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
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.
If someone had told me that I would one day be a part of the Leadership Team for a new church plant, I would have said, “I don’t think so.” But that is exactly what I am doing right now, and I'm loving every minute of it.
Several years ago, I found myself as a member of a church but not participating at all, not even going to worship on Sunday mornings. Why? I guess I was frustrated with not feeling like I was a part of the church, never being asked to volunteer even after signing up on volunteer forms, not being nurtured in my faith or cared for when it was needed.
I have been in the Church most of my adult life and have always been involved in church leadership by chairing committees, working with Sunday School classes, volunteering with the congregation's youth group, and just about anything else I was asked to do. The Church was my family, but I had been missing that feeling of belonging and of worth. I desired the closeness that I had once felt to God and with my fellow Christians.
I missed working for God and feeling like I was part of a church family, and I wanted what I once had. At the same time, I kept feeling nudges from God to find another church. Then, I watched as Peace Tree was getting started. So, one day I said to my husband that I wanted to check out Peace Tree. We met with Pastor Kris over coffee and we liked what we heard.
Pastor Kris invited us to try out a House Group, so we went to the Martinsburg Cove House which meets Sundays at 6:30 p.m. I can’t tell you how loved I felt and how we were welcomed into this group from day one. I had found what I had been missing! I wanted more and even said to Kris that I was ready to get plugged in doing something for the Church.
Several months later, Pastor Kris invited us to be a part of the Leadership Team. Again, the feeling of warmth, love, and camaraderie was present from day one at these team meetings. We accepted the challenge to serve God in this way and we haven’t looked back.
It has been such a wonderful experience being a part of the Leadership Team and witnessing the launch of our Large Group worship celebrations. Planning opportunities for ministry and serving God as church planters has been such a joy. I can’t tell you how great it feels to be a part of this new church and how it is such a big part of my life. I can see God moving through this group, and the love and care shared by others is authentic and genuine. I feel God's presence at every event, every worship service, and at every House Group gathering.
I thank God every day that I listened to His nudging and pursued Peace Tree. If you're like me and you are looking for that feeling you once had at church years ago, or if you're just looking for a new church home, then try Peace Tree. You won’t regret it! Love lives here and God is in our midst.
"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
In a few short days, Peace Tree will be launching our first public Sunday morning worship service. Up until now, every Sunday morning gathering we've held has been a "Preview Service." These previews were invaluable since each week we learned something new, gained another skill, recruited more volunteers, and witnessed how God was working through our team. Now we're finally ready to open up our Sunday morning worship celebrations to the larger public!
Since we're a new faith community that does things differently, we planned our Launch Day Celebration to be a little different than a typical Sunday morning at church. First off, we realize that this Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday, which is why we're encouraging everyone to come to worship decked out in their Super Bowl gear. If you have a favorite team or player, then wear their jersey! Wanna let others know who you're pulling for in the Super Bowl? Sport that team's colors. And if any of your kids wanna dress up in rec league jerseys or cheer uniforms, then let them! Americans will be watching the big game later that day, so why not come to church in your football attire and redefine what it looks like to wear your "Sunday Best?"
Second, we want our Launch Day to be more than just about Peace Tree starting a new worship service. Much of our ministry and work these past 18 months has been focused on real people that we meet out in our neighborhoods. For this reason, our Launch Day Celebration at the Malco Towne Cinema will serve as a collection site for the Souper Bowl of Caring canned food drive. The Souper Bowl of Caring is a nationwide movement which helps young people learn what it’s like to make a positive difference in the world as they collect food, raise money, and volunteer to work in local charities while showing compassion to those in need. Canned food and cash donations may be dropped off in the lobby of the Malco Collierville Towne Cinema from 9:30-11:30 a.m. on February 5th. Every food item and dollar donated will stay in our town and go directly to the Collierville Food Pantry supporting our neighbors.
Launch Day is the perfect opportunity to check out Peace Tree as we live out our vision, "Church Can Happen Anywhere," so come and see what God is doing this Sunday at the Malco Collierville. Doors open at 9:30 a.m. and worship begins at 10:00. You're also welcome to watch the big game with us on Sunday night as we gather with friends at Miller Creek at Germantown apartments. We hope that Peace Tree's Launch Day Celebration will bring our community together in a festive way as we serve our neighbors and worship God together. See y'all this Sunday!
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
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
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
Susan and I have been active members of Collierville United Methodist Church for the greater part of our lives. We love our church, and we love telling others about it! Through the years we have served on dozens of committees, work areas, and both local and international mission teams. So when the opportunity arose to collaborate with Pastor Kris in the planting of a new church, we eagerly volunteered for such a unique outreach.
In spite of the hundreds of congregations found in Collierville and in neighboring towns, some folks still have a hard time finding themselves in church these days.
Peace Tree UMC is a new type of church plant supported by Collierville United Methodist Church. We are committed to reaching friends and neighbors who are currently M.O.S. “Missing on Sundays.” Many people who are not connected to a faith community are people who live and work amongst us: they attend local schools, serve in restaurants, work in hospitals, repair our cars, guide us with our investment portfolios, prepare coffee at Starbucks, and even exercise with us at the gym. Peace Tree wants to form new relationships and share the promise of God’s love with all people in all kinds of places and spaces, every day of the week.
The question that Susan and I have asked is, "How do we help foster these new relationships?"
Recently, we attended a New Church “Boot Camp” hosted by the Memphis and Tennessee Annual Conferences. One of the topics of the 3-day conference was a fascinating but unsettling session regarding millennial attitudes and impressions towards Christians and traditional worship. We were surprised to learn the statistics on how poorly Christians are viewed by a majority of 18 to 39 year old young adults who do not have a regular connection to a faith group. In the follow-up session, the leaders of the workshop presented us with case studies of helpful techniques used by successful church plants that have brought thousands to Christ.
Once we completed "Boot Camp," Peace Tree UMC formed a Launch Team, and we regularly meet for worship, fellowship, and ministry planning. The primary way we hope to build community is by planning a network of House Groups in preparation of Peace Tree's official launch. By sponsoring weekly house meetings as well as small group meetings held in public spaces, we hope to connect our Mid-South neighbors with new friends in the faith. Our prayer is that these small groups of believers will connect with other small groups within the Peace Tree family in order to one day form a larger missional, worshiping community. There is much work in front of us, but we look forward to what God has in store for Peace Tree!
+Len & Susan
We thank you for who you are. You are the Creator of everything we can touch, taste, and see, and yet you take the time to walk with us, to listen to us, and to care for us in our daily lives. You don't need us in order to accomplish your goals, but you've honored us by asking us to work in your harvest and to reach your people.
This day, as we eagerly anticipate our first community event in Collierville, we ask that you would bless our work. Please build upon the energy and excitement that has gone into the planning of this event. May the plans that we've discussed not be our plans, but instead may they hopefully be your plans for Saturday in Suggs Park.
Bless the people whom we will meet. May they feel comfortable in sharing their stories with us. May those who have left the Church find their way back with the people of Peace Tree walking by their side. May those who have had questions about Christianity and have expressed doubts over their faith find hope and promise in the House Groups that are forming.
Watch over the children who will come and enjoy life in the playground and spray park. Keep the dogs in the dog park healthy. Inspire the musicians who will share their gift with all those at our Field Day. Bring neighbors together around the games that will be set up. And cool everyone down with the pure, clean bottled water and the juicy goodness of ice-pops.
Above all, may we delight in your presence! Allow us to truly connect with our neighbors so that we may fulfill our mission of "Loving God by Loving Others." Send your Holy Spirit upon us this Saturday so that all those who encounter the Peace Tree squad will also encounter God. And thank you for all the times you've remained faithful to us.
In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
Follow the journey of a new church as we answer the call to reach people in Collierville, Memphis, and the Mid-South.