My First 60 Days in Fresno, CA
It was exactly two months ago today that I left the great nation of Texas to head out West & come work for The Well Community Church in Fresno, CA. The following are some of the highlights of my first 60+ days here…
The Well is a young church that has grown tremendously since it was planted 7 years ago. Right now there’s about 3,000 people in the church spread out over 3 campuses & 6 services. Already since I’ve been here there’s been new hires, new opportunities, and all the challenges that come along with growth. I’ve spent most of my time these past two months just learning the culture of The Well (or “tasting the special sauce”, as Brad says). It’s definitely like learning a new language since I’ve been here… new church, new ethos, new city, new people, new context, new way of doing ministry, etc… The learning curve is definitely steep, but thus far I seem to be adjusting well & fitting right on in. I’ve preached twice already since I’ve been here, and had a blast doing it- although preaching 4 times live along with 2 other video-feeds can make for a long day 🙂 We also had a church-wide baptism service last week (held at baseball stadium) which was also a ton of fun. Our “State of the Church” service is coming up in a couple of weeks- so right now we’re gearing up for a strong vision cast for the year ahead. Ton of stuff going on here… like drinking from a fire hydrant!
NEW STAFF / NEW FRIENDS
So far the church staff has been tremendously gracious to us. It’s a fairly large staff, good mix of young and older, and tons of children that our girls have enjoyed meeting & playing with. As many of you know, coming out here I already knew two of the staff really well… I’ve known Brad Bell (our senior pastor) since 1995 and Mike Slayden (multisite director) since 1994 (we were also fraternity brothers and college roommates). Brad has been out of town for 7 out of the 8 weeks that I’ve been here- and Mike for almost 3 of them- so I haven’t spent much time with either of them. But that’s turned out to be a good thing, because it’s given us some more intentional time with other staff. The staff has definitely been a ‘family away from family’ for us. Huge team aspect here that’s been exciting to be a part of. We’ve especially enjoyed our time making new friends at the Fig Garden campus which I’m pastoring (see below).
FIG GARDEN CAMPUS
When the Well planted several years back, they began renting out space for an evening service at another church here in town (The Cross Church). A couple of years ago The Well grabbed their new home in a building across town, but a group remained at The Cross Church (in the Fig Garden area) to form a multisite campus for the Well. They’ve been there for a couple of years now, still running that 5pm service. Right now, there’s about 200 folks who call that campus home. I’ve been hired to come in and take the reigns from my buddy (Mike Slayden) as the pastor of the Fig Garden Campus. Already we’ve met some amazing people/families at the Fig campus. I knew we were in for a treat when the first week I was here, the Fig Campus hosted a ‘pounding’ our family- where basically, people each brought us a ‘pound’ of something for our new home (coffee, pasta, chocolate, plants, etc…). It was a great time meeting everyone & we were hugely blessed. People have been so friendly to us here, having us in their homes just about every week we’ve been here. Probably the most exciting news about this campus is that we now have the opportunity for the Cross Church to merge with The Well. The Cross Church voted unanimously this past Sunday to dissolve their charter and become the Well. So along with the people & the building, we’ll gain an additional one or two services at Fig. This move will allow us to solidify The Well in the Fig Garden area for years to come- and now gives us the opportunity to grow and reach more people in this area for Christ. Prayers are definitely solicited as we now into this new season. In the meantime, I’m loving learning how to lead as a multisite campus pastor & enjoying the great friendships God has already provided here.
OUR NEW CRIB
Above is the home we’ve been living in for the past two months. This is a temporary house we’re staying in until our more permanent one becomes available (sometime in the next month or so). The new house will be located in the same neighborhood where Emma will be attending 1st grade. In the meantime, we’ve really enjoyed the house we’re in as well as the neighborhood… we’re actually kind of sad to move out of it, but look forward to being closer to Emma’s school.
As busy as things have been out here, we have managed to really make some huge family deposits. Much of that is due to how closely we are connected with so many fun things around here. Thus far we made a trip down to Disneyland (pics at http://www.facebook.com/sheasumlin), riding bikes at Woodward Park (this massive park in town that has live outdoor concerts each week, bike trails, disc golf, horse trails, playgrounds, you-name-it!), played Putt-Putt golf at two stellar courses in town, took in a Fresno Grizzlies game (AAA baseball), soaked up a local waterpark & have eaten some tasty fruit & vegetables at local Farmer’s Markets. On top of all of that, I got the opportunity to speak at a Christian camp up in the mountains (called “Hume Lake”). We’re currently planning a trip up to San Francisco and then a camping trip to Yosemite later this fall. So yeah, we haven’t been too bored :). But honestly, it’s really been nice spending some good quality time with the family right out of the gate.
Without a doubt, the hardest part came about two weeks after we arrived, when one of our staff members’ (Jerrod Rumley) 4-month-old son passed away in his sleep. (For those of you back in Denton, Jerrod is Judd Rumely’s brother). Jerrod, his wife Jennifer, along with their older son Cooper- have been grieving pretty hard (as you can imagine). In fact, the whole church & staff have been grieving hard as well. I would definitely still continue to solicit your prayers on behalf of their family for the road ahead. I think the sweet spot in this difficult time has been watching the body of Christ come alive and surround the Rumely’s with love & support. Lots of people have logged some long hours with them, just offering the ministry of presence. It’s been sweet to experience the body of Christ surround one of its own in need. I could not imagine someone having to walk through what they’ve been walking through without the strength of the Lord or His church. Again, please pray for this family who is still grieving the loss of their baby boy.
THOUGHTS ON MAJOR LIFE TRANSITIONS
In all, this has been a fun & wild ride. It is so hard for me to believe it’s already been two months since we left. There are days I wake up and can’t believe I’m really here- and not in Denton. When I think about what I left behind in order to come here, my mind spins a bit. My family, my friends, the state I grew up in, the church I ‘grew up’ in, the house all three of my children were born in, the Dallas Cowboys for goodness sake! …it’s crazy!
Truthfully, there’s been a few days where we’ve battled some homesickness. Not because of anything here, but simply because when you’ve spent the better part of 35 years in one place- and then in one single day, completely sever those years in order to start completely over somewhere else- there are some things you miss. We find ourselves missing time with family & friends (of course)- but also some little things… like old grocery stores, restaurants, our old neighborhood, etc… -little pieces of stuff that were consistent and familiar. So yeah, there’s been a little homesickness here and there- but for the most part we’ve been too busy with so many good things to have too much time to think about it.
But for me, as I think about what it is we’ve been called to out here- and as I contemplate my Savior and the mission I’m on for Him- I’m reminded it’s not so much about what you’re giving up in this lifetime, but rather what it is you’re gaining as you serve for His Kingdom. I’ve been reminded of Christ’s words in Matthew 10:37-39… “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.“He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”
…and also in Luke 9:57-62… As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
These words have anchored us in our transition here. For my family and I, it’s the complete satisfaction of knowing that we were obedient when He called; knowing that we’re building into His kingdom and not our own. And now we rest in the assurance that we are in the center of His will. We’re not comforted by being comfortable- but rather by knowing we’re where He wants us to be. There’s a sweet peace that comes with obedience, even if it’s not always easy. I’ve always said I would serve Jesus well, whether I’m in a church or flippin’ burgers at McDonald’s, whether in Texas or far away… and now is my chance to make good on that statement.
These first two months have been the ride of our life! Can’t wait to see where He takes us from here…