Helping the Poor and Making Disciples — Pat Robertson, President, CityTeam

Pat Robertson imageThe sign of a truly great organization is its ability to continue to innovate and remake itself as circumstances change and opportunities arise.  CityTeam, headquartered in San Jose, provides an instructive example. CityTeam is well known in the Bay Area for providing food, shelter, and counseling for the poor and disadvantaged.  But CityTeam does much more than that.  Its scope is now worldwide and is transforming lives not only physically, but spiritually as well.

For over 40 years, CityTeam has been led by its President, Pat Robertson, a man who is leading a transformed life himself.  This is a story of how God led Robertson and CityTeam to grow and innovate.

Robertson Transformation

Robertson grew up in a Mormon family in Utah, but gave up his Mormon faith after his parents divorced.  He joined the Air Force and married.  But all was not well.  Robertson candidly states, “I was a brute of a person, physically abusive and violent, even to my wife.”  In 1971, while stationed in Georgia, a neighbor invited Robertson and his wife to a Christian church.  They refused several times, before deciding to attend.

It was the first time in my life that I heard that there was a God who loved me, paid the price for my sins, and wanted a personal relationship with me. We attended that church for six months, but were not really interested in joining.  Then one Sunday, as the pastor ended the service as he typically did by asking if anyone was ready to put their faith in Christ as their savior, my wife, much to my amazement, went forward to give her life to Christ.  I would have pulled her back if I could have reached her.  But all of a sudden, I got this brain dump of all my sins – stealing, beating people up, and being abusive to my wife and mom.  I ran forward to join my wife and accepted Christ as my savior.

Soon after his conversion, Robertson felt led by God to attend Prairie Bible College in Alberta.  But Robertson’s life was not yet completely transformed.  He admits to periods of anger and abuse while at Prairie. “But God began to slowly win the victory and transformed me,” remarks Robertson.

In 1980, Robertson was hired as a youth director for a Christian camp at Lake Tahoe run by the San Jose Rescue Mission. 

CityTeam’s History

The San Jose Rescue Mission, which later changed its name to CityTeam, cared for homeless men in the San Jose Area.  In its first decade of operation, CityTeam expanded organically to serve disadvantaged women and children by opening a shelter for them and expanded through a merger to provide a camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains for children from broken homes.

Robertson Becomes CityTeam’s Leader

Robertson moved from Youth Director to CityTeam’s Executive Director in 1982. Later his title was changed to President.  Under Robertson’s leadership, CityTeam expanded from San Jose to Oakland and San Francisco in the Bay Area and Philadelphia and Portland nationally.  In 1997, CityTeam broadened its scope to provide services internationally.  Today it serves in 50 countries.

Good to Great

At the turn of the twenty-first century, Robertson was not satisfied that CityTeam was doing all it could do.  At that time Robertson read Jim Collins’ bestselling book Good to Great.  He was particularly taken by the first six words in the book, “Good is the enemy of great.”  Robertson purchased Good to Great for his staff and board of directors and in 2001 engaged in a strategic planning process to determine how CityTeam could move from a good to a great organization. Robertson remarks,

I felt at the time that CityTeam was good, maybe even very good, but not great. Our mission statement called for us to fulfill both the great commandment to love our neighbor and to fulfill Jesus’s great commission to make disciples.

Although 5-8,000 of the people we served annually made faith commitments to Christ, those numbers were not growing.  Some of those commitments, especially among teenagers, did not last and there was little community transformation happening through those new believers.

Following the strategy planning session Robertson was not sure how CityTeam could better fulfill its mission to make disciples until one of his staff members came across a missionary named David Watson.

Disciple Making Movements

Watson changed Robertson’s thinking about evangelism and disciple making.  In most seminaries and churches it is taught to work one-on-one with people to help them come to faith in Jesus and then through Bible reading and church and small group involvement help them grow in their faith to become disciples of Christ.  Watson had a different idea.  “It was radical,” says Robertson, “but David convinced me that it was also based on scripture.”  The idea was first to help people learn who Jesus is and help make disciples.  Once people love Jesus, they commit their lives to Him and want to help others know who Jesus is.  Robertson remarks,

We call it “Disciple Making Movements.” Jesus intended disciple making to go viral when he taught, “obey all things I taught you.”  It is also what the apostle Paul taught his protégé Timothy when he told him, “The things I have said to you in front of these witnesses, teach others who will teach others also.”  There is built-in obedience and multiplication there.

Starting in 2004, CityTeam began employing Disciple Making Movements. The results are eye-opening.  Since CityTeam began that effort, it has helped form 28,000 churches worldwide with nearly 1 million new disciples in those churches.  CityTeam’s focus for its Disciple Making Movements is in Muslim-dominated parts of Africa, but has also seen great success in Latin America and the Middle East.

Robertson and Watson co-authored a recent book, The Father Glorified, which tells amazing stories of transformed lives in Africa, including a story about young girl coming back from death.  It is a book worth reading as is its earlier companion book, Miraculous Movements, by Jerry Trousdale.

Process Summary

The Disciple Making Movements is based on Biblical principles.  A brief summary of the process is:

  1. Community Engagement — It begins with a legitimate reason to be in the community, perhaps through compassionate service
  2. Relationship Building – Building relationships in the community begins with finding a community leader who God has prepared to be open to His message.  In Luke 10, this person is referred to as “the person of peace.”
  3. Discovery and Obedience – With the help of an indigenous leader with Bible training, the community leader draws people into a group.  The process is called “Discovery Bible Study.”  People discover for themselves who God is and learn to obey his teaching, including the command to make disciples.
  4. Church Planting – In this step leaders grow to spiritual maturity and emerge with the desire to start churches themselves.
  5. Reproduction – Disciples multiply and start other churches themselves.

Disciple Making Movements works because it does not depend on professionals, but local individuals; it does not cost much to implement; it is based on the Biblical principle of obedience; and it has multiplication built-in.  CityTeam literature describes Disciple Making Movements as “simple, sustainable, and scalable.”

Disciple Making Movements in the Bay Area

Under its renewed mission CityTeam is applying Disciple Making Movements’ principles in the Bay Area.

We are working to integrate everything we do — serving the poor and discipleship training.  In the Bay Area we have helped start 500 to 600 churches with sizes ranging from 10-50 people.  We do this with staff and volunteers associated with CityTeam and by training church leaders in the Bay Area in the Disciple Making Movements process.

Robertson is encouraged by seeing how God is working in Silicon Valley.

New churches formed through Disciple Making Movements encourage me, as do the many prayer groups I see forming throughout Silicon Valley.  I am also encouraged by the efforts led by Pat Gelsinger and others to get church and business leaders together to serve and help transform the Bay Area.


For more information on CityTeam’s Disciple Making Movements, see Disciple Making Movements 

The video below describes the book The Father Glorified.

2 thoughts on “Helping the Poor and Making Disciples — Pat Robertson, President, CityTeam”

  1. Pat is a persuasive and passionate speaker. His leadership is gaining traction internationally. The world will only benefit from CityTeam and his efforts. In the Jewish tradition, we speak of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. Patrick is certainly doing his share of that. Thank you.

  2. I have seen Pat’s love for the poor, addicted and lost first hand; the world needs more Patrick Robertsons.

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