When Chris Gee joined the pastoral team at Hillside Church in San Jose, California three years ago, he knew from day one that his days there were limited.
“When I first talked to the pastor at Hillside about me coming there to serve as a college/young adult pastor, the goal was always to send me out to plant a church in three years,” Chris said. “The Covid-19 pandemic almost threw a wrench in it, but we’ve stuck to that timeline and we are eager to see what the Lord does in Santa Clara.”
Santa Clara is in the heart of Silicon Valley, just a few miles from the headquarters of tech giants such as Google and Apple. It also has one of the smallest evangelical populations in the United States. That doesn’t intimidate Chris. If anything, it excites him.
“There’s a simple reason why we are planting in Santa Clara,” Chris said. “There is a need for more biblical churches. We want to play offense for the kingdom of God. Be a Bible believing, gospel preaching, Christ exalting church that also has a heart for the loss and prioritize outreach to the unchurched.”
And being surrounded by an overwhelmingly secular community isn’t going to change how Chris and his core group approaches church. As they prepared to launch City Light Bible Church over the past year, they prioritized two simple questions—questions that are the same for churches whether they are in the Bible belt or the thick of Silicon Valley—what is the church and what does it do?
“Once we identified City Light’s core group of 50 who would come from Hillside to City Light, we met for eight weeks and studied ecclesiology,” Chris said. “If we are going to plant a church, we have to know exactly what a church is. We talked about evangelism, discipleship, leadership, everything that is part of the life of the church.”
Beyond that, Chris knew that if his church was going to establish a foothold in Santa Clara, they needed to be active in the community.
“After we assembled a team of 50 that would leave Hillside to plant City Light, and equipped that team, we then started to reach out into the community. We started showing up at community events, telling people about the church. We’ve hosted several informal gatherings to answer questions about City Light and get the word out about our launch on September 18th. We’ve just tried to be present in the city and be ready to serve the people in a spiritual way.”
Chris doesn’t know what to expect when City Light officially becomes a local church this Sunday. He doesn’t know how many people will show up, then stay. He doesn’t know what blessings will come and what trials. He has no idea what the church will look like in ten years. But he does know what success will look like.
“Ultimately, success looks like exalting Jesus Christ, edifying the saints, and evangelizing the lost,” Chris said. “At TMS and Grace Church, it was drilled into me that God looks at faithfulness. We’re not looking for number. We’re not concerned about results. We are called to be faithful. So I would say success looks like faithfully preaching God’s Word each week. Success looks like a ministering to the saints, caring for them in their weakness and trials, challenging them to grow spiritually. Success looks like training new leaders and allowing them to serve in the way that God has gifted them to. We want to cultivate deep relationships where people rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep and we spur each other on toward love and good works even when it might be difficult to do so. Success looks like evangelism of the lost. That’s why we are planting a church as opposed to just staying put. We want to reach this area for Christ. So many here in Santa Clara don’t know Him and are lost in materialism, lost in a false religion, or just apathetic towards anything spiritual. I want to do ministry biblically and I want to go deep into God’s word and I want the relationships to be deep. I want to, as John MacArthur says, aim for depth and leave the results and the breadth up to God.”
Though City Light Bible Church will officially launch this week, you can trace the Lord’s providence in this church’s history back to the year 2008, when Chris was a senior at U.C.L.A. Throughout his college career, the idea of ministry, much less church planter, was nowhere near Chris’s radar. Coming to U.C.L.A wanting to write for television, but as Chris became more and more involved in Grace on Campus through Crossroads, his desires began to shift. The entertainment industry became less appealing than a life of teaching, discipling, counseling, and caring for the body of Christ. By his senior year, he was wondering if God was calling him into full-time ministry, but he wanted to be sure of that calling. A friend at U.C.L.A. was wrestling with the same question, so when Grace Church had one of its famous Q&A sessions with Pastor John during a Sunday night service, the two young men took advantage of the opportunity to ask their pastor how they could be sure God was calling them into ministry. They just needed to decide which of them was going to step up to the open mic. A coin-flip gave the job to Chris.
“I was pretty nervous standing up there” Chris said. “But I’m so glad I asked Pastor John that question. It was very clarifying for me.”
In his answer, which is available at Grace to You’s YouTube page, (click here to watch), John told Chris that a desire for ministry is compelling evidence of God’s calling.
“I never had an epiphany. An angel never showed up. I never heard a voice out of heaven,” MacArthur said. “All I could look at is a desire and I think that fits perfectly the New Testament pattern. 1 Timothy 3 “if a man desires the officer of an overseer, or pastor, he desires a noble work. The assumption there is this is the normal way that God indicates the calling. Through desire. And as that desire flourishes and strengthens, it becomes a singular desire.”
“I remember John going on to say that ministry is about the Word of God,” Chris said. “So if I’m going to pursue pastoral ministry, I have to want to spend my life studying the Bible, treasuring it, and helping others do the same.”
John’s answer was the insight Chris needed. He wanted to be a pastor and his Bible study Shepherd Justin McKitterick was also encouraging him to consider full-time ministry. Together, his desires and the confirmation of his spiritual leaders, including long-time members of Grace Church Tim Peters and Paul Ushijima, settled the matter for Chris. One year later, he was at The Master’s Seminary
“At TMS, I learned the tools of the trade,” Chris said. “How to understand God’s Word and communicate it effectively, but I also will never forget sitting in class, hearing professors warn against pride, reminding us that knowledge puffs up, and that a pastor is a servant leader. No matter where ministry takes me, I am called to train men—to pass along what I’ve learned to other humble, teachable men.”
Chris graduated from seminary nearly a decade ago. In that time, God has used him to shepherd the U.C.L.A. Bible study that was so formative in his life. He also served in the membership department at Grace Church, oversaw Shepherd’s Conference, and then for the past three years on pastoral staff at Hillside Church in San Jose, California.
As he sets out to plant City Light, Chris is more sure of his calling than he’s ever been. But in many ways, his perspective on ministry has changed.
“Twenty-two year old Chris understood that the highs are highs and the lows are low, but even more so now I understand that the highs are even higher and the lows are even lower in ministry,” Chris said. “I’ve been a part of some very difficult conversations, very difficult counseling situations and seen sin devastate people’s lives and families. It’s been a challenge to carry these burdens, but at the same time, it’s a privilege to do so. Then the highs are even higher than I could have known back then. Seeing someone come to Christ in faith, seeing a marriage that is in great trouble get amended and for that husband and wife to look at the Scripture and for the Spirit to work in their hearts where, they grow into having a relationship that models Christ in the church, those highs are very high and a great privilege to be a part of and a great joy to my soul. I’m much more sobered thinking of the spiritual battle that I’m entering into and the difficult times that lie ahead. And I’m more excited knowing that God is at work and He has done phenomenal things above and beyond what I could think, imagine, or pray for. And I fully expect that He will do the same in the future for however long the Lord allows me to minister.”
If you live in the Santa Clara area and would like to learn more about City Light Bible Church, here is the church’s contact information.
Phone number: (669)696-8180
Address: Mission College, Hospitality Management Building, 3000 Mission College Blvd, Santa Clara, CA 95054
Service Time: 10:00 a.m. Sunday mornings.