The Power of a Pizza Party
As a young teenager, Travis S. Jones had the munchies one Friday night and accepted a friend’s invitation to a pizza party youth gathering at Upper Room Assembly in his native Miami. He ended up dedicating his life to Christ while part of the youth group, resulting in a radical conversion from worldly partying, fooling around with girls, and a general aimlessness in life.
Under the tutelage of Gordon Libby, then youth leader at the church, Jones soon became involved in youth ministry. Libby instilled a belief in Jones that God had a purpose for his life, and convinced him to enroll at Southeastern University, the Assemblies of God school in Lakeland, Florida.
Tangee Jones raised Travis and four other children as a single mom. Travis’s parents divorced when Tangee carried him in her womb. He didn’t see his father until 9th grade. Jones grew up with a learning disability — later diagnosed as dyslexia — which he still has. He is grateful that his mother didn’t allow him to be placed in special education classes as teachers advised.
Jones also had trouble annunciating, and he credits his grandmother Betty Howard, now 80, with helping him to stop stuttering. At Southeastern, Jones studied pastoral ministry, with a double major in criminal justice, to placate his mother.
“Mom didn’t think a career in ministry could be full time,” says Jones, now 33. After graduation, Jones worked two jobs: assisting an Orlando church plant and as a police department investigator.
While still in the Upper Room Assembly high school youth group, Jones met his future wife, Brittany. The couple wed in 2009.
Jones obtained a Master of Divinity from Regent University in Virginia Beach, and he and Brittany became youth pastors at Cornerstone Assembly of God in North Chesterfield, Virginia. They served on staff for five years before approaching lead pastor Shawn R. Franco about planting a new congregation in Richmond.
In 2017, Travis and Brittany became pastors of Motivation Church, in a parent-affiliated relationship, with Cornerstone, facilitated by the AG’s Church Multiplication Network. Motivation Church grew rapidly, reaching 500 weekly adherents before COVID-19 hit. Motivation is diverse ethnically and socio-economically. Around one-third of attendees are Black, one-third white, and the rest something else.
“We have millionaires and blue-collar workers,” says Jones, who is African American. “We have people sitting next to each other, one wearing a Make America Great Again hat, the other wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt.”
Franco, who is white, says Jones — because of his background — is uniquely gifted to teach, whatever the circumstances.
“Travis leads people through their pain,” says Franco, 49. “He has the ability to stay focused on the truth of Jesus when everybody else is in turmoil. He’s not trying to lead people anyplace he hasn’t already been.”
Jones, who also serves as volunteer chaplain for the county police department, knows not to wade into frayed cultural hot topics such as police brutality.
“If I say one thing, it might make the Black Lives Matter crowd mad; if I say something else, the Blue Lives Matter group might get mad,” Jones says. “I try to be Christ-centered, and not react to the urgency of the world.”
Franco says Jones, as a young Black pastor, is able to stand in the gap as few others are able.
“Travis can embrace and identify with the pain of the African American community, while at the same time calling everybody to the truth in Jesus,” says Franco, now in his 10th year as Cornerstone lead pastor.
The pandemic has created its own set of challenges of trying to disciple churchgoers distantly as well as assisting people who have lost their jobs. Motivation Church is hosting periodic feeding programs and continues to pay for mental health counseling for some congregants.
Travis likewise has learned to navigate the ups and downs of his wife’s bipolar disorder. He himself sees a counselor monthly, confides in friends such as Franco, and plays a lot of golf to de-stress.
He also is heavily connected to the AG’s Church Multiplication Network. Jones is part of CMN’s field-based team in which he helps train church planters. He also has facilitated CMN Launch events and spoken at CMN conferences.
Image: Shawn Franco (left) gladly helped Travis Jones launch Motivation Church.