Church planting is demanding work. Creating and sustaining gospel communities around the world requires relentless commitment to our great commissioning by Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19).
Church planting is worthy work. We work for the glory of our King, anticipating the day when a great multitude “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” will stand before the throne loudly crying out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9–10).
Our labors include both victories and also defeats. And just as we encourage one another during trials, we rejoice together in times of triumph. We celebrate God’s grace in our church-planting endeavors with grateful hearts.
With me on the podcast today to talk about his trials and triumphs in 10 years of church planting is Eric Roseberry, lead pastor of City of God Church in Lafayette, Indiana. Eric is pursuing a PhD in New Testament at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He’s married and has four children.
Listen to this episode of Churches Planting Churches.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Tony Merida: Welcome to, “Churches Planting Churches,” a podcast on the Theology and Practice of Church Planting. I’m your host, Tony Merida.
Church planting is demanding work. Creating and sustaining gospel communities around the world requires relentless commitment to our great commissioning by Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations. Church planting is worthy work. We work for the glory of our King, anticipating the day when a great multitude from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, will stand before the throne, loudly crying out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the lamb.” Our labors include both victories and defeats and just as we encourage one another during our trials, we rejoice with one another in times of triumph. We celebrate God’s grace in our church planting endeavors with hearts of gratitude.
With me on the podcast today to talk about his trials and triumphs in 10 years as a church planter is Eric Roseberry, lead pastor of City of God Church in Lafayette, Indiana. Eric is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in New Testament. He’s married and has four children. Welcome to the podcast, Eric.
Eric Roseberry: Hey, Tony. Thanks for having me. Glad to be here today.
Tony: Yes, sir. So now, first of all, let’s just pronounce Lafayette, Lafayette, Indiana.
Eric: Yeah. Lafayette, Indiana. So I grew up in Versailles, Kentucky. So I’ve always had the pronunciation thing with my hometown. So now Versailles, Versailles, Lafayette, yeah.
Tony: That’s right. Yeah. Well, I was in Louisiana and it was Lafayette.
Tony: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Eric and I spent a little time in Versailles, Kentucky recently. My parents live near where he grew up and so we got to hang out during Thanksgiving break. That was cool.
Eric: Yeah. I didn’t know if this was going to be a half-hour Kentucky basketball or if we were going to get into other stuff. So I’m happy with either.
Tony: Yeah, we could definitely do 30 minutes on Kentucky basketball, but I don’t think that’s why they asked me to do the podcast.
Eric: Yeah, probably not.
Tony: So you just celebrated 10 years, right, as a church planter of City of God Church.
Eric: Yeah. We are turning 10 years this month. So it has flown by.
Tony: Man, I want to talk about that because that seems like forever probably for some church planters just getting started. And then others perhaps have reached that point and wonder what’s next or what is this next season? What should it look like? But before we get there, tell us a little bit about yourself, how you came to faith and your journey into church planting.
Eric: Yeah, so I grew up in church. I had a mom who made sure her kids were there. And then around high school I had a youth pastor who really started to invest in me. He was the first guy who really encouraged vocational ministry as an option for me. And so I grew up Christian Church, Church of Christ. And so I went to Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri. While I was there, we had a church planting professor who really started spending some time with me and my wife and opened our eyes to Exponential Planting Conference and stuff like that.
We had the opportunity to participate Stadia, which is a Christian Church, church planting group, actually came on campus, assessed us. I was 22 at the time. My wife was 19. Got the okay from them, but thought this is probably a bad idea with as young as we are. So I ended up in Indi for three years with an associate ministry job. But during that time knew of Acts 29, I had been listening to those guys in college. Theologically, we weren’t aligned with Acts 29 yet. And so we always had this thought of we’d love to go with Acts 29. We love what they’re doing. We just don’t agree with them on all this stuff they believe. And then a shift theologically happened for us over those three years. And then we got assessed by A29 in February 2009 and got going from there, so…
Tony: So, talk to us about that shift. What was that journey like?
Eric: Yeah. So I grew up not… It wasn’t really a confessionally Armenian Church, but it would’ve been Armenian, didn’t really have a good understanding of complementarianism, yet, really Gospel centrality. I could’ve gotten there, but it just wasn’t firm yet. And so I had a weekend ministry in college and my wife and I would drive back and forth. And I just started listening to the preaching of some Acts 29 guys which led to Piper and some other people. And so it was just this track we got on. And then I tell a lot of people it was reading through Romans with Doug Moo’s Romans commentary. And especially on some of the Calvinistic or reformed in of what Acts 29 believes. That was really the final pin in place to get us there, was just seeing his exposition of Romans 3, Romans 9 to 11, all that stuff.
Tony: Yeah. And so with a theological shift, then apparently you inquired about A29?
Eric: Yeah. So we had assessed in Raleigh in February 2009. And again, I was 25 at the time. My wife was 22. We didn’t mention this in our assessment, but she was pretty close on the reformed stuff but wasn’t completely there, but in the weeks leading up to that, she had that transition for her. But it was funny because we sat down for… Or we got to the assessment, you know, we were talking with the other applicants about, “Hey, who’s assessing you? What’s this week going to look like?” And I went through my list and it was like, “Yeah, there’s a couple of guys, Ray Ortlund and there’s a few guys assessing us. I had never heard his name before.
And then the night before, not the interview, but the sit-down with those pastors, somebody I sat with was like, “You’ve got your ESV study Bible with you?” And was like, “Yeah.” And he’s like, “Let me show you something real quick.” And as soon as I… You know, he opened the contributor’s list, raised names there for Isaiah. And in our hotel that night, I spent like a couple of hours reading through Isaiah in the ESV Study Bible and my wife was finally just like, “It’s too late.” Like, it’s done. But he was incredibly gracious. Dave Thew, Will Plitt [SP] the guys who assessed us, we had a great introduction to Acts 29 through those guys and they really cared for us well that first year.
Tony: That’s awesome. Yeah. To have Ray Ortlund as sort of your… It’s, one, intimidating, but it’s also once you are around Ray, does anyone make you feel more loved and encouraged than Ray Ortlund?
Eric: Oh, no. I mean, when you hear the guy who’s assessing me, written commentaries on Isaiah, Hebrew scholar, you’re bracing for the worst and he and Jani was in there as well, his wife. Left that assessment feeling so loved, so cared for that regardless of the outcome, we had been pastored really well during that time. So we were thankful for that.
Tony: And that’s a great introduction, I think, to reform theology in ministry, to have a guy like Ray Ortlund rather than some other representatives that may be arrogant or brash or we know all the problem ideas that people have of those who embrace reformed theology. And it’s good to have somebody who not only believes grace but walks grace and talks grace like Ray.
Eric: Yeah. Oh, yeah. We were really thankful for that.
Tony: Now, you’re doing assessments currently for A29, right?
Eric: Yeah, so currently in the Midwest, we do them twice a year. In Minneapolis, I think I’ve done seven of the last eight. And so I’ve really enjoyed doing assessments. And since 2012, I’ve been doing assessments for A29. So I really enjoy that part of this.
Tony: So take us back to your assessment and the way assessments are now. What kind of shifts have you seen?
Eric: Yeah, when we did assessment, it was really a two-day conference and so you’d have a full day of speakers, worship, the whole deal. And then the second day was really just a three-hour sit-down with a couple of other pastors and they’d pack a lot into that two or three hours together. I really like what we’ve done with the assessments now. It’s two or three days in Minneapolis. There’s a lot more individual time for assessors to be with candidates. For the candidates, in particular, it’s not just sitting down and taking in information, but we get a lot more time. We get to hear the guests preach, we get to see them in pastoral situations. To me, there’s a lot better opportunity now for the assessors to really get to know the candidates than just having a flash judgment that they have to make with some paperwork in a couple of hours together. So I think it really serves the candidates a lot better now because there’s real relationships being built between assessor and candidate, not just trying to make an assessment on someone you don’t know as well.
Tony: Yeah. That’s good. That’s good. So take us back now to the young church planter, Eric. Did you say you were 25 when you guys…?
Eric: I was 25 and my wife was 22.
Tony: Okay. Now, it’s been going on 10 years. Describe your thoughts on church planting 10 years ago and perhaps how those thoughts have changed or developed in the last decade.
Eric: Yeah, that’s a good question. There was kind of mixed motivations. I think there are for a lot of guys. There was definitely…we were sold on church planting is the best way to reach a city and non-Christians with the gospel. And so we were sold on that. We believed that. We caught the vision for that. And we saw as we were moving to Lafayette, Purdue university’s here, so a 40,000-person campus with one of the highest international student populations in the country and just saw a lot of good gospel fruit that could come from here.
Probably, in the arrogance of a 25-year-old, there was also some… You know, I’ve worked in a church for three years. I know how to do this better than the people around me. And so I’m sure stepping into it, there was some… You know, we’ve got it figured out. We know how to do church. You know, everyone else doesn’t as well as us. And church planting beats that out of you and you realize pretty quick no one really knows what they’re doing and we’re all kind of figuring this out together. And so I do… I’m thankful for the humility that’s come from that as hard as it was.
And in terms of how things have changed over the years, I think my thoughts about church planting, I just think about it a lot more slowly now. I still remember when I was 25, I had my chart of where we were going to be after 10 years and I think we were supposed to be at like 15,000 people by now. And I had it all laid out. Here’s how it was going to blow up. Here’s… And just seeing 10 years in, watching other churches, watching our church, just how important it is to have a solid foundation in place as ministries, not just for the pastor but for the church, for systems, for leadership development, whatever it might be. And so there’s a lot more long-term vision of church planting now and a much greater desire to make sure we’re growing deep as well as wide because both have to come together at the same time.
Tony: You touched on this somewhat there in talking about being patient and taking a long view. But tease out some of the challenges over the past 10 years.
Eric: Part of our biggest challenge has been demographic. We’re a pretty unique church. So for the first two years of City of God, we had almost all college students. And for the first few years, we had a 30-year-old and he was like the old guy at the church. So a 30-year-old, everyone else was 20. And we were just figuring it out. So there were some challenges with that of just being in a university town, investing in people. In every three or four years, there’s quite a bit of turnover. And so you’re constantly training new leaders.
There are people in place. We have a growing base of people who live in Lafayette who are a part of us. But for a while, we were just praying to God, you know, send us some 60-year-olds. Send us some 70-year-olds. It just felt very different than the prayers I expected to be praying. With that you know, I mentioned the leadership stuff. With a predominantly college church, just resourcing can be a challenge at times. And so we’ve been thankful to the way that God’s blessed us.
But I remember when we moved here, I had raised $10,000, wasn’t planning on being by vocational and just at 25 thought like, “Oh, yeah, we’ll just pass the offering basket and it’ll come in and I’ll work here.” And I still remember we were meeting on campus, our first service ever. And the guys went to pass the baskets and I came to see what would come in. And I started to panic because I thought they hadn’t passed it around yet. And so I went and grabbed somebody. I was like, “Hey, you guys you need to do this.” And they were like, “We did.” And I looked in, there was $4 and an Arby’s coupon. And I thought… You know, that’s when the panic set in. I was feeling good about everything. And then looking in that basket the first time I was like, “Oh, it’s going to be harder than I thought.” And so plans changed in that moment, yeah.
Tony: Did you use the Arby’s coupon?
Eric: Oh, I did. Yeah. Those first few years, again, I didn’t plan well for the financial piece. My wife and I share the story often. A couple of months in, we had less than $5 to our name, a couple of hundred dollars in the church account. I was supposed to get paid the next day. We had two kids under two. We had one diaper left and my wife and I were walking around tired, just kind of beaten up. And for some reason, I thought this would be a helpful joke at the time. I said, “Honey, you know if someone offered us $1 million right now if we could give them five,” we couldn’t do it. And in my mind, that was helpful to joke and she’s…
And that night, I still remember this vividly. I’m laying in bed, again, I was supposed to get paid, I don’t know how it’s going to happen. She had rolled over and I thought she was just going to sleep and she didn’t want me to see her crying because she didn’t know what we were going to do. And she’s asking has God abandoned us? Has He forgotten about us? But it was in that season, waking up the next morning and someone had put a couple thousand in the church account, having anonymous envelopes of money left on our door. And for as smooth as things seem to be now that we have people, we have funding, we haven’t had to worry about that in a while, some of our sweetest moments of Church planting are just being so dependent on God in that season and seeing Him answer those prayers that honestly we miss right now. So if that makes sense.
Tony: Oh, yeah. Yeah. You had the desperation early on. It’s a strange experience, isn’t it? Where you’re desperate, but you’re also joyful in a strange way, experiencing the Lord’s grace, and His presence and…
Eric: Yeah, that was easily one of the hardest seasons we had in planting, but also easily the closest we felt to Jesus in just a very constant way throughout this process.
Tony: Yeah. So were you BiVo then early on?
Eric: I wasn’t. So I realized pretty quickly, like, maybe I do need to do this. Like I said, I went to Bible College. All I had was a ministry background, so I delivered pizzas for a week and it was on a college campus. So there was like 2:00 AM breadstick deliveries with no tip. And my wife very graciously said to me like, “I’m going to go be a waitress. This is ridiculous.” And we found a restaurant in town that had pretty good hours and she really put in a couple of years where she saw that as her contribution to what City of God was gonna do. And I was thankful for that. And yeah, that really got us through those first couple of years as City of God was getting up and going,
Tony: Great story, man. That’s real life in the trenches story right there. I love capturing these stories. It’s so encouraging. And so take it from those couple of years to where you guys are now. How have you seen the Lord bless the church, joys you’ve experienced in ministry?
Eric: Yeah. As I was thinking about joy in ministry, just a lot of it stems from the friendships we built that we currently have five other elders. They’re my best friends here in town. And just for my wife and I to be able to cultivate those relationships and even to look around now and see how City of God has become the center for a lot of people’s relational life who call the church home. And just weddings that have come out of that, friendships that have come out of that that you see God orchestrating through what was happening here.
Some of it is as hard as having students constantly in and out is. We found ways to celebrate it because it does become this opportunity for we’ve got you for a few years to give you a base for life with Jesus beyond college. And then seeing them, especially in a place like Purdue, “Hey, I’m going to Amazon or Apple or NASA” or wherever they end up. And just getting to watch what Jesus does with what was maybe started here, or encouraged here as they go on to do ministry in some of those other places.
And even with the international piece, we’ve had international students baptized who are in closed countries who might not have had an opportunity to hear the gospel and they’ve told us, “I’m gonna go back home and I’m gonna get a job and I’m going to do what I can to bring Jesus there.” And it really gives some missionary opportunities that might be more difficult in a traditional missionary sense. And so all that stuff has been bringing me joy lately. And yeah, just moving… We had our second child the week we moved here to plant. And so I can look at him and gauge where the church is and so kind of out of infancy and figuring out what life is gonna look like. And it’s just been fun to watch that transition happen.
Tony: So as you look back over 10 years, who’s someone that’s encouraged you and made you a better pastor? Obviously, you mentioned your elders and those are your friends, there locally or a resource perhaps that you found helpful as a church planter you would recommend to others?
Eric: Yeah, this might sound cliché, but when I was thinking about this question, the first person I thought of was my wife, just the gift that it is to have a supportive wife as you’re seeking to plant because I don’t know how you do it without that… You know, times I know I preached a bad sermon and she’s constantly there cheer-leading me on and supporting me and “You’re doing a great job. You’re doing what God has called you to do.” Beyond that, about five years in, I started going to counseling specifically with a guy named Jim Cofield at CrossPoint Ministries, but there’s other people doing similar stuff. And it transformed our ministry for me to have that season where I was working on some heart-level stuff.
And so I had a coach I was working with trying to… I thought we needed systems and strategies and planning and infrastructure. And in his wisdom, he really said, “You know, this is not what’s holding City of God back. There’s some stuff in you that’s holding City of God back.” And over the past five years, I’ve always made sure I’ve got some kind of coach or someone speaking into my life, Jim Cofield, Elliot Grudem, some guys who really focus on that kind of stuff. And then just from an Acts 29 perspective, I know Ray came up, but the session you led this past summer at the Acts 29 event with Ray and Sam Storms, just a couple of examples of guys who have run their ministry, who are finishing well, who still love Jesus and love their families. It’s been priceless to have those examples to look up to being so close to us.
Tony: Yeah, yeah, no doubt, man. Yeah. I used to say when I was 25, I was very ambitious. And now, at 40, almost 43, I just want to live another 10 years and be faithful. Like I’m ambitious, I think with a gospel ambition, but a lot of the idealism has been torn away from me and I find myself resonating with the book of Ecclesiastes way better than I did when I was 25.
Eric: Yeah. You spend enough time doing this and you have enough friends or churches who are close to you and you can see what happens when things go poorly and it really is this “There but for the grace of God, go I,” moment you start to have. And so just thankful for the graces that God has put in place for us as those examples of what it looks like to do it well.
Tony: Now, you’ve been, I imagine, the primary preacher for 10 years, right?
Tony: Your percentages, what have they been like?
Eric: Yeah. Over the course of 10 years, it wasn’t smart, but the first two years I preached 102 of the first 104 Sundays. And finally, once I was just like, “Were showing a video,” and we did I think a Chandler sermon on a video and I was like, “I can’t do it one more week.” But now, I’ll preach 40 Sundays a year.
Tony: Okay. That’s helpful. Now, your other elders preach those. You guys preach through books of the Bible, ordinarily?
Eric: We do typically. And so we’ll take breaks from time to time. And really, we use the school calendar as our guide just because it is so up and down with students. But we’ll do some longer… Recently we’ve done Matthew, Genesis, Romans, all those would be like August to May type things. But it typically is through books of the Bible, yeah.
Tony: Now, what would possibly interest you in a Ph.D. in New Testament as a 10-year Church planter?
Eric: Yeah. I’m rethinking this already. I’m a couple of months in, but I have always had a desire to pursue a Ph.D. And I think part of that growing process for me is 10 years ago, it was for the wrong reason. It was I needed this to validate myself to people around me. I needed this for the platform, for the whatever. And like I said, just hopefully, the humility that comes with 10 years in pastoral ministry really having a desire now to…I want to serve my people well. I want to make sure I can handle the text as well as possible being in a university town.
Also thinking about just from a missions perspective, how that could be a benefit. But at a place like Midwestern in particular, I know you’ve done some stuff there, to be able to find a seminary that has a heart for the local church, this isn’t necessarily primarily for the Academy, and to just spend some time with those guys. It’s very clear they’re wanting to train pastors for ministry. So it’s a blessing to learn in that context. And like I said, without my wife being very supportive of this, we’ve got an elder team who’s been 100% behind it, who’s taken other stuff off my plate to make it possible. So I know they are sacrificing to make it possible. And so just…yeah, wanting to serve my church well hopefully for another 10, 15, 20 years, however long God has us here. And so far it’s been fun. It’s become all my free time, which they made clear like, “This is your hobby now,” which has taken some adjusting, but it’s been good.
Tony: Yeah. So sentence diagramming is what you do for fun now.
Eric: Instead of watching the Kentucky Georgia game the other night, I was sentence diagramming, and one of our elders was giving me a hard time
Tony: That is real sacrifice for a Kentucky fan. That’s the next level, man. That’s for real right there.
Eric: Now, I watched a little of our game. There’s stuff I can’t sacrifice, but there’s been some sacrifices along the way.
Tony: So you’re having to relearn Greek, right, is it first time Greek?
Eric: Yeah. So I took six semesters in undergrad and then didn’t touch it for 10 years. And so it’s been a real quick re-teaching myself process, which things have changed quite a bit, even in the 10 years since I’ve been out of school. So there’s a ton of helpful ways to relearn that. But this Monday, in a couple of days, I’ll have a proficiency exam that’ll chart the course for the next couple of years. So we’ll see how that goes.
Tony: That’s exciting. I look forward to engaging with you about this Ph.D. process, man.
Eric: Yeah. Yeah.
Tony: So along the way, I’m sure there’ve been particular times you’ve been tempted, maybe not to give up, maybe you have, but I imagine there are guys who are in the grind right now in church planting. How would you encourage them today?
Eric: Yeah, two years ago, I was done. My wife and I were on a vacation in Idaho. We had gotten out of town for a little bit and we were driving back and we’d just been through a hard season of ministry. And I told her, “I’m going home and turning my letter in.” And she’d accepted that and thought that was the course we were going on. And so thankfully, in her wisdom and some of our leaders got me to just wait a little bit, gave me some time away, gave me some time to step away from ministry for a few weeks and really process it. And part of what I’ve realized is that one, a lot of times it’s in those difficult seasons that God’s doing a work in you that you may not recognize. And there were things I needed stripped away, there was sin I needed dealt with. And when things are going smoothly in ministry, it’s a lot harder for me to hear that or listen or be perceptive to that. And so I can see the good stuff that God’s done through that.
And I think secondly, and this has just been a constant thing for me, it’s so easy for me to have my identity wrapped up in my ministry. And so when the ministry is going well, I feel good about myself. When it’s going poorly, I’m down on myself. And specifically spending time with that counselor who really tried to help me see and understand, and I’m still trying to get this as weird as it says. It might sound weird for a pastor who’s been at it for 10 years. It’s still hard for me to get the gospel, but to still try and get the gospel.
We were in John chapter one just a couple of weeks ago and just being reminded of verse 11, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” and just being reminded of regardless how my ministry is going, regardless of the fruit of it, that’s still true. And trying to teach myself that I’m a child of God when City of God is doing well, I’ve been given the right to be a child of God when the ministry is struggling, and as much as I can, detaching my gospel identity from the metrics of success in ministry. It’s hard to do and it’s really hard to do when you’re starting, but if you can’t find that joy in the Lord and what He’s done for you, even in the midst of the struggles of ministry, I don’t know how you make it through.
Tony: Yeah, man. Yeah, no doubt. Our strength today is not in how long we’ve been in ministry or how much we know about the Bible, but in our union with Christ and supercharged by our communion with Christ, right?
Eric: Oh, yeah.
Tony: And it’s so important for us to remember that. Our strength is not in our physical stature either. Eric is a massive dude when you see him. So even the monsters struggle and need to apply the gospel to their own heart, right?
Eric: That’s true, maybe even more so, so it’s true,
Tony: Hey, the next 10 years, last question. Should the Lord give us another decade, we don’t want to presume upon that, but if He does, what are some of your goals?
Eric: Yeah, we want to plant churches. And so, I know that’s the heartbeat of Acts 29 and so we’re trying to figure out how to do that well with sights on hopefully planting here in the next couple of years. And so we wanted to see that happen. I say as I get older. I know I’m 35, but as things have gone, there’s been a greater desire on my end to help train other leaders. And we’ve got a lot of college guys who love the Lord and who are thinking about ministry. And so being able to plant some of those early seeds, I really want to start to prioritize how can we give guys a vision for that? And whether it’s in vocational ministry or they’re gonna get a degree and go off somewhere else. What does life with Jesus look like beyond that?
And then even recently, we’ve got some full-time staff who have come on having the opportunity to really begin to invest in some other guys who do care about City of God as much as I do. And even like I said, in that transition from infancy to where we are now, starting to have the thought, which is what City of God is gonna look like beyond me. And so trying to set things in place for when I’m not here, City of God will be, which I wasn’t always sure was the case, but really starting to think through how can we prepare City of God for a time when I’m not here, but this ministry can go on and even thrive without me in that position.
Tony: That’s good, man. That’s good. I’m so glad we got to capture your story, brother. It’s so inspiring to think about the early struggles and your work ethic and your transparency. Those stories… And the story of your bride, what a faithful bride, man. Just praise the Lord for His grace in your life. And I do pray that the Lord would use you to continue to bless your local church, to continue to use you in Acts 29, and indeed to plant more churches in the next decade.
Eric: No, that’s great. I appreciate it, man.
Tony: Yeah. Thanks for taking some time, brother, to be on the podcast.
Eric: Yeah, this was fun. Looking forward to talk to you soon.