Last fall, Stephen Coates joined the Oakdale staff to fill a need for overflow housing for boys. He has since also taken responsibilities in the classroom, helping with ESL classes. Click on the image below to hear Stephen share about the Oakdale ministry, and read Stephen’s reflections about community at Oakdale.
A Piece of the Kingdom
In a society that values individualism and a person’s right to choose above all else, Oakdale is radically counter-cultural.
You see, at Oakdale we do everything together: we work together, eat together, play together, worship together, pray together. The list could go on. To some people this might sound scary, but it’s really quite a beautiful thing, especially considering that we as a community come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some of us can trace our roots way back into the Free Methodist Church (the denomination that was influential in founding Oakdale), while some come from other Christian upbringings. Some of us are extroverted and boisterous, others are introverted and introspective, and still others are somewhere in the middle. Some of us have traveled the globe. Others have practically been raised here in eastern Kentucky. We have had students from all across the nation as well as Ethiopia, Rwanda, China, Taiwan, and Korea, just to name a few. Some of our students come from loving and supportive families. Others come from homes so broken it would break your heart to hear about them. And yet, with all this diversity, we still manage to do just about everything together with a level of harmony that is downright incredible.
How is this possible? Because living in Christ-centered community is a part of living in the Kingdom of God. The early church had this down. If you read the first few chapters of Acts, you will find that Christianity wasn’t just an isolated thing that happened on Sundays for the first Christians. It was a radical everyday lifestyle. The early Christians worked together, ate together, worshipped together, prayed together—and if humans have been at all similar to each other down through the ages, I imagine they played together from time to time too. They shared everything they had with one another (and with those outside of their community who were in need). For them, the church wasn’t a building or a meeting place (although they certainly had special places where they gathered for worship). For the Christians in apostolic times, the Church was a universal body of believers called to live in unity.
I first began to understand the value of Christian community in college. When I headed off to Indiana Wesleyan University after graduating high school, I was desperately longing to make deep and lasting friendships. And God granted the desire of my heart in a way that still leaves me saying ‘Wow’ sometimes. Throughout my four years at IWU, God brought together a group of amazing young men committed to serving the Lord above all else. We were, many of us, quite different. But the glue of God’s plan stuck us together. We worked together, played together, laughed together, and cried together. We stood behind each other when running a difficult student government campaign or finding out that someone’s dad had cancer. We encouraged each other. We kept each other accountable. In short, we started living out the Kingdom of God in Christian community. Sure, sometimes we had to work at it, and sometimes there were rough spots. But at other times it just happened, because that’s where our hearts were. And now we have a bond that has extended from California to Colorado to Indiana to Kentucky. Soon that bond will be stretching to London.
Here at Oakdale we share a similar kind of bond. As a visitor, you don’t have to spend much time on campus to realize that we all feel like we are part of one giant family, and then visitors become a part of the family almost instantaneously. Like all families, we have our problems and struggles. And like all families, we have to make sacrifices. But truthfully, given the wide range of people, we are a surprisingly unified body.
I really believe that this is the kind of life that God wants all Christians to live. Of course, we can’t all live in a community just like Oakdale. God calls many of us to be out in the world as doctors, lawyers, mechanics, cashiers, and librarians. But sometimes I do wonder if we’ve privatized our lives too much—if we value our independence and individuality a little too highly.
After graduating college, I spent a year living with my parents, working two part-time jobs. I wasn’t living in the same kind of intentional Christian environment as I was in college or am now at Oakdale. But I discovered during that year that you can have the same kind of community with your local church. It took more work to make it happen, but it is completely possible. The more I invested in my church, the more I found that we could work together, eat together, play together, worship together, and pray together.
I think the secular world is desperate to see and join this kind of community. We spend so much time as Christians trying to figure out how to make our churches culturally relevant and attractive to non-believers. I have a hunch, though, that if we started living in real Christ-centered community (both as local churches and as the universal Church) that many of the people around us who are searching for the truth would find our love so compelling that they couldn’t resist the good news. After all, that’s how Jesus said they would know we were Christians, right?