Recently, I got a chance to travel out to California to visit two of our Sojourn Network churches: Citizens Church in the San Francisco area and New City Church in Fresno. In this post, I’ll share a bit about my time at Citizens Church through several photos and short captions that should provide a visual story-arc of my time in San Francisco.
In my post next week you will be able to read and see photos from the second half of my California trip to visit Troy McComas and New City Church in Fresno.
C.J. and Reneé Bergmen
One of the blessings of traveling to visit our churches is the leisurely, unstructured, face-to-face time with the pastors and their wives and families as well. On this particular visit, I got to enjoy a few hours spending time with C.J. and Reneé, the founders of Citizens Church.
C.J. and Reneé Bergmen have been married for fourteen years. They have two children: Keane and August. C.J. learned to love San Francisco in his childhood, visiting family regularly from his home in the Central Valley. Living here has been a lifelong dream for the Bergmen’s. C.J. and Reneé have ministered in San Francisco for the past 5 years, beginning with Redemption San Francisco, and now with Citizens. Before moving here in 2012, C.J. served as a worship pastor for ten years.
I’ve known Dave now for over five years, meeting him in Louisville, KY in the spacious, but mostly empty, third-floor office that housed both of Sojourn Network’s staff members at the time. Fresh off five years of pastoring in Houston, TX, Dave gave myself and Chad Lewis (who was the director of Sojourn Network at the time) a vision of a Sojourn Network church plant in the heart of San Francisco. Dave and Maggie’s hearts had been burdened and captured by the beauty — and also the fallenness — of the city after visiting there in 2011 to run a half marathon. They finally moved to the city in 2014 to plant a church. After three faithful years of church planting, Dave and Maggie made the decision to merge their church (King’s Cross) with Citizens Church in 2017, an arrangement that has proved to be relationally fruitful for the Ainsworth’s and the Bergmen’s, and for both of their young church plants. Dave is now one of the elders leading alongside C.J.
Dave and Maggie have been married for ten years. They have three children: Shepherd, Trinity, and Lucy.
A Concise History & Vision of Citizens Church
C.J. and Reneé started Citizens Church because they have a burden to be part of a diverse, multigenerational, multiethnic church that serves the least of these, pursues health, and is a safe place for those who are hurting.
Officially planted in 2014, Citizens Church is located near the historic Haight/Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, only blocks away from the iconic Golden Gate bridge. Their goal was to focus on the poor and homeless living in Golden Gate Park, and to specifically target some of the people groups in this region of the city who had little to no access to the gospel.
Launched in partnership with the Soma Network of churches, Citizens Church bears the marks of other Soma churches: to live as a family of servant-missionaries, following Jesus with their whole selves, because of who He is and what He's done. They currently meet three Sundays each month in an elementary school (see photo) in diverse small groups of 8-20 people called “missional families” and in DNA groups, which are small 3-4 person, single-gender groups that are committed to mutually discipling one another towards greater faith in Christ.
In the foggy, frontier of San Francisco
As I reflect on my blur of a weekend in a town that deserves a far lengthier stay than I had to give it, two images kept surfacing in my mind: fog and frontier.
I entered California via the San Francisco airport in a fog. Literally, the fog was some of the thickest I had ever experienced and, as I would come to find out later that weekend, some of the thickest San Francisco had seen in over a year. I hoped that by morning at least the fog would give way to the legendary beauty of this city and its outdoor backdrop of oceans, cliffs, and the iconic Golden Gate bridge. As I made my way to the Sunday service the next morning, the fog was as thick as the night before.
By the time the service had ended around noon, the clouds and fog had lifted and what suddenly became clear was a picturesque scene — a frontier, of sorts — where the oceans, mountains, parks, giant trees, and budding flowers were making appearances in this great outdoor drama from behind the curtain of the fog. It was beautiful. I had two hours to spare to enjoy the scenery and I wasn’t going to waste it. I headed straight for Land’s End Park.
In the foggy, frontier of Ministry
Somewhere in the midst of my two-hour trek along the coast I remember thinking, “Isn’t vocational ministry, or just life in general, a lot like this?” In the density, heaviness and sight-preventing blur of actual fog, life becomes more difficult. You literally can’t see that far down the road. You can really only see enough to make the next turn, to take the next step. Nothing beyond is visible. Passages like, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” take on new meaning as God delights in growing and transforming our faith by shining only enough light for us to see the next step or two — not the next five years.
Church planters and pastors, and Christians of all vocations, occasionally (sometimes often in certain seasons) experience their ministry in this way. Everything seems heavy and weighty, clouding their initial big vision for this church plant. We wake up some mornings in a fog, a daze, a heaviness we can’t explain. But God is there, shining the light of His Word on our next faith-filled step.
Other days, ministry — and life — feel more like the frontier. David Hansen says this about pastoral ministry: “The pastoral ministry is a pilgrimage through the wilderness.” Call it wilderness or frontier, some days pastors and church planters feel like they’re out alone on the frontier-edge, even if surrounded by millions of people. Whether it be in the frontier conversations with a culture that no longer acknowledges or actively opposes the idea of a crucified Jesus dying so that those who believe in Him might live, or the frontier edge of their people's most intimate struggles and burdens, those in ministry live and work on the frontier.
Yet, in the midst of the fog and frontier of church planting and pastoring, I’ve seen an amazingly gracious and merciful God — the true and living God who created the fog and all frontiers, a God who sent his only Son onto the cross-shaped, frontier-edge of humanity’s sin and God’s just wrath — give church planters and pastors two timely gifts for their journey: courageous faith and ministry partners.
Partnership and Prayer
Now, at a critical time in their church’s history and with much anticipation for what God has in store for their church over the next few years, Citizens is linking arms with us here at Sojourn Network so that together we can help one another plant, grow, and multiply healthy churches that last. As we forge a new partnership, here are a few areas in which you can ask God to give C.J. and Reneé, Dave and Maggie, and Citizen’s Church courageous faith:
Faith for their families. Most church planters (and many pastors in general) have uprooted themselves from their earthly families, venturing out into frontier spaces to serve others and see God build His church. They are also deeply aware that, away from earthly families, lines of familial support are often less available, their kids are often more exposed, and they eventually must entrust their family’s safety, security, and satisfaction to God and others in the church and community all while in a foreign context. This requires deep faith in God to provide exactly what their families need to flourish.
Faith for money. Church planters need money, and the sources of this money take on many forms. Church planters in large metropolitan areas or church planters with big vision often need even more money. To plant a church in San Francisco, a city where a planter will experience some of the highest costs of living in the United States, money is always a need and always in less quantity than preferred.
Faith for fruit. Most church planters I know live in the faith-filled tension between the daily work of the tireless faithful work needed to get a new church started and a Sovereign God’s timing for bearing fruit from those labors. Pray that God would bring much fruit in Citizens Church in 2018.
Faith for rest. All faithful church planters and pastors are tired. Sometimes it's a good tired; other times a bad kind of tired. Pray for these families to enjoy deep rest. This is one of the reasons we at Sojourn Network host and fund an annual retreat for lead pastors and their wives. But they need regular and consistent rest as well.
If you’re interested in reaching out to C.J. or Dave personally to give, to send a note of encouragement, or just tell them you’re praying, you can email them here: Dave at email@example.com or C.J. at firstname.lastname@example.org.