Unconventional pastor leads Franklin flock

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 11, 2007

FRANKLIN—Pastor Jeremy Nairn is the first to admit that he’s &uot;got issues.&uot;

Partial to a casual look, he’s most likely to be found wearing jeans and a golf shirt while preaching at the young River of Life Baptist Church on Sundays.

The 26-year-old talks frequently of things being &uot;cool&uot; or &uot;sweet&uot; or even &uot;jacked-up,&uot; and his wisecracking ways remind one more of a stand-up comic than a Southern Baptist minister.

It’s not hard to imagine Nairn as the class clown, and he’s pleased to confirm the impression. &uot;But then I’ve got issues,&uot; he says. It’s a common refrain for him, if not quite an apology for being outside what is often expected of pastors within one of Protestantism’s most conservative denominations.

He doesn’t look like other Southern Baptist ministers, and his cultural references — the Simpsons and The Doors, for example — are outside the normal frames of reference of many who have found their calling in the ministry. But such concerns mean little to Nairn.

&uot;I realized I don’t have to fit the stereotypical mold of a clean-shaven pastor wearing a tie,&uot; he says. &uot;I can be the person God made me.&uot;

That person is a man with a powerful testimony to the changes Jesus Christ can make in a life and a dynamic desire to share that good news with those who are lost.

Ten years ago, as a teenager strung out on methamphetamines, pot and LSD, Nairn thought things were hopeless. He’d been doing drugs &uot;from as young as I can remember,&uot; had been arrested multiple times, and struggled with &uot;a big emptiness inside of me that I did anything I could to fill.&uot;

A girl he was &uot;scheming on&uot; at the time turned out to be a Christian, and she shared the story of Jesus with him. He soon accepted Christ as his savior and began to experience immediate changes in his life.

In 1999 he married Ginger, with whom he now has three children. Three years later he entered Columbia International University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Bible and Pastoral Ministries in 2006.

This Easter, just 10 years after his conversion and less than a year after earning his degree, he and a group of families from Southside Baptist Church in Suffolk — with the help of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia — started what is known as a &uot;church plant&uot; in Franklin.

&uot;The dynamic out here in Franklin is really very interesting,&uot; he says, noting that population growth in the area, combined with some languishing local churches had led to &uot;a bit of a spiritual drought&uot; in the community. &uot;We just saw there was a void in Franklin.&uot;

River of Life Baptist Church was the result of prayers by himself and other members of Suffolk’s Southside Baptist.

&uot;Southside loves God and realizes there is only one universal Church,&uot; he says. &uot;They are about Kingdom growth.&uot;

Nairn is quick to assure other local pastors and congregations that River of Life isn’t in town to compete for their members.

&uot;There are some conservative churches out here that think we’re out here to steal their sheep, but we’re just planting grass&uot; he says, referring to a parable Jesus told about how spreading the word of God is like sowing seed.

&uot;Our main purpose is to reach people who don’t know Jesus and to show people they can come to know Jesus and have an authentic relationship with Him.&uot;

Nairn, who says he’s &uot;been to a lot of boring churches,&uot; has a glint in his eye when he talks about River of Life’s current home in classrooms at the YMCA.

One wall has a large Buzz Lightyear poster, and his grin makes it clear that Nairn isn’t sorry to share the space with the tiny plastic superhero.

&uot;We’ll have to build sometime in the future, but not right now. The ‘Y’ has been great to us.&uot;

In addition to Sunday school at 9:30 a.m. and worship services at 10:30 a.m. Sundays, members of the church participate in home Bible studies at various times during the week. Those small groups help support six missionaries throughout the world.

Closer to home, some members practice missions through their involvement in a Franklin bowling league, but not the church league. &uot;I prefer the beer-drinking, cussing league,&uot; Nairn says, explaining that bowling nights can then become a chance to witness to the lost, as well as for recreation.

Lest his lightheartedness give the wrong impression, though, Nairn is careful to note the church’s connection to traditional Southern Baptist doctrine, embodied in the SBCV’s position that &uot;the Bible is the verbally inspired Word of God, and is sufficient as (the) only infallible rule of faith and practice.&uot;

&uot;Doctrinally we are as conservative as we can be,&uot; he says. &uot;But just because we’re conservative doctrinally doesn’t mean we have to be legalistic.&uot;

He relates that his view of church used to be influenced by the First Church of Springfield on the animated television show The Simpsons, where the congregation slept as the Rev. Timothy Lovejoy droned his message.

&uot;That’s not what it’s like to have a relationship with Christ,&uot; he says. &uot;We’re not trying to force somebody into a mold.&uot;

For local folks who aren’t yet &uot;plugged in to a church,&uot; Nairn says River of Life could be a place of hope, even a new home.

&uot;People who don’t know Jesus often live their lives hoping there is no God,&uot; he says. &uot;I hope they’ll come and spend an hour on Sunday finding out that there is.&uot;

Nairn has his office at home but is in Franklin most days and may be reached at 619-3189. The church’s Web site address is www.riveroflifefranklin.com.