Ok, so technically I’ve been on staff at First United Methodist Church Richardson for longer than one year, but this week I’m celebrating the one-year anniversary of being given the privilege to lead our modern worship service. And I’m taking this opportunity to brag on my church a bit.
Let me also give the disclaimer that I have a deep love for each community into which God has called me into ministry over the past 15 years. The good things I’m about to say about FUMCR are not in contrast to the previous churches I’ve served. I’ve had previous opportunities to brag about the wonderful people of Mt. Carmel Church of the Nazarene, of Crossroads Christian Fellowship, of First United Methodist Church Duncanville, of Christ United Methodist Church, and of Wellspring Free Methodist Church. Well, now it’s FUMCR’s turn. So here goes:
1) I Love Our Podcast
When I first learned that I was going to be appointed to FUMCR, one of the first things I did was listen to the church podcast, More Than Sunday. Eric and Julie sounded great, and the interviews were so intriguing. I remember thinking, “This is so professional! That would be a ton of fun to be on the podcast someday.”
Shortly after joining the staff, I learned the truth. Yes, Eric and Julie had been doing a good job, and yes, the guests were really interesting, but the real star of the show is a guy who never gets credit: our producer, Kyle Henson. He takes good content and makes it sound amazing!
And although scheduling guests, writing interview questions, conducting interviews, and recording bumpers takes a lot of work (let’s just say we have a lot of outtakes!), the podcast has introduced me to some of our most incredible church members, allowed me to dive into the stories of a variety of guests from our local community and given me a front-row seat to the wisdom of theologians and pastors from around the country.
2) I Love Our Staff
We have right around 60 people on staff at FUMCR. This is the largest staff I’ve ever been a part of. I had been curious to see what the dynamic of a church staff would be like with this many people. What I’ve come to learn is these 60 people deeply love Jesus and are doing everything they can to work as faithful stewards of God’s calling on their lives and of the resources with which they’ve been entrusted by our church family. And they’re succeeding with flying colors!
Shortly after joining this team, I was immediately impressed with the balance of the FUMCR staff between professionalism and collegiality. There is sense of professional motivation and drive to do excellent work that motivates everyone to bring their best to the table. And yet, there is also a sense of humility and teamwork that recognizes that each of us can only do our best when we get to know one another, support one another, laugh with one another, and even disagree with one another in love.
Our Senior Pastor, Clayton Oliphint, has created a staff culture that is “seriously fun:” we’re serious about the mission to welcome people for Christ, grow people in Christ, and serve people with Christ, and we have a lot of fun executing that mission (I just made that term up… but I might use it again in the future!).
3) I Love Our Church Family
From day one, the church family at FUMCR has welcomed Megan and me and our children in with open arms. They’ve extended me grace after grace in doing my best to learn their names. They reach out on a regular basis with encouraging phone calls, emails and even cards in the mail. But even more significant than the care that they’ve provided for me is the care that they consistently provide for others, and for each other.
It seems like each week—particularly during our current Year of Service—I hear new stories of the amazing work that our church members are doing in the community. They take this “love your neighbor” thing seriously, and it shows! In an effort to assess the effectiveness of a church’s impact on its community, church leaders often ask, “If this church disappeared tomorrow, would the community miss it?” In the case of FUMCR, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
It’s also been fun to see the persistent drive of our church members to expand the capacity of our church to reach new people for Christ. Countless members do this by volunteering on a weekly basis, giving up their own time to usher, to greet, to run slides and lights and video, to serve food to the homeless, and to participate in the many ministries of FUMCR. Additionally, I regularly have people come to me with new ideas they have for ministry. The cool part is, they don’t just drop the idea in my lap and forget about it, they willing to step up and serve to bring those ideas to fruition!
4) I Love the City of Richardson
Ok, so this one isn’t directly about FUMCR, but it has definitely become a part of why I love doing what I do. I’ve quickly come to learn how unique the City of Richardson really is. Its primary growth came from the telecom boom, with employers like Texas Instruments and Collins Radio bringing in top engineers from around the country. One line that I’ve heard several times since we moved here—and I’ve come to affirm its truth—is that these engineers didn’t stop working when they clocked out at 5:00pm; they simply redirected their energy and talents into creating the community systems that support our city still today. PTA’s, civic clubs, nonprofit cooperative groups, city governance and management, neighborhood associations, churches, I could go on and on.
The fabric of our community is strong. It has become more and more obvious as I’ve been involved with Richardson Interfaith Alliance (RIA) and Helping Agencies Serving Richardson (HASR). When hate speech rears its ugly head in one corner, the community rallies to denounce it and show solidarity with the victims. When a tornado devastated several homes and businesses last October, organizations like Network of Community Ministries stepped up and mobilized the hundreds of volunteers who wanted to lend a hand in the relief efforts. When the hospitals, or the school district, or the nonprofits addressing homelessness and mental health (as just a couple examples) need the community’s support through fundraising, residents of the City of Richardson rise to the challenge, every time.
5) I Love the Freedom to Innovate (and Fail)
Back to the church—I love that there is a culture that allows space for innovation, knowing that new ideas won’t always succeed. I am definitely an “idea person.” We have an ongoing “joke” on staff that for every 20 ideas I come up with (which can be accomplished in just a matter of minutes sometimes J), one of them will be a good one. So if I say something that obviously isn’t a good idea, I’m just 18 bad ideas away from the next good one!
In all seriousness, it has been so much fun to experiment and innovate with our modern worship service. And yes, even in just the first year, there have been things that we’ve tried that didn’t work. But there have also been some things that we’ve tried that have worked really well, and it’s so energizing to see how God is using those new ideas to bring more people into our community of faith.
6) I Love the Genuine Care for All People
Again, this one comes from the “top-down.” Granted, the “top-down” concept doesn’t really work here, because of the intentional lack of hierarchical structure. But my point is this: Pastor Clayton genuinely loves all people. You can see it in the way he speaks with congregants following each service. He looks them directly in the eye and listens to them as if they’re the only person in the room. He constantly preaches about the importance of being a “big tent church,” not because he doesn’t want to say anything “political,” but because he can’t imagine a church that doesn’t provide a safe space for people of all political persuasions, all backgrounds, all struggles, all perspectives to gather and worship Jesus Christ together (which I believe is a “political statement” in and of itself).
What’s really cool is to see how this gets translated to the staff, to the church family, and into the community. As we plan programs and ministries, our staff is constantly asking, “Who are we leaving out? Who doesn’t have a voice at this table? What are we saying/doing that might unintentionally be causing harm to someone?”
Our church family seems to get it as well. It’s one thing to serve “those people” (whoever “those people” are). It’s quite another thing to invite “those people” to become a part of “us.” Over and over, I am blown away by the stories I hear of how people joined the FUMCR family, invited by those who have had the humility and courage to invite “those people” to become a part of “us.” This is only made possible when a congregation sees all people as children of God.
And lastly, this gets translated into the community. The more I get to serve alongside my friends at Richardson Interfaith Alliance, the more I hear about their respect for FUMCR and our openness to support our community members from other faith traditions. It’s also really cool to hear the reactions of non-church-members when I tell them I’m a pastor at FUMCR. They usually say things like, “I love FUMCR! Pastor Clayton probably doesn’t know me, but he did this one thing for my family a few years ago that made such an impact on us.” Or, “Our neighbors go to FUMCR. They are such great people.”
7) I Love that Our Big Church Feels Small
Needless to say, going from a church plant that started with literally zero members to FUMCR that has 6,500 members came with a bit of culture shock. Part of the shock, however, was that as big as FUMCR is, it really does feel small. Quite often, when I tell newer church members how many people worship at FUMCR on a weekly basis they are surprised by the number, saying, for example, “Oh wow! I never would have guessed. I’ve felt so seen and welcomed and invited in, a feeling I usually associate with smaller churches.”
There are many different reasons for this, and each congregant has a unique experience that shapes his or her perspective. For some people, it feels small because of the accessibility and personal attention from the church staff. For others, it feels small because of their connection to a small group or Sunday school class. Still for others, it feels small because they’ve received a warm welcome upon visiting. This is obviously one of the most significant challenges for a large church, so I love that FUMCR has created this type of culture.
No, this list is not exhaustive. I could probably write an entire book about what I love about this church, but these seven will have to do for now. All this to say, I feel so blessed to be a pastor with the people of FUMCR and I can’t wait to see what God has in store for our future!
To find out more about this wonderful community of faith, visit www.fumcr.com.