The Greenhouse Series: The Axis Church in Nashville, TN

[Note: The Greenhouse Series promotes church planting and church renewal in the United States. Each installment spotlights a specific church that has recently been planted or is in the process of revitalization, as a means of encouraging our readership in the victories of the gospel and allowing them the opportunity to support these churches.]

Last year, I spent a weekend with Jeremy Rose and The Axis Church. It was one of the best weekends of my life. I blogged about it here. Jeremy is a friend and a former student of mine at Southeastern. He and his family planted the Axis Church in a run-down neighborhood in downtown Nashville a year and a half ago. God has blessed their church real, relational, life-on-life ministry opportunities with the homeless, the fatherless, the jobless, and ultimately with the Christ-less.

The Axis Church meets in a warehouse in downtown Nashville and is led by pastors Jeremy Rose and Jacob Henley. Although the church is 17 months old, the idea of The Axis Church spans several years. In 2008, Pastor Jeremy and his wife Jill were burdened for a particular people group-Nashville urbanites. Generally speaking, this group is educated, skeptical, spiritual, and wants little to do with God or church. Pastor Jeremy says, “This is our calling. We are building friendships with the church-haters and seeing them become something not unlike the Apostle Paul himself.”

The church never actually “launched.” They simply gathered with ten new faces in October 2009 and have seen God multiply the church week by week. By 2010, Jacob Henley had joined Jeremy as a fellow pastor/elder. The Axis Church now averages over 100 attenders each week, also has three Communities on Mission (C.O.M.) Groups with two more starting soon. The Axis Church is in the seventh month of a preaching series through the book of Ephesians, in which Jeremy preaches 50-60 minutes each Sunday morning. They are just rolling out their membership process, Axis Ministry Partnership.

The Axis Church has seen consistent gospel victories in their corner of Nashville. Homeless persons have come to Christ and stay involved with The Axis. Neighborhood kids have found two pastors willing to help repair a bike or pump air into a basketball, and soon have an opportunity to hear the gospel. Nashville musicians find a church that is not based on an entertainment model.

As Jeremy tells it, “Jacob and I (and family) both live in the ‘hood near the warehouse where our church meets (Germantown/Salemtown), along with several other Axis families. If you are an Axis person living here, your doorbell will ring at least twice a day…neighborhood kids showing up to spend time with you, to ask you for help repairing their bike or scooter, to ask for an air pump for their ball, or oddly enough to give you a sweater they ‘bought for you.'”

Living in ‘the hood’ is a crucial part of their ministry. Jeremy says, “We coach/play basketball in the Community Center every Monday and Wednesday for neighborhood boys and girls. It keeps them out of trouble, it earns us street cred and it keeps our ear to the heart beat of our context.”

The Axis Church website states their vision clearly: “Our ultimate vision for the Axis is to see the gospel transform everything. We want to see the gospel change us as individuals, change us as a church, change our city, our neighborhood and change our world.”

How can we help The Axis Church? (1) We can pray for a gospel revolution in the Nashville ‘hood, and pray for God’s wisdom, grace, and power in the lives of Jeremy, Jacob, and the Axis Church families; and (2) we can provide crucial financial support by contacting Pastor Jeremy Rose at www.theaxischurch.org.

Gospel, Church, and City (1): What I Learned in Nashville at the Greenhouse CoOp

This past weekend, I went to Nashville to teach but ended up being taught.

Allow me to explain. In February, I received a call from a church planter and former student, Jeremy, who moved from Charlotte to Nashville in August 2009. He and Jill (and their three small children) moved to Nashville to make disciples and plant a church in downtown Nashville, in a lower-income, multi-racial neighborhood called Germantown. They began meeting in October as The Axis Church, and now have approximately 60 members. The growth has come without any “launch” and without any publicity whatsoever.

When Jeremy called in February, he told me that he had 6-8 young guys who were interested in church planting and he wondered if I would be willing to come and sit around a table with them, to talk about “gospel, church, and city.” I was immediately interested in going for multiple reasons, including at least these three: Jeremy is a spirit-filled man of God, urban church planting is vital for the advance of God’s kingdom, and people in cowboy boots always amuse me.

Jeremy’s prayer and hope is that The Axis Church would eventually be able to send church planters to every neighborhood in Nashville and eventually to other cities in the world. This meeting would be the first organized effort to that end (barely 6 months after planting Axis!). Jeremy decided that he would call our meeting The Greenhouse Church Planter’s CoOp. Much to Jeremy’s (and my) surprise, we ended up with thirty prospective church planters.

I taught four sessions. During the first session we dealt with the church planter’s character, studying Luke 14:25-33 and talking about discipleship and idolatry. During the second session, we did “theology in an hour,” walking through creation, fall, redemption, and new creation, talking about how the gospel and biblical theology drive everything that a church planter does. In the third session, we talked about how the gospel transforms individuals, families, neighborhoods, churches, and even entire cities. Fourth and finally, we discussed the need for missional churches and church planting in a post-Christendom 21st century context.

But the best part of the weekend for me was Saturday evening when Jeremy and two of his Axis amigos took me for a tour of Germantown before heading to Jeremy’s house to grill and hang out. This is the part where I realized that God had brought me to Nashville for me to be taught rather than merely to teach. As we rode in Jeremy’s 235 year old “classic” Suburban, complete with an engine that sounds like a cement mixer (as well as a broken passenger seat that leans back at a gangsta angle), he drove slowly through the streets of Germantown, talking with whoever he saw and telling me about the neighborhood.

The instructive and encouraging thing about this ride through the neighborhood had a lot to do with (1) the fact that this pastor obviously loved this city and its people after having lived there for less than a year; (2) he seemed to know everybody in the neighborhood, none of whom were white or middle class; (3) he knew the local homeless men whom he helped on a regular basis; (4) God had taken away his fear of camping out on certain blocks known for drug activity and other crimes (apparently, God also removed any reservations he may have had about taking me there with him); and (5) he loved these people and this city in spite of the fact that he’s already been robbed in the middle of this same neighborhood.

After driving through the neighborhood, we went back to his house to grill burgers and dogs, and spend time with future church planters Lee and Emily Sill as well as Jacob Henley, a very good brother with enough tattoos to make Quentin Tarrantino blush (In college, I wanted a tattoo, but in the end decided against it because of what it would like on arms the size of a pipe cleaner). Jeremy and Jill’s house is the size of a large master bathroom, so they have had to give most of their worldly possessions away, and they are two of the happiest people I’ve ever met. We had great fellowship and conversation before I finally departed.

What was it that I was taught this weekend? I was reminded once again what it looks like when a man loves Christ and his gospel enough to plant a church in a tough neighborhood where his life and family and possessions are potentially at risk, what it looks like when a pastor loves the people in his “parish” with absolutely no regard for their race or socioeconomic status, and how much fun it is to spend time with a small missional community who plans eventually to take over an entire city with the gospel.

In light of the story above, and the gospel hope that it represents, I am going to post synopses of discussions at The Greenhouse Church Planter’s CoOp, in hopes that the King will use them to stimulate discussion about gospel, church, and city, for the sake of his glory and a lost world. The following posts address (1) the church planter’s character, (2) gospel-driven church planting, and (3) characteristics of a 21st century missional church. Please join the conversation, adding to what has been said, and helping our readership more faithfully to love Christ, his gospel, his church, and his cities.

[Note: Jeremy Rose is the pastor of The Axis Church. If you are interested in joining The Greenhouse Church Planter’s CoOp, you may email info@greenhousecoop.com or visit the CoOp website.]