Jason Jones is the Assistant Lead Pastor/Worship Leader for Zion Church Woodbridge in Woodbridge, Virginia. Some say that we are approaching a post-religious time in society. Although this is a possibility, for some, faith is still important. While most people in their early adult years are off chasing personal dreams in a selfish manner, Jason has committed his life to teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to those that are willing and able to listen.
Jason was gracious enough to give us some insight on his ministry.
What led you into the ministry?
I’ve been into public speaking and music basically my entire life. I developed a passion for public service and activism as well as leadership as a child. Once I became a Christian early in my teens, the stage was set. My passion for music kept me involved in church long enough for my passion for God to grow. It was a natural progression for my particular skill set and passions to take on that kind of ministry leadership.
In past generations, young ministers led the way in advocating for education and civil rights, what are the focus points for young ministers in this day and age?
First, I think we all owe a debt of gratitude to those who came before us. We stand on the shoulders of a deeply-rooted tradition of Black church and faith in America. With that said, I believe that all of us in ministry, not just young ones, have an obligation to figure out how to speak to this current generation. We have the most aware group of young people the world has ever seen, due to the fact they’re constantly connected to everything through technology. Ministers must figure out how to inspire and speak to that awareness to help focus it on the mission of the current Church…and I don’t mean the building or the institution, I mean the people. What are we here for? What’s our role in 2013? How can we best leverage all of the tools at our disposal to impact the world for Christ now?
To point out a few particular current touchstones: Sexuality and relationships, ambition and career choices, family life, violence in the world vs. violence in media, the role of men in society, mental and emotional health, etc. I could go on, but those are a few quick ones.
You also sing. Music ministry has an impact on the entire service, how have you used both skill sets to enhance the service experience?
That’s very interesting to me. Music is like air to me. And I’ve long said that I just didn’t want to be a singer who also preaches or a preacher who also sings…I believe that I’m uniquely gifted by God to do both. On several Sundays, I lead the congregation in song during praise and worship and come back and deliver the preached message for that day. It’s both fun and quite draining, but it’s satisfying. I get to spend a lot of time “touching” and “feeding” the congregation that I serve, and it gives them a sense of trust. They see me, hopefully they see my passion for God and that it’s authentic, so they connect with me and trust me. That allows me to lead them to a special place in worship where I’m out of the way as a musician and merely facilitating their experiencing God for themselves. Then, I can follow up by telling them something in a message that may be a bit difficult or weighty, but due to the connection we share, they believe me. I don’t take that for granted at all.
Just musically, I believe strongly that it’s not showtime for me or an opportunity to demonstrate how well I do a particular thing, it’s my job to be a waiter or concierge…I facilitate that connection…get them away from the cares of the world and focused on how big and amazing our God is. Once I do that, I get out of the way and allow them to “do business” so to speak. If we as worship musicians aren’t helping people form that individual connection, I would say we’ve failed at our job.
Today’s society is more tolerant for freedom of expression and alternative lifestyles, how do you balance inclusion while maintaining Christian principles?
Great question. I’ll be honest, this one can be quite difficult, as most of us suffer from a tendency to hammer folks harder for things that we don’t struggle with ourselves. This isn’t the forum for a theological discussion, but I’ll say that it’s my job, and that of all believers to LOVE others. I may disagree with your particular choice of lifestyle, and while God may position us in ways to speak in a corrective fashion to that particular issue, what we’re to do above ALL else is to LOVE that individual. And in that love, to also encourage them into deeper relationship with God individually. I’m not at all saying we’re to remain silent on issues, but we should never neglect that it’s only the love of God and His power that brings about change. So why not spend our efforts reflecting that love? The great thing is that as we get closer to God, the more we spend time learning about His character through the Word, and through simply conversing with God…the more access we allow Him in our lives. That access can accomplish incredible things in even the most damaged life and the most hardened heart.
I’m convicted to continually find ways to be a conduit of that love and connection. In my own life, I try to maintain a balance of living consciously of how I’m seen by people as someone in ministry along with my individual convictions out of my relationship with God with a sense of transparency. So many of us get in ministry and forget to be human. I believe people need to see me both operate in my leadership gifts and serve other leaders as they move in what they do. People need to hear me talk about scripture and encourage them to seek God as well as laugh and joke and be silly. They need to see me strive to live a lifestyle God is pleased with as well as be honest that I don’t have it all together.
In light of all of the controversy around pastors across the country, how can the church as a whole regain the trust of those considering a Christian lifestyle?
I’ve said several times, that this has become the most difficult part of what we do in ministry in this time. Although it makes perfect sense, I have a strong distaste for the manner in which mainstream media and the public at large projects the image of men and women in ministry. Our cameras and notepads never seem to miss a single moment where someone in Christian leadership makes a mistake, but where are the same stories about the ones who have been incredibly dedicated and faithful? Those who give their entire lives, all they have, to serve God and serve others and do it with unfathomable levels of integrity and grace? Even when we point to success stories, we still do so with a sense of cynicism that something must be wrong, we just haven’t put our finger on it yet.
This perception makes it very difficult for people to come to faith…and with that, I’ll place the blame squarely at the feet of the Church, the institution. We, in far too many instances paint a picture of Christian life that is woefully inaccurate. This life is NOT easy. Ministry is VERY difficult and has destroyed lives and families of many men and women. We must do better with that. We’re not perfect, we just have an eternal hope in our savior Christ Jesus and a perspective that the world is more than what we see with our own two eyes or can touch with our hands.
Also, there’s a saying that “people don’t care what you know, until they know that you care”. It’s MUCH easier to listen to a message when other felt needs are taken care of. The church is off trying to share the Gospel of Christ with people and they’re wondering where their next meal is coming from or why their family is falling apart or why things are so bad in their neighborhood. I’m not saying that the Church alone can fix those things, but if we were more visible with the efforts to help make the world we live in better, it would give us a better platform to demonstrate not that we’re doing all of this great stuff and we want people to look at us. But, we want people to know that we care with the heart of God and that it will allow them to hear the message of hope that we so desperately want to convey in the earth. Matthew 5 in the Bible says that we should let our lights shine before men, so they will see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven, the one we’re working for in the first place. Many people in the world won’t glorify our Father because they haven’t seen our good deeds.
The last thing I’ll say on this topic is that we’ve got to get back to teaching people the Bible. And not just the cool, deep stuff and the stuff we’ve heard half-accurately quoted all our lives, but the things that we all practically need to be better people day to day. I’m a firm believer that the Bible, as a book of instruction and inspiration, holds the keys for us to be better men and women, better spouses, better workers, better bosses, better parents, better stewards of our resources, better in our communities, better children and better citizens of the world. See, this is the thing, while we as Christians hope for a world to come, we currently exist in the current world context. As ambassadors of God and a heavenly culture, it’s our position to inject as much goodness and kindness into the world as possible. How do we do that? Well the Bible shows us how, and we don’t have to make it complicated. If we facilitate that relationship for folks and teach them the Bible, we’ll put them in a position where they will grow individually and what God wants individually for their lives will become even more apparent.
What’s the biggest sacrifice that you’ve made in your efforts to serve in the ministry?
I would say that I’ve sacrificed what some would call “fun”. I’ve always tried to be careful with how I’ve presented myself and what I’ve engaged in as far as behavior. I can’t say that I’ve done it perfectly or never made any missteps, but it’s been a focus. Integrity is a universal currency in ministry…it largely determines your effectiveness because people need to trust you and that you’re experiencing what you’re encouraging them towards.
I’ve sacrificed some of my personal success as well. I’ve foregone some opportunities that could have been lucrative for me personally in favor of being able to have more time and flexibility for ministry endeavors. What’s been really cool about that is, whatever I think I may have missed out on, God has repaid somewhere along the way. I can say that I’ve been exceptionally fortunate in that I’ve always had more than enough, along with being able to find a way to chase whatever ministry direction that I sensed God was leading me in. I’ve had to be strategic and make sure that I was positioned correctly for things to happen, but God’s been more than faithful throughout my journey.
I’m sure I’ve sacrificed relationally as well. I just can’t spend as much time with some folks as I would like because I’ve been off doing other things. But my experience has been that people around me love me and respect the call of God on my life (which is VERY important in relationships) and so, they’ve been very encouraging about what I’ve been doing.
Any advice for those entering ministry?
DON’T RUSH. Once that fire starts burning, the urge is to run off and try to save the world immediately. But focus on building your relationship with God, learning His word and sharpening whatever skills you’ve been given to use. If you do that, your gift will make room. People are drawn to passion. So the saying that if you set yourself on fire the world will come to watch you burn, is quite true. In this age, we eschew delayed gratification for immediate success, but make sure that you spend the time and expend the effort building a foundation that will allow you to not only become successful, but to REMAIN successful once God positions you to make moves.
Oh, I should also say to READ, READ, READ and absorb as much as possible. Definitely read the Bible, but also invest in other materials that will aid in your growth. Build as wide and as strong a base as possible. Ministry is difficult. Life will blow at you from every direction. The stronger those roots, the better you’ll be able to stand during trouble.