Embracing a New Chapter
Today was somewhat of a big day for me. (and my family) We took a plunge after about 8 months and committed to be members at Oasis Church in Nashville. I say that it’s a big plunge because I have honestly been at least a little bit cynical about structured church for more than a few years now.
I hope that no one reading this will misunderstand or think that I am diminishing the role and value of the people that I have connected with along my faith walk up to this point. I truly value and cherish the people who have been a part of church experience from my first God encounters at age 14 at a Pentecostal Church in Knoxville, Iowa to the last 13 years of my life where my wife and I served at a local non-denominational church in Smyrna, TN. Somehow though, for about the past 5 or 6 years, I was slowly growing more and more dissatisfied with my perception of what ‘church’ had become. You have to understand of course, that my perception ‘church’ then (or now for that matter) doesn’t change anything about church except for me. If I choose to adopt the perspective and think that every Christian is a hypocrite, or if I happen to think that everyone who walks through a church door on Easter Sunday personally knows Christ really doesn’t affect what church really is. It does however greatly affect me.
As I enter the next chapter of my life, I am still trying to sort some things out and make sense of where God has led me to and the reasons for the stops along the way. Whoever said hindsight was 20/20 must have led a pretty simple life because at this point, when I look back everything isn’t black and white, and there are more than a couple of gray areas that I honestly just can’t place on one side of the line or the other. I sometimes think that a lot of my frustration may have come from not following after God’s direction for my life sooner. On the other hand though, I can honestly say that I served the local assembly where I attended for several years in sincere love and prayer when part of me wanted to move on. At one point in a leadership meeting, someone asked me why I attended the church. I wasn’t feeling especially rose colored that day, and I simply said, “because God hasn’t given me permission.” There were several times when I really felt like I wasn’t connected to the particular vision of that assembly, but every time I made a decision to walk away, God stopped me. I also know that during those 5 years, God shaped my character and outlook in a lot of areas that just don’t change by reading a self help book or by hearing someone else talk about their journey. Sometimes, God’s plans for our lives involve a process that we simply must go through before moving on to the next process.
Ultimately though, I am confident that God’s timing is perfect. When the time did come to take the next step in our faith walk, the doors were opened and closed rapidly and forcefully. I can’t say that it was an enjoyable experience, but even through the difficulties of the transition we watched as the raging sea beneath our feet somehow became a solid ground as we walked through the stormy waters with Christ.
A lot of people asked me where I was going. I explained that I had absolutely no idea. I felt as though it was an act of faith and that, like Abraham, God was telling me to leave the place where I was and to go to a land that He would show me. When Abraham left his family and homeland, he didn’t know where he would end up, but he did know that God was leading him. That’s where I was at. My destination was unclear, but the direction from God was vivid and crisp. For every person that didn’t understand what we were doing, we found that God would bring others into our lives who He placed there at the just the right moments to speak encouragement, faith, and wisdom to us as we traveled.
I truly doubted that there was a church around that I could fit into. I couldn’t fit into a church that was focused on simply existing. I couldn’t fit into a church that was filled with cookie cutter people that all looked and acted just like the preacher. I couldn’t fit into a church that was hung up on a particular area of scripture that they embraced as their own private soap box. I couldn’t fit into a church that wasn’t reaching beyond itself and out into the community and world around it. The list really goes on and on, but I guess that in short, I was looking for a church that looked a lot like Jesus.
The first time I attended Oasis, I was absolutely blown away. My wife asked me about it later, and I said to her, “If I could design a church where I would feel perfectly at home in, that would be my first experience at Oasis.” It was actually a little bit overwhelming to me how perfectly I seemed to fit. Not being one to jump into anything though, we began attending off and on as I continued to fulfill my obligations at the previous church, and then with the start of 2011 we began attending on a regular basis.
When I try to identify what it is about Oasis that I really connect with, and when I try to list some of the specific things within the Oasis Family that they have really gotten right, here’s what I come up with. (not necessarily in order)
First of all, I was pretty stunned at what I perceived to be a willingness of the Pastor to share the spotlight. Although he certainly preaches more than anyone else, there is frequently one of the other pastors bringing a unique perspective from the pulpit on Wednesdays and Sundays during church. Oasis has a pretty huge online following and each service is watched live by people literally all over the world. And he was willing to share that! To me, that spoke volumes on the idea that Oasis was not just about him.
Another thing that I noticed right off was the diversity of Oasis. I’ve heard before that the most segregated community in America is the American church. We are divided by race, income, music, county lines, doctrine, etc. What I found at Oasis was a body of believers that spanned the spectrum of people within the greater Nashville area. I honestly can’t imagine anyone walking into those doors and feeling like they had stepped into some kind of a club that they weren’t invited to or welcome at. I think that the diversity at Oasis may be one of it’s greatest strengths and one of the key reasons that it is so effective at affecting the people who come in contact with it.
I think that I could make a really big list here, but I’ll try to limit it a little bit. The next thing about Oasis was it’s focus on using it’s resources to reach out and be the loving and compassionate hand of Christ to people in need. Every time I attend church, I hear about something that Oasis is doing… handing out backpacks and school supplies to children in underprivileged neighborhoods, sending teams of workers into communities affected by tornadoes and floods, supporting orphanages in third world countries, partnering with ministries that work to stop human trafficking, feeding the homeless every Tuesday night in one of the most dangerous areas of Nashville, and the list goes on. I love this because for all intents and purposes visible to the natural reasoning, there is absolutely nothing that any of these people can do to help the Oasis. It is simply an honest expression of the love that this body of believers has chosen to embrace.
I really couldn’t skip mentioning the worship at Oasis, since it was the thing that first attracted me there in the first place. They have probably one of the most talented, skilled, diverse, and passionate groups of musicians and singers that I’ve ever heard. Every worship service at Oasis is an absolutely rocking experience of connecting to God and expressing our thanks to Him through music and song.
I guess the one apprehension that my wife and I had when coming to Oasis was a fear of being able to connect with other people in a church that holds three packed out services every Sunday, and it’s not too likely that you’ll be able to claim a seat as your own and get to know the people around you like you can in a smaller church. (enter the discipleship classes) They frequently take time off from “big church” to break into smaller specialized groups that are led by people who genuinely care about people. We’ve met so many people since coming to oasis and are forming real friendships with them as we are embracing the Oasis Family approach. I think my facebook friend list has doubled since we started attending… That’s cool.
Did I mention how incredibly un-religious it is? I’ve said before that “Oasis is like any other church, only it’s completely absolutely awesome, and it doesn’t drain your will to live.
I think if I continue to write, no one will ever read this simply because of the length of it, but here’s the point, I believe that God does have a place where each and every believer fits into His body. If you’re in the Nashville area, I’m not telling you to leave your church and come to Oasis. (you might never want to go back) (kidding) (sort of)… Seriously though, I want to encourage you if you are disheartened by your experience with the church world. I don’t believe that a flawless church exists, and I am not bringing any illusions of perfection into my relationship with my new church. What I am bringing though, is all of me, and it feels like I’m stepping into role that has been tailor made just for me. I can’t hardly express how excited I am at this point in my life to simply be embracing a new chapter in my faith walk. I am grateful for where I have come from, and just completely excited about what the future holds for my family as we follow God with the rest of the Oasis Family.
Thank you Oasis, for simply being you.