Because of this, Oasis became a place where people truly belonged before they believed, and they were accepted even if they weren’t “behaving” like a Christian. Like you, I have seen plenty of churches advertise something like “belong before you believe” or something similar, but for me this phrase was so much more than a cool slogan for a billboard. I truly wanted all the acid tripping, drug using, alcohol smelling, porn watching, church dodging people in Holly Springs to get a taste of Oasis. Ultimately, I wanted them to get a taste of Jesus, but even if they didn’t like Jesus, at a minimum they would taste our doughnuts. Maybe a better slogan for us could have been, “You don’t like Jesus? What about our doughnuts?”
I wanted our church to be radically inclusive to those who didn’t fit the mold of a typical church goer. Even at our very first meeting with about twenty five adults, we discussed how to create an atmosphere that didn’t just attract the unchurched, but actually included them into our community. We expressed a desire for people to belong not because they believed like us, but because they were humans like us. We prayed God would send us the people who didn’t have it all together. This has been my favorite thing about Oasis Church. We will go out of our way to include people who don’t always feel included in other faith communities. A person who does not believe in Jesus, does not live according to Christian morals or values, and does not agree with everything we teach can still feel valued as a human, be accepted by others, and feel loved at Oasis Church.
As a result, the church grew faster than we expected, and the people who started coming to the church were the exact kinds of people we prayed God would send. God started sending people who were addicted to porn, having sex with people they were not married to, smoking all kinds of stuff, popping prescription pills, getting drunk and bragging about it, and making money illegally. Also, people who were carrying around all kinds of bitterness, resentment and hate in their hearts including racists, homophobes, and atheists were finding Oasis to be a place for them to find community and ask questions about God at their own pace. These people were not perfect, in fact, many were really messed up! But some of them became Christians over time. We had to be comfortable with people who were not christians, living like they were not christians. We also learned to give lots of grace and space to new Christians who are still trying to work out their salvation. We accepted people right where they were without expecting them to change or “get it together” before they can become a part of us. This approach to ministry gave people permission to be real and to unapologetically be their most authentic self.
Personally, I like being part of a church where I don’t have to put on a face or be fake. I can just be me…the jacked up, flawed person that I am. And I hope that others also feel this way when they are around the people of Oasis.
There are a few people in our church who are carrying the weight of leadership at Oasis. They understand this vision, and are truly interested in including, loving, and serving all people. They are the kind of folks who are comfortable with the mess. They are patient, kind, and gentle. It’s really cool to see how God is using them to shepherd and care for messy people.There are some folks did not adjust so well to this mindset. The messy people seemed to bother them, causing religious discomfort. I wondered if they remembered when we prayed and asked God to send the messy people, or if they did remember maybe they just didn’t know exactly what they were getting themselves into. Either way, it caused a little bit of discomfort, especially for those who have been Christians for a long time. As a result, I learned to be really patient with people when they said things like
“Bill, I know your heart, and I know your intentions, BUT…
…Oasis is too worldly.”
…you need to preach more about repentance.”
…You should tell ______ that he needs to change his lifestyle.”
I understood exactly where these people were coming from. These kinds of statements are birthed in the hearts of people who genuinely love God and want to see everyone experience Jesus the way they have. Obviously I wanted this as well. I wanted people to follow Jesus, grow in their relationship with Him, and mature as Christians. It was happening, but it was just happening slowly…really slowly. After our first Easter, I wrote a church wide letter to clarify four things about Oasis as we moved forward. First, the vision of Oasis would never change. We have always and will always strive to extend God’s kindness to our unchurched friends, neighbors and coworkers, inviting them to follow Jesus with us. So many of our non-Christian friends are just one step away from meeting Jesus. Second, we will run toward the mess in peoples lives. We will not run away from people or immediately try to clean them up. We will invite anyone and everyone to be a part of our community at Oasis, no matter what. Our value of being radically inclusive might create tension, and it might get a little messy at times, but I’m comfortable with the mess as long as people feel loved & accepted by our church. Third, we will be patient with people, allowing them to grow in faith at their own pace. I believe God changes people, not the church. It gets problematic when we, the church, begin to rush and force behavior change on someone who is not there yet. So, we will teach people how to listen to God, and encourage them to be obedient to his voice, one small step at a time. 4) We will get personally involved in discipleship. Ask yourself, “what have I done to make a difference in someones life?” Complaining or venting about someone else’s behavior might help you make a point, but it doesn’t really make a difference. My question to all the Christians in my church was “Who are you personally caring for and helping them grow in their faith?” I challenged them to have coffee with that person and begin an authentic friendship that serves them as they grow closer to Jesus. Something special happens in a church when everyone commits to serving, loving, praying, and honoring the very people who make them feel the most uncomfortable.