organization’s newest church planting missionaries March 7, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Send Network/Kent Mallett)

You can do that strategy in Memphis or Nashville or Atlanta or Birmingham, where you have Christians waking up looking to go to church on Sunday. In Las Vegas, when I moved here, 95% of our city was non-Christian and 60% was nonreligious. You can send out mailers all day long but nobody’s looking to go to church.

Too many church planters show up in cities thinking like pastors of churches rather than as missionaries, thinking about how to engage a city with the gospel. How do you begin to build relational bridges? How do you build opportunities to serve the city and build those relationships that allow for cultivating gospel impact in a city?

Before I moved to Las Vegas, I didn’t think about my city. I thought about the church that I pastored and if the church that I pastored was doing good then I was doing good. But when God put me in a place like Las Vegas, I began to think about a city and to realize the real kingdom success in that city is not just more people going to church.

When you say engage the city with the gospel, what does that look like?

It can be as simple as what some would call servant evangelism, where you look for needs in a community that you can meet and you begin to meet those tangible needs, not with an ulterior motive of sharing Christ but with an ultimate motive of sharing Christ. I’m not meeting that need so I can share the gospel with you — I’m meeting that need because God desires that need in our community to be met. But as I meet that need, I look for opportunities to let you know who Jesus is in my life.

Two related questions: You were sent out from the Bible Belt and Georgia to Las Vegas. Would you do that over again — would you parachute in again? And is it important for new churches to have a connection with other churches that send them out?

Let me answer the second one first. Yes, I had a strong relationship with our sending church. I believe by conviction that individuals don’t plant churches. Denominations don’t plant churches. Networks don’t plant churches. Churches plant churches. I think the sending church is critical. It’s a key part of our strategy at Send Network. We no longer allow anyone into our assessment program if they do not have a sending church.

And yes, I would do it again because it’s what God called me to do. I do believe it’s a both-and. There are places we need to parachute people in. That’s what missionaries do. They go where the gospel is not. They go where the church is not and they take the gospel to new areas. When the missionary comes in and begins to raise up indigenous leaders and planters in the local context — that’s when you can begin to see real gospel movement.

You are starting this new role at a time when there is a lot of conflict in the SBC and a loss of interest in denominations and larger institutions. Does taking this new role reflect your belief in cooperation among churches, which you referred to as a focus on the kingdom” or “big C” church?

I believe we’re better together — that one church cannot accomplish the Great Commission by itself. And so, for us to really be about accomplishing the Great Commission, we must work together. And when I say that, I don’t even just simply mean with the Southern Baptist Convention. I believe that we as kingdom believers from multiple tribes must work together. The kingdom of God is much bigger than the Southern Baptist Convention. We’re just a small piece of a really big pie of what God’s doing all over the world.

I do think you have to be careful when you assume things about the SBC because of what you see or hear on Twitter or social media. We just had 165 new planters in orientation last week and it was an incredibly diverse gathering where there was life, there was energy that was passionate about the gospel, about the nations being reached. When you get on social media and listen to the buzz on there, you can begin to think one thing. But if you begin to get out in the cities and you talk to the churches you see something else.

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana is a national reporter for Religion News Service.



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10 thoughts on “Pastor Resigns from Las Vegas Megachurch to Equip Church Planters”

  1. “I believe we’re better together — that one church cannot accomplish the Great Commission by itself.”
    Actually, Jesus is only building ONE church. “I will build my church”. 1 Corinthians 12:12 For just as THE body is ONE and has many members, and all the members of THE body though many, are ONE body, so it is with Christ. There will be only one bride, not 1000 different brand named brides. We are to LOOK like what Jesus is building as a testimony to the lost of the DEITY of Christ. John 17:20-23.

    ALL hired Bible exerts – Pastors – clergy, are blind to this because their pay check, title, reserved ministries and dominance comes from …. brand named institutions. Hence, they want to plant more institutions. Institutions are the OPPOSITE IDENTITY of believers – family, body, bride, spiritual building, etc. We are to “make disciples”, reproductions of disciples. Hired clergy are not EXAMPLES to be imitated by anyone who works in the marketplace. The apostle Paul worked in the marketplace “everywhere in every church”, but clergy REJECT this. Only lay people, those RESTRICTED to sheep status, can be imitated if we imitate Paul by combining marketplace work and spiritual leadership.

    Pitman can gather people who “speak more than 50 languages” and never permit them to speak in that language and have it interpreted like the gift of tongues and interpretation of tongues on the day of pentecost. One hired man will lecture in English the whole time EVERY meeting, and not realize it is a REVERSAL of God’s instructions for “meeting together” in Heb 10:24-25. Can you dialogue about this 500 year old corruption of “church” and the scripture that can CLEAN UP the corruption?

  2. Natalie D Reaves

    Excellent article of a pastor living the gospel. With all the negative news about Christians, this is welcome.

    1. If this person is a good evangelist, fine. The apostle Paul himself Is probably one of the most famous evangelists in history. So, there is a formal role for such people.

      “On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him.” (Act 21:8, NASB)

  3. I have a tendency toward cynicism so keep that in mind, but I wonder what the salary difference is between the two jobs. Talk about “equipping the next generation” and “planting hundreds more churches” aside, I’ve noticed that ministers rarely “hear God calling them” to somewhere that pays less.

    1. Your comment is not cynical, it is a legitimate, logical, and biblical point. Clergyism is LOADED with things claimed to be godly but are not even CLOSE to what the Bible says. Where does God “call” people to lecture the Bible every week so they NEVER respond with personal expression to the lecturer and each other? Where is “preach the word defined as 1. Strict one way communication. 2. 30-45 minutes in length for one man, the time NEVER shared between 2-4 saints or more. 3. Hired men with Bible degrees ONLY provided you can afford one. These parameters (RESTRICTIONS) are not in the Bible ANYWHERE for preaching or teaching. The scriptures are twisted and false translated to make it appear they are there. I can expose many of these for free and have written it down.

      But both clergy and laity love these features. There are scriptures that very clearly teach God calls ALL believers to the same thing – make disciples. The diversity of our gifts is not to RESTRICT us to only do what our gifting does, but to EQUIP saints to do the works for which they don’t have that gift. The scriptures are “inspired” to equip the people of God for EVERY good work even though we only have one or a few gifts. Let’s discuss this. You are ON TRACK!

      1. Tim – I like your enthusiasm but I’m an agnostic/practical atheist. So I suspect we won’t find much common ground regarding what constitutes the proper way for Christians to fellowship with/train one another. I’m just pointing out that, even in religion, there always seems to be an “upward mobility” angle.

        1. Thanks for your transparency. In EVERY business, every job, there is an “upward mobility” angle. There is no problem with that. But in God’s instructions for his people, there is only peer relationship – brother and sister relationship in a family. Clergyism, the pulpit and pew versions of leadership is VERY disobedient to what God has taught. Even though you do not believe what God has said, and may not even know what God has said, you still display a conscience level understanding of what God does not want for spiritual development. Money should not be a factor at all. In business, yes. You may not believe there is a God, but you have displayed that He is at work in the minds of even those who reject intellectually that He exists and reject that he has spoken to all those he has created as human beings. I’m pointing this out.

    2. Jack Harper, I can say that I have met pastors who took a cut in pay, in order to serve in churches that couldn’t afford to pay them what their previous secular job did because they were answering God’s call. I have also met pastors with wives who worked, so their husbands could accept a job as pastor in smaller churches.

  4. You’d be surprised how many pastors hold down regular jobs, Monday through Friday. My pastor was one who did. I also know of another pastor in my town, who does the same thing: mega Churches? No, just small Churches (100-200 members) have to.

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