When Steve Jones sensed God calling him into full-time ministry from his career as a machinist, he assumed that it would be as pastor of a church. But God had something else in mind.
Before he turned his life over to God at age 30, Jones had sought pleasure in rock music, bar hopping, and heavy drinking. All that changed when Jesus came into his heart and gave him a greater purpose for living.
Years later, when he felt God calling him into ministry, he had doubts about himself. He was a machinist; what did he know about professional ministry? He taught a Sunday School class of senior adults and ministered in nursing homes but felt God leading him to do more. He told his pastor about his call and in 2003, the church granted him a local preacher’s license.
Jones enrolled in the Northeast Indiana District School of Ministry and began his studies. Over the next eight years, he completed 24 courses while working full time. When his wife suffered a stroke, he took several months off to care for her and then resumed his studies. The goal was always before him: to qualify for pastoral ministry.
He completed his studies in the fall of 2011 and was ordained the following year. Now, at age 58, he sent his résumé out to the Nazarene districts in Ohio and Indiana. He waited in vain for a response.
Several months passed by. Jones tried hard not to question his call and keep himself from being discouraged. Then began a series of major setbacks.
At work in January 2013, a steel pipe hit him in the head. An initial medical examination revealed nothing, but a week later, he was overcome with dizziness and vomiting. Further examination indicated a concussion and diabetes. He began insulin treatments, changed his diet, and was off work for eight weeks. He shed 46 pounds, and his doctor soon declared that he no longer needed either blood pressure medicine or insulin. Feeling healthy once again, he sent out another round of résumés. Still no response.
At a PrimeTime retreat early in 2014, he asked the general superintendent, “How can I get a church to pastor?”
The superintendent responded, “Unfortunately, being trained and ordained does not guarantee that you will receive a call to a church.”
A month later, he suffered a stroke and the doctor found a blood clot on his brain, apparently the result of the head injury. Another eight weeks of rehab.
After Jones got back on his feet, he stopped by the middle school to watch the girls’ softball team practicing. He introduced himself to Coach Herb Bergman. After some conversation, the coach said, “How would you like to come and pray with my team before their game?”
At that moment, Jones found his ministry. Or . . . his ministry found him.
Jones began meeting with the team, not only for prayer but also for times of devotions.
“I expected him to just pray with my softball team, but he goes beyond that with devotions and friendship," Bergman said. "He really cares about all these students. For certain reasons, I can’t call him a chaplain, but that is the role he fills.”
Encouraged by the team’s response, Jones offered his services to other school teams. Cautious about any potential controversy in having a Christian minister involved in a publicly tax-funded school, they initially declined. Then in November, both a boys’ and a girls’ basketball team invited Jones to begin meeting with them. Now he was ministering to some 50 athletes.
"I am in ministry but I don’t have to worry about church budgets, meeting with church boards, maintaining a building, or any of that," Jones said. "I can focus on being a friend to these young people and investing in their lives before they graduate from high school.”
In October 2015, he attended an awards banquet for a girls’ basketball team and the coach asked, “Can you come and lead my team in devotions?” During a game, a woman came up to him with a request: “Would you meet for prayer with my cheerleading squad?”
In May 2016, a new football coach invited Jones to pray with his team in the upcoming season. In August, Jones attended a fundraiser and was asked to begin meeting with the volleyball team.
"He is a great model for ministry outside the box," said David Roland, Northeast Indiana district superintendent. "He is genuine in his love for the kids and we are all very proud of him."
Jones bought his first cell phone to make himself always available to any troubled student who needed someone to talk with. By then he was ministering to a volleyball team, football team, boys’ and girls’ basketball teams, a cheerleading squad, and the softball team.
“Nothing gets in the way of Steve’s ministering to these kids," said Bob Miller, Jones' pastor at Ossian Church of the Nazarene. "He is passionate about this young generation and reaching them while he has the opportunity. Many of these kids don’t attend church. Steve is an avid student of the Word, and he brings it to these young athletes. He wants to make his mark on them now.”
In January of this year, the engine in his car blew, forcing him to buy a new one. Then in October, his company downsized and eliminated his job. Now he is looking for new employment that will not interfere with his sports ministry. The Nazarene pastor in Pleasantville passed away and Jones is making the 50-mile round trip each Sunday to serve as interim pastor.
Steven Jones prepared himself to answer the call to ministry. When the opportunities came, they were not what he expected, but they are what God ordained. He finds joy and fulfillment doing what God set before him.