Build Bridges, Not Silos
Hi everyone! My name is Wes Blackburn and I’m the lead pastor of Crossbridge Christian Church in Tallahassee, Florida. Our church was actually one of the first Stadia plants, launched in 2005. My wife Brittany and I moved here from our home in the Chicago suburbs in 2017 to join Crossbridge in their mission to help disconnected people connect to God. (I love that mission.)
I’m extraordinarily thankful for church planting, and specifically, church planters. I think church planters are like the Navy SEALS of God’s kingdom. My experience with church planting is being part of a multisite campus launch roughly ten years ago. There, I learned I am not equipped with the whole apostle/spiritual entrepreneur gifting… which only accentuates my appreciation for those who are!
While I wasn’t the planting pastor here at Crossbridge, I can certainly speak to the challenges our small, setup/teardown (over our history, we’ve met at a theater, elementary school, and YMCA… I think that’s the church plant triple crown) church faces. I’m sure many are the same as any other church plant: managing a shoestring budget, developing leaders, and competing for attention in an increasingly cluttered world.
Yet I’ve also noticed some unique challenges here, different from challenges I faced leading a church in the Chicago area before moving here. Tallahassee is an odd combination of “old time religion” meets liberal university town; each weekend I preach simultaneously to some who find the gospel offensive and others who think they’re bought into the gospel, not realizing they’re believing a strangely-mutated quite non-Christian version of it. Being the home to several major universities and center for state government is cool, but also means most people are here only until graduation or the next election cycle. America’s original sin of racism rears its ugly head in a unique way in our city. The stain of slavery and legal discrimination through Jim Crow has contributed to Tallahassee carrying the dubious distinction of the most economically segregated city in the nation and home to one of Florida’s most heavily-segregated school districts.
Ironically, though, the challenges are the very thing that provide some of the greatest blessings to living in Tallahassee. When asked about Tallahassee, a lot of people are apathetic, mostly because there isn’t a high sense of ownership here. But others’ indifference has created an opportunity for our church to live in a winsome way that declares our desire to love our city instead of hating on it. The diversity our city fosters thanks to amenities like universities, government, and geographical location focuses our church on building bridges, not silos. People who move here often have an idealistic bent; they desire to make a difference in government or through getting an education that equips them for impact in a given career field. That passion translates pretty well into an invitation to move God’s kingdom forward in our city! Despite barriers, people here are surprisingly friendly and open. Starting a conversation and getting to know someone new isn’t hard if you’re on the lookout for opportunities here.
Crossbridge has a hope to partner with God in transforming Tallahassee, and to do so specifically by working to overcome racial division in our city. As part of an interracial marriage, it’s probably not surprising to discover this has become a passion point for me. Yet it’s undeniable that our city’s racial division is intrinsically linked to inequality in education, homelessness, poverty, crime, and a whole host of other issues that are not Christ’s heart for the full and beautiful life he offers. Our church has a vision to form a network together with other churches in our city planting 400 multi-ethnic small groups over the next 14 years. We’re convinced that these cross-racial, life-on-life discipleship environments have the power to generate empathy, understanding, and lasting change.
Our vision has driven our decision to meet in and partner with a Title I school in an under-resourced part of our town. It’s the defining value that pushes us to break barriers to demonstrate to each and every person “you’re welcomed and wanted” just as Jesus did. It’s motivated me to work from the lobby of a McDonalds’ (where I am definitely the minority in just about every way!) near our school several times a week to develop relationships and communicate to people they are loved and cared for. To everyone’s surprise, including my own, those relationships really have developed. Just a few weeks ago, one of the girls who works at McDonalds’ invited herself to our church without me even asking! I’d say that’s progress.
It’s been neat to see what happens as we have partnered with God in his work. In two of the past three years, 10% of our church that year has made the decision to be baptized! And in a twist that’s even cooler, I haven’t baptized anyone in 2019. To me, this is an even bigger win because it represents the fact that followers of Jesus are out living our mission, impacting lives and engaging spiritual conversations. This spring, we put on the only community Easter Egg hunt on the south side of our town. After the event, a woman I had never met came up to me, gave me a huge hug, and said, “Thank you so much for doing this. It’s amazing you guys are here.” Wow! In addition, we’ve started to take apprenticing pretty seriously around Crossbridge, and we’re just now getting to celebrate one of our first apprentices start apprenticing others… the beginnings of second-generation reproduction!
Our church isn’t perfect. I could give you a whole host of things that I wish were different, would change, all the same stuff that I’m sure any pastor or planter could share. But in 2019 it is clear that momentum is building and we’re thankful for God’s work in our church! He gets the credit; our job is just to get out of the way and allow him to shine!
Wes is the lead pastor of Crossbridge Christian Church, and has been married to his wife Brittany since 2015. When not working, Wes enjoys watching baking shows and listening to podcasts.