A Partner Story: Kemmons Wilson, Jr.

Kemmons (Kem) Wilson, Jr. has always had one foot in business and one in ministry. About 15-20 years ago, he felt an increasing passion for three categories: Mentoring. Discipleship. Stewardship.

Kem says, “When I was younger, I took on many good community projects, but as I matured in my spiritual growth, I decided to narrow my focus.” He loves to ask himself and others: “What are you doing today—not yesterday, not tomorrow, but this very day—to impact or influence the next generation?”

God put something else on his heart during this time. Kem explains, “I mentored a young man named Kennon Vaughan and helped him launch Downline Ministries, a discipleship ministry here in Memphis. The ministry’s passion was the Great Commission, and this focus completely captured my heart. A light bulb came on. I had read Matthew 28:19 many, many times, but I finally realized these were Jesus’ last words not only to his disciples but also to his church—to ‘go and make disciples of all nations.’ This verse is now a primary driver of my life.”

Kem was introduced to CTC in 2011. He was familiar with Tim Keller, reading his books and listening to some of his sermons, when a close friend invited him to a CTC event. At first, he had some questions. He explains, “When I found out it was all about planting churches, my initial thought was, ‘Why do we need another church?’ But I came to understand what CTC does—how they help leaders to grow gospel movements in cities through church planting. I was very impressed by the way CTC recruits and trains leaders and helps to fund gospel movements through church plants.” And through CTC, Kem has found a way to fulfill his call to the nations. “I can participate in this discipleship idea in my local context, but when it comes to all nations, CTC really hit a button—it’s my outlet to reach the world.”

After hearing Tim speak about how God is moving people to cities, it became clear to Kem that many new churches are needed. Kem remembers, “I was certainly impressed that CTC zeroes in on global cities. I was even more impressed they work with many denominations. I assumed they were all Presbyterian churches. CTC demonstrates how it is true to its mission by working across denominational lines and working with local leaders.”

As Kem has followed CTC, he’s heard church planters speak of a “new kind of church where everyone is welcome.” Kem and his wife Norma were long-time members of a formal, Presbyterian church when his former protégé, now Dr. Kennon Vaughan, invited him to join his new church plant.

With Kem’s entrepreneurial spirit, his commitment to obey God when called, and his new view of church planting inspired by CTC—Kem was all in. He explains, “We loved our old church. We had been there for 45 years. But the people who come to our new church wouldn’t walk through the doors of our former church. They would be intimated by the hymns, by the coat and ties, by the robed choir members.” And Kem loves that the person he mentored 15 years ago is now his pastor.

Kem continues to be very excited about what CTC is doing. He says:

You’ve got Tim Keller, Steve Shackelford and an extraordinary team. It’s a well-oiled machine with great capability for recruiting, training and launching leaders. That’s what I want to align myself with.

Kem is the Vice Chairman and Board of Directors for Kemmons Wilson Companies, a family business named after his father. The company is involved with a variety of things such as real estate, hotels, timeshare, and private equity. Kem serves on multiple boards and is involved with a number of non-pro ts, each in alignment with his three passions: Mentoring. Discipleship. Stewardship. Kem and his wife Norma have ve adult children, sixteen grandchildren and call Memphis home.