BYRON -- Oasis Communitys name expresses what the church hopes to be: people offering refuge and relief.
Through experience, members said they know firsthand the difficulties life can bring as well as the healing solutions Jesus can provide.
The Rev. Chris Hildreth is an elder in the church and serves as worship pastor. He was among the six families that began meeting together in 2009 for fellowship and worship that eventually became Oasis.
We started in a home in October of 2009, Hildreth said. We were just a bunch of Christians hanging out, but by the end of the year we had grown to about 40 people. We realized we needed to make it official and came up with the name Oasis Community. Some of those coming had been hurt in former churches and found Oasis to be a place of solace and healing. From the beginning, our desire was to be a haven and refuge.
Hildreth said many who came were wounded in a church where one guy was in charge. He said Oasis founders determined one-man leadership was not the best biblical plan for leadership. They organized Oasis around a group of elders with equal authority.
There are currently five, Hildreth said. Its a different way of leading church because decisions can be slow, but in the end knowing weve prayed through and are all on board is comforting.
In early 2010, Oasis moved to a facility in Byrons industrial area east of Interstate 75. The elders rotated Sunday morning teaching and had guest speakers. By mid-2010, a particular guest teacher began getting invited again and again: Ken Luther.
According to Hildreth, it became a matter of the church not letting him go. Luther became an elder and lead pastor.
Luther said he fit in with the churchs leadership approach and emphasis on letting God heal and restore people.
Luther said he grew up in Warner Robins and is a 1980 graduate of Northside High School.
I was saved in 85 in my living room, he said. I wont tell you what I had been doing earlier in the evening, but the night turned into a long one of conviction and knowing if something didnt change I wouldnt make it much further. On my couch, I asked God to take it all. It was the first time I really realized God was real.
Luther said he eventually became a member of Faith Assembly of God (now Christ Chapel Warner Robins) along with his wife, Kat. He said it was there he sensed a call to preach.
I didnt know where to begin, he said. Then an evangelist named John Wood come and I shared the call on my life with him. He took me under his wing and I started sharing at churches around Middle Georgia. When John started Christ Chapel in 1994 we helped. I was associate and youth pastor for a year.
Then, Luther said, his life took an unexpected turn.
I almost had a nervous breakdown, he said. I got really hurt and felt God had set me up and pulled the rug out from under me. I spiraled downward. I had an affair and became addicted to methamphetamine for two and a half years. It just about destroyed my marriage, but thank God I had a wife who believed in me and believed God could restore our marriage. I agreed to go to Celebrate Recovery at Southside Baptist Church and began the process of recovery. After a while, I started back attending Christ Chapel Macon and they received me with open arms.
In time, Luther said he told the Rev. Andy King, associate pastor at Calvary Chapel Macon at the time who is now pastor of Christ Chapel Warner Robins, that he believed God wanted him to start a Celebrate Recovery ministry at the Macon church.
He said were going to send you to Saddleback Church in California to be trained in recovery ministry. I led that ministry at Christ Chapel Macon for five years until I started coming to Oasis Community to preach. The addiction that almost destroyed my life taught me how I totally had to depend on God. God used Celebrate Recovery to create a foundation in me I never had before.
Luther and others experiences have caused the young church to stress the importance of Oasis Community being a safe place for hurting people.
You have a pastor whos a former drug addict, Luther said. Someone whos been there and knows. There are other people whove been through tough times that God has brought them through. They know. The things that come into your life to destroy you can be the very things God uses to bring life to others.
When asked to describe the doctrinal stance of Oasis Community, Luther has a quick answer.
Were a mutt church, he said. You know, mutts make the best dogs. Theyve been through things and are thankful for what they have. Were a group from many backgrounds. Some would consider themselves spirit-filled, others would be hesitant to raise their hands. But everyone sees Jesus as central and his word as the basis for life. Were thankful for what hes done.
Luther said the journey goes on. He said like others in Middle Georgia, he faces new challenges and the need to trust God. A bi-vocational pastor, his full-time work as a military contractor will come to an end this summer along with 300 others.
He said he is nervous but confident. I know God is faithful, he said. He will provide.
Contact Michael W. Pannell at firstname.lastname@example.org.