As founder and senior pastor of an urban church in Oklahoma City, Chris Pollock credits his studies at Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS) as crucial to developing his call to city church planting.
Although he’d originally been discouraged from attending NTS following his graduation with a bachelor’s in psychology from Olivet, within the first week, Pollock and his wife, Holly, knew they had made the right decision.
“I fell in love with NTS. I loved it more than my undergrad—and I loved my undergrad,” Pollock said. “I loved the whole Kansas City experience. It was like a hand in a glove for me: philosophical and theological education was what I was looking for my whole life.”
While attending NTS from 2000 to 2003, he joined the pastoral staff as youth minister at Central Church of the Nazarene under the leadership of David Busic (now a general superintendent of the denomination). When Busic was called to Bethany First Church of the Nazarene in Oklahoma, Pollock joined him as first the senior high pastor and then an executive pastor, serving under his ministry for a total of 11 years.
Pollock continued his education by earning a Doctorate of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary in 2011.
“All of my work at NTS was foundational for my doctoral work,” he said. “My work helped shape the thoughts that I had towards a church planting ecclesiology. NTS was the foundation and then my doctoral was the ship that shot off that foundation.”
Over time, Pollock’s education and ministry experiences developed a growing burden for the economically struggling urban core of Oklahoma City. He and Holly prayed and discerned God leading them in this.
“Oklahoma City doesn’t need another church, we’re flooded with churches,” he said. “But this was a space where there weren’t enough churches.”
As they shared their vision and calling with their church family, many caught the vision. Bethany First Church decided to back the new church plant, and nearly 50 members, with another staff pastor, went to help launch the work. In November 2015, 8th Street Church of the Nazarene opened in a Presbyterian church, which welcomed them with open arms to share the space.
In 2017, the new congregation purchased one of the oldest church buildings in Oklahoma City, originally constructed on 8th Street by a First German Methodist congregation in 1907. They renovated the small, dilapidated building, and began using the space in April 2018. Four blocks away in one direction is a gentrified neighborhood, and four blocks the other direction is the city rescue mission and other social services and hospitals.
“Our neighbors are a wide variety, politically, ethnically, religiously, and socioeconomically. We want to be good neighbors to the restaurant owners, the blue-collar workers, the social service workers, to the county jail, and think well about issues related to justice and mercy and food insecurity,” he said.
Pollock said the congregation, which now averages 120 to 150 people, including 40 to 50 of the original planters, has focused on being a good neighbor to people who live within walking and bicycling distance from the church.
As part of introducing themselves to the neighborhood, the church has told historical stories about the city, as well as the Church of the Nazarene. That is where NTS helped Pollock yet again.
“I didn’t know there was any history to the Christian church before entering NTS,” he said. “Having a professor like Paul Bassett, who was difficult and blew my mind daily, shaped my ecclesiology and how we extend grace to, and receive grace from, one another. When I think about the language that was shaped in me at NTS, all of that has been essential as we’ve been very intentional with our language as we’ve planted this church. Nazarene Theological Seminary, and the professors, laid that foundation for me. They gave me a theological imagination which has been essential in a world that is so crazy and chaotic these days.”
The church has started by listening to and asking questions of the community, and seeking out people and organizations that are already addressing the needs around 8th Street. For example, the church is partnering with two local African-American leaders who have created The Conversations Workshop, which educates people about whiteness, white privilege, criminal justice, and hospitality.
The congregation is also establishing a relationship with The Spero Project, which helps to resettle refugees in Oklahoma City.
Resettling people became very personal when the pastors realized a woman was living in her car across the street. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the church was not meeting in the sanctuary, so they invited her to stay in the building while she worked to get back on her feet. Through partnership with The Jesus House, a local organization, the church helped the woman get her own apartment. She saved her money to purchase a new car, which enables her to earn money as an Uber and Postmates driver.
It’s stories like this that Pollock asks members to share during the worship service each week.
“I was worried we were going to run out of stories but we haven’t yet,” he said. “We’re super grateful.”
Learn more about studying at NTS at www.nts.edu/info.