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.