We've had several weeks of House Groups that have met for worship, Bible study, Communion, dinner, planning, and fellowship. They've all been meaningful times together, whether there were four people or twelve people present.
I was searching for an illustration to describe our House Groups in a way that wasn't so "churchy." Sunday school is a concept which will be familiar to those who grew up in a church setting, and it is true that our groups share the same DNA as a Sunday school class: a body that meets to study God's Word and occasionally gets together for social gatherings. But how do I describe the feeling and the atmosphere of our meetings to someone who hasn't visited a Sunday school class or attended a Bible study? I was beginning to think I'd find nothing with which to compare our House Groups, until I watched the premiere of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Fans of Stephen's former television program, The Colbert Report, which aired on Comedy Central, noticed familiar elements popping up in the new Late Show. Addressing the 'Nation,' over-the-top skits, Captain America's shield, interviews with political figures, superstar musical cameos that completely fill up the stage, and a commentary on Donald Trump that mimicked his former sketch, The Word, were all present in the September 8th premiere.
So what does any of this have to do with Church and House Groups?
For starters, Stephen was simply being himself. During one interview, Colbert stated that he played the fictional role of a "narcissistic, conservative pundit" for several years on The Colbert Report. But in this new role as host of The Late Show, Stephen gets to be himself. There was nothing fake or phony about who he was or how he acted in last night's premiere which must have been a relief to the late night talk show host. There were no catch phrases or gimmicks he had to perform. He could shed the pundit persona and simply be Stephen.
Likewise, our House Groups have allowed people to come together and simply be themselves. Since our church meets people where they are, there is no dress code or Rules of Conduct at a Peace Tree gathering. Sometimes people show up late because they're fighting traffic and driving to a meeting straight from work. Others open up about how bad a day or week it has been since we last met. Dogs are free to run around and jump on couches and beg for food. And everyone is free to be as vulnerable or as guarded as they feel they need to be in a new place with new people who are starting to meet for the first time. This is a good thing for some individuals who have social anxiety walking into large rooms of strangers or who feel self-conscious about the clothes they wear. It's also a good thing for people who are new to the Mid-South and fear they may sit in someone's "reserved seat" at a local worship service. We've tried to remove all the roadblocks one may throw out as reasons for not attending a church.
"Be Yourself" is a concept that works for both Peace Tree and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. We want people to know that they belong here and that they can always "come as they are." God loves you completely, and at Peace Tree we hope that all people will experience the fullness of God's love.
Secondly, there was a genuine sense of community that the show sought to create, especially during the musical performance of Sly and the Family Stone's hit, "Everyday People." The vast number of talented musicians who gathered on the same stage was a classic Colbert move. Derek Trucks, Brittany Howard, Ben Folds, Mavis Staples, and numerous others were led by Jon Batiste, the new Late Show bandleader who found ways to incorporate different musical genres throughout the show and who successfully brought the aforementioned musicians together for a fun number.
The lyrics of "Everyday People" are just as true today as they were in 1968, but the line that sticks out to me is "We got to live together!" Even though we are all different in one way or another, we need to find ways to live together as a community.
Different strokes for different folks was another concept that was featured throughout Colbert's premiere. Colbert pointed out how he disagrees politically with his brother, and yet he still loves his brother. The beginning of the show featured a montage of Stephen singing the Star Spangled Banner with people of different ages, races, and genders in different environments (baseball fields, bowling alleys, workshops, the Washington Mall, etc.). There was even a gag after the credits that took place in the fictional Late Night Locker Room which involved Colbert saying goodnight to Jimmy Fallon, his Tonight Show competitor. Even though these two hosts will be judged according to ratings and viewership from the same time slot, they both are playing nice with each other. Perhaps they both have realized first hand that "we got to live together!"
Some of you may know that Live Together is one of the core values of Peace Tree. And just like an overcrowded Late Show stage, we've seen our share of different folks who have gathered together for good food, Bible study, and community. Our House Groups contain both retirees and young adults working in their first full time jobs. We've seen individuals say goodbye to spouses and parents who have recently passed away, and we've also experienced new beginnings via weddings and pregnancy announcements. We've worshiped with high school and middle school students as well as graduate students who are continuing their studies in the city of Memphis.
Our House Groups have included people of different ages, races, and genders meeting in different environments (houses, restaurants, apartments, and even traditional places of worship such as Collierville UMC - our mother church). The people who come to these gatherings are different folks who have differing opinions regarding politics, education, child rearing, and which team will emerge as SEC football champions this season. But they follow Christ together with the understanding that they will be loved by the people they encounter at their weekly House Group meeting.
Stephen Colbert has taken a TV program that has existed for over two decades and he has updated it for a new day and age. People are encouraged to be themselves because the host can finally be himself. And when you tune in, you know you'll discover a genuine community of people in front of the cameras and behind the scenes who seek to brighten up your night with a fun hour of television.
Peace Tree's House Groups have taken an ancient concept of worshiping God in homes from the first century and has tailored it to fit our everyday lives. People are encouraged to be themselves because God loves us completely. When you show up to a gathering, you'll discover a genuine community of people who seek to love all, serve all, live together, and follow Christ. I thank God for this first month of House Group meetings, and I pray that God will continue to grow and multiply these groups.
+Peace and Love from Pastor Kris
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