By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
CHATTANOOGA — Just two years ago Shane Mitchell was a worship and creative arts pastor of a traditional church who enjoyed riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle. Then he felt called by God to build relationships at a coffeehouse.
Since then his work-a-day world has shifted — from spending most of his time at Oakwood Baptist Church, Chattanooga, where he led worship, to managing a thrift store while leading a new congregation.
His personal life has been rocked — from living in a nice traditional home in Chattanooga to a small apartment in Ooltewah.
On Easter, Kairos Communities, the new congregation, met for Sunday morning worship for the first time. About 50 people gathered.
Going outside the walls of the church
In 2015 Mitchell felt called by God to be more evangelistic, partly because of the 1-5-1 Harvest Fields training of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board he attended. Then his pastor, Ken Clark, challenged him to “utilize his gift of evangelism,” he said, by taking a day away from the church office and getting “outside the walls of the church.”
So Mitchell rode his Harley to a new coffeehouse in Ooltewah, which is located about 15 miles northeast of Chattanooga. That day and each following day he met a “person of peace” with which he could develop a friendship. Mitchell also saw people saved and discipled and lives changed.
Some months later he and his wife, Melissa, felt called by God to move from their nice home into a small apartment in Ooltewah to be closer to their new friends. The Mitchells have two college-age children who relocated with them.
Around that same time Mitchell started a Bible study in his apartment to disciple the people he had met. It grew in numbers and had to relocate to the apartment complex clubhouse. Mitchell said although he has been in the ministry 24 years, it took him a while to realize that a new congregation may be developing.
He called Lewis McMullen of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board who met with him, Ken Clark, and Dennis Culbreth, director of missions, Hamilton County Baptist Association, based in Chattanooga. Besides describing his ministry, Mitchell told them he had discovered that the Ooltewah area is one of the fastest growing areas in the state in terms of population.
Finally, McMullen advised the group that God was starting a new church here and they could embrace it or withdraw. Clark agreed, adding that he would lead Oakwood Baptist to sponsor the beginning church.
Development of new church
Then God brought Mitchell into contact with Steve Gervasi, a Baptist minister and church planter who was in Chattanooga to plant a church. Mitchell and Gervasi soon discovered that they strengthen each other because of their different gifts. Also another minister in California, Kel Trudgian, felt called to join the church planting team by moving to Ooltewah.
“It was just unbelievable what was happening,” said Mitchell.
The new congregation he has seen develop is unusual, admitted Mitchell. Kairos Communities means communities which are God-ordained for an opportune time, he added. The congregation will include several “missional communities” which will target people groups for ministry based on the 1-5-1 Harvest Fields strategy, he explained.
The first people group being targeted is found at the coffeehouse. Other missional communities of Kairos might be at a school or the thrift store where he now works, he added.
To respond to what God was forming, Mitchell became elder/pastor of evangelism, community development, and assimilation of Kairos with Steve Gervasi assuming the role of elder/teaching pastor, visioning, and staff development. Trudgian became elder/pastor of leadership development and teaching.
When the coffeehouse moved to a bigger facility, it seemed like God’s answer for a meeting place. Plans were announced for the first official Sunday gathering of Kairos Communities to be Easter at the coffeehouse. However, it was discovered just a few weeks prior to Easter that the coffeehouse didn’t have enough parking to meet city regulations.
Culbreth, who had stayed in contact with Mitchell, thought of Apison Baptist Church, Apison, as a meeting place. Soon it had worked out — another miracle all involved agreed. Apison Baptist is located only about four miles from Ooltewah.
Steve Pearson of the TBMB staff who is interim pastor of Apison Baptist, said the small congregation of about 40 people is glad to welcome Kairos Communities, a Southern Baptist church plant. Apison Baptist which already shares its space with a Messianic Jewish congregation on Saturday nights, has space for Kairos Communities in its Family Life Center on Sunday mornings, he said.
Culbreth, a former church planter, explained that new congregations have to be flexible and creative in finding locations to meet.
“God’s got His hand on that congregation and on Shane. You know, it’s one thing to dream about this and it’s another to step out and do it and He’s doing it.”
He added, “Oakwood has been a phenomenal sponsoring church for them.”
Ken Clark, pastor, Oakwood Baptist, said sponsoring Kairos Communities has been good for Oakwood. Thankfully “God didn’t give us the big picture” for some time, he explained. Recently on Palm Sunday, Oakwood Baptist “sent out” Mitchell and about 15 members of Oakwood who felt called to go help Kairos. He and other church leaders believe this is the first time for Oakwood Baptist, which is 179 years old, to send out a team of church planters. It has sent out pastors and missionaries. Oakwood Baptist draws about 230 people on a Sunday morning.
“We were sending them out into another community to reach people for Christ. We were becoming two lights instead of just one, and that’s exciting,” said Clark.
Members of Oakwood Baptist and other churches are helping sponsor Mitchell and Gervasi. The new congregation additionally is being assisted by the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board through its Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions, said McMullen.
Mitchell reported, “God is planting the church. We are simply planting the gospel into the lives of people. He is the one who makes the way and provides for everything we need.”