Spotlight Interview: James Westbrook

By Prestonwood Network Staff

Prestonwood Network: Can you share with us how these first couple of years planting and pastoring Realm Church have been?

James Westbrook: We initially hit the ground in summer 2018. We spent much of that time becoming missionaries to an area of the country that has less than a four-percent Christian presence. This makes doing ministry in Bay, California, in some ways much easier, and in other ways more difficult than my context in Midwest America. We have been able to share the message and love of Christ with hundreds of people through large and small events, personal evangelism, and a marketed video series, and we are excited to see more fruit from these missionary endeavors. We officially, publicly launched on September 15, 2019, and the Lord has blessed us tremendously through surprising ways.

  • The LGBTQ+ community in our local ministry zone rallied against us via social media during their pride month. We reached out to the leaders of this act of aggression and asked to meet with them. Several agreed. After meeting with them individually, and standing on the Word of God, they recanted on their campaign against us and removed all negative posts. When I asked them, “Though I believe in a traditional, historical view of marriage, do you believe that I hate you after having met me?” They all, with great conviction and shame, said no. Praise God for winsome victory without compromise. 
  • We’ve finally located a place of worship after having been discriminated against on the basis of faith, time and time again. We have started renovations and are excited to continue moving the mission and message of Jesus forward in this area of the country.
  • We’ve seen the fruit of people’s not simply saying “yes” about Jesus, but saying “yes” to follow Him as Lord and Savior. For example, a gentleman, after becoming a follower of Jesus (outside of the context of our Sunday gatherings), started a Bible study on Mondays, where he invited all of his non-Christian friends and forcibly made me the study’s leader. I responded with “Yes, sir.”  
  • We are now ministering to Berkeley students, the poor, and single mothers several days a week. We are also increasing in growth weekly. These are exciting times for Realm Church. 

Prestonwood Network: What are a few highlights from 2019, and what has you most excited for 2020?

James Westbrook: God willing … we will continue our ministry to the aforementioned groups. However, we don’t currently have a ministry geared toward orphans, or those growing up in a single-parent home (as was my area of concentration in cities such as St. Louis and Louisville). In 2020, we are pumped to reach a huge gated apartment complex across the street from our new location. They are building like crazy in our area of Oakland, and we have strategic plans that we are praying over and plans to internally grow with the external growth happening all around us. 

In addition, we will complete phases 2 & 3 of our building renovations project.

Also, we will start a new Tuesday Night Conversation for unbelievers and Christians struggling with doubt. We will have guest scholars and other formats to stir questions and hopefully spirit-led conviction in those in attendance.

Prestonwood Network: What are your key strategies for evangelism and disciple-making?

James Westbrook:

  • The aforementioned Tuesday Night Conversation
  • Events and gatherings in our home have been really fruitful. Our hope is not simply to grow by transference; rather, we want to overwhelmingly grow by conversion. 
  • Community service and civic service will continue and increasingly be one of our primary apologetics. 
  • Regarding discipleship, everyone who enters into our church is encouraged (through constant follow-up) to join one of our multiplying community/missional groups. We then take our folks through a “leadership pipeline” after going through personality and strength-finding assessments. 
  • Going where people are and setting up shop—we’ve been to and will go to pool halls, parks, beaches, houses, etc.

Prestonwood Network: How are you growing in your faith, and what is God currently teaching you?

James WestbrookI feel like I’m learning so much about this type of ministry endeavor and much more about myself in the process of engaging in such an endeavor.  

I’ve learned that the old ministry adage “You can’t lead people beyond where you are” is, in fact, true. My ministry starts with my intimacy with the Father through His Son and Spirit.

People cannot be the first goal of my ministry. The glory of Christ must be, and second, people are the beneficiaries of that glory.

Niceness as a missional strategy apart from the truth is a waste of time. Spiritual kindness goes a long way; however, we learned that a commitment to honesty with kindness typically garners more respect from non-believers, even if they leave because of our beliefs; we have found that plenty stay. To some, the Gospel is a sweet aroma of life; and to others, an aroma of death.  

Come-and-See is losing its “gluing power” in the Bay. We have to be more creative in our approaches to this current generation of Americans. And when I say more creative, I mean paying more attention to how Jesus and the Church principally and actually reached people in the first century. For instance, we learned early on that we have to go to where the people are and be with lawbreakers if you will, if we’re going to reach them as Jesus did. This is how we met the aforementioned gentleman who gave his life to Jesus. I’m learning that I must water my own vineyard lest it dries out whilst I water my neighbor’s. 

I’m learning that it’s OK to be Pastor James Westbrook with a desire for James to be more transformed into the image of Christ, not the pastor down the street.  

I’m finally learning that it is easy to commit what I would call “the Church-Planters Sin of Sabbath.” We don’t take a Sabbath out of fear that we’re losing previously gained ground. This is absolutely, utterly, self-destructive thinking. I now take my full Sabbaths with my family.

Prestonwood Network: How do you faithfully pastor your family?

James Westbrook: By paying close attention to what I have learned from the previous question. We pray and read the Lord’s Word together nearly every day. We take respites and Sabbaths together (a lesson I had to learn the hard way). I fight hard to be mentally present when I’m physically present. One of the practical ways I try to do this is by giving my phone to my wife, so as to avoid distractions.  

I LISTEN TO MY WIFE! Not always easy, but always fruitful.  

Prestonwood Network: Why do you believe so strongly in church planting? And why is church planting especially important today?

James Westbrook: It has been repeatedly shown by missiologists and statisticians alike that the most effective way to reach those far from God is to plant new works. My wife and I have had a missionary heart for the last 21 years. We want people to have the joy and hope that we have as Christians. People have deep hurts, old wounds, long chains, impossible circumstances, and confused and lonely lives. Some have the nerve to say that the Western world doesn’t need Christianity as we did before the modern age of science and development. They apparently have not seen the world as it is and people as they are. 

Furthermore, how else is the Great Commission fulfilled holistically? The only context that I know, wherein a person can learn all that Jesus taught in the missional motion of going, is a church and the mobilization of new plants. We must continue to plant and revive churches in the power of the Spirit!

Prestonwood Network: How can other pastors and churches best support church planters like you?

James Westbrook:

  • Teach us how not to depend on ourselves.  
  • Teach us that old art and dedication of truly pastoring people versus the temptation to entertain them.
  • Teach us of your failures and your fears. Lord knows we have them and often feel alone in them.
  • Encourage people to come onto the field and serve for a period.  
  • Financial support is a much-needed fuel for missions.
  • By the way, you all do all of these with your network churches, lol. Sorry for the waste of ink.

Prestonwood Network: What is your vision for the long-term future of Realm Church?

James Westbrook: Long-term, we really desire to learn and become Christ tangibly incarnate in Oakland Bay, California. We want to plant many works in our region and around the world, particularly through the internationals we engage in the nearly most diverse city in the nation. I’m itching to start a second work simultaneously in a different part of the city reaching a different demographic; I know … it’s crazy. I will be a bit patient with this idea. However, if convinced over the next two months, we shall commence. 

We want to be a genuine expression of a biblical church with an exemplary celebration of Christian service, Christian art and Christian industry. This is to say, entities inspired and instructed by a Christian ethic. We want to be a faithful legacy church that eventually enters into “grandfather status” as we plant churches that plant churches. 

Prestonwood Network: How can we pray for you, your family and your church?

James Westbrook: We have a big and busy year ahead of us. Please pray for the right type of fruit. Pray that the Lord will make me still enough so I can plant without doing too much too soon. Thus, I need a constant supply of wisdom.

Prestonwood Network: Is there anything else you would like to share?

James Westbrook: Not at this moment, other than Realm is deeply thankful for our partnership with Prestonwood. 

Prestonwood Network: We are immensely grateful for our Gospel partnership. Thank you so much for sharing all that God is doing at Realm. We are praying for you.

James Westbrook serves as Lead Pastor at Realm Church in Oakland, Calif.

More information on Realm Church can be found at www.therealmchurch.com. Please feel free to share a word of encouragement or prayer with Pastor James at jwestbrook@therealmchurch.com.

Leave a Comment

*