EULESS — Tucked away in a longstanding church, complete with steeped roof and massive decorative cross, Zack Smithson sits patiently in the dim glow of a sanctuary whose modern lighting rigs were clearly installed long after initial construction. Euless First Church of the Nazarene, or Euless Naz, as parishioners would call it, is the epitome of a small-town church. It boasts older chairs and classical woodwork, colorful carpet and empty rooms designed for rapid set-up and breakdown of potluck luncheons. Seated in an impromptu chair on the archetypal wide stage of tenured chapels, Smithson is more than willing to share the strange and fortuitous series of events that brought his family to a church of less than 100 in Euless. Under his leadership, that little church has become a shining example of missional living.
“It was really a God-divined thing that we got here,” Smithson said. “My wife, two years before we moved here, told me that she wanted to move here and become the pastors here. I told her she was nuts! We can’t just pick our location and move. But God had other plans, and two years later we ended up moving here.”
Smithson and his wife, Corrie, arrived in Euless in 2009. One of the first things he noticed upon resettling was his proximity to several local schools: Trinity High School and Midway Park Elementary. Trinity, which boasts of student population over 2,000, was an intimidating mission field for a pastor who had inherited a congregation that could fit into one of the school’s bigger classrooms.
“Just looking at the size of the high school, there’s no way that I could really make an impact there. That’s bigger than most towns I’ve lived in before!” Smithson said. Inspired by his wife’s work as a teacher, he shifted his focus to Midway Park and its 700-plus students. “I watched her change lives just by pouring her life into a student. The difference that she made with one student, I thought, ‘what if we as a church could pour our lives into a group of students? Into a school? What if, somehow, we could change the whole atmosphere of a school?’ Even this school that’s economically disadvantaged, that’s racially very diverse, what if, somehow, none of that really mattered, and what really mattered was love?”
Partnering with the elementary school would prove to be more complicated in execution than it was in theory. The principal, concerned for her students and unsure if she could trust a new pastor at a church that was suddenly interested in them, wasn’t ready to allow just anyone on campus. But as Christmas approached, Euless Naz found a way to prove that their hearts were in the right place. They adopted Midway Park during one of the first holiday events 6 Stones ever hosted: Night of Wonder.
A Constant Presence
While the name of the program has changed, the event itself remains the same. Thanks to dozens of community partners, 6 Stones is able to provide holiday meals and presents for thousands of HEB ISD students from economically disadvantaged homes each year through Night of Hope. That simple gift is enough to inspire parents and reassure children during one of the most difficult seasons for struggling individuals. Last year, local churches and community partners helped 6 Stones to host events in every elementary school district-wide over the course of four days, providing for 3,500 students. But, just as Operation Back 2 School is meant to impact families long after the first day of school, Night of Hope is merely a starting point. Smithson took it and ran.
“After [the first party], the principal just became unreal and invited us onto the campus. We got to go there on the weeks of STAAR, the big standardized test. She allowed us into the school that Wednesday night, about 7:00, and we actually moved our Wednesday night services to the school that night. We walked the halls and prayed over every desk and every classroom and every teacher. And we left cards, letting them know ‘you are prayed for and you are loved by this tiny church next door to you,’” he said.
“It became a year-round partnership,” he continued. “We used these two big events that got us into the school doors, and we knew that wasn’t enough. We wanted to be a constant presence in their school because if we’re ever going to change the atmosphere and the dynamics of the school, we can’t just come in once every year or twice a year.”
“It’s really allowed our church to see what’s important in life, and it’s not necessarily the programs we run within these four walls of the church. It’s really about outreach and loving other people and embracing them for who they are, whether they walk into our doors or whether they never walk into our doors… really, we want to see the Kingdom of God being grown, that’s really our heart’s desire as a church. That’s why we continue to do Operation Back 2 School, it’s the reason we continue to do Night of Hope. It’s just a way for us to love on people, and we try to, after that, create programs for the school; to be a constant thing in the school, where they know that if they ever need anything, that we’re there for them. No matter what.”
For Smithson, being known as a people who love and provide for their neighbors is a top priority. He doesn’t care if his church population stays stuck at 95 forever, so long as every one of those 95 is following the commands of Christ to love God and love others. In his mind, those are the most important duties of the Church, and fulfilling them could change everything. Whether it’s supplies for students, Christmas relief for parents, or a warm welcome on the first day of school, small expressions of love add up to represent God’s desire for His creation. That means that, one small church and one school at a time, God’s people can help restore the world.
Euless Naz is now installed within the culture at Midway Park. They host Night of Hope in their own building, inviting families to cross the street and mingle in the church with no expectation that they become members. They’ve helped to gather shoes and other support for needy students. They cook for custodians and teachers alike, sponsoring meals during Teacher Appreciation week and never shying away from a chance to pray for the campus. Every summer, they welcome students back to campus with a cooler full of popsicles that ease the discomfort of registration.
“It sounds so small, but they remember silly stuff like that. And moms and dads do, too,” Smithson said of the longstanding popsicle tradition. “If we can just be known for that, as the church that’s always there, that’s willing to help, then I think we’ve done our job. We’ve made a difference in someone’s life at that school, even if it’s one student or one family or one teacher or one principal. We’re ok with that. We just want to make a difference in the community.”
Growing Up Giving
The Smithson house has been a generous one for as long as Zack can remember. His parents had a habit of giving away house keys so that no one was ever left alone in their need, especially on holidays, when loneliness can be intensely personal. It was their generosity that shaped Zack’s understanding of love and ministry.
“We had no idea how many people had keys to our house at one point,” Smithson said. “I saw that model growing up, and I knew that when I became a pastor, that was the church that I wanted. I wanted to be a place where people are loved and embraced, even if they’re different than us. That’s my greatest desire for all churches, really. That we would just become people that love and embrace people for the Kingdom of God.”
That idea — the Kingdom Mentality — shapes every outreach Smithson leads. He stressed throughout our interview that his goal isn’t to fill his pews or grow the body of believers at Euless Naz. His goal is to show people the love of Christ; a love that led God Himself to suffer on behalf of a broken and rebellious people. If Jesus put others before Himself, Christians should, too. That means providing for neighbors in need, even if there’s no definitive return.
“If we’re just trying to fill a pew, that doesn’t do the Kingdom any good. Lots of people fill pews. I don’t care about filling pews. I care about filling people’s heart with the love of Christ. If they come into our church, we’re great with that. If they never set foot into our church building besides the night they come for Night of Hope, but we are able to proclaim the message of Jesus… that’s what we care about,” he said. “There’s way too many people in this world who are Children of God and they just don’t know it yet. God wants to come and set people free, and if we can be part of that process — the redemption of His creation — then that’s who we want to be.”
To be clear, nobody at Euless Naz will ever force their beliefs on someone else. Their service — their love — is not contingent on having others agree with them or believe what they believe. Love isn’t love when there are strings attached, and sacrifice means nothing if it’s comfortable. Smithson is fully aware that the families served through the partnership with his church and the school district may never agree with him or believe in Jesus. The pastor has even heard concerns that some people are keen to take advantage of generosity like his. While that’s rare here in HEB, even the possibility doesn’t bother him. His job, he says, is just to love people and tell them about a God who loves them even more.
“There are so many people who are going without. And we know that there are people that take advantage of the system, but there’s people who truly need it. I’m not to be the judge of who needs it and who doesn’t really need it. My job is to love, if that means giving away a school supply kit, or if that means giving them Christmas. No child ever deserves to be left behind.”
In fact, Smithson is so passionate about giving young men and women a chance to succeed that he and his wife recently adopted a trio of foster children. Between those three and his biological daughter and son, he’s had a firsthand look at the importance of demonstrating to children that they are loved and believed in. His compassion for his children helped him to settle on local schools as a mission field, and watching his foster kids change in demeanor as a response to love has only bolstered his confidence in the work his church has been doing at Midway Park.
Open Doors, Long-Term Partnerships
Whether it’s Operation Back 2 School, Night of Hope, or prayers during standardized testing, the support of a local community is more significant that any physical resource. Pencils wear out and Christmas presents fade into obscurity, but having someone love and believe in you can change everything. Being present and supportive is the best gift we can give, and Euless Naz has embraced the challenge of such a relationship head-on. It can be difficult, but he says it has always been worth the trouble. He says it changes lives.
“These programs, I think, knock down walls. I think they tell kids that we believe in them, that they can do it, and that we love them so much that we want to make sure they have everything they need,” the pastor said. “When they know that they are being loved and believed in, it changes their attitude. It changes their environment. It’s going to change their future because they know that someone believes in them. They know that there’s someone there who is willing to invest in their life because they believe in them.”
Serving this community has changed his own church, as well. The first year they hosted Night of Hope, the people of Euless Naz were all but certain that the task would prove too much for their little congregation. In the course of one night, they’d be serving almost four times as many people as they had in the sanctuary on any given Sunday! But generosity requires fearless faith. Trusting God to help them, the church followed through on their call to service. That was years ago, and their relationship with Midway Park has only grown deeper.
The partnership that grew out of their faith has strengthened the elementary school, but it also encouraged the people of Euless Naz. Their pastor says that, through volunteering, the men and women of this little church have started to believe in their own ability to serve God and others, and that they’ve been increasingly willing to take on difficult projects now that they’ve seen the way the Church can rally together to get things done. He says that 6 Stones was a catalyst that helped his church to embrace a new confidence as they set out to follow those two great commandments: love God, love others.
“What we’ve realized as a church is that 6 Stones allows us to be a part of something that we could never do by ourselves,” Smithson said. “They’re allowing us to feel like we’re a part of something bigger than what we really are. But when people buy into that mindset — ‘look what we are doing!’ — then the congregation began to ask what else they could do. That’s what has branched off into some of the smaller things that we do with the school year-round.”
“I know that, even before I got here, they tried to get into the school. They just didn’t know how… I’m not sure [the school] knew how, and I’m not sure we knew how as a church. Really, these events, through 6 Stones — Night of Hope and Operation Back 2 School — really opened the door for us to have conversations with the school, and through those conversations, a relationship developed.”
With Operation Back 2 School behind us and Night of Hope on the horizon, now is the perfect time to get involved in an ongoing relationship with your local school. HEB ISD offers churches, businesses, and other civic groups the opportunity to support nearby children through their Adopt-A-School program, which provides for student needs year-round. 6 Stones is glad to help open doors and connect partners, and we’re proud to do our part in supporting the next generation. But if we’re really going to change lives and transform our community, we need you to help carry on that work!