By Linda Owen
The parking lot of the First Methodist Church of Bedford, Texas, is packed with cars and trucks from all over the Dallas metroplex while outside, late arrivals can hear applause as vocalists finish the last refrain of a contemporary Christian song.
Inside the darkened church, three gigantic screens flash motion pictures, slides, and computer graphics overhead. Curious visitors know instantly that this is not any ordinary church service. There, in front of a draped choir loft, spotlighted as though he is on an auditorium stage, radio personality Tom Dooley dramatically narrates one of his multimedia presentations.
The crowd is made up mostly of visitors. Some have driven for more than an hour to Bedford, 13 miles west of Dallas. Many have been to Dooley's Journey Fellowship gatherings before and they have brought guests. Others, loyal listeners of Dooley's radio show, have come to Bedford because they have been curious about "these fellowships" they keep hearing about on the radio. These are "the seekers" that Dooley and his volunteers at the United Methodist Church hope to involve in a Christian community.
Weekday mornings, Tom Dooley is the host of the most popular radio show in the Dallas metroplex. The Journey, with an estimated listening audience of 95,000 in the Dallas area, is heard weekday mornings on Christian radio KVTT-FM and on several other stations across the U.S.
For Dooley, this is not just a job - "it's a ministry." Dutifully, he gets up at about 5 a.m. for his morning broadcasts. Between 6 and 8 a.m. The Journey features short, topical vignettes, each followed by a contemporary Christian song that relates to the day's topic. Along with news, sports, weather and traffic updates, Dooley shares biblical principals and religious literature - delivered in a winsome and sometimes humorous style. Daily subjects have ranged from "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven" to "Spiritual Abuse."
Through the music and words Dooley's serious intention is "to speak the truth in love and genuinely encourage the listener toward the Kingdom of God." However, he emphasizes that there is no radio or TV ministry that can replace the local church. "It is the intention of our Lord that we grow in Christian community," Dooley says emphatically. "I have a tremendous desire to see lost folks brought into the kingdom and those who have become 'disconnected' with the church to be brought back to the fold."
With the help of his wife Malanie and his production company MasterMedia, Dooley reaches out to "seekers in the faith" with his multimedia events in area churches.
In the last three years, thousands have also attended Dooley's other outreach programs: Seminars for Singles, Christian Marriage Conferences, and his Journey Fellowships on Friday and Saturday nights.
Dooley fervently believes in the power of the media and evangelism in partnership. "For years I have seen God really use media," Dooley insists. "Radio and TV reaches out to people in ways God can use. More and more ordained ministers are realizing that the people of today respond to the gospel on cassette tapes, CDs and videos."
Dooley's skill in media, which he sees as a gift from God, is the heart of his ministry.
MasterMedia began in 1974 when Dooley was working for a radio station in Los Angeles and doing productions for other stations for extra income. Slowly through the years the company changed its focus more and more to religious endeavors. Twelve years ago Tom became the voice of the Billy Graham Ministries. He also records books for other evangelists and does voice-overs for the advertisements of churches and religious organizations.
Most of all, Dooley uses MasterMedia as "the centerpiece of the ministry God's called me to do."
"God has really been behind it all," Dooley says emphatically. "It's been really a wonderful ministry. . . It's been a blessing not only to our family but to those who listen and benefit from it."
In 1990, Dooley felt God urging him to turn his radio show into a tool of Christian evangelism. Later that year, when KVTT-FM approached Dooley about doing a two-hour weekday program for Christian radio, he "knew that God was opening a door."
Three years ago Dooley began inviting his listeners to Friday Night Fellowships at host churches around the metroplex. There in partnership with the churches, he and guest speakers would pray and talk to the audience about "the peace and joy of God's redemptive love."
Dooley's goal is "to plug in tens of thousands into the local church by offering Christian community for those who have been without it."
Since he believes the essence of the Church should be Christian community, the ministry offers two types of fellowship to audiences. The Big Tent Seeker Events consist of drama, special music and a multimedia presentation designed especially for Dooley's message.
Those present at these events are encouraged to join small gatherings, called Small Tent Meetings, that gather twice a month in private homes. These groups, which range from 4 -10 people, share fellowship and prayer, and a video lesson with study questions supplied by MasterMedia.
Dooley says he expects "the seekers" to average nine months to a year with the gatherings, then move on to a local church. "God has designed us to be in fellowship," Dooley says. "What we all really need in the yearning of our hearts is a place where we can know and be known, love and be loved, serve and be served, celebrate and be celebrated. That is Christian community."
"Dooley's vision is bigger than any denomination or any local church" said Mark Winter, Associate Pastor of First United Methodist Church. "We expect Dooley's fellowships to impact the kingdom of God - not just pad the rolls. And we're excited about that."
"God's Grace is His empowering presence in your life that enables you to be all He's created you to be and all He's called you to do," Dooley says.
"I am in the ministry because I am compelled to be. I cannot simply do anything else."
Personal Witness is a regular feature of the Church about an individual who has developed a personal ministry with others. We welcome suggestions for future articles.
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