New Year’s Day marks a time for new beginnings for many people, whether it’s starting a diet, taking up a new hobby or just making a resolution to make a change.
Matt Oakes and his family took this tradition one step further this New Year’s by starting a new life when they moved here Jan. 1.
A Texas native, Oakes moved his family from Waxahachie to take up the position of music pastor at Center Church.
For Oakes, this position is the result of a long-time interest in both music and the church. When he was around 8, he began taking piano lessons and became interested in guitar in high school.
“I was raised in a house with lots of music being played all the time,” Oakes explained, adding that both his parents played music. “It’s just been part of what we’ve done ever since.”
In addition to his skill on piano and guitar, Oakes plays some banjo, mandolin and bass.
Although Oakes grew up in church and wanted to become involved in ministry, his original plans did not involve music. “I had a youth pastor who was very influential in my life, so when I went to school, I thought I’d be a youth pastor,” said Oakes.
“But I quickly realized I wasn’t cut out for that. That takes a special gifting to be good at that, and I don’t have it.”
However, he soon found a way to combine his desire for ministry with his musical interests by playing in chapel bands in college.
“I really developed a love for that,” he said. “And it was there I kind of sensed that that’s what God’s direction for my life was. So I’ve been pursuing that ever since. I’ve been fortunate to have opportunities to grow in that and learn from other people.”
Oakes attended Corban University in Oregon, where his family moved from his New Braunfels hometown when he was 14. College was not only the time when he discovered his calling, but was also where he met Joanie, a fellow music major and his wife of 12 years.
Upon graduating, Oakes worked part-time at a church in Oregon before the couple moved a few years later to Austin, where their three children — Bella, 9; Imogene, 7; and Noah, 5 — were born. While in Austin, Oakes attended Redeemer Seminary, graduating in 2015. The family then moved to Waxahachie four years ago, where Oakes worked in a church there.
While the couple felt a strong connection to their church, they began to sense that God was calling them in a new direction around eight months ago.
“We love that church, so we were kind of surprised that we were sensing that from God,” said Oakes.
As they began to explore this calling, a mutual friend introduced Oakes to Center Church’s lead pastor Kyle Ogle, who was looking for a new person to join their team.
“(Kyle) and I felt a pretty strong kinship right away,” said Oakes. “And then coming down here and visiting definitely felt like this was the place God was calling us to.”
The culture and atmosphere of Brenham was one thing Oakes said drew the family to their new home.
“The more we visited and the more time we spent here, we just really fell in love with the town,” he said. “We love the history, we love where it’s going.
“I love the more traditional stuff. I like that it’s got an old downtown and old buildings, and obviously I love Blue Bell. But then I also love some of the newer things that are coming in. We love Jax Burgers and Ballad of the Bird Dog and these kinds of places, and we love the older stalwarts like Must Be Heaven.
“We love the uniqueness of the town. Our kids love all the art on the downtown walls. We also were excited to see how much art and how many artists there were in the town.”
Another feature that attracted the family was Center Church.
“We love what the church is about,” said Oakes. “Meeting the people at Center Church, we felt a kinship with them pretty much right off the bat.
“We’re a church that wants to see everyone in Brenham have an encounter with the Gospel of Jesus and His church. We love the focus on serving the city and those in need and just the way that we get to practically live out the Gospel together. So a kind of church like Center Church is attractive to us.
“We believe that what Jesus has done for us in His life, death, and resurrection calls us to serve others, not just to be a community that exists for its own good. We want to love and bless the city of Brenham because we know God loves Brenham.”
For Oakes, serving others is what his ministry is all about.
“The people is the ministry,” he said. “I love getting to share in their stories to hear how God’s working, getting a front-row seat to what God’s doing in this church and in His city, seeing how people grow and change, and getting to be grown and changed by the same people. … I’m grateful for how God has changed me and grown me through the people in the churches we’ve served in.
“When you’re a pastor, you get to be part of people’s lives in a lot of ways other people don’t. You get to be present in some of the happiest moments and some of the saddest moments. You get to support people through the hard things that they’re going through. That’s a privilege. It’s a grace to be able to sit with them and be able to talk about Jesus and who He is, whether it’s the best moment of their lives or the worst day ever.”
Oakes also enjoys using his musical talents to help people in a different way, through assisting friends, church worship teams, and other artists with writing and recording music.
“We do that fairly often,” said Oakes. “We have a recording set-up in our home. We’ve loved it.”
Naturally, getting to meet new people has been one of Oakes’s favorite parts of the move.
“(I’ve enjoyed) making new friends at our church and in the city, getting to know the people of Brenham. There’s only so much you can know about a town from its website or a welcome bulletin. So just getting to know the people and seeing their love for their town, and in the church seeing their love for one another and getting to join in that, I think that’s definitely been the most rewarding.”
When he’s not serving others or enjoying what Brenham has to offer, Oakes can often be found in his kitchen. “We cook a lot,” he said. “I love to cook — barbecuing and cooking in the kitchen, trying to figure out how to do new recipes.”
The family also enjoys camping and playing games together.
Oakes hopes that he and his family can continue to grow and flourish in their new city and new church.
“At the church we’re growing as a music team, we’re growing together as people who follow Jesus,” he said. “We want to follow Jesus and be faithful to whatever He calls us to in Brenham, where there are opportunities to serve and how we need to grow and mature as we follow Him. My plan is to try to be attentive to that, to what God is saying to His people and to what He wants us to do here.
“It’s pretty much the same thing with my family. We want to be attentive to the gifts that God’s given us as a family, especially in our kids, and to raise them to love Jesus. They love it here, and we want to keep cultivating their love for Jesus and their love for the places He puts us.”