by Lorie Lewis Ham
Redeemer’s Church in Reedley got a new pastor the end of this summer. His name is Nick Jones, and we took a moment to sit down and chat with him recently to learn more about his background and his plans for Redeemer’s. Nick has been involved with some wonderful ministries in Fresno and has an inspiring story to tell.
KRL: Welcome. Are you from this area? Where did you grow up?
Nick: Yes I grew up in Southeast Fresno and have lived in Fresno all but 2 years of my life, in which I moved to LA in college. I grew up in southeast the first 15 years and then spent 12 years doing ministry and living in southeast Fresno as an adult.
KRL: Where did you go to school?
Nick: I went to Fresno Christian High School, Fresno Pacific University for my BA and Fresno Pacific University & Seminary and Liberty University for my MA.
KRL: When did you know you wanted to be involved in ministry? And did you know what you wanted to do?
Nick: I was 20 and had walked a way from my faith. I was living in Los Angeles and stumbled upon skid row, and the contrast between that and the life I was participating in was stark. I wondered how such poverty could exist in the midst of such affluence. I was introduced to a person who worked on skid row, and they showed me God’s heart for the poor and how it was expressed in nearly every book of the Bible.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew this was something I wanted to learn more about. I moved back to Fresno and moved into Southeast Fresno’s highest crime community and learned a lot. Through that, ministry happened. I started a non-profit, rebuilt another, and it grew me more and more into the ministry.
KRL: What types of ministry have you been involved in?
Nick: I have mainly worked as an Executive Director of non-profits serving at-risk youth and families in high-crime communities. I have spent years training church congregations how to develop relationships with people of different races, classes, and cultures. My goal has been to help the church learn to work cross-culturally to better serve families in need.
KRL: I understand you are a part of Care Fresno. Can you give us some information about Care Fresno and your connection?
Nick: Care Fresno started in 1995. I founded a similar nonprofit and at that time Care Fresno was dwindling and possibly closing its doors. They heard about what I was doing from word-of-mouth, met with me and brought me on to do the same type of work I was already doing. They allowed me to do the same thing across the city. Care Fresno’s mission changed under my leadership, but it has always been about partnering churches to serve in low-income communities.
Originally it was started as a partnership with the Fresno PD and local churches. Later on it maintained a looser partnership with Fresno PD, but the focus became training churches to do this work. I discovered that churches often had great intentions in serving people in poverty, but when they would enter into these communities or relationships with people who were culturally different, these differences lead to conflict and a lack of consistency or unsustainable ministries. I realized that often people will train and prepare people when going on global missions but assume that they don’t need that for local outreach. That became a passion of mine.
In addition we moved Care Fresno from a service provider to a ‘local missions’ program. Instead of paying leaders to come into neighborhoods we began to train and plant leaders to live in high-crime communities building relationships with families while providing ministries on-site within these high-crime apartment complexes.
KRL: Sounds like an amazing ministry. You began as pastor of Redeemer’s in August–how did that come to be?
Nick: Coming to be a pastor was never a part of my plans. It was quite miraculous how I got involved here. I had been teaching and preaching at churches throughout Fresno and more and more people told me I should consider doing that more often. However, I preferred the grit and grind of my non-profit work rather than working at a church.
When it came to Redeemer’s, I was not looking for a job at all nor looking to be a pastor. However, my wife had been working in Reedley for 10 years and went on maternity leaving in December 2015. My son went to Chapter 1 school at the time, so I had to drive him to Reedley twice a week while she was on maternity leave. Each day I would pass by Redeemer’s knowing nothing about the church. I had heard they were a community-focused church in the past and not knowing they didn’t have a pastor, I had a weird gut intuition… a nudge or attraction of some sort every time I passed by it.
One day in January, I had two different meetings with two different pastors. Each told me they thought I should pursue more teaching and preaching—as they thought that was my strength, but I told them I didn’t want to be a pastor. I told them, however, that I had this weird gut attraction when I drove by this church but knew nothing about it and assumed they probably had a pastor.
On the same day, both these guys said, “Nick, you never talk like that, you should look into that. Just walk in and ask if they need a pastor.” I didn’t want to do that as that seemed weird, but I found it odd that two guys said the same thing on the same day. So I asked my wife, who again, worked in Reedley, to see if this church needed a pastor because some strange coincidences were going on. So she asked someone who was connected at Redeemer’s, and they shared that the day these two pastors told me to walk in and ask if they needed a pastor was the same day they had their first search committee meeting to start looking for one. These seemed like a God-given coincidence that sent me in a new direction. Seemed so clear that I had to follow.
KRL: Why did you feel this was where God wanted you at this time?
Nick: Much of this might be mentioned above, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to work at a church, but I was certain that God told me to at least apply based on the story above. Six months later they were choosing me as their pastor, and I was certain it was God directed and not something done based on my will and plans.
KRL: Is this your first pastorate?
Nick: Yes. Funny enough, first time even working on staff at a church in fact.
KRL: What a wonderful story. Do you have some specific goals for the future of Redeemer’s?
Nick: Redeemer’s, thankfully, is already multi-cultural, multi-generational and has a history of being externally focused, serving others, so these things are all high values that I come with. My greatest intention for us is to take what I have done in Fresno and invest similarly in Reedley. I want our church to serve this city, to work cross-culturally and serve some of the under-resourced neighborhoods in Reedley while building relationships across all cultural divides. So often, my experience with churches, and I believe the experience of a lot of people who have left the church or won’t attend, is that they view the church as self-serving and exclusive. I hope we make a tangible impact on our community and become a place that is known for its compassion; for being concerned and engaged with lives of our neighbors beyond the walls of the church.
KRL: What are you most excited about with this new adventure?
Nick: My experience has been in building ministries from the ground up, and I love this process of rebuilding and seeing how God moves things around to do great things. This church is filled with amazing, committed people, but there is a lot of rebuilding to do. So I get the best of both worlds—a great group of people to work with and yet a fairly open canvas to create or re-envision what God might have for us in the future.
KRL: Are you able to continue your work with Care Fresno as well?
Nick: The church at this point requires an enormous amount of energy, especially as we are building new foundations. So I was not able to continue in my role at Care Fresno. I still serve on the board and remain very close to my former staff, helping however I can. Letting go and moving on from there was one of the most difficult decisions for me. It was more than a job. My passions, my faith, and my close friendships were ingrained there, so it will always remain one of the most instrumental times of my life in my growth.
KRL: Will you be moving to Reedley?
Nick: Yes. We have been working diligently to sell our home in Fresno, though it hasn’t been easy. My wife and I are adoptive parents and have 5 kids all together. Due to the different behavioral dynamics of my children and adoptive children, most cannot share rooms, so we are looking for a home with at least 5 bedrooms, and that has not been as easy to come by. So we are looking at Dinuba and Reedley to find the right place that will fit our family.
KRL: Please tell us a little about your family? I understand that your wife works with CYM?
Nick: Yes, my wife worked at CYM for over 10 years. Many years ago, my wife got her MA in School Counseling and has been attempting to become a school counselor for 7 years. Ironically, the month before I was told I was chosen as the pastor of Redeemer’s, my wife got a school counseling offer at a school in Fresno. So after 10 years of commuting to Reedley from Fresno, she finally got a job in Fresno and a month later we learned we would be moving to Reedley. God has a sense of humor.
We actually both officially started our new jobs on the same day after both serving 10 years in the same places. However, my wife felt like Reedley was her community and her closest ties are there now, so she is happy to be back in Reedley. She continues the work she did at CYM. She is a social-emotional counselor at a diverse school serving many foster youth and children in need, and so she still continues ministering in great ways.
KRL: I understand that you and your wife have adopted three children. I think that’s wonderful–my sister and her husband have adopted four. Do you mind sharing why you decided to adopt? I know a lot of adoption stories are really inspiring.
Nick: In my work at Care Fresno, I got close to so many kids exposed to poverty and neighborhoods of crime. I would see them go through really hard things and often times would be taken away into foster care. Nearly eight years ago, one of these kids was going to be taken away into foster care and asked me to take him in. My wife and I both have our education in child development and psychology of some sort, and so it was a quick process to become foster parents. So we did.
That scenario did not play out, but since we already were foster certified we decided to bring in other kids. For starters, we had empty bedrooms in our house and believe all of our resources should be available to ministry, so we wanted to open up our house. Secondly, the Bible ties God’s character to his concern for orphans and the idea of adoption has a strong theological basis for how he brings in His children. So all that said, it is something really important to my wife and me.
My first son was a foster kid who became available for adoption. He was seven, when we met him, and is now fourteen. But he radically changed our lives, and we decided that we wanted to do it again. After we had two biological children, we did not feel like foster parenting fit our life, as we were both working full time with multiple kids. So we went with the adoption first route and adopted a brother and sister as well. They are now nine and ten and have been with us over two and a half years.
KRL: How has it been adjusting to the new job so far? Any special challenges?
Nick: There are many similarities between building and running a non-profit and leading a church. So much of this feels normal to me. The greatest difference though is the complexities of the varying needs and expectations of 300 adults. While my organization served a larger amount of people and had more staff, there is a greater complexity here.
There are a lot of people who are deeply passionate about their church, but many of those people are deeply passionate in completely opposite ways. There is often no ‘right’ answer. If I take the church in a certain direction, some will love it and some will feel disappointed, and some will leave. And vice-versa. In many ways, I want everyone to feel excited and passionate about the direction we are heading, but the reality that I have to become comfortable with is that everyone has different needs and my goal is to listen to God and lead us to consider others as more important than ourselves and hope that that becomes the identity of who we are as a group of people—people who focus on serving others inside and outside of our church.
KRL: What are you most excited about in this new adventure?
Nick: My former work took me around to different places and churches every week or month. It took me out to businesses and nightly events. My family and I have never had a consistent community of people to spend significant time in community together. I have met so many down-to-earth amazing people at this church and we are excited to build a consistent community of people. I am equally excited to see what is possible when a church devotes its mission and resources and its people to serving others beyond our walls. Something so fundamental to Jesus’ life, is often lacking in many circles of faith today and becomes 1-day events handing out things. I hope our church will be long-term cross-cultural relationships, and I am excited to see what kind of impact we can have as we pursue that mission.
KRL: Assuming you have any free time, do you have any hobbies?
Nick: Unfortunately, my passions have been teaching and building organizations. I also have taught seminars and at universities on poverty alleviation and adoption-related issues. So these are my passions, but they also happen to correspond with my work. So I spend a lot of my ‘extra’ time thinking about these things. I used to play basketball regularly before I tore my ACL playing. It’s never been the same since. Between raising 5 kids and my ministries, there is not a lot of extra time. My kids are all heavily involved in basketball year-round, so I do spend a lot of time helping them with that.
KRL: Any special or memorable experiences in your ministry you would like to share?
Nick: There was a moment that started it all for me. I was playing basketball in a southeast apartment complex that has been historically high crime, and I met a five-year old boy that was often in trouble but yet really fun when you got him one on one. I was playing basketball with him day after day. You could tell this kid faced a lot of rough things in poverty.
One day he looked up to me and asked, “You love me don’t you?” I realized that just showing this kid attention and laughing with him was surprising to this young boy. But as we continued playing, an older family member came out, strung out on drugs, grabbed him by the arm and proceeded to curse at him and drag him away from the court. I realized that day that it is not enough to come in once in a while to do ‘programs’. It was then that I decided that I had to move in there and walk alongside these kids as a neighbor and friend.
This became the philosophy of Care Fresno: Programs don’t change life…long-term, mutual relationships do. This led us to adoption, then led us to how and what we taught at churches, and continues to be what drives me today. We don’t need more programs and gifts. We are a highly divided society that needs to build bridges to the people and places we would often never set foot. In the process we learn from one another and lives change. I will never forget this. Because of that I have seen tremendous life changes in thousands of kids. I have seen life changes in people who have been Christians a long time, but after they began mentoring and neighboring those who were from vastly different experiences—racially, culturally, I have seen hundreds of people change from those relationship and have seen their faith move from being culturally religious to being passionately faith-filled.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us. For those who would like to know more about Redeemer’s Church you can visit their website.