Going to Make Disciples
When we launched Axis Church in 2009, we started it with the crazy idea of being a church that would actually follow the most basic command of Jesus to “go make disciples, baptize and teach them” (Matthew 28:19-20 paraphrase). We were motivated to change the perception that church was just a place to go. We were not interested in becoming the next best church show in our city. We did not want to attract attenders. We wanted people to embrace the mission of Jesus.
What we didn’t realize at the time was that “going to make disciples” is a bit of a messy process. We didn’t realize how difficult it would be to change people’s perceptions about the purpose of a church. We underestimated the amount of time, energy and effort it would take to make disciples who make disciples. While there were individual victories, the process was a bit of a struggle. However, creativity is often birthed through struggle.
Over time, we created environments that fostered relationships. For example, some of us started to workout at a CrossFit gym that happened to be attached to our rented building. Within four months, the owner decided to move his business to another location. We didn’t want to lose the relationships we were forming so three of us from Axis started CrossFit Mason. People didn’t immediately begin to come to church just because we coached them five days a week. But now, years later, Axis is filled with a lot of people who don’t just want to be physically fit, they want to be spiritually fit also.
A couple of years ago, we renovated another environment in our rented building and branded it Kala Coffeehouse. The coffeehouse is not in a prominent location. We don’t have a drive through. But in the first year, over ten thousand different people came to drink a good cup for a good cause with good company. We give all of our tips to local causes for kids. To date, over thirty-five thousand dollars has been given to bless the city.
We’ve had other successes and many other failures. We have a wonderful relationship with the local Persian community and celebrate a cultural thanksgiving meal together every year where we are learning from each other. We’ve helped plant three churches in the states and more than that internationally. We are in the process of merging with a church in another city. On Easter, we will publicly launch our second campus. We are already praying about ways to build relationship bridges in that city, too. We always strive to lead with love and follow with Jesus.
One of our biggest struggles came in the area of our greatest calling, to go make disciples. It is one thing to build a relational bridge, it is another to be and make disciples. This struggle led myself and my key associate, Josh, to embark on a learning process. We studied different models. We attended learning communities with other churches who were asking the same questions. We certainly picked up good advice and incorporated some of the principles or practices of others who were doing it “successfully.” Truth be told, even after all of the discovery and training, we still struggled to identify a clear process or strategy that we could embrace. What is the content? What are the fundamentals? What are the things that Jesus taught more than anything else? What are the basic tools that we need in our discipleship toolbox? We were not looking for a simple pathway to discipleship. We did not want a twelve-step process for discipleship. We did not want a class for discipleship. What we discovered were what we believe to be the basic elements of discipleship. These elements have become the backbone of our discipling conversations at Axis. We just compiled these in a book called “Elementary Discipleship: Getting Back to the Basics of Following Jesus,” which will be available in December. If it is helpful to you, then take it as coming from one follow sojourner to another. Thank you to our friends at Stadia, and especially Stadia President Greg Nettle, for creating in us a desire to make it hard to go to hell in Ohio.
Stephen Sams is Lead Planter of Axis Church, a church with two locations north of Cincinnati and Co-founder of CrossFit Mason. He holds a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership and serves as adjunct professor in the areas of faith and leadership. Stephen’s contagious optimism and authentic commitment to the church have given him a platform to motivate, develop and shepherd those he encounters. He and his wife, Lisa, have four children and live in Lebanon, Ohio.