A Lengthy Legacy
RENTON, Washington — Troy H. Jones began attending New Life Church in Renton at the age of 12 after his divorced mother found a job at the church-affiliated school. He has been attending the church 44 years since then, the past 18 as lead pastor.
Radically saved at Cedar Springs Bible Camp, Jones sensed a call to preach. During his childhood years, Jones struggled with stuttering, a condition healed as a result of him memorizing half the New Testament through Teen Bible Quiz. As a teenager, various men in the church, including then-pastor John Tappero, mentored Jones.
During his time at Northwest University, the Assemblies of God school in nearby Kirkland, Jones served as an intern back at his home church. Rick Ross, now superintendent of the AG North Carolina District but then New Life pastor, hired Jones as youth pastor after he graduated from Northwest University and became a spiritual father to him.
Jones met his wife of 33 years, Jana, while they competed against each other in Bible Quiz. They married one week after he graduated from Northwest.
The 96-year-old church has had only four pastors in the past 55 years. Each brought a fresh vision to refresh the direction. Sisters Edith and Ellen Brandt founded the church in 1926.
“A church won’t naturally grow to be healthy,” Jones says. “A new pastor must rally the church behind the mission of God so it won’t stagnate.”
Jones credits Tappero, then 64, with instigating the purchase of the current 55-acre church property in 1980, with the knowledge that he wouldn’t be around to see it developed. The church, on a beautiful site on a sloping hillside surrounded by fir trees and clean air, opened here in 1995. It now has additional sites in Maple Valley and Normandy Park. Jones says 5,800 individuals are involved in some form of discipleship across four venues.
KNOWING THE CULTURE
Church growth has happened in part because Jones understands the laid-back secularized Seattle culture. Multitudes are willing to pay $8 on a cup of coffee at Starbuck’s, the ubiquitous chain that shows up on many corners, including the one at the intersection nearest the church entrance.
Lately, hundreds of adherents who belonged to the flock for decades have moved out of the region, frequently to Arizona and Texas, often because of a perception that Seattle has become too liberal, evil, or woke. COVID-19 and increased housing prices also have played a role in the exodus. Jones tries to stay apolitical.
“A church should be a place where Republicans and Democrats both come,” Jones says. “We have to approach ministry with a first century attitude. We need to preach the gospel with authority, but with approachable humanity. People should feel the love of Christ, even if they disagree with our dogma.”
Jones believes the church won’t grow unless leadership willingly allows and even encourages staff to plant elsewhere. That includes onetime associate pastor Jeffery Portmann, who left after 15 years to plant New Hope Church in 2014 in Puyallup. In 2020, Portmann became director of the AG’s Church Multiplication Network. In recent years, New Life Church has hosted repeated Launch Training events, including one in September.
That is indicative of Jones’s philosophy of not being stuck inside the four walls of the church.
“We should be a river, not a swamp, so we don’t start stinking,” Jones says. “Established churches will stagnate if they don’t have a multiplication mindset. The fish will die.”
CHURCH SCHOOL GROWTH
Another area of continued growth is the adjacent Renton Christian School, which started in 1979 with 37 students.
The infant care through 8th grade facility covers 132,000 square feet, employs 65 teachers, and has an enrollment of 821 — up from 520 only five years ago. Head of school Randy McMillan, 45, has been part of the church his entire life.
“The need for Christ-centered education is greater than it’s ever been before,” says McMillan, an ordained AG minister who has been involved in New Life Church leadership for two decades, the past five years as head of school. “We’re in a culture where the distinction between Christian education and public schools has become more evident.”
Jones initially hired McMillan — whose mother in 1995 started Sonshine Learning Center at the church school — as business pastor. McMillan, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Northwest University, appreciates the leadership of Jones.
“He honors and believes in people, almost to a fault,” McMillan says. “He empowers people and takes risks.”
INVESTING IN PASTORS
Jones, who has written three books on leadership, in 2015 started a ministry called Recalibrate to help pastors. Jones cites statistics that 1,700 pastors a month have been leaving the profession since the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020.
“The past 30 months have been chaotic at every level,” Jones says. “Collectively, pastors have been working through turmoil with the daunting weight they face.”
In February, Jones will launch a nonprofit called PastorStays, as a resource for pastors for short-term getaways at an air bed and breakfast for a nominal cost.
Jones, who is a former ministry network youth director, also will be investing in young adults. He is the recently named chancellor of the College of Ministry at Northwest University, a new position.
“Troy will make sure we are operating the College of Ministry in a way that is church-centric,” says Northwest University President Joseph L. Castleberry, 62. “This is a role with real duties of spiritual influence to ensure that the College of Ministry has a pastoral emphasis.”
“Pastor Troy Jones is a legend in our ministry network and beyond,” says Joshua R. Ziefle, the 42-year-old college of ministry dean. “Moving forward, he will provide wisdom, insight, and direction bringing key voices to the table to benefit the campus. He has keys to open doors that I don’t for the benefit of students.”