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Church Planter Profile: PILGRIM BENHAM // Reality Tampa

This Monday, we’re highlighting a church planter in Tampa, FL. Pilgrim Benham is the pastor of Reality Church Tampa. God is doing a great work out there and Pilgrim’s story will inspire you…

1. In a nutshell, how did you find the city you planted in? 

I was on staff at Calvary Chapel Sarasota for 8 years and essentially started sensing a desire to step out in faith to plant at a larger urban center that had to have three things: a large college (or several), a deep need for a Biblically-faithful Calvary Chapel-style church, and be a city on the “rise” meaning it would be on the cusp of developing into a much bigger city in the near future. I didn’t want to be “fishin for a mission” so we fasted, prayed, and started researching cities that fit this criteria. We identified Austin, Texas and Charleston, South Carolina as prospective cities but then realized God was on the move in Austin and Charleston didn’t align with my personality. So one of my mentors said “When I go fishing I don’t just launch out into the water and look for fish. I use a fish finder, and go where the fish are. Plus Jesus said we are to be fishers of men, right? So where are the nearest fish?” I realized we were overlooking the largest and nearest urban area in our vicinity so decided to check Tampa out, only being an hour north of us. When we pulled into the downtown area, the Lord spoke clearly that this was where we were to move and plant our family and lives for the next several years to see the Gospel and a faithful church planted.

2. What were some of the lessons you learned early on about church planting?

I learned early on how dangerous (and difficult) it is to lay hands on people too quickly. My wife Jenn and my two kids (at that time 5 and 2) moved along with a friend, and, with the exception of Jenn’s mom driving up, we didn’t have a launch team or a core group. So I became a decathlete overnight and started working two retail jobs along with leading worship, preaching, evangelizing, leading Bible studies, creating graphics, designing websites, sending emails, making coffee, cleaning toilets and printing bulletins. It wasn’t that I didn’t like delegating; we had no one to delegate to! We needed help and this tempted us to prematurely put people into leadership positions early which caused much heartache. Some of them didn’t align with the vision of the church and caused great turmoil when they left, and others just left. As tempting as it may be, I would encourage planters to give people assignments and work but not titles and to start churches with an outside board of skilled elders/mentors from other churches to provide feedback, accountability and encouragement. I guess I wanted us to look like a thriving church with several elders which in the end means I was idolizing how we were perceived, rather than what was ultimately healthy for our church. Lesson learned!
I would encourage planters to give people assignments and work but not titles.

3. If you did this again, what are a few things you’d do differently?

We were sent with a few thousand dollars and a second-hand sound system I basically stole from our sending church (just kidding, but I didn’t really ask permission…). I was also able to stay on staff for three months while we adjusted to life as a bivocational pastor. When we moved to Tampa I got a job at Apple and also worked various odd-second jobs to keep us literally afloat. I don’t regret the hard work as my job at Apple has brought many people to Christ and many customers and coworkers to Reality, but I would argue that bivocational pastoring is the most difficult (and possibly rewarding) way to plant a church. My time is my greatest commodity so if I wanted to see fruit develop quicker I would have raised some financial support to supplement my income and not work the second job along with Apple.

4. What are some of the most important things for a potential church planter to consider before they leave to go plant?

I’ve been tested in more ways than I ever expected and have learned what Jesus meant when He said that the kingdom of God is forcefully advancing and it needs forceful men to advance it. Church planting is not a convenient way to gain an audience or to get your way if the senior pastor isn’t on your team. It isn’t a solution because you want to be different or cooler or to finally get your own pulpit. That attitude won’t build the kingdom, it only divides it and builds your own fan base. In church planting there’s no room for insecure guys who want to please man. There’s no room for professionals who want to prove they can launch a successful business. Nor is there room for the faint of heart who give up when the battle seems bleak. Put your gloves on and get ready to fight the fight of your life while you bleed, sweat, cry, and manage to catch your breath every few moments.
In church planting there’s no room for insecure guys who want to please man.

5. What is your vision for the next year of your church?

We believe God has poised us to be a blessing to our city and our tagline this year is “Love on Display”. We want to continue to show our city that we are His disciples by how we love one another. This will be our fourth year and we started in a storefront, moved to the YMCA, and now meet in a vintage theater near downtown. We would love to see more men raised up in leadership and more community groups spread through the various neighborhoods in our sprawling city. We would love to plant a daughter church in the near future and believe God is preparing our hearts as a family to that end. We trust that where God guides, He provides, and we have seen Him get the glory from the very beginning. My prayer is that we would be faithful and fruitful in all that God has entrusted us with!
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Learn more about Pastor Pilgrim and Reality Church at realitychurchtampa.com. Here are a couple pictures to help you get a glimpse at Reality Church Tampa…

Churches Needed!

It goes without saying that every street corner could use a solid, Bible-teaching church. However, as the economy changes, jobs shift, and cities grow, there are places that seem to be extra ripe for the Gospel.

Justin Thomas recently took a trip there and describes Williston, ND as a town that “has grown from 15,000 people to 75,000 in the last 5 years and a large portion of that population is single men, and men who have left their families at home to work in the oil fields. Although there are churches in Williston, there is desperate need for more churches, and after visiting I think Calvary Chapel is uniquely suited for the situation.”

Take 8 minutes and watch the documentary below about Williston. If you’re looking for a place to plant, pray about going there. If not, pray for Williston, and pass this on to someone who might be interested.