Randy Frazee, executive pastor at Oak Hills Church, has devoted his career to building strong relationships. Now one of the largest churches in the area, his success is evident not only in his career but in his home as well.
It was around a dinner table and a family in prayer that a young Randy Frazee chose to live his life a certain way. It was an ambition ignited by a moment he remembers well; a spark of divine intervention that would end up a glowing lantern leading his path to where he is today. And where he is today is living with his lovely wife Rozanne in a beautiful, garden-style home in harmony with nature and the outdoors at Cordillera Ranch.
Far from the Hill Country’s rolling landscape, his journey started in his native Cleveland, Ohio. Now, Randy is an accomplished author or co-author of dozens of theological and inspirational works that have inspired perhaps millions of people. He is also the Senior Minister of Oak Hills Church, a non-denominational church in San Antonio that boasts almost 10,000 weekly congregants. With such an accomplished career, it is almost hard to believe that he didn’t spend his entire life in the church, but as a child, Randy didn’t attend church regularly. His family wasn’t religious, but Randy did find out as a teenager that the fellowship of church was important to him. He would go to great lengths to attend church on Sundays. Back in Ohio, the church he frequented was about 20 miles away from his neighborhood, which is a big trip for a 14-year-old boy. Randy was determined, however.
He says, “I would even hitchhike just to go to church. Eventually, I discovered that the best way to work this out was to make the trip during the day, and hang out while waiting to attend the night service. Luckily for me, a big Italian family started letting me join them [for dinner]. “
“In this family was a dad who owned an independent grocery store. He had four kids and he worked hard to put food on the table. It was similar to my own family, where my dad worked hard. We were taught to be appreciative, and to never put any food on your plate if you weren’t intending to eat it. To waste it was to dishonor the sacrifice my dad made by working so hard to give us that food.”
“So here I was at this table with this man, the father of a large family, who worked hard for everything he had, and one specific time I remember he said grace before eating. We all joined hands, and I had never said grace at home, so I was a bit apprehensive. And this man, he thanked God for the food as though God provided the food.”
Feeling confused, Randy “looked up with one eye to see what was going on. It was strange to me at the time. I thought, ‘he owns the food, yet he’s thanking God for the food.’ The gratitude he experienced was real, and to me it was enlightening. On that day I said, I want to be that guy. I may never have this experience myself, but perhaps, if God is good to me, then I will be in that chair one day.”
Randy adds, “It wasn’t until later that I figured out that the best way to pull that off is to marry the guy’s oldest daughter.” Randy did indeed marry the oldest daughter, and he and Rozanne have been together for over 30 years. Together, they have learned the power of uniting a family and creating a community with friends. But when they were just starting out, they still had a lot to learn, and it wasn’t a journey without obstacles.
Randy was ambitious, and knew that God had called him to be a pastor. He worked endlessly to fulfill that dream. Meanwhile, he was also working on the family thing, and the two didn’t always go together. He started to experience severe insomnia.
“I got married when I was 20, and by the time I was in my mid-thirties I had gone from undergraduate to graduate school in the seminary. At the same time I had kids who were all small. One night I went to bed and couldn’t sleep. I was exhausted, but I still couldn’t sleep the next night. I couldn’t turn my thoughts off. This lasted for 45 days.”
“I’d go to bed, maybe drift off for a bit, but didn’t actually fall asleep at all. Finally I went to the doctor and the doctor gave me medications, but also suggested one alternative. He told me that I could try living a balanced life. That meant putting down my work at dusk, gathering around the table with friends and family, and not thinking about school and work until the next day.”
“I checked it out, and what he suggested was in line with the teachings of the Bible. According to the Hebrew ‘day planner,’ 6pm to 10pm is the season for relationships, 10pm to 6am is the time for an 8-hour sleep, and from 6am to 6pm is the season for work.”
Especially significant to Randy was learning that, according to this way of thinking, “whatever is first in the day is the most important part of the day. The Hebrew day starts at 6pm. So the season for relationships is in fact the most important part of the day. I had always thought that the morning was the most important part, the season for work. Of course, work is still a very important part of the day, but when it comes down to it, nothing is more important than the people you love. Taking the time to work on those relationships is something we often take for granted.”
Randy decided that to get the sleep he needed and to get his life back he needed to get “in balance.” The season for relationships had to become the most important part of the day, and it stood to reason that around the dinner table was the best way to start to work on that. Rozanne was all for this new plan.
She says, “Before, I didn’t really have Randy around except for Sundays because he was always working. And I love to cook, so I decided to take this opportunity to really make dinner something special.” Randy and Rozanne wanted to figure out how to linger at the table with their family. Randy explained that “There’s the classic, ‘How was your day?’ that parents often ask their kids. And the response is usually something like ‘fine.’ I wanted to go beyond that, to go deeper. I literally wanted to hear every aspect of my family’s day. I asked them to just give me a chronological recount of what happened that very day. Then, I asked them to rate their day.”
“The rating wasn’t to make it like a competition. But we wanted everyone to understand that the family is there for the days that are a ‘2’ as well as the days that are a ‘10.’ We discovered something very important, that family is the key to finding balance in life.”
As part of the experience of focusing on relationships in the evenings, Randy even learned to play the banjo to provide entertainment for the family. Rozanne wasn’t quite as excited about this plan at first. As it turns out, the banjo is a very loud instrument. “I was always finishing up the dishes while he was practicing on the banjo, and eventually I just said ‘Can you go outside with that?’”
Rozanne’s request ended up leading to another bit of divine intervention. “I would go outside to play the banjo, and the neighbors would come out to see what was going on. We started setting up chairs so they could join us. Eventually, our front yard became a micro-park. And we started living our life in the neighborhood. Most Americans in suburbia experience what’s called ‘crowded loneliness.’ They live their lives in a series of circles. There’s the work circle, the church circle, the family circle…while each circle includes people, they don’t often come together. So people you meet at church might just stay at church, never giving you the chance to really experience a relationship with them. That’s when we decided we wanted to consolidate the circles. So in addition to life around the table we began life around the neighborhood.”
Randy and Rozanne realized that they were on to something good. They formed relationships with their neighbors that went beyond friendship. They were a support system for each other—a basic human need that is increasingly lacking in today’s fractured society. People focus on themselves, but what happens to the community when everyone is retreating to their own closed doors? Randy was determined to work on this issue.
After completing his studies at the Dallas Theological Seminary, Randy went on to work as senior pastor at Pantego Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas: a position he would hold for 15 years. As Randy started his work as a pastor, he realized that his philosophies of bringing people together around a table and a neighborhood to the church. Randy and Rozanne eventually moved their family to Chicago where Randy took a position as the Teaching Pastor for Willow Creek Community Church.
The neighborhood and relationship-based philosophy was really put to the test at Willow Creek, which is a church that had over 20,000 members. In such a large church, people may form relationships within the church, but they might be miles and miles away from each other and unable to continue those relationships in a meaningful way. Randy asked himself, “What if we invited church leaders to create a small group within the church family around their own neighborhoods?”
Randy says, “The first book I wrote was around this idea. It’s called The Connecting Church. The book is to help a church understand how they can move their influence and their social support back into the neighborhoods. People were exiting the neighborhoods to attend church, and they created subcultures within the church. But we weren’t necessarily reaching them on a deeper level. We weren’t impacting their culture.”
Randy was concerned that people were becoming disconnected in church the same way that they were becoming disconnected in their work and home lives, bringing to mind again the idea of “crowded loneliness.” He explains, “In the church world, the large church emerged at the same time or shortly after the mall. Churches soon became so big that no one knew each other. So the idea of The Connecting Church is that you come together at church on Sunday, but you essentially had a ministry in your neighborhood the other 6 days of the week. This is a type of fellowship based on helping one another and spending time with one another. It easily crosses denominational lines.”
With these successes, Randy again picked up a pen. He says, “I ended up writing a book called Making Room for Life. While The Connecting Church was a book for churches, Making Room for Life was for any person who wanted to escape the fragmentation of suburbia. The easiest way to do that is to simply start hosting people in your own home. Making Room for Life was an opportunity to give people practical ideas that would actually make people want to have people over. Entertaining in your own home is really an extension of the ministry and it became part of our life.”
Rozanne noticed others who wanted to embrace the concept of hosting people for dinners, but didn’t necessarily have confidence in their cooking skills or their ability to entertain. Rozanne decided to write her own book, called Real Simplicity. “Making Room for Life is the concept, but people were coming and asking how they could possibly undertake hosting people in their own homes. When people begin entertaining the idea of entertaining, they end up making it hard. But it can be so easy! By finding a simple recipe and making the gathering a potluck, you can easily bust those myths that entertaining has to be hard.”
Today, the Frazees could easily be described as the modern day Mr. and Mrs. Rogers. Randy says that they live the idea of “It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood,” but he manages to stay just shy of the cardigan sweater. Their current neighborhood, Cordillera Ranch, is the perfect place to live such a lifestyle.
Randy explains how they ended up in Boerne: “Max Lucado had been the pastor of Oak Hills Church for 20 years and is the number one inspirational author on the planet. He told me that his doctor was telling him that he couldn’t continue to do everything at his current pace. He decided it was time to step aside as Senior Minister. So he brought me on and we came to San Antonio in June of 2008, but lived in a little neighborhood right in Boerne. My goal was to become the Senior Minister and introduce the congregation of Oak Hills to the idea of ‘neighborhoods’ in the ministry. So far, we have identified over 2,000 neighborhoods thriving within our congregation.”
With Max, Randy has continued to author books and even came up with some innovative ways to help people bring their neighborhoods together. They created a packet with a DVD and a study guide called Making Room for Neighbors that people can use as a roadmap to hosting their own neighborhood ministries.
Randy’s first sermon at Oak Hills introduced the idea of one of Randy’s most influential books to the San Antonio audience. This innovative idea centered around making the sometimes difficult-to-understand ancient stories of the Bible into a more digestible, chronological, novel-like format. Entitled The Story Church-wide Experience, the excitement around this new way of experiencing the Bible resulted in an over 20% increase in congregation attendance. From early on, it was pretty clear to see that the same divine inspiration that brought the Frazees back to Texas was also going to keep them around for a while.
Randy and Rozanne became acquainted with their current Cordillera neighborhood through Max Lucado. “Max had brought property out here, and at first I started joining him up here for the golf,” Randy explained. Rozanne started visiting too because she enjoyed the fitness center.
“We found that Cordillera helped to simplify our lives,” says Rozanne. They moved into a Villa and found they were content having their “circles” brought together. Eventually, they decided to build their own house. Max is now their neighbor, as he moved into the Villa that the Frazees used to occupy.
Cordillera was the perfect fit for these community-minded folks, since the community is already operating under the principle of neighborhoods. Randy says, “Practical sociology states that the more sprawl there is, the less community there is. From a sociological perspective, the best communities are European villages. Everyone goes to the same places; everything is pedestrian- friendly. Cordillera is similar partly because people can become involved in any of the seven different clubs in operation here. Or when people meet on the golf course or the fitness center. Community is built over spontaneity and frequency. You need to see the same people several times in order to start the foundations of that community.”
Randy continues, “Deep enduring friendships is what makes Cordillera work. There’s this intentionality in the shared public spaces. Whether you meet people through golfing, doing dinners at your home, or working out together, when you live here, people will know your name.” An example of the type of community present at Cordillera is evident right in the Frazee household. “Rozanne recently had surgery, and one of our community leaders put it on our e-news prayer list here. The next day, dinners started showing up at our house. They didn’t do it because they thought we couldn’t just go get takeout food, but because food is a way in which to say ‘I care about you.’”
Randy’s journey towards being the man he always wanted to be did eventually come full-circle. “One day, we were sitting down to dinner with our four kids around the table and our son Austin brought home a friend. This was a boy who lived in our neighborhood and was being raised by a single mom. When it came time to tell us about his day, he started sharing, and he just kept sharing and sharing! He went on and on, and you could tell he was really enjoying having our attention.”
“Later, that boy was baptized in our church. For me, that is true success. I said from the beginning, ‘if God is good to me, I will be the man in the chair at the head of the dinner table. I will be like Rozeanne’s father who was my hero.’ And it did actually come true.”
Was it divine intervention that led the Frazee’s on the path that led to Cordillera? Randy thinks so. He says that God decided to use him to make a difference in the lives of others. Despite all his success and all the inspiration he’s been to others, Randy has this to say, “Moses couldn’t speak. Abraham was too old. I’m just another flawed character of the bible that God decided to use. So I wanted to do what God wanted me to do.”
“Besides,” he adds, “The Bible says that Nebuchadnezzar didn’t listen to God, and God turned him into a cow. I don’t want to be a cow, because then I’d have to eat grass, and here at Cordillera, we need all the grass for the deer.”