1. What do you do?
I serve as the senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Reddick, Fla. As the only staff of this small, rural church, I am responsible for preaching, worship, teaching, visionary leadership, pastoral care, evangelism and coordinating volunteers to help with our ministries. A regular week includes 30-60 hours of work. I spend most of that time researching and preparing for the Sunday morning worship service (including my sermon), attending to pastoral care needs and attending church events—such as committee meetings, fellowship gatherings and Bible studies. I spend the remainder of my time completing district and conference paperwork, preparing for weddings and funerals, managing conflict, preparing ordination paperwork and brainstorming/preparing for future events. I am blessed with great volunteers who I trust to prepare the youth and family activities and take care of the financial responsibilities, building management and marketing/evangelism needs. Even though I do not have a staff, these volunteers make my job much easier. Part of my job is to oversee their work, educate them on how to improve and continually celebrate the work they have done for the church.
2. How did you get there?
My senior year of high school, I delivered my first sermon at the youth Sunday service. This time (and every time I delivered a sermon after that), I received an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the congregation. I knew that preaching was my gift, so I majored in Christian Education at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth to prepare to be a minister. I served as a youth minister at three different churches before becoming an associate pastor while I finished seminary at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. In The United Methodist Church, there is an ordination process to qualify each minister for a lifetime of service, and I am pursuing ordination as an elder in The United Methodist Church.
When my wife and I moved to Florida for her career, I wasn't sure how this older congregation would receive my spiky hair and outside-the-box personality, but they embraced me and encouraged my vision for the church and reaching out to young persons. I have served in Reddick for 2 1/2 years now. In this time, the church has transformed from having an average of 15 during worship to 115. The church started with 5 youth and we now have more than 25. Before, the church was unable to pay bills without constant fundraisers and now we are self-sufficient and able to meet 100% of our conference apportionment payments. Now, funds raised help families in tough situations and help support the family, youth, and children's ministries. We recently had 26 new members join the church in one Sunday. This is a testament to the excitement in our church, the motivation of the leadership and the joy that new, younger families bring to our congregation.
3. Why do you like it?
Tommy, Julya, and Luke Sims started attending our church when I first started my appointment in Reddick. I saw them every Sunday in worship, so I was surprised to learn that they were not attending church as a family at all before.
Tommy and Julya enjoyed my passionate and genuine sermons, and Tommy appreciated the fact that he could wear shorts to church. When Tommy's lung cancer progressed, they asked me to pray for his upcoming operation. They informed me then that my sermons, leadership and attention to youth saved their family, their marriage and their faith.
Tommy died in September 2011 at the age of 42. At his funeral, I was touched to see he was wearing a wristband that says, "God is Big enough,” which I gave all of our church members during a sermon series I did on dealing with suffering. Julya told me he never took the wristband off. She said, "Russell, Tommy didn't say much, but he definitely believed God is big enough." There were more than 300 people at Tommy's funeral, and we have many new church members today because the witness at Tommy’s memorial service touched them.
We had a mission trip in June 2012 where we helped local families with projects such as wheelchair ramps, yard work and home repairs. Julya and Luke both attended the mission trip to serve these families and do the hard, sweaty work in the middle of the hot Florida summer. Julya told me at the end of the week that this mission trip was the most transformative experience of her life and she felt that she could move on with her life after Tommy’s death. Twelve-year-old Luke broke down in tears one evening on the trip. He told me he knows he is going to be okay because his dad still lives within him.
I don't just like my job; I love my job. To see the transformation of the Sims family in spite of tragedy is just one example of why I love what I do. There are countless stories of families and individuals who remind me of the eternal smile that a new life in Jesus Christ can bring. I continually have more confidence and passion to be a pastor in The United Methodist Church because of the inspirational transformations I am blessed to witness day after day.
3. Bonus question: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grow up?
As a kid, I did not have much confidence. I felt like I was just mediocre at everything. I played "left out" on every sports team I was a part of, I didn't excel in band and I wasn't the brightest student. The only place where I felt special was in church. My youth group included my closest friends and nothing excited me more than to hear about how God can affect our lives. I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I considered becoming a veterinarian or joining the military or working with computers, but I wanted a job that meant something to me.
After I delivered my first sermon, this was the first time I felt like someone special. This was the first time I felt like I could excel at something. I found the confidence to be someone through my church and my calling to be a pastor. I was the shyest, nerdiest kid growing up, but now every Sunday I stand up in front of my church and I know God gave me a gift. God made me to be awesome! I am humbled and blessed by the opportunity I have to serve as the senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Reddick, Fla.
I believe God made everyone to be awesome! My ministry is to empower people to do the ministry they are called to do.
Was there a spark that kindled your interest before you ever seriously considered being a Pastor?
What was the most important thing you did to become a Pastor?
What is the most important skill for someone who wants to become a Pastor?
What was the most rewarding experience in your career as a Pastor?