When you are new to church planting, it can be very helpful to hear and learn from others‘ experiences. Sometimes it is encouraging just to know that someone else has been through what you are walking through, and come out on the other side. And so we’d like to introduce you to Britton Lewis (BL) and Dustin Hunt (DH), two Acts 29 US West church planters at different stages of planting, but both still in the early years of their church plants. Britton and his wife, Brittany, planted Ekklesia Lehi in October of 2017. Dustin and his wife, Annie, planted Coram Deo Las Cruces in September of 2019. Learn about each of their planting journeys below, and be sure to read to the end to learn how to pray for each of these churches.
Tell us a little about yourself.
BL: Originally from Texas, we moved to Lehi, UT in the summer of 2016 to plant Ekklesia Church. We have 3 red-headed boys (ages 6, 8, and 11). When we moved to Utah, Brittany and I connected with a local CrossFit gym to meet people in the city and make some connections. We have since become big fans of CrossFit and it has become one of our favorite hobbies to do together. Our kids are into sports (basketball and football) and we also enjoy the mountains here in Utah and all the activities that come along with them!
DH: I was born and raised in Las Cruces, NM and have called New Mexico my home for the majority of my life. My wife and I met in high school and got married in college. We have two boys (ages 3 and 5). I love anything outdoors (hiking and hunting), playing sports (golf, tennis, cycling), and writing/reading. I generally spend my days off with my family, on the golf course, hiking in the Organ Mountains, or reading!
Tell us about your call/decision to become a church planter/pastor.
BL: We first came to Utah on a mission trip in 2002 to help an SBC church plant with a kids camp. Brittany and I were fresh out of high school and felt a strong call into ministry. Coming from the Bible belt, we were really shocked to find out that there were cities in our country that have NEVER had a Christian church in their entire history. That is the case here in Utah with many cities still not having a single Gospel presence at all. Our hearts were burdened for this place at that time and we were on a trajectory to be trained and sent ever since then.
DH: In college, I had the opportunity to serve as an intern for my old youth group. This eventually led to preaching my first sermon, which is where I first felt the Lord calling me into pastoral ministry. I have sensed the call to church planting for roughly five years, which was confirmed after graduating from Covenant Seminary and completing a Church Planting Residency at an Acts 29 church.
Tell us about your church.
BL: We moved to Lehi to plant Ekklesia church in the summer of 2016, and our official launch date was October 1, 2017. We started by planting and multiplying a single Missional Community (MC) and began gathering on Sundays as we multiplied into 2 MCs.
DH: The name of our church is Coram Deo, which is a Latin phrase meaning “before the face of God.” We wanted to create a church culture that lives all of life before the face of God—physically, emotionally, vocationally, culturally, and spiritually. We are planted in Las Cruces, NM, which is the second-largest city in New Mexico.
What is something you are excited about going on in your church right now?
BL: We are continuing to connect with new families moving into the valley and have 3 Missional Communities gathering in 3 different cities, many of which have little to no Gospel presence in their history. We are seeing these MC’s love on their neighborhoods and the Gospel is being proclaimed to people who have yet to hear it!
DH: We are experiencing significant growth, particularly from those who have been disenchanted from the church or those coming from incredibly unhealthy (doctrinally and culturally) churches. We are getting the opportunity to walk these individuals through the Reformed faith.
What is a challenge you are facing at your church right now?
BL: Sunday gatherings continue to be a challenge as I am the only full-time staff member working with our entire church who is volunteer-based. It is difficult to gain traction with these gatherings from time to time.
DH: With the influx of new Christians and those who are returning to the faith, we have a serious lack of mature leadership.
What is something God has done in your life and/or church in the last 90 days?
BL: God continues to amaze us with His faithfulness in provision. We live in a technology hub called Silicone Slopes which provides a constant influx of people moving into the valley for work. This also creates a transitional culture where people come for a few months or years and then leave for a new job. Although we have had a lot of transition, God has continued to keep us fixed on our vision of making disciples of who He gives us today. By God’s grace, I believe that we have discipled our people well in what it looks like to be faithful here in Utah county – one that loves Jesus and joins Him on mission to reach the lost in our valley. We have seen restored marriages, new disciples made, and disciples matured in our three years of being here!
DH: In the last few months, God has been slowly exposing brokenness in a marriage in our church, in the best way possible. One of the spouses sensed that there has been lying and the other has finally come clean about a lot of betrayal and hurt. While it is incredibly difficult to walk through a situation like this, we are thankful that the Lord invited this couple out darkness and into the light.
What does it look like for your church to care deeply about church planting? How does involvement in that play out in your context?
BL: This is something that we are really passionate about (especially for our context). Currently, we financially support some church plants in the states and some overseas missionaries, but our hope is to plant more Gospel-centered churches here in the Valley. Because of this, we have partnered with Ekklesia Church in Salt Lake City to pull resources and giftings to be able to train church planters for this unique context.
DH: Our hope is to plant a healthy church that will serve as the hub of church planting in southern New Mexico. Our goal is to create a church planting residency program where someone can attend seminary at a distance while being trained for pastoral ministry. After they graduate, we will send them to either our city or another city in New Mexico to plant. In order to effectively reach New Mexico, we need locals to be raised up locally.
If you are past year 3 of planting, what are the top 3-5 lessons you learned in the first three years?
BL: I have learned SO MUCH in the past 3 years that it is hard to choose just a couple, but the main thing is that my identity as a man is NOT primarily as a church planter. I am a son of God first, and everything I do for our church and for this valley flows out of that. At the beginning, my family suffered for the sake of my idol of “success” in our church, and I have learned to prioritize them first over the ministry. I have also learned to be SLOW in giving away leadership. The tendency for church planting is to give away leadership quickly because of the sheer need for help, but I have learned to take my time and wait before handing the title of pastor and elder to someone. The last thing I have learned is the importance of leadership development. It is easy to think that preaching good sermons will automatically raise up the next generation of leaders, or even just praying for God to send you leaders will suffice. The call to make disciples is a call to invest in who He has given you TODAY, not to just pray for someone else to come who is already a leader. The biggest joy in church planting for me has been seeing God do work with the people who I have written off, or counted out. I must devote my time and energy towards the people that God has given me right now, instead of being discontent with where we are.
DH: (1) It is okay to slow down and take things at a slower pace. (2) Jesus is far more concerned with faithfulness in the long haul than success in the immediate. (3) Having a local/global network like Acts 29 is vital for the health of my soul.
What is something that has surprised you about church planting/pastoring?
BL: What has surprised me the most is seeing that God is faithful even in my mistakes. I have made mistake after mistake in leading this church, but God has worked in those mistakes for His Glory. I am less afraid to make mistakes today because God has shown me that His sovereignty reigns above my failures. The promise is SO TRUE that He will build His church, and I am so thankful that He has called me to be a part of this journey here in Utah.
DH: (1) The difficulty of learning how to manage my own schedule and to figure out what to prioritize. There are always an endless number of tasks to be done but the question lingers, “What am I really called to do?” (2) How lonely church planting and pastoring can be.
What words of wisdom do you have for a new church planter or someone about to plant?
BL: Don’t be afraid to GO SLOW. For some reason, we get so hyped and amped up into thinking that our city needs us and that we are their savior! There have been so many times where the Spirit was calling us to go slow and to listen, and instead, I tried to plow ahead in my own strength only to be slowed down. Save your self, your family, and those you lead some heartache by committing to going slow from the very beginning.
DH: In all of your efforts to dream, cast vision, and plant a church, make sure to take time to rest, reflect, pray, read your Bible, shepherd your family, and walk at a sustainable pace.
How can fellow members of Acts 29 US West be praying for you and your church?
BL: Please join us in praying for the people in our context. We live in one of the least evangelized counties in the entire nation with less than 2% of the people walking with Jesus. Pray for multiplication of disciples and leaders as we look to plant 3 new MCs this year.
DH: Even though experiencing growth is a good thing, we are in need of mature leaders and potentially a new space to meet. Please pray that God might raise up new leaders and for a wealthy land-owner to donate a space or land to our church!