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
We've had several weeks of House Groups that have met for worship, Bible study, Communion, dinner, planning, and fellowship. They've all been meaningful times together, whether there were four people or twelve people present.
I was searching for an illustration to describe our House Groups in a way that wasn't so "churchy." Sunday school is a concept which will be familiar to those who grew up in a church setting, and it is true that our groups share the same DNA as a Sunday school class: a body that meets to study God's Word and occasionally gets together for social gatherings. But how do I describe the feeling and the atmosphere of our meetings to someone who hasn't visited a Sunday school class or attended a Bible study? I was beginning to think I'd find nothing with which to compare our House Groups, until I watched the premiere of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Fans of Stephen's former television program, The Colbert Report, which aired on Comedy Central, noticed familiar elements popping up in the new Late Show. Addressing the 'Nation,' over-the-top skits, Captain America's shield, interviews with political figures, superstar musical cameos that completely fill up the stage, and a commentary on Donald Trump that mimicked his former sketch, The Word, were all present in the September 8th premiere.
So what does any of this have to do with Church and House Groups?
For starters, Stephen was simply being himself. During one interview, Colbert stated that he played the fictional role of a "narcissistic, conservative pundit" for several years on The Colbert Report. But in this new role as host of The Late Show, Stephen gets to be himself. There was nothing fake or phony about who he was or how he acted in last night's premiere which must have been a relief to the late night talk show host. There were no catch phrases or gimmicks he had to perform. He could shed the pundit persona and simply be Stephen.
Likewise, our House Groups have allowed people to come together and simply be themselves. Since our church meets people where they are, there is no dress code or Rules of Conduct at a Peace Tree gathering. Sometimes people show up late because they're fighting traffic and driving to a meeting straight from work. Others open up about how bad a day or week it has been since we last met. Dogs are free to run around and jump on couches and beg for food. And everyone is free to be as vulnerable or as guarded as they feel they need to be in a new place with new people who are starting to meet for the first time. This is a good thing for some individuals who have social anxiety walking into large rooms of strangers or who feel self-conscious about the clothes they wear. It's also a good thing for people who are new to the Mid-South and fear they may sit in someone's "reserved seat" at a local worship service. We've tried to remove all the roadblocks one may throw out as reasons for not attending a church.
"Be Yourself" is a concept that works for both Peace Tree and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. We want people to know that they belong here and that they can always "come as they are." God loves you completely, and at Peace Tree we hope that all people will experience the fullness of God's love.
Secondly, there was a genuine sense of community that the show sought to create, especially during the musical performance of Sly and the Family Stone's hit, "Everyday People." The vast number of talented musicians who gathered on the same stage was a classic Colbert move. Derek Trucks, Brittany Howard, Ben Folds, Mavis Staples, and numerous others were led by Jon Batiste, the new Late Show bandleader who found ways to incorporate different musical genres throughout the show and who successfully brought the aforementioned musicians together for a fun number.
The lyrics of "Everyday People" are just as true today as they were in 1968, but the line that sticks out to me is "We got to live together!" Even though we are all different in one way or another, we need to find ways to live together as a community.
Different strokes for different folks was another concept that was featured throughout Colbert's premiere. Colbert pointed out how he disagrees politically with his brother, and yet he still loves his brother. The beginning of the show featured a montage of Stephen singing the Star Spangled Banner with people of different ages, races, and genders in different environments (baseball fields, bowling alleys, workshops, the Washington Mall, etc.). There was even a gag after the credits that took place in the fictional Late Night Locker Room which involved Colbert saying goodnight to Jimmy Fallon, his Tonight Show competitor. Even though these two hosts will be judged according to ratings and viewership from the same time slot, they both are playing nice with each other. Perhaps they both have realized first hand that "we got to live together!"
Some of you may know that Live Together is one of the core values of Peace Tree. And just like an overcrowded Late Show stage, we've seen our share of different folks who have gathered together for good food, Bible study, and community. Our House Groups contain both retirees and young adults working in their first full time jobs. We've seen individuals say goodbye to spouses and parents who have recently passed away, and we've also experienced new beginnings via weddings and pregnancy announcements. We've worshiped with high school and middle school students as well as graduate students who are continuing their studies in the city of Memphis.
Our House Groups have included people of different ages, races, and genders meeting in different environments (houses, restaurants, apartments, and even traditional places of worship such as Collierville UMC - our mother church). The people who come to these gatherings are different folks who have differing opinions regarding politics, education, child rearing, and which team will emerge as SEC football champions this season. But they follow Christ together with the understanding that they will be loved by the people they encounter at their weekly House Group meeting.
Stephen Colbert has taken a TV program that has existed for over two decades and he has updated it for a new day and age. People are encouraged to be themselves because the host can finally be himself. And when you tune in, you know you'll discover a genuine community of people in front of the cameras and behind the scenes who seek to brighten up your night with a fun hour of television.
Peace Tree's House Groups have taken an ancient concept of worshiping God in homes from the first century and has tailored it to fit our everyday lives. People are encouraged to be themselves because God loves us completely. When you show up to a gathering, you'll discover a genuine community of people who seek to love all, serve all, live together, and follow Christ. I thank God for this first month of House Group meetings, and I pray that God will continue to grow and multiply these groups.
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
When I was growing up as a teenager in South Carolina, my family loved watching the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway? We never knew what was going to happen next since it was "the show where everything is made up and the points don't matter." The art of improvisational comedy intrigued me and further held my attention as I attended seminary. A group of fellow pastors-in-training formed the improv troupe Axe of the Apostles, and during one of their performances, I got called up on stage as a volunteer from the audience. The lesson I learned that day is one that can serve very useful and helpful to all Christians as we answer the call to ministry and take up our cross to follow Christ: always say Yes!
There are several stories in the Bible where individuals are called by God to perform a task or deliver a message. Some of those individuals say Yes! while others have fought God and initially say NO. Two persons who said NO come to mind; their names are Moses and Jonah. Moses cited his speech impediment to excuse him from delivering God's message to Egypt, and Jonah did not want to travel to the wretched city of Nineveh and had pre-judged them from the outset. The long story short is this: God is able to lead us from No to Yes. God finds a way to take our excuses and seemingly solid justifications and shows us how God's way is truly the best and most righteous path to take. God has a way of turning our No into a Yes. I consider all the people who said Yes! to God from the beginning and the outcome of their stories - Samuel, Isaiah, Mary, and the disciples as they were invited to follow Jesus. If you are new to Christianity, then Google "the Gospel of Luke" and read Mary's response to God's angel in the first chapter. I pray that your response to God's call on your life will be like Mary's. Keep reading through that gospel to see how the disciples drop everything to say Yes! and follow Jesus.
In her book Bossypants, Tina Fey continues to build upon the improv rule of "always say Yes!" when she adds, say "Yes!...And..." Sometimes, simply agreeing to a task or situation is not enough; we have to say, "And..." This keeps an improv sketch alive so that everyone continues to pretend that Drew Carey's belt is really a snake and that Wayne Brady can actually speak German. Without saying "And..." the entire movement of the bit would come to an awkward halt. Watch the revival of Whose Line on the CW this summer, and you'll understand the power of agreeing to a situation with YES and the momentum of building upon previous events by saying AND.
All of us who have breath are being called upon by God for a task of one sort or another. Turn to the examples of Isaiah and Mary and the disciples to see how people have been blessed by answering YES to God. But don't just stop there; be sure to keep the story going by saying "And..." Whenever we say YES, we become part of God's larger story. By saying AND, we get to add our God-given talents and abilities to the situation. Just imagine the conversation: Yes God, I will feed the hungry, AND I will work with local organizations to start a new soup kitchen. Yes God, I will follow you to the inner city, AND I will invite others who may be wrestling with the same calling in life. Yes God, I will share the good news of the Bible, AND I will help train up new leaders to share their God-stories as well.
Take a page out of the improv comedy playbook: don't be afraid to answer Yes! to God. But don't just stop there. Keep God's story going with your AND.
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
Follow the journey of a new church as we answer the call to reach people in Collierville, Memphis, and the Mid-South.