In the year 2015, April 28 fell on a Tuesday. I woke up early that morning and drove my rental car to Idlewild Baptist Church, just north of Tamp, FL. I was attending the Exponential Conference, the largest gathering of church planting leaders in the world, and on Tuesday the 28th of that year, I was taking advantage of a pre-session forum titled “Planting a Church.”
Fast forward four years to April 28, 2019 and the dream of planting a new church in Collierville and the Memphis metro area has become a reality! Peace Tree is many things to many people: a church that meets people where they are, a congregation that is not defined by its location but by the relationships formed by its people, a faith community that lives up to its vision statement, “Church Can Happen Anywhere.” And now, as of Sunday the 28th of this year, Peace Tree is an officially chartered United Methodist congregation!
Some may read that statement and ask, “Officially chartered congregation? So what have the last four years been about? Haven’t you been baptizing and receiving members? Didn’t you have a Launch Day back in 2017? Aren’t you already a church? Why is chartering such a big deal?” And those are all valid questions, so let’s start at the beginning.
Yes, we began our work in the summer of 2015 with community events that were meant to make a splash in our town and garner attention. Yes, our House Groups were small in number and size but eventually multiplied and helped launch new expressions of faith reaching upwards of 140 people each week. Yes, our Sunday morning worship service has grown year to year, reaching more people with the Gospel, teaching more children about Jesus, and welcoming in those who might otherwise be “spiritually homeless.”
But we accomplished all of these feats as “a fellowship of the United Methodist Church.” Our hope to one day charter as a full-fledged congregation was never guaranteed.
Peace Tree started out as the “daughter church” of Collierville UMC, and our work was sustained through funding from the Metro District and the Memphis Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. Each year, we were slowly being weaned off of this institutional support so that now we are no longer receive assistance with program fees, and we are no longer considered a “daughter church” (but please know that as a pastor, I still receive modest support from the Conference for my housing and health benefits which are being stepped down over the next 19 months).
Even more important than the blessing of financial backing has been the faith of God’s people. We believe that Peace Tree’s success is more dependent upon God’s blessings than human plans, skills, or aspirations.
This past Sunday, we read from Matthew 16:13-19 and I pointed out how Jesus declared his Church would be built on the rock of Peter, his right-hand disciple. I interpret this to mean that God’s church is not dependent on budgets or the number of degrees the pastor holds. God’s church is dependent on the faith of God’s people and the relationships that exist between them.
We are the building blocks of Jesus’ Church, and we believe that God is continuing to build up God’s Church on earth; thankfully, this includes the faith community known as Peace Tree. Our Charter Sunday on April 28, 2019 serves as a milestone in our journey as a church, and I am thankful for everything it stands for.
Being chartered means that we are fully included and recognized by the United Methodist denomination, blessed by its connectional nature and challenged by the wide spectrum of its global membership (conservative and progressive, domestic and international, traditional worshipers and modern worshipers, large congregations and small congregations and everything in between).
It means that we are no longer a “fellowship” of the UMC, but a proper congregation. It also means that over 120 individuals who were either baptized at Peace Tree or who transferred their membership from other congregations are now Charter Members of Peace Tree United Methodist Church.
No church planter arrives at this point by themselves, so I’d like to thank a handful of people who helped make our Charter Sunday possible. First, I’d like to thank my wife, Alyssa, for supporting my call into ordained ministry as an Elder in the UMC as well as my call to church planting. Her faith and trust has served as an encouragement to me, especially during times when I doubted my decisions or grew anxious about the future. I would not have made it this far as a church planter had it not been for her.
I’m thankful for the Launch Team who first followed me into this church planting work as well as the Leadership Team which evolved from that original group. These disciples of Jesus Christ followed me into the unknown, ready and willing to do whatever was asked of them. They all have gifts and graces that complement each other, making us whole, demonstrating how it takes all of us to make up the Body of Christ. Their excitement and commitment for reaching new people with the Gospel of Jesus has made this work meaningful and rewarding.
I’d like to thank Bishop Bill McAlilly, the staff of the Memphis Annual Conference, my church planting coach, Rev. Chad Pullins, the congregation which served as our “mother church” for three years, Collierville UMC, and my District Superintendent, the Rev. Dr. Deborah Smith. All of these individuals and organizations played a huge role in our start up and in our continued success.
An additional Thank You is given to Dr. Smith for worshiping with Peace Tree this past Sunday. She was the one who made us “official.” All United Methodist congregations are ordered and organized by the Book of Discipline (BOD), and given our denomination’s name, you can bet that there is a prescribed “method” contained within the BOD for how a new church is meant to be chartered.
We first held a Constituting Church Conference during which time we named the first members of our Nominations and Leadership Development Team. Once we finished that task, we shifted gears and held a Charge Conference which is when we nominated church leaders to serve on our Administrative Board and Finance Team. Once all of this official business was completed, we ended our time together with the reading of Scripture, the proclamation of the Word, and by gathering together at the Table for Holy Communion.
We’re still Peace Tree and we’re still focused on our mission to “Love God by Loving Others.” God continues to grow our numbers and build up our church. We’re the same people that you’ve met and worshiped with over the last four years. We’re still prioritizing our House Groups and the real community that takes place in those small, intimate settings.
The only thing that has changed is our status; we are now an official congregation of the United Methodist Church, fully chartered and recognized by the denomination. Thanks be to God!
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
When we began planting Peace Tree in the Collierville/Memphis area in 2015, we knew that we needed to offer something different. There are over 50 houses of worship in Collierville alone, so we believed many would ask, “Does Collierville really need another church?” Our answer is YES, Collierville needs new churches to reach new people. While a majority living here would say they have a church home, there are literally thousands of Collierville residents who have marked “No Religious Preference” on their census forms. We imagined the number of people we walked by every day who weren’t part of a church family, the number of people who’ve experienced a life crisis with nowhere to turn, with nobody to talk to. We knew that thousands of our neighbors were spiritually homeless and we needed to do something now.
As we dreamt of a new church for Collierville, we were sure of two things: 1) we wanted to do Church differently and 2) we didn’t want to put all of our efforts into a Sunday morning worship experience (remember there are over 50 churches in this town with Sunday morning gatherings). So how could we flip the “church planting script” and build up a congregation without first launching a weekly Sunday morning worship service?
This is how the idea of House Groups was born. If we truly wanted to reach our neighbors, then we needed to go into our neighborhoods. Neighborhoods are made up of people who live in homes, and play in parks, and eat in restaurants down the street from where they live. This was where our church would start; these were the places where we’d plant Peace Tree.
Seventeen months after we began this work, we can say that God has blessed us with six House Groups spreading across East Memphis, Germantown, and Collierville. We meet in homes, restaurants, and apartment complexes and our community events often take place in our town’s parks. We’ve welcomed over 180 people who have visited one of our House Groups in 2016, and many have made Peace Tree their church home.
There’s a difference between a church which offers Small Groups as a program opportunity and a church that is entirely made up of small groups. We’ve aimed to be the latter. And since we didn’t pour all of our efforts into a Sunday morning celebration, we now have a solid foundation of House Group participants who want to see members of the other groups more regularly as well as serve alongside one another in Kingdom-building work. After a season of monthly Preview Services, and after much prayer and discussion with our Launch Team and volunteers, we are happy to announce that one month from today Peace Tree will be launching weekly Sunday morning worship services at the Malco Collierville Towne Cinema starting January 8, 2017.
These Sunday morning large group celebrations will simply be one way that we worship God together. Our main opportunities for learning, service, and fellowship will still be found in the House Group setting. Think of Sunday morning worship services as a “family reunion.” It’s a chance to see friends from other House Groups that we haven’t seen in a while. Sundays will give us a moment to say hello to fellow volunteers from various service projects while together we seize the opportunity to rest in God. These large group gatherings will allow us the space and time to celebrate God together, to lift up our praises, and to be inspired by God’s Word.
For some of you reading this, your first encounter with Peace Tree will be on a Sunday morning when you walk into the theater to check us out and see what we’re all about. We think that’s great! But as we’ve already mentioned, the true heart of Peace Tree is in our House Groups. We hope that everyone who visits us in January will take the next step and find a House Group that they can attend during the week. We currently have House Groups that meet on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and we have plans to launch new groups in the new year.
You’ve read the blog post this far and you may be wondering, “Am I a good fit for Peace Tree? Is Peace Tree a good fit for me?” Well, you should know that our goal is to reach individuals who have left the Church, those who have turned their backs on God or have given up on religion altogether. We also hope to reach people who are spiritual and religious but haven’t found a safe place to explore their spirituality and to ask the big questions about God and our place in the universe. There are also individuals who didn’t grow up attending church services, going on youth retreats, and participating in Vacation Bible School over their childhood summers. Maybe their families didn’t believe in “going to church,” or maybe they were raised in a different country with different belief systems. We feel called to reach these neighbors as they take their first steps into Christianity. So, if you fall into any of these categories please believe me when I say that our hearts go out to you. We’ve already connected with some of you, but to the rest: we’re so anxious to meet you!
We hope you’ll consider joining us for our outdoor Christmas service, Carols and Candlelight, on the Collierville Town Square. It’ll be Friday, December 16th with hot cocoa being served at 6:00 pm and our program beginning at 6:30. House Groups are continuing to meet throughout December with a few taking one week off for a seasonal break. And be sure to mark your calendars for January 8th when we begin hosting weekly worship services at Malco Collierville Towne Cinema. Doors will open at 9:30 am for coffee & donuts. Worship will start at 10:00 and Peace Tree Kids is open to children at 10:30. We also provide a nursery with Safe Sancutaries-trained workers to care for your little ones.
As always, please contact us if you have any questions about Peace Tree. My personal email is firstname.lastname@example.org and our office phone number is (901) 286-5532. We’re so excited to see what God has in store for 2017, and we hope you’ll be part of this new thing that God is doing. Happy Advent, Merry Christmas, and remember: Church Can Happen Anywhere.
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
Pastor Kris preached "Live Together / Follow Christ" on the Sunday following the 2016 presidential election. Below is his sermon manuscript, and you can watch the full sermon in the video below. The Scriptural focus for this sermon is Luke 5:1-11. Please share your thoughts and reflections in the Comments section.
Here we are for the fourth time in this place to worship God, but what marks this Sunday as different from earlier Preview Services is that the presidential election has taken place in our country merely 5 days ago. And I'd be a horrible preacher if I didn't address this moment in our country's history.
So on this day, as I address two of Peace Tree's core values (Live Together and Follow Christ), I do so knowing that some people sitting in this movie theater voted for Trump and others voted for Clinton. Some voted for a 3rd party candidate and some wrote in Mickey Mouse or wrote in Harambe.
But here we are...together, singing our praises to God, hearing the story of Jesus calling his first disciples to follow him, and we are all members of the same human family.
It's probably safe to say that there are as many different opinions about this country and its priorities and the steps we need to take as there are people sitting in this room. So we have one of two choices to make today and everyday, and here they are: do we choose to turn our backs on our neighbors who are different than us? Do we hate those who disagree with us? Do we say, "I'll go it alone?" OR do we say that we choose to live together, that we embrace each other as brother and sister, and that we claim one another as family.
Jesus never held public office as an elected official, but he was called the King of the Jews. And as the King of the Jews (a.k.a the Son of God and the Son of Man), he addressed economic disparity, accepted people from other cultures, disrupted the establishment, was branded a radical and a religious zealot, and he taught a new way. But by doing all of this, he put a target on his back.
Ultimately, the people of Israel were given a chance to vote on Jesus. They could vote to free Christ during the Jewish feast of Passover, but instead they chose to free another prisoner, and thus, the Son of God was crucified. But in Jesus' sacrifice, in taking on our sin, and in demonstrating God's great love for humanity, Christ gave us all a path to citizenship in God's Kingdom.
So when we say that at Peace Tree we Live Together and Follow Christ, we do so claiming our shared inheritance in Christ. We don't focus on the things the world focuses on: the spectrum of ages, the differences in income, the number of cultures represented here today. Instead we rally around Christ and his mission in saving this world and pointing people to God.
When we look at this morning's passage from the Gospel of Luke, we see Peter putting into practice the core value of Live Together. Peter does not work alone; he has fishing partners that we find out are the brothers James and John. Not only that, but when the fish that Jesus instructs them to catch becomes too great to haul in, they're able to signal another boat for help. In their day and time, you needed a community to get by, to live and to eat. Friends and neighbors looked out for each other, and here we see them working alongside one another.
But what amazes me most about this invitation to follow Christ, is that Peter, James, and John drop everything (and I mean everything!) in order to follow Jesus. They leave behind their livelihoods, their families, and now this insurmountable catch of fish that may have possibly met their quota for the rest of the year, all in order to follow Christ! How many of us would walk away from our careers, and our families, and from financial stability to follow a divisive figure who was performing miracles and claimed that he spoke directly to God?
Some of you are thinking, "This is nice and all, learning about Peter and James and John from 2000 years ago, but we're scared right now, today on Nov 13, 2016. And I get it; some people are fearful for their community, others are scared that the country will not come together - that we won't be the UNITED States, and for others there is uncertainty about the future when it comes to wars being fought, and when it boils down to the stock market, or healthcare and national security."
So let me offer a word from Ricky James, a friend and pastor in Mississippi, who shared this post on his Facebook page Wednesday morning:
"At around 3:00 a.m. this morning my five year old climbed in our bed. He said he was afraid of the dark. This is a common occurrence these days as he wakes up in the middle of the night, alone in a dark room, and seeks the solace of his parent’s bed. Normally I’m annoyed at this because he wakes me up.
This morning I was already awake. I had just watched the acceptance speech of President-Elect Trump. On social media I saw the full spectrum of emotions: joy, astonishment, anger, and fear. It was that last emotion that had kept me up. I thought of all the people I knew who were afraid because of what had just occurred. I was pondering fear and it was keeping me awake.
I know many people who voted for Secretary Clinton and were now afraid at what this election means. They are afraid for what this means for people in vulnerable situations because of their race, gender, status, and a myriad of other identifiers. They are afraid that many of their rights are now in jeopardy. Some are afraid for their lives. This fear is real.
I know many people who voted for President-Elect Trump who were afraid. They were afraid of rising healthcare costs, of the loss of jobs in their community, of a deep belief that their own sense of self-worth was slipping away. They were afraid that the country they saw around them was fundamentally different than the world they grew up in. They were afraid of what the world would look like tomorrow. This fear is real.
I can’t pretend that fear isn’t real. And I don’t presume to tell anyone today that they shouldn’t be afraid. As a pastor I’ve sat with many people who were experiencing moments of great fear. I often see two responses to such fear. Option one: find someone to blame and lash out. Option two: surround yourself with people you love and trust to hold you in the dark. I try my best to steer people to the second option.
All I can offer is the good advice that came to me this morning at 3:00 a.m. from my five year old: it’s ok to be afraid of the dark; and you don’t have to face it alone."
Friends, we have two options, and I hope we all choose to seek the embrace of our Heavenly Father and to surround ourselves with people we love and trust. The first disciples chose this; they chose to live together. They needed each other as they followed Christ and learned from him, they needed each other during the dark days of the crucifixion, and they needed each other still as they formed a beloved community and planted the first Christian church in Jerusalem. They lived together as they followed Christ.
Look again to today's passage; Jesus says to you and to his first disciples the same thing that the angels spoke to the shepherds in the fields at Christmas, "Do not be afraid." These are actually the first words that Jesus speaks to them after performing his fishing miracle. So pause for a moment and consider the power in that statement: Do - not - be - afraid! Do not fear.
The first disciples cast aside anxiety, and worry, and the stability of a steady job, and they all followed Christ. They chose not to fear when they chose to follow Jesus, and they made this choice together as one group who cared for others.
Friends, we are not alone. We have each other. And even if the person you're sitting next to is of a different gender or a different age, whether they are single or married, with children or without, voted for the same candidate as you did or for a different person, they are still your sister and brother in Christ, and they are made in the Image of God.
Living together doesn't mean we pretend we're all the same and that we'll never disagree on issues. It means that we must recognize how we are all wonderfully made by a good, good Father, and that many different people with different gifts make up the Body of Christ just as different disciples from various backgrounds and professions and education levels with varying levels of faith made up Jesus' original Twelve. 'Different' is beautiful in the Family of God.
The great author, Harper Lee, said it best in her famous work, To Kill a Mockingbird, "You can choose your friends but you sho' can't choose your family, an' they're still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge 'em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don't."
Today, I pray that we acknowledge our great human family. I pray that we choose to Live Together just as the first disciples chose to live together. And I pray that we won't be afraid to leave everything behind in order to Follow Christ.
Jesus and Star Trek. One said, “Therefore, go…” and the other, “Boldly go…” Peace Tree has been on God’s mission since 2015. We’ve left the comfort of stained glass sanctuaries & worship halls and followed the call of Jesus’ Great Commission: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19). At the same time, we feel like spiritual pioneers exploring new frontiers, worshiping God in new places, and gathering on different days of the week.
On August 21, 2016, we held our first-ever Sunday morning worship service at the Malco Collierville Towne Cinema. I admit that I felt a bit like Captain Kirk leading his crew into the great unknown. None of us had set up a church service in a movie theater before, let alone worship God with any congregation at the cinema! Still, our teams pulled up to the Malco at 7:30 a.m. and started hauling gear into the building, and it felt as though we were living out the USS Enterprise’s mission in some small way: “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”
The weight of a universe-sized challenge was certainly upon us: Could we envision a new heaven and a new earth in a multiplex? Could we breathe new life into Christians who had worshiped in traditional settings since birth? Could we reach new people with the Gospel for the very first time? Will friends and families step out in faith and form a new community with us, one that lives together and follows Christ?
We can’t answer many of those questions at the moment, not even 10 days later as we look back on the 21st of August. The reason we can’t answer those questions is because we aren’t building this church; Christ is the one who builds his Church. Christ is the one who will usher in the new heaven and the new earth. The Holy Spirit is the one who breathes new life into followers. God the Father is the one who touches the hearts of those who hear the Gospel for the first time. What we feel we can say is that God was with us on August 21st, and the potential to grow into a beloved community was certainly felt by all who gathered with us that day.
Even though the challenge was extremely high, the invitation to our neighbors was even greater! All of our volunteers circled up at 8:55 a.m. to say a prayer, and as soon as we said “Amen” the first family was walking through the door. Children began grabbing juice boxes and bags of Cheerios, adults filled up cups of coffee and reached for donuts, and newcomers started signing up for our newsletter while flipping through our new brochure. Everyone was greeted at least 5 times before they took their seat in the theater, and you could definitely feel the love in the room.
Hannah led us in singing, Tyler greeted the congregation, Susan read our Scripture passage, and I preached a sermon that reflected Peace Tree’s vision: “Church Can Happen Anywhere.” And while the message was taking place inside Auditorium 7, there were children who were playing, learning, and discussing the same passage (Acts 2:42-47) with Ms. Connie and Ms. Chris during Peace Tree Kids.
There are many things we learned at our first preview worship service and there are many things we’ll be tweaking and improving along the way. But all in all, many of our volunteers and team members felt we could say that our first worship service was a success! We set up and cleaned up in the timeframe we allotted ourselves. There weren’t any major technical issues with video or sound. Infants were cared for by professionals in the nursery. And there was enough food and drink for a small army! But most importantly, 81 people gathered together to worship God in a new place & in a new way, and we did Church in a movie theater.
Every time I teach or preach, I hope that the congregation can walk away learning two things: 1) How the early Christians would’ve originally heard and interpreted the passage we studied, and 2) How we can apply that original teaching to 21st century life in America. From our first worship service, I hope everyone will remember that Jesus worshiped God anywhere, because God exists everywhere! Jesus preached in fields, from boats, and on mountainsides. The first Christians met in people’s homes so that they could eat meals together, celebrate Communion, and discuss Jesus’ teachings. So what does this mean for us today? It means Church Can Happen Anywhere! Church can happen in our homes, in public parks, in local restaurants; Church can even happen in a Malco theater.
Peace Tree will be worshiping at the Malco Collierville Towne Cinema three more times in 2016. The upcoming dates are September 18, October 16, and November 13. We hope you, the reader, will join us! Each time we meet, the doors will open at 9:00 a.m. for coffee & donuts. The worship service will begin at 9:30, and children are welcome to attend Peace Tree Kids at 10:00. During this season of preview services, we aim to learn as a team and to grow as Jesus’ disciples. We’ll also be praying and asking God if the Malco Collierville should be our first home as we launch a Sunday morning service. So stay tuned for news about possible weekly services in 2017.
Thanks to all of our friends, families, House Group attendees, volunteers, and newcomers for making our first preview service such a success. It was an honor to share God’s Word with you that day and to worship God with you as a family. We’d love for you to join us on September 18th, and we hope we see some new faces as well! To all who have been supporting us since Day One, who have checked in on our progress, and who have prayed for our ministry: thank you, thank you, thank you. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much to us, and we definitely see God working through this faith community. God bless y’all, and remember: “Church Can Happen Anywhere.”
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
It’s the Monday after Easter Sunday, and I’m forced to ask, “Now what?” The craziness and busy-ness of Holy Week is behind us. The Maundy Thursday communion services, the Good Friday worship services, and the Holy Saturday egg hunts have all taken place. The capstone of the entire Lenten season, Easter Sunday, has come and gone and left us with memories of packed sanctuaries, massive choirs, full orchestras & praise bands, and stirring sermons which were general enough for the twice-a-year attendee to comprehend yet also specific enough to satisfy the weekly churchgoer who religiously followed the pastor’s 6-week sermon series. So, “Now what?”
It seems as though we’ve treated Easter Sunday as the finish line. Pastors jokingly compare Easter Sunday to their Super Bowl for the year, pulling out all the stops, preaching to the biggest crowd they will most likely see (until Christmas Eve), and encouraging church staff and lay volunteers to put their best foot forward and to do everything with excellence. But, if Easter Sunday is the Super Bowl, then does that mean the season is over?
The Easter story was certainly not over for Jesus. Easter Sunday wasn’t a finish line, but instead it was a new beginning, another mile marker in the long story of God’s redemption of this world. Don’t get me wrong, Easter Sunday is certainly a time to celebrate the Risen Christ, but it is also a call to ACTION! So when answering the question, Now what?, perhaps we should take a closer look at what Jesus says to his disciples in the moments following his resurrection.
The Gospel of Mark contains Jesus’ words in two alternate endings, but the shorter and longer endings both echo the same sentiment: “And afterwards Jesus himself SENT OUT through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.” (shorter ending). “And he said to them, ‘GO into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.’” (excerpt from the longer ending).
Similar wording is seen in the Gospel of Matthew’s closing verses, often referred to as the Great Commission: “GO therefore and make disciples of all nations…” Likewise, the theme of being sent is found in both John and Luke’s gospels: “As the Father has sent me, SO I SEND YOU.” (John 20:21b). “And see, I am SENDING…” (Luke 24:49a) [all emphases are mine].
If the disciples in their shock and confusion, and in their elation and surprise had trouble understanding what came next, Jesus made it clear and simple – “I am SENDING you out into the whole world, so now GO and make disciples!” What shall we do after the resurrection? What happens now? Now, we receive our marching orders. Now, we are commissioned and sent out into the world. Now, we receive our disciple-making assignments. Now, we launch off the starting block of Easter Sunday so that we may continue Jesus’ ministry of love and service. Now, we work together to rebuild God’s family while focusing our eyes on Christ.
Every spring, trees produce seed and pollen to be scattered by the wind so that future trees might be reproduced. Likewise, every Easter the Church should produce disciples and Christ-followers to be scattered to the wind to spiritually reproduce and multiply future disciples. We gather on Easter Sunday in order to be scattered by the wind, the same wind that hovered over the waters of Creation, the same breath which the Resurrected Christ breathed out onto his disciples, the same Spirit which drove Jesus into the wilderness after his baptism and which empowers us all in the days following Pentecost.
It’s the day after Easter. Now what? Now, we get to work by being the Church, by living together as the Body of Christ, and by loving and serving everyone we meet. Now it’s time to ask ourselves, “With whom shall I share the Good News of Easter morning? Who will I help disciple to faith in Jesus?” May God bless you and send you on mission for Christ, and may you go out into the world with the peace of the Risen Savior.
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
It fascinates me how people can have so many memories that are centered on food. We remember funny conversations during Thanksgiving dinners, favorite dishes that moms cooked for us when we were feeling blue, meals that turned out horribly and yet our loved ones grit their teeth and ate them anyways, and restaurants where we had our first date with our significant other. Friends have shared with me how they’ve remembered potlucks at their childhood church. Young people in Collierville serve breakfast on a monthly basis to individuals who are impoverished or homeless and those memories will stick with these students for a lifetime. Every week at Peace Tree, we make sure to include a meal at every House Group gathering, and we do so for several reasons, memorability being one of those reasons.
Food makes moments memorable. To demonstrate this point, here's what we ate this past week at Peace Tree: we had pasta at the Martinsburg Cv House, pizza and salads at Mellow Mushroom during Monday Night Hangout, burgers with a side of macaroni and cheese at the Winleaf Dr House, and chicken stir fry with rice at the Loeb St House. To go along with each of those locations, we’ve studied the book of Acts, shared conversations during Trivia, looked at Old Testament prophecies about Jesus, and discussed what it means to be compassionate as Christians. The food is always delicious, but we also value the discussion and the people with whom we share our meals.
Secondly, sharing a meal at House Groups encourages us to live out our core values: Love All, Serve All, Live Together, Follow Christ. Good food tends to fill the room with love, and by thanking God for the food and asking God to bless the meal, we are receiving and returning love to God. For the families who prepare the meal, they are serving others; guests who come to the house also find ways to serve by pouring drinks, clearing tables, and washing dishes. There’s always room at the table so we can eat together. But perhaps the most important reason we include a meal at every House Group gathering is because it follows Christ’s model for ministry.
All throughout the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, we see Jesus eating and drinking with people. His first miracle was at a wedding reception where he turned water into wine. Time and time again, concerned Jewish leaders point out that Jesus is eating with sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes. Jesus often found the most unpopular person from the towns he passed through and invited himself over to their house for dinner. Jesus asks a woman of a different ethnicity to draw water for him at the well and then he proceeds to offer her Living Water and amazing grace. Communion was first celebrated at a meal which Christians refer to as the Last Supper, and even after the crucifixion, Christ consumes broiled fish with his disciples after his walk to Emmaus.
Nowadays, it seems as though the Church has divorced its worship services from the very meals that Jesus enjoyed while on earth. If we’re serious about following Christ, shouldn’t we be eating the way he ate with the people he sought out by gathering in ordinary homes and towns where he would’ve walked? Peace Tree is serious about following Christ, so we decided at the outset of this church planting journey to bring Church to our dinner tables. What a blessing it has turned out to be! We’ve seen House Groups multiply, dinner tables extend, and menus expand to include more people. Sharing meals together at Peace Tree gatherings makes the moments memorable and allows us to live out our values, especially our core value of “Follow Christ.”
This Sunday, all our House Groups are coming together for a meal and an afternoon of bowling at Funquest in Collierville. If you’re in town and would like to join us, we’d love to have you! Just be sure to RSVP to the event HERE. Similar to our House Group gatherings and every community event before this one, we will be sure to have plenty of food for everyone! (As a side note, we handed out water and pop-ice in July, grilled burgers in August at our Back to School BBQ, delivered baked goods to First Responders on Sept. 11, handed out dog treats at our Blessing of the Animals in October, roasted hot dogs at our Family Fest in November, and poured cups of hot cocoa at Carols & Candlelight in December. We’re not kidding when we say we LOVE sharing food with our neighbors!).
We hope you’ll join us for a meal at one of our upcoming House Group gatherings sometime soon. Just remember that the meal is part of our worship time together when we’ll also celebrate communion, pray for each other, and read the Bible together. You can also join us this Sunday in Collierville for lunch and bowling. If you’ve never considered how a meal can be a worship service, try doing this: the next time you eat a meal with your family, go around the table and say what you’re thankful for and how you’ve seen God throughout your day. And if you’re at an established church, try finding ways that you can incorporate meals, potlucks, coffee & donuts, soup kitchens, and any other food-centric ministry into your congregation’s worship services and weekly programs.
Christ set the example for all his followers by sharing meals with many different types of people. It’s time for the Church to reclaim this food-centric ministry. It’s time to make God a topic of conversation at our family dinner table. It’s time to share meals together in our church sanctuaries. It’s time to believe that Church can happen at a picnic table in our public parks, and in our dining rooms, and at the local coffee house, and in our favorite restaurants. It's time to believe that Church can happen anywhere.
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
In a few days we'll be ringing in the new year and welcoming 2016. But in the midst of the twelve days of Christmas, my thoughts still linger on the people we visited in Scripture during our House Group worship, the characters of the Nativity Story: Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. Each was greeted by an angel, each was terrified by the news they received (or simply by the sight of God's holy messenger), and each heard the phrase, "Do Not Be Afraid."
These are words that I've needed to hear time and time again during these first six months of church planting. Whenever I doubted myself and my calling to plant a new church with the mission of reaching new people, I heard God whisper, "Do Not Be Afraid." As I feared whether or not I could raise enough of my salary to support my wife and unborn child, our friends and family showed their support and assured us, "Do Not Be Afraid." As I've led a Launch Team into the unknown, they've had my back and echoed the angelic phrase, "Do Not Be Afraid." So far this journey has been fantastic and humbling as I've trusted God, put my faith in his provisions, and depended on others to work alongside me as we fulfill our mission to Love God by Loving Others. We've shown our corner of God's Kingdom that Church can happen anywhere, and we enter the new year greatly encouraged and more excited than when we took our first steps this summer.
We want you to know how God has been moving through Peace Tree and how God has been using us as His hands and feet. We volunteered our time and recruited others to serve at the Guatemalan Consulate Visit in early December where more than 800 individuals received assistance from their government's officials. When you factor in children and spouses who also attended the event, we ministered to over 1200 people! Over 163 people have attended one of our community events including our Suggs Park Field Day and Back to School BBQ. Over 145 people have worshiped with us outdoors including our most recent service, Carols and Candlelight on the Collierville Town Square. 74 different people have visited one of our House Groups. And back in September, we showed our appreciation to police officers, firefighters, and EMTs during our Public Safety Appreciation Day by delivering baked goods to the Collierville Police Department and six Firehouses.
Thankfully, Peace Tree has several strategic partners and sponsors that have made this ministry possible. We're thankful to our mother church, Collierville UMC, for their continued prayers and support. And we are grateful for the Memphis Annual Conference and the Metro-McKendree District of the United Methodist Church for their assistance through funding and resources. I am most especially thankful for the more than 55 individual donors who have made charitable contributions to Peace Tree totaling $25,339! Their gifts make our ministry possible and helps support my work as a church planter.
As we approach January 1st, there are a few more days for individuals to make a gift to Peace Tree. So, if you believe in our mission and support our core values (Love All, Serve All, Live Together, Follow Christ), we hope you'll consider making a gift to Peace Tree HERE. Our online giving portal makes it possible for donors to give instantly and securely and assures them that their gift counts towards 2015's charitable contributions.
We are thankful for many things this Christmas season. We see a genuine community forming in front of our eyes. We've reached out in service and loving-kindness to our neighbors. We've worshiped Christ and studied God's Word together. And surrounding each of us has been a Spirit of Love and Peace. We hope that you will continue praying for us, sharing our story with others (especially those who feel far away from God), and that you will join us at an upcoming House Group gathering or community event. I am sure that I will still have moments of fear and trembling, but at the same time I stand amazed at everything God has done through us in just six short months. If you see me sometime soon, please remind me (as I remind myself daily), "Do Not Be Afraid." The Savior is here! A new year is about to begin, and with it comes multiple opportunities for this new church to reach new people for Christ. Amen.
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
We've had several weeks of House Groups that have met for worship, Bible study, Communion, dinner, planning, and fellowship. They've all been meaningful times together, whether there were four people or twelve people present.
I was searching for an illustration to describe our House Groups in a way that wasn't so "churchy." Sunday school is a concept which will be familiar to those who grew up in a church setting, and it is true that our groups share the same DNA as a Sunday school class: a body that meets to study God's Word and occasionally gets together for social gatherings. But how do I describe the feeling and the atmosphere of our meetings to someone who hasn't visited a Sunday school class or attended a Bible study? I was beginning to think I'd find nothing with which to compare our House Groups, until I watched the premiere of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Fans of Stephen's former television program, The Colbert Report, which aired on Comedy Central, noticed familiar elements popping up in the new Late Show. Addressing the 'Nation,' over-the-top skits, Captain America's shield, interviews with political figures, superstar musical cameos that completely fill up the stage, and a commentary on Donald Trump that mimicked his former sketch, The Word, were all present in the September 8th premiere.
So what does any of this have to do with Church and House Groups?
For starters, Stephen was simply being himself. During one interview, Colbert stated that he played the fictional role of a "narcissistic, conservative pundit" for several years on The Colbert Report. But in this new role as host of The Late Show, Stephen gets to be himself. There was nothing fake or phony about who he was or how he acted in last night's premiere which must have been a relief to the late night talk show host. There were no catch phrases or gimmicks he had to perform. He could shed the pundit persona and simply be Stephen.
Likewise, our House Groups have allowed people to come together and simply be themselves. Since our church meets people where they are, there is no dress code or Rules of Conduct at a Peace Tree gathering. Sometimes people show up late because they're fighting traffic and driving to a meeting straight from work. Others open up about how bad a day or week it has been since we last met. Dogs are free to run around and jump on couches and beg for food. And everyone is free to be as vulnerable or as guarded as they feel they need to be in a new place with new people who are starting to meet for the first time. This is a good thing for some individuals who have social anxiety walking into large rooms of strangers or who feel self-conscious about the clothes they wear. It's also a good thing for people who are new to the Mid-South and fear they may sit in someone's "reserved seat" at a local worship service. We've tried to remove all the roadblocks one may throw out as reasons for not attending a church.
"Be Yourself" is a concept that works for both Peace Tree and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. We want people to know that they belong here and that they can always "come as they are." God loves you completely, and at Peace Tree we hope that all people will experience the fullness of God's love.
Secondly, there was a genuine sense of community that the show sought to create, especially during the musical performance of Sly and the Family Stone's hit, "Everyday People." The vast number of talented musicians who gathered on the same stage was a classic Colbert move. Derek Trucks, Brittany Howard, Ben Folds, Mavis Staples, and numerous others were led by Jon Batiste, the new Late Show bandleader who found ways to incorporate different musical genres throughout the show and who successfully brought the aforementioned musicians together for a fun number.
The lyrics of "Everyday People" are just as true today as they were in 1968, but the line that sticks out to me is "We got to live together!" Even though we are all different in one way or another, we need to find ways to live together as a community.
Different strokes for different folks was another concept that was featured throughout Colbert's premiere. Colbert pointed out how he disagrees politically with his brother, and yet he still loves his brother. The beginning of the show featured a montage of Stephen singing the Star Spangled Banner with people of different ages, races, and genders in different environments (baseball fields, bowling alleys, workshops, the Washington Mall, etc.). There was even a gag after the credits that took place in the fictional Late Night Locker Room which involved Colbert saying goodnight to Jimmy Fallon, his Tonight Show competitor. Even though these two hosts will be judged according to ratings and viewership from the same time slot, they both are playing nice with each other. Perhaps they both have realized first hand that "we got to live together!"
Some of you may know that Live Together is one of the core values of Peace Tree. And just like an overcrowded Late Show stage, we've seen our share of different folks who have gathered together for good food, Bible study, and community. Our House Groups contain both retirees and young adults working in their first full time jobs. We've seen individuals say goodbye to spouses and parents who have recently passed away, and we've also experienced new beginnings via weddings and pregnancy announcements. We've worshiped with high school and middle school students as well as graduate students who are continuing their studies in the city of Memphis.
Our House Groups have included people of different ages, races, and genders meeting in different environments (houses, restaurants, apartments, and even traditional places of worship such as Collierville UMC - our mother church). The people who come to these gatherings are different folks who have differing opinions regarding politics, education, child rearing, and which team will emerge as SEC football champions this season. But they follow Christ together with the understanding that they will be loved by the people they encounter at their weekly House Group meeting.
Stephen Colbert has taken a TV program that has existed for over two decades and he has updated it for a new day and age. People are encouraged to be themselves because the host can finally be himself. And when you tune in, you know you'll discover a genuine community of people in front of the cameras and behind the scenes who seek to brighten up your night with a fun hour of television.
Peace Tree's House Groups have taken an ancient concept of worshiping God in homes from the first century and has tailored it to fit our everyday lives. People are encouraged to be themselves because God loves us completely. When you show up to a gathering, you'll discover a genuine community of people who seek to love all, serve all, live together, and follow Christ. I thank God for this first month of House Group meetings, and I pray that God will continue to grow and multiply these groups.
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
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