Greetings. My name is Richard Fredericks, the Senior/Founding Pastor of DRCC and I’m glad you’re interested in the roots of Damascus Road Community Church. Today our congregation involves more than a thousand committed Christians with over a hundred mature staff and volunteer leaders, leading scores of ministries, overseas missions and key teams. This leadership maturity and diversity is wonderful; and now I play a very small part in so much of what happens. But to tell our story I have to begin with a bit of my story, shared, I hope, in the spirit of John 3:30: “He [Jesus] must increase and I must decrease.”
This church really began in my graduate school years, then later as I taught Theology at Columbia Union College (now Washington Adventist University). After growing up in an alcoholic, agnostic home, as a teenager I became a Seventh-day Adventist [SDA] Christian. Later working on my Ph.D., I studied the full spectrum of the best in Protestant Biblical thought. Those years instilled the New Testament’s twin insistence on centrality of the LORD Jesus Christ and that salvation is based on His finished work alone, plus nothing. These Biblical pillars caused me to question, then increasingly challenge the distinctive teachings of Adventism. Over the years, my theological debate with the denomination’s leadership escalated, even as I taught hundreds of SDA college students to center their lives on the sufficiency of Christ alone.
A group of my former students returned as young adults and challenged me to leave teaching and help begin a church like the one described in Acts 2:42-45 (“Richard, why don’t you put your money where your mouth has been!”). My wife Sallie concurred, and after two years of Bible study with a core group in a basement, a new congregation began in 1992 at the Damascus SDA Church. We were denominational renegades committed to reaching the burned, bored or bypassed by traditional churches (our three-B’s target group). Our goal was to demonstrate the power of a community living from the center of Jesus Christ as LORD and Savior.
This experiment within Adventism was successful in terms of growth and impact, but increasingly threatening to the denomination’s leadership. So in October of 1997 we parted company with Adventism and with three hundred brave souls began a non-denominational congregation meeting at our local high school called Damascus Road Community Church.
At the same time we purchased 55 acres of beautiful land from Mr. Dick White, who then graciously gave us as a gift the adjoining 164 acres of land, for a total of 229 acres (I think at that point we owned just about the largest piece of property of any church on the East Coast). But we had so much to learn and much to unlearn, and God had other plans—so the actual building of our church home would be many years away and in a different location! But Mr. White’s gift of land was a great source of encouragement that God was with us, and 10-years later would later provide the funds to buy our new land and provide the prep work for our current facility.
Our original vision was captured in five short phrases that still describes so much of the passion of our leaders:
The story of our journey to where we are today is most quickly told by identifying some of our key characteristics:
Depth of Study and willingness to change if needed: Several early years of Biblical “re-programming” for our original core, required replacing security in the claims of a denomination and its particular teachings with true security in the person and work of Christ and the leadership of His Spirit. This embedded the authority and inspiration of Scripture over pre-conceived ideas.
Diversity of backgrounds: Increasingly baptizing new believers or receiving new members from every, or no, conceivable religious background, until today our congregation represents the heritage of an increasingly diverse collection of people from increasingly diverse religious experiences (and we love it!)
Openness to mentoring: Since 1995 the mentoring from the Willow Creek Community Church has been vital. They helped us define our core values and approach to ministry. We are forever indebted to Bill Hybels and his wonderful team of leaders for the wisdom and inspiration they poured into us.
Focus on mission, not facilities: There was a continual pilgrimage of meeting places and staff offices for 15 years. We rented or leased from six different locations. Those wilderness years contain so many heroes who, each Sunday, set up and then packed up a mobile church of increasing size and complexity in rain, ice or snow. They deepened our spirit of all-in volunteers. When most of our membership shifted north and west into Frederick County, we sold/gifted our original land to another congregation (as it had been to us) in 2005, and bought our new land in 2006. We finally built our own facility on our own 69 acres of land (12826 Old National Pike, Mt Airy, MD 21771) in 2012.
Team Teaching: From the beginning I committed to team teaching to insure a breadth of Biblical instruction. In our early years I shared the pulpit with two great teachers: Pastor Clay Peck (now the Senior and Founding Pastor of Grace Place Community Church, our sister congregation in Berthoud, CO) and Pastor Bob Fournier. Later came the exceptional teaching gifts of Pastors Rajendra Pillai and Roger Record; and, increasingly, quality messages from our Elders gifted in Biblical teaching.
Shared leadership and affirmation of everyone’s gifts: Our constant joy is in raising up or identifying new leaders. This is one of our key strengths: the existing leaders of our church are neither intimidated nor irritated by the entrance of new people with strong gifts—we are excited by them as God’s next answer to needs we will have. So our story is one of continually focusing on expanding the breadth and depth of our leadership base, under the guidance and mentoring of our three senior circles of leaders: the Elders, the Trustees and the Staff.
DRCC has a heart for overseas missions, beginning with our original pioneering work in 2004 under the leadership of Pastor Roger Record in Copan, Honduras; and now encompassing regular missions in Nicaragua, Honduras, South Africa, India and Germany—with a major focus on caring for and educating orphan children. Each year we now send out far more than 200 people on mission teams to four continents and regionally within the United States.
We have a vigilant commitment to integrity in the handling of all God’s money entrusted to this congregation. We have team leadership in managing our finances and full accountability to our Trustees and congregation and concerning the allocation of all funds. Our pastors do not touch funds. Here special thanks must go to Debbie Lawrence, who has served as our Director of Operations since the beginning, and to our entire team of financial staff and volunteers.
We have been purposeful in breaking out of a common reality in North America where 70% of congregations are comprised of women and 30% men. Our congregation is comprised of about 55% men and 45% women and our men serve in every single ministry area, including a strong contingent in our Children’s and Youth Ministries. The men of DRCC have also led the way in serving the needs of the larger community outside our church in our region; and in facilitating partnerships with other churches in the Frederick area, around the country and in several countries overseas. Here special thanks goes to the visionary and faithful leadership of Paul Foss, who for years served as our original Head Elder, Men’s Ministry Leader and now our Pastor for Community Outreach.
Again special thanks must go to Roger Record’s long leadership of our Youth Ministry (now with Jaymz Drury) and to Jeannie Foss’ leadership in Children’s Ministry (now with Nancy Fay). Both these ministries have helped several generations of young people realize that the call of God on their life begins now, and their gifts are valued and needed now to fulfill our mission. That all-in engagement of our youth has been so significant to our growth in every way.
Open doors and open hearts: I must pay tribute to my wife, Sallie, who in many ways for so many visitors has been the face and welcoming heart of DRCC; and who then developed over the last decade the expansion of our Congregational Care and Welcoming Ministries, which today encompasses a dozen teams and over 300 volunteers. Those teams have been vital in making connections and developing the deep sense of community we share.
Our story has known its plateaus (some seemed endless), mistakes and loses (so many heart-breaking). But we settled from the beginning that Jesus was the Main Thing and we were going to keep the Main Thing our main thing. We committed fully to genuinely shared leadership and team teaching. We determined to see the Biblically-based churches around us as our allies, not our competition—and to help them in every way we can. And we placed a priority on expanding ministry, not facilities. For this reason, when we did complete our new facility in 2012, under our Development Team leaders, Craig Mason and Matt Holbrook, we were primed for growth and expanded from a congregation of just over 800 to above 1300 by 2014. This trajectory offers new challenges, but we are joyfully committed to our belief that the best is yet to come!