The following report comes from Pastor Kris and Johnny Jackson, our congregation's Lay Leader. It was shared with Sunday morning's Large Group on September 8, 2019. Scroll down to the bottom of this post to see video from the worship service.
KRIS: We want to take a moment to recognize our first 100 days as a newly merged church worshiping together in this space as Peace Tree.
Many of you know that conversations began last year to bring the congregations of CrossRoads and Peace Tree together as we sought to further God’s mission, to build the Kingdom of Heaven here in our corner of the world, and to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
A team of faithful individuals came together to discuss the details, to list our rocks in the river, and to share our dream and vision for the future. I’m extremely grateful for all those who contributed their energy and effort to the merger of CrossRoads and Peace Tree, and today we want to report on the progress that’s taken place in a little over three month’s time.
I’m going to touch upon the Mission, Vision, and Values of our church and how we’ve been living those out, then Johnny Jackson, our Administrative Board Chair and Church Lay Leader will talk about some noteworthy successes from our first 100 days.
Peace Tree’s mission is to Love God by Loving Others, and I feel as though we do a good job of demonstrating that. In fact the first of our four core values is to Love All.
We remember that God first loved us, so we try to express love in all that we do, whether it’s greeting people at the front door, offering coffee and donuts on Sunday morning, welcoming newcomers to House Groups and Large Group worship, or interacting with our followers on social media. We want everyone to know that they’ll be loved, respected, encouraged, challenged, and welcomed by the people of Peace Tree.
Our second core value is to Serve All. For decades, this facility has been utilized by multiple groups in the community such as the Cub Scouts, Futsal Escola girls’ soccer team, pickleball players, and even our neighborhood's Homeowner’s Association, and we’re continuing to nurture and build upon those partnerships.
We’re dreaming up more ways to use this facility to serve the community, and at the same time, our people have taken the church out of the building to meet people where they are. We have more House Groups and monthly gatherings than at any point in Peace Tree’s history which means we’re reaching more people than ever before.
Our House Groups have supported the Big Heart Fund, the Family Violence Council of Collierville, the Reynolds Hospice House, and several local schools. Our UMW circles and BRO and SIS groups have supported local reading programs, the Page Robbins Adult Day Center, and My Town Miracles’ Family Picnic & Field Day. And for the fourth year in a row, our church is organizing volunteers for the Guatemalan Mobile Consulate.
Live Together and Follow Christ are the last two core values at Peace Tree, and we participate in this work every time we gather in this place for Sunday morning worship. Members of our House Groups and small groups come together to form one Large Group in order to pray together, to sing God’s praises together, and to learn together as we explore God’s Word.
Our Adult Sunday School class started back up this morning after taking a break for the summer, and we’re exploring ways to launch a Confirmation Class for our young people. Groups which meet in coffee shops, restaurants, and neighborhood clubhouses have given us a chance to evangelize and witness to our neighbors. And House Groups have used a variety of resources for their studies as we all seek to follow Christ ever more closely.
Now, I’d like to pass the mic to Johnny Jackson, our church Lay Leader, as he shares a word about our first 100 days…
JOHNNY: Thank you Kris and thank you congregation for this “first” 100 days. It is right to pause, reflect, and to celebrate this milestone.
In the first 100 days:
Speaking of the children, one of the real motivations for Peace Tree joining with CrossRoads in this merger was the need for a safe and inviting space for our children to learn and grow. Over the past 100 days we have renovated 5 classrooms to create this space for our children of today and for those families and children to come.
I would like to extend a huge thank you from Connie and myself for the work of all the volunteers who pitched in and helped out.
If you have not yet checked out the new children’s space, I invite you after today’s service to walk down the west hall and check it all out. As you do, dream about the possibilities that the Peace Tree campus offers for extending the kingdom of God.
As you observe the new children’s space and imagine the future, let me give an update for proposed renovations of our facilities. Over the past 100 days we have had a number of meetings with ANF Architects reimagining our facilities. In the coming weeks we will be compiling the design recommendations to review with the district board and the district superintendent. We will be presenting this recommendation to you, our church, as we prayerfully consider what God would have us to do. The renovations under consideration include:
As stated we will be presenting this information in more details in the coming weeks as ANF wraps up the conceptual design. It's been an active 100 days. I am excited to be a part of what God is doing here at Peace Tree, and I look forward to the future.
KRIS: I want to end this time by reminding you of our overarching vision statement: Church Can Happen Anywhere. At its core is a simple reminder that I am the Church, that you are the Church, that we are the Church together. Whenever we walk out of the doors of our homes or this building, we are walking out into the mission field.
God is already out in the world, waiting for us to arrive so that we might participate in God’s mission of disciple-making. Demonstrate God’s love to your classmates at school, be the Church in your workplace, pray for each other and encourage one another with words of affirmation online and in person, seek out the path that Christ has prepared for you.
Four years ago, Peace Tree was approximately two dozen people meeting in two different living rooms - Wednesday nights in Collierville and Thursday nights in East Memphis. Today, we’re a congregation of 350 members & regular attenders on the roll with an average Sunday morning worship attendance of 140. There are also 100+ people each month who get together at House Groups or other Peace Tree gatherings.
We reach hundreds of people each month online with our worship service Live Streams, and we reach thousands with our Causely check-ins which have encouraged your friends to message you and ask, “Hey, what’s Peace Tree? I see you checking in at the location all the time. Can you tell me more?” We’ve entered an age of digital evangelism, and you are at the cutting edge!
Just as Jesus told Peter that he would build his Church, we trust that God is building up this congregation, using each of us to serve as living stones for God’s holy temple. In the upcoming weeks, you’ll have opportunities to hear about our renovation proposal so that our facility can reflect the joy, hospitality, and spirit of our people while attracting newcomers and partner organizations to utilize this space seven days a weeks, extending our reach into this community.
But for now, let’s celebrate our first 100 days, let’s give thanks to God, and let’s continue worshiping together at the table. Thank you!
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
Ash Wednesday is coming up Wednesday, March 6. This day has traditionally served as a call to repentance and reflection for Christian communities. Ash Wednesday (which follows Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras) also marks the beginning of Lent, a season when followers of Christ prepare for the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
As a new congregation that has primarily met in House Groups since the beginning of our church planting ministry, we have always celebrated Ash Wednesday in someone's home. The experience in the past has been particularly meaningful as we gathered together as a small group of believers confessing our sins to God, acknowledging our mortality, and preparing for our Lenten journey as we drew near to the Cross.
But this year, we are coming together for our first-ever Large Group Ash Wednesday service. We currently have three groups which meet on Wednesday nights, and we're preparing to start a fourth Wednesday night House Group later in March. It didn't seem proper to choose only one group to host our Ash Wednesday service, so we found a way to open up this worship experience to include everyone: all of our House Group participants, all of our Sunday morning congregants, and anyone from our community who desires to worship God with a faith community on this holy day.
Pastor Kris will make the sign of the Cross on our foreheads. The ashes will serve as a sign of our sorrow for having committed sins against God and neighbor, and they will also serve as a reminder that "from dust you came and to dust you shall return."
We welcome you to worship with the Peace Tree family this Wednesday night, and we hope that you will invite others who are wrestling with their faith, struggling with their sin, and discovering what it means to be redeemed by our glorious Lord.
Doors to the Quonset will open at 6:00 p.m. and our Ash Wednesday service will begin at 6:30. See you in Collierville on March 6. God bless!
It takes dozens of volunteers to make our Sunday morning Large Group worship celebrations possible each and every week. As a way of showing our appreciation to these amazing individuals, we’re taking a break from holding a worship service this Sunday so that they can continue celebrating Christmas with their families.
We believe it’s important to rest and to spend time abiding in God. So, we’ve assembled the following worship materials for you and your family to use in order to worship God wherever you’re spending this weekend.
We believe “Church Can Happen Anywhere,” so we hope you’ll invite others to join you in reading Scripture, praying, singing, and discussing the Gospel message from Matthew 2:1-12.
Remember to “Check In” to Peace Tree UMC on Facebook and Instagram. Every 5 check-ins will provide a book to a child living in Tanzania thanks to our partnership with Causely and Books for Africa. And be sure to use the hashtag #givebooks so that other people will know about this month’s charitable cause.
Have a safe and happy New Year’s weekend! We’ll see each of you back at the Malco Forest Hill Cinema on January 6th at 10AM as we kick off our new sermon series, “Best Song Ever.” We’ll hear the story behind “It Is Well with My Soul,” and we’ll hear a message based on Philippians 4:4-7.
If you’d like to make donation to Peace Tree this week, you can give HERE, and if you have any prayer requests, then please share them with us HERE. God bless!
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
OPEN WITH PRAYER
to you all hearts are open
and from you no secrets are hidden.
Through the power of your Holy Spirit,
allow us to feel your presence.
As we read your Word
and worship the newborn King,
we ask for the forgiveness of sins.
In Christ’s holy name we pray. Amen.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’
When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’
When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
(Matthew 2:1-12, New Revised Standard Version)
Watch this music video for “Noel (feat. Lauren Daigle)” by Chris Tomlin. Listen to the lyrics (or sing/read them below) and consider what God is saying to you.
Love incarnate, love divine
Star and angels gave the sign
Bow to babe on bended knee
The Savior of humanity
Unto us a Child is born
He shall reign forevermore
Come and see what God has done
The story of amazing love!
The light of the world, given for us
Son of God and Son of man
There before the world began
Born to suffer, born to save
Born to raise us from the grave
Christ the everlasting Lord
He shall reign forevermore
(Written by Edmond Martin Cash, Matthew James Redman, Christopher D Tomlin • Copyright © Capitol Christian Music Group, Music Services, Inc.)
CLOSE WITH PRAYER
Gracious and loving God,
we come before you
with no gifts but ourselves.
Accept and receive our lives
that we may be manifestations
of your presence;
let the light of your Spirit
shine within and among us,
so that we may share in the mystery of your purpose
of blessing for all creation,
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
How many of you remember the climactic scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? If you’ll recall, Indiana has to pass through three challenges in order to reach the Holy Grail and save his father from certain death. His father, played by Sean Connery, had been researching the Holy Grail and wrote down three clues to allow for safe passage through the challenges, allowing someone to successfully reach the Grail.
Indiana makes it through because he has a book to guide him. Now, I don’t know how often you feel like you’ve had to make a Leap of Faith. For me, agreeing to be on the Peace Tree Launch Team in 2015 was a Leap of Faith. Like Indy, I’m not sure I would have made the leap if I didn’t have my book, the Bible.
My first year on the Launch Team was my last year of Disciple Bible study (six years earlier when I started the Disciple series, I wasn’t sure I would get past the first year much less complete the whole series). Planting a church was not on my radar. I had no thoughts of leaving Collierville United Methodist Church.
I was comfortable. Paul and I had joined Collierville UMC in 1999. We had been members long enough that we had been involved in several areas and knew many people. We liked our Sunday School class a lot. I even started to occasionally fill in for our Sunday school teachers during the summer months to give them a break.
Our youngest child, Caleb, was very involved in all of the children’s programming and continued to be involved as he grew up and joined the youth program. He earned a trophy memorizing the books of the Bible and taught himself guitar so he could play in the youth praise band. Rev. Harry Durbin had invited him to be on his team in a Scrabble tournament, and he went on numerous youth trips to Mountain TOP, Breakthru, BigStuf Camps, Lake Junaluska and Lakeshore Camp.
I had been intrigued by Disciple Bible Study for a while. I knew many members of my Sunday School class had taken Disciple lessons, and they all spoke highly of the courses. I had enrolled once before but I was still working a full-time job, and with the kids’ schedules it was a struggle to keep up.
Finally the time came where my husband, Paul, and I could take the course at the same time. We started with over 20 people that first year. People came and went over the six years we participated in Disciple, but a core group of six made it through all six years. We formed really close friendships with those people as we studied Scripture together and prayed for each other during that time.
Little did I know that as I was working through these lessons throughout the Bible and on Christian & Methodist theology, God was preparing me to take my Leap of Faith. Just getting the overview of the Bible in the first year and understanding how the Old Testament and the New Testament work together was eye-opening. By Year Six we compared the Gospels and talked about what was the same, what was different, and why.
When we heard at Collierville UMC that Pastor Kristofer would be planting a church and putting together a Launch Team, I was immediately excited. But that excitement was followed by a great sense of doubt. What if I wanted to serve on this team but my husband didn’t? What if we wanted to do this but Kristofer had enough volunteers or didn’t feel he needed us? How long would we have to commit before we could return to CUMC?
I am not sure how called my husband felt to this new church plant, but he agreed to join me for a face-to-face talk with Pastor Kris. I do remember telling Paul after our talk that I did not want us to be at separate churches, so if he wasn’t comfortable with moving forward then we would stay at CUMC. However, since we had built up a better Biblical foundation through Disciple, and because we truly believed Kris was answering God’s call, we decided to take the leap.
Then as Rev. David Atkinson, the senior pastor at CUMC said, it got real! It became clear to us with each passing week that church planting was bigger than we realized and better than we hoped.
Faith is not a one-time thing. Faith is part of the lifestyle of a disciple of Jesus Christ. Faith is trusting Him. John Wesley was particularly concerned about inviting people to experience grace and to grow in their knowledge and love of God through disciplined Christian living. He emphasized that Christian living is putting faith and love into action. Wesley believed in salvation by God’s grace but was convinced that salvation should evidence itself as faith and love in action.
We each are called to take a Leap of Faith. We each must answer our own call. Your call may be the similar to someone else’s call; it may be completely different. The point is that we have a Good Book to help us get ready and to prepare for that call. The Bible is a book that will help us see the signs and recognize them. It’s a book that teaches us the correct response to God’s call. It leads us to the understanding that faith grows through our participation in the church community — a community where we are nourished and equipped for mission and service to the world.
Every House Group host at Peace Tree takes a Leap of Faith when they open up their home to both church members and guests. Young people and families take Leaps of Faith when they come forward to be baptized and when they decide to join our congregation as members. Our service groups SIS and BRO have taken Leaps of Faith when they decided to organize and begin serving the people of our community with their time and energy. Our students have taken Leaps of Faith by joining multi-generational House Groups instead of joining a more age-specific children’s program or youth group.
So, now the questions for you are: How is God calling you? Are you ready to take your Leap of Faith? May God bless you as you answer the call.
"Wow! Y'all are a starting new church?! Where are you located?" This is one side of a conversation that my team and I have had with numerous people who are interested in what we're doing as Peace Tree. We tell them that we felt called to start a new church to reach people who've been burned out on church, or people who were hurt by a congregation and left that group, or even those who've never entered a church building or attended a worship service before. They appreciate the mission that we have as a new faith community, but many people have trouble understanding our vision: Church Can Happen Anywhere.
It's difficult to answer the question, "Where are you located?" since we've primarily existed as a network of House Groups for our first 18 months of ministry. We've tried to shift the focus of "going to church" as simply showing up at a location on Sunday morning to gathering as the Body of Christ wherever and whenever we can meet. This flexibility in how we come together for worship & study has helped accommodate friends with ever-changing work schedules, those who have plans on the weekends, and families who have other commitments on Sunday mornings. This model of "house churches" has allowed us to go deeper in our discipleship and our walk with Christ. Friendships have formed to the point that each House Group feels more like a family, and each group's attendees can't imagine missing one of the mid-week gatherings. Still, with House Groups stretching from East Memphis to Collierville, it's hard to answer the question, "Where are you located?" since our church doesn't have just one location.
"Oh, so you have small groups that meet throughout the week? Great! But where is your main church building?" This is another question that we often get asked as we talk about Peace Tree. We re-emphasize how each House Group has its own identity and missional emphasis. Each House Group is self-sustainable, but all are connected to the larger Peace Tree community. As we've grown and added more House Groups, we saw a need to gather together as one Large Group in order see one another face-to-face and to worship God together as a family. So, we launched a weekly worship service at the Malco Towne Cinema in Collierville where we've gathered our different groups into one Large Group while also welcoming our friends from town. But the movie theater is a rented space; we set up our worship area, nursery, children's area, and hospitality tables early Sunday morning and then we pack it all up before the first films start showing at Noon. We don't have a church building and we actually prefer it this way.
Not having a main church building or one primary location has allowed us to focus more on the people that we're reaching. We've been able to see God at work in businesses, parks, and neighborhoods in a pretty magnificent way. God is Everywhere, which means Church Can Happen Anywhere! All of the financial support and contributions we receive help drive this vision. Instead of asking people to come to us, we'll go to them!
Jesus' final words to his disciples were this: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." By not having one location, we feel as though we're living out Jesus' last words. We're witnessing in Collierville, and in Germantown and Memphis, and God-willing to the ends of the earth! We're not staying put. We're on the move, and we're spreading God's love to everyone we meet practically every day of the week. Exciting things are happening at Peace Tree, and we'd love for you to come and see for yourself. Click on the tabs marked Sundays and House Groups to learn about our multiple locations, and click on the tab marked Connect if you have a prayer request or a question that you'd like to ask us. We'll see you soon!
+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
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