By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
MOUNT JULIET — New Baptist churches in Tennessee have met in YMCAs, former Walmart stores, hotels, movie theaters, and restaurants. Now a new church is meeting in a music school located in a strip mall here.
It’s not that unusual when hearing the back story.
Johnny and Vanessa Juarez began operating the Rock Zone School of Music in 2014. Johnny is a recording artist (in the acoustic pop genre), composer/writer, and former worship pastor in New York City and Tennessee. He also is bilingual, speaking Spanish and English.
One day last year the couple experienced God working. On that day a parent asked Johnny to pick up a child after school and take him to the music school so the child could take a class there.
The couple met that request because they knew some of the needs of the family though they had reservations. Juarez explained they just had their family car at the time.
That one decision morphed into an after-school program being offered by their school. Karate and dance schools offer after-school programs, noted Juarez. Why not a music school?
The after-school program led to the need to buy a van and hire more staff members and the need for more space. Amazingly the space next door to their current space in the strip mall opened up. Then the Rock Zone School of Music began offering after-school programs every night of the week and bought another van.
A few months later Juarez learned about an opportunity to expand his after-school program into a nearby middle school.
As Juarez talked to a woman from a government program coordinating after-school programs, she told Juarez that to qualify for government grants for needy families, he needed to be associated with a non-profit entity.
That statement connected a lot of dots for Juarez, he explained.
The dots, when connected, were a message from God — he was to start a church.
He had experience in church planting, Juarez explained. He had been worship pastor for two campuses of The Journey, a new church in New York City.
So, Juarez and his wife started iLoveChurch on Sundays this summer. The church, which meets at the school, already draws about 30 people.
Of course during the week the couple along with their music school staff have continued to relate to about 160 students, mostly in grades 2-8, either in the Rock Zone School of Music or the after-school programs at the school and at a public school.
About 70 percent of the students of the school “don’t go to church,” said Juarez. Many are struggling with poverty, divorce, and other challenges. For instance, the school has targeted students who live nearby in a trailer park and found subsidies for their tuition so they can attend an after-school program, he noted.
Thankfully, some of those students and their families are visiting the church. To share the gospel with them, Juarez’s teaching at iLoveChurch includes fun illustrations. For instance, in September his teaching series was on the popular trend among students to dress up in costumes. The series theme was “#iCosplay — Dare to be Different.” He also taught recently on overcoming fear referring to the popular film, “Sharknado” on sharks and tornados.
Of course, the church’s worship band is a no-brainer. The musicians in the band, though they might be somewhat younger than those in worship bands in other churches, are exceptional and are drawn to the church to play music, he observed.
To add additional biblical guidance to what is offered on Sunday mornings and evenings, the church offers an online service and app for downloadable books Juarez recommends to folks.
Juarez credits God first for all of this. He also was helped by Vanessa and other Baptist church planters and Lewis McMullen, church planting specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Convention, who met with him regularly.
If he remains a bivocational pastor and iLoveChurch remains a micro-church, that is fine, said Juarez.
“We’re very grateful to God and know this is where He wants us,” he said.
The music school provides education “to inspire and challenge” kids, explained Juarez. Relationships are formed and often staff end up praying with kids and helping them in other ways. Also the students as well as their parents know that he is a pastor.
All of this has been a whirlwind, he added.
“Sometimes Vanessa and I have to look at the websites to see what all we’re offering. …
“It’s just like it is for every Christian — God grabbed us and uses the materials we have and gives us a purpose and sends us out to tell our story,” stated Juarez.