Ben Ellis describes his call to plant a church as much like the calling to ministry—a push, an urge, an inescapable burn. He's the guy who assured everyone he would never pastor a church—much less plant one.
However, one midweek evening when he showed up for his post at Exxon, he suddenly felt a very clear sense that God wanted him to do just that. Nervously, he told his wife and nobody else. So, they laid out a fleece for God. They decided if three others affirmed the calling to church plant, it was from God.
In less than a week, over 5 people affirmed this calling in some way. One, in particular, was Ben's “spiritual mom.” When he called and told her he felt God was calling him to do something, her response was, “I already know. He wants you to plant a church.”
Shocked, Ben asked how she knew, and she said she felt it in her spirit when she was praying during the very same day and time Ben had initially felt the calling. So, God was at work.
From Nursing Homes to Home Church
Ben led Bible studies in his home and even had a group that took labrador retrievers to cheer up and share the gospel with nursing home residents. Eventually, the Ellises outgrew their home and were building another with the focus on re-launching home bible studies. Little did they know, these Bible studies would grow to serve as the core team for planting Cornerstone Church Ministries.
As Cornerstone Church Ministries obeys the Great Commission, they hope to see their families and neighbors lives impacted for eternity. Specifically, they want to see students at San Jac Central supported and loved. One student told them he thought he was the only Christian on campus. With that in mind, they want to unite students in Christ to help them live for Jesus together.
Provision in all Circumstances
As Cornerstone grows, however, it has not always been easy. When they were still meeting in the Ellis' home, the city of Deer Park sent inspectors who threatened to write tickets for continuing to host Bible studies and to baptize people as they came to faith. Eventually, they were told they'd be ticketed for even gathering to grill burgers if we were doing it as a church family. Certain officials said it was illegal and suggested they hide baptisms and gatherings in the backyard to avoid an issue. As a matter of principle, they declined.
After several conversations, the city eventually relented. Later, a public records request showed that they had even purged all records of the months of conversations. For the church composed of over 90% new believers, this served as a great picture that Jesus can and does wipe our slates clean.
One of the things Ben learned in the church planting process is that God shows up when we give up. He explains:
We pray and have need yet we don’t necessarily depend on Him. We pray and try doing and working to get what it is that we need and things seem to stall. Eventually, when we give up and recognize that we can’t achieve whatever it is that we need, He provides it. This is probably the greatest and hardest lesson I’ve learned. Sometimes, we try to strategize too much and—if we are not careful—we end up leaving God out in the process.
Take note—God cannot be contained to your strategy, just like he can't be boxed in, so don’t limit Him.
Ben initially crossed paths with UBA at our QAM in the fall of 2017. Ryan Jespersen was the Keynote Speaker and discussed the importance of spiritual formation in church revitalization. Now, as an official UBA church, Cornerstone Church Ministries is ready to collaborate with and serve others, as well. Though they don’t have as many physical resources as larger churches, they are hoping to help other churches who may be struggling in the replant or revitalization process.
One of Cornerstone’s main focuses has been sending capacity rather than seating capacity. That means they desire is to grow out instead of up as they raise up strong leaders to send from within. Because they want to see the gospel reach all corners of the Earth, they know that means they have to die to grow. "It's going to hurt when we let go of our best," Ben affirms, "but we believe this is what God has called us to do—die to ourselves as we pick up our cross and follow Him." They hope to be an example to other churches in this regard.
UBA Prays Together
Ben asks that we pray for rest and for his family. With church plants (and most ministry), work seems to be never-ending. Over the last year, Ben has found sleep to be scarce as he juggles family, church, shift work, and the fire department. Praise God, he is also learning that rest is rooted in faith—trusting God is still working even when we are not. At the end of the day, we all much trust that "our" churches are God's and not ours.
Ben notes that people often ask how they can better serve him, and his answer is always to love his family. They didn’t necessarily sign up for the church planting lifestyle, but since God has called Ben to plant, He has also called them to join on the journey.
Leadership can be tough and lonely sometimes. Even when you're surrounded by people, you can feel alone, and this feeling carries over to the family, too. This is especially true when the pastor is juggling multiple responsibilities and they have to share husband/dad. Pray that Ben would trust God and excel in all his roles.
Marie Burrus is UBA's Communications Specialist. She manages, edits, and contributes content for UBA's blog, website, UBA Voices newsletter, and social media outlets.