Interview With TBC CEO Nancy Ortberg on Being a 'Catalyst' to Transform San Francisco Bay Area for Christ

( [email protected] ) Dec 19, 2015 06:24 PM EST
San Francisco Bay Area
Golden Gate Bridge and City of San Francisco

San Francisco Bay Area, home to the world's largest tech companies, the largest gathering of venture capitalists, and a population of extreme ethnic diversities, is one of the least-churched and least Bible-minded cities in the United States. While many come here to pursue their dream jobs or begin a startup, hoping to reach IPO, making and creating a fortune, very few come to pursue spiritual growth or expect to experience a spiritual revival. Yet, a ministry has been formed in recent years by a few unique personalities with the hope of becoming a catalyst for the region's Christian churches and the goal of planting a thousand churches and reach a million new believers for Jesus Christ in the next ten years.  

Co-founded by VMWare CEO Pat Gelsinger, Transforming the Bay with Christ (TBC) is a coalition of business leaders, venture capitalists, pastors, and non-profit leaders, focused on helping to develop a grass roots activity that will transform the Bay Area through social compassion and service. Best-selling authors and pastors Francis Chan, John Ortberg, Jon Talbert, and Chip Ingram are some of the leaders who are also involved in this movement.

Nancy Ortberg
Nancy Ortberg, a respected voice, and teacher on leadership and spirituality. Photo: TBC

Nancy Ortberg, a respected voice in leadership and spirituality, has recently succeeded Kevin Palau, son of evangelist Luis Palau, as the CEO of TBC. With a background in organizational effectiveness and teamwork, Ortberg has been leading TBC in implementing the ministry's strategies and networking with Christian leaders from all ethnic backgrounds throughout the 256 cities and towns in the 11 counties of the Bay Area.

Ortberg shared with The Gospel Herald the mission context of the Bay Area and TBC's strategies, categorized in the three scopes: amplify, unify, and multiply. Ortberg, who served as a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois for eight years and is on staff at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, emphasized the need for churches to unite and reach out to the local community and meeting people disappointed by life with the truth of the Gospel. 

"The church needs to be there when people hit that point, they need to go out into the community," said Ortberg. "People aren't starting their faith journeys through a church, which they used to do in the 1940s or 1950s. Instead, they are looking around to see if there is anybody around their communities who are doing things that resonate with them."

"Who is feeding the poor, housing the homeless? Who is helping in education? That's going to get people's attention because everybody is made in the image of God, even if they are not a Christ follower. So, there is that magnetic resonance to people who are living out kingdom values. I think that's our best bet; to get people who are very bright and successful to understand that God is a part of that."

The following is the full interview transcript: 

GH: Can you share with us the vision and goal of Transforming the Bay with Christ?

Nancy: The goal is to think about how we might help catalyze the whole Gospel movement in the Bay Area. There are an awful lot of Christ followers doing some really remarkable things in the Bay Area, and we're trying to imagine what might happen exponentially if we come together and think in terms of not just individual effort, but also collectively, what might happen in the Bay Area around the Gospel.

GH: How was this ministry formed?

Nancy: I've only been with them six months, but before I came on there was a really unusual group of three Christian businessmen and four pastors who worked together, which is already a very interesting configuration. Think about crossing the domains, not just pastors, but Christ followers in arts and entertainment, business and government, and nonprofit and tech. How might we stimulate their imagination and move towards executing collective impact that might make the kingdom more tangible to people in the Bay Area?

GH: Several prominent figures including yourself, your husband John Ortberg, Francis Chan, Chip Ingram, and Pat Gelsinger, CEO of VMWare, are involved in this movement. What is your job as the CEO for this ministry? What are the roles of other leaders?

Nancy: My role as the CEO is to make sure that our vision, values, strategies, and execution are integrated, and that we have a really clear platform for what we do and a way to keep people engaged in face-to-face encounters.

Because people like Francis, John, Pat, and others have great power to where they can get people together, part of the job is what we are getting them to do after that. How do we help facilitate those face-to-face meetings?

In between those meetings, how do we keep digitally engaged and connected, so the work has a chance to gain momentum and hit a tipping point, so that we come together? We get to know each other and learn some professional competencies that really develop us, and we do some soul-care together, and we ask questions about what our collective impact might be.

We also learn from each other. How can we take our serving initiatives around the homeless, education, foster care, and anti-human trafficking? We try to take them to the next level so that Christ-followers in all domains become a cultural force in the shaping of the Bay Area for the Gospel.

GH: How can the business community work together with TBC to plant 1,000 churches or have one million new believers in the Bay Area within the next decade?

Nancy: When we're talking about planting a thousand churches in the Bay Area, one of the things we're thinking about now is, what do we need? How do we exponentially ensure that a church start-up is going to stick here? This is a really tough area to plant a church.

We have a number of examples of people who came in and tried to do it and were unable to get the roots down. So, we need to rethink space: How do we put something together that is viable? What are some new ways of thinking about space so the high cost of renting doesn't become a barrier? Businessmen and women have an unusual perspective on church-planting, and they can come to the table alongside the pastors and non-profits. If we all put the brain power together with the gifts that God has given us, I have to believe that something is possible. We must be persistent and humble and drop the walls between us and really try to do this together.

GH: The San Francisco Bay Area, like Los Angeles, is a melting pot of cultures with extreme ethnic diversities. How can the churches effectively reach this demographic?

Nancy: I think that's absolutely accurate. First of all, churches are called to minister to different tribes, to say, "We're going to do first-generation Chinese immigrants," and others say, "We're going to do second-generation Latino churches." There is a really important place for that as well. Other churches are being called to become more diverse, and I think that's become a picture of the Kingdom.

If you just think about form and essence: At our essence, people are more alike than they are different. So, think about the things that everybody has in common, and start thinking about preaching and ministering towards commonality. Then, make space for the contextualization of different cultures and look at in a really good Venn diagram. Where is that little sliver in the middle where everybody has common ground? How do you meet there? Both celebrate and try to understand the differences, but really build the surge of the cord around what we all have in common.

Another thing that churches need to consider is, whatever their platform looks like on Sunday is going to communicate a lot. If you have a church that is really trying to be diverse, but everybody on the stage is a middle-aged white male, that's going to communicate much louder than to become diverse. So, you need to start populating and developing people of diverse backgrounds to be up in front and in leadership roles in small groups throughout the week.

I would say to talk about the differences. Lay it out on the table. Talk about it. Don't hide it. Don't have side conversations about each other, but together talk about what our differences and obstacles might be. I think with those things we'd make a lot of progress.

GH: While one of TBC's strategies is to unite the churches that are mostly working in silos, how can you bring together the churches with different backgrounds, which are potential barriers marked by denominational lines, cultures, and social-economic backgrounds, and moral/political values?

Nancy: A lot does relate to what we just talked about in the previous question. Where is our common ground and how do we find a starting place? That becomes a starting place which makes conversation easier. I think there are some good reasons for silos, and they are what every church leader ought to be primarily concerned about in their church. That's really important. That's the main job.

But we should give time to the bigger picture as well: Where is the place where we can meet face to face, even if it is just a couple of times per year? Where can we have the conversations on whether it is possible to learn from each other and join hands in a collaborative, network fashion that can really have a cultural impact?

I think the vision of what's possible might also help our concerns over what our differences are. Differences are always going to exist, but they're not the most important thing. The most important thing is, how can we serve people with Jesus in the center?

GH: According to American Bible Society's recent study, San Francisco Bay Area is one of the least Bible-minded cities in the United States. This finding also echoes the fact that this area is also one of the least churched metropolitan areas in the country. Why do you think that is? How can the church find relevance in this region of hard soil?

Nancy: I think there are lots of forces at play that result in those findings, many of which I don't understand. I will speak to the ones that I do understand.

The farthest edge of the continent has always been an attractive place for the fringe of society. The pioneers who were willing to push back the Mississippi River, past the Rockies, they discovered gold here, so you have the entrepreneurs and the pioneers pushing boundaries coming out here as far as they possibly could. You have the Gold Rush, which brought an influx of people from all over the world over a hundred years ago. All of these create a climate here that's very different from the traditional east coast, where the Pilgrims settled. The mindset here of exploration and innovation, not just recently with the Silicon Valley, but predating even the Gold Rush. Then, you have factors since then, such as the San Francisco earthquake, and having to reimagine and rebuild it. That attracts a certain kind of person. So you got the Gold Rush, you got the San Francisco earthquake, and you have Berkeley and Stanford creating a microcosm and ecosystem here of intellectual property, innovation and thinking. And then you have the rise of Silicon Valley and the whole tech direction, and that has been another cycle of innovation in this area.

While I think that's really exciting, it can also be a really interesting soil for people to disregard God, and to believe that is in their own efforts that caused them to be where they are instead of having the mentality of having stepped deeper into the mind of God, who is creative and innovative and the author of all the things that we're discovering.

With success, it is easy to initially crowd God out. You do that over and over again, and life intervenes and you have children and you have hurts in your life. Life maybe doesn't turn out the way you wanted and work isn't everything you thought it would be. And then, it's kind of like the book of Ecclesiastes; people go down the road that is such a rush initially, and they realize very soon that it is a cul-de-sac, a dead end.

The church needs to be there when people hit that point, they need to get out into the community. People aren't starting their faith journeys through a church, which they used to do in the 1940s or 1950s. Instead, they are looking around to see if there is anybody around their communities who are doing things that resonate with them.

Who is feeding the poor, housing the homeless? Who is helping in education? That's going to get people's attention, because everybody is made in the image of God, even if they are not a Christ follower. So, there is that magnetic resonance to people who are living out kingdom values. I think that's our best bet; to get people who are very bright and successful to understand that God is a part of that.

GH: For the churches in the Bay Area, they are probably already engaged in their own service activities, so how do you unite the churches to work towards the service goals outlined like pairing all schools with churches, etc.?

Nancy: I'm thrilled that there are churches out there that are already way ahead and serving in really effective ways around the community. Part of TBC's job is to find those churches and to learn from them. In fact, before I came here, I was at a church in Dublin that has formed a network of twenty churches that supply hundreds of volunteers every month to twenty different non-profit agencies in that area, some of which are Christian and some of which aren't. They address every problem, from homelessness to senior citizen, education, foster kids, military. So, we try to find those models of churches that are way ahead of even where we are and learn from them.

As we meet people in the Bay Area who would like to take what their church is doing to the next level, we try to bring them all together and learn from this model and probably tweak it a bit, but collectively come together around the same issues.

We encourage churches to partner with other churches to serve their communities in a united way so they are able to be exponentially more effective than if they were to do it alone. But, if they're going to be more effective alone, then do it as well.

I have to believe that there is something out there that we haven't quite got our arms around yet that is possible when we come together.

GH: How can TBC's vision be implemented in the local churches? What are some of the short-term goals?

Nancy: In a way, this question is a little bit backward. It should be, "How can TBC serve what churches are doing?" The last thing we want to do is to come in with our own agenda and impose it on somebody. What we would like to do is see what churches are effective and fan the flame of that. Two of our three strategic codes are unify and amplify: How can we help Christian churches and the leaders of the other Christian churches in the same community actually get to know each other and unify? How can we amplify and put a microphone on what they are already doing and then bring other churches alongside the churches that are doing it well and have them learn from each other?

I think churches that are really committed to unify and amplify are already part of what TBC's dreaming of doing. A church's first priority should be their own local body, and then just beyond the walls of that church, who are the churches that are really getting out in the community and finding out what the needs are? TBC wants to come alongside those churches and connect them with other churches so that there becomes a network across the Bay Area. Churches that are practicing and serving initiatives together.

On January 9th, we're going to have our next big event in the morning from 9:30-11 a.m. in San Francisco. I would love to have anybody who hears or reads about this to come and be a part of that. Following that, leaders in all the different domains who are trying to make a difference in Kingdom impact are going to be meeting on a regular basis. We want to have gathering places for them to come and learn from each other. Then, we're going to have a digital platform where people can go, get connected, share best-practices, get encouraged, inspired, and learn.

I would also appreciate if those who are hearing about this effort would pray for us. I can't overestimate it enough -- people must unite and pray that God uses this effort to help open doors to connect people. We also love to hear about people who are doing serving initiatives that we don't know about yet. For example, last week, I drove up with a friend to Rohnert Park in Santa Rose area, and I met with a collection of Latino pastors from El Salvador connected up in Rohnert Park who are breaking the divides down between Assembly of God, Baptists, and Catholic churches. In very broken English, an interpreter explained to me their vision. I could hardly hold back tears. I had no idea that there are El Salvadorian pastors up in Rohnert Park trying to make a difference in the Kingdom in gang violence, education, and sharing the gospel. I asked, "What do you need?" And they told me about the training that they would love to have, so TBC is going to come alongside them and make sure they get the training they need.

Two days later, I was in Oakland and met with a group of African-American pastors who are the sharpest leaders I've ever met, who work around homelessness, and again, gang-violence and education. We listened to them and asked, "What do you need?" And, then we try to help. If we can activate believers in the Bay Area to answer the cry of "How can we help?" I can't help but believe that God is going to do something really remarkable.

People can start at that event at EPIC on January 9 and learn what we're going to be doing next.

To learn more about Transforming the Bay with Christ, visit their website here.

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Tags : Churches in San Francisco, Churches in the Bay Area, Christian Churches in Silicon Valley, John Ortberg, Nancy Ortberg, TBC, Luis Palau, VMWare CEO Pat Gelsinger, Jesus Christ, Gospel in Silicon Valley, Google, apple, revival, Church Planting