Journey to America's Youngest City
As a boy Jason Brinker
mastered the language of the church culture and became, in his
own words, "a typical Southern Baptist" with an ability to play the role of a pastor's son quite well.
Most who observed him in Metropolis, Ill., would not have guessed that this child who grasped so many of the rudimentary doctrines of the Christian faith would soon struggle with deep doubts about God.
It all began with a 3 a.m. phone call when he
was almost 10 years old.
The news was not good.
brother was killed in an automobile accident.
says, "right then a disconnect between me and God began.
And yet, I never left the church.
little world was mugged by a reality that the God whom he
had learned so much about now seemed unfair and unable to sustain his
life as he
experience is not that uncommon among people who suffered as children.
The spiritual disorientation resulting from death often wreaks havoc in a young mind which had been taught that sickness, sorrow or pain would largely be absent from those who followed Jesus.
"For the most part I was a straight A, Christian boy who did the church thing," Brinker
"If anyone were to ask me if I was a Christian, I would quickly respond - absolutely - but I didn't really have a relationship with Christ.
Spiritual confusion is how he
describes most of his
high school years.
By the age of 16 he
was an accomplished volleyball player competing in tournaments all across the region until he
T-5 vertebrae, resulting in a full upper-body brace which became a gateway to rebellion.
Prescription pain medication helped reduce back pain, but when the back pain went away "the pills also helped dull other pain as well.
Only no one would have ever known it because I was professional at church," Brinker
"I knew how to do church and I did it well."
It all came to a head when he
woke up one morning in his
parent's driveway unsure of how he
"It was as if the Spirit of God asked me, 'Are you tired enough yet?'" Literally overnight, Brinker traded in his dreams of being a record producer in the recording industry for preaching.
Almost immediately he
long hair, "put on a suit" and began preaching.
father's ministry contacts, Brinker
(who by this time was 19 years old) became one of the most sought after itinerant preachers in the area.
"When it turned, it turned fast," says Brinker
"I went from being a rock-n-roll disc jockey to a suit and preaching in Baptist churches all over Kentucky, Tennessee and Illinois."
He became the pastor of Suwane Furnace Baptist Church and entered Mid-Continent Bible College.
"I watched preachers such as my dad, Billy Graham
and even John Hagee and mimicked how they did it.
The church grew and almost overnight Brinker
was noted for his
success as a pastor.
"We were thinking missionally and creatively about reaching our community and the only thing that tried to really mess the church up were some strange Landmark tendencies that were present in the congregation."
In spite of these various movements in the church, the congregation continued to grow even as Brinker
way to the Billy Graham School of Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
for further theological training.
lived life as most seminary students do who serve as full-time pastors of local congregations.
days were long and the demands between the classroom and the pulpit took their toll.
By the time he
was 23 years old he
was on blood pressure medication.
realized that something had to change.
Hillvue Heights Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Ky., played a significant role in Brinker's
Chasing the denominational goal of success, Brinker
was challenged by Steve Ayers and other church leaders to go on a personal spiritual retreat with nothing more than a Bible, a pen and some paper for an entire week.
finally resulted in a breakthrough for Brinker
frustratingly replied, "I am His
To which he
was immediately asked, "Is that enough for you?"
That day resulted in another step of growth for him as he
began to shed the image of a "typical pastor who worked to look, sound and speak just like everyone else.
I stopped allowing the expectations of others to define my particular calling in ministry and began to be fully the person God created me to be.
At that point Brinker
didn't know exactly what would happen next.
"After that experience, my personality came back, my sense of humor returned, my relationship with my wife began to change and my passions came back."
Brinker began making plans to start a church in Clarksville, Tenn. After almost a year of research in the area, "God never opened a door for us to go there.
The sponsor was Erwin McManus and the Mosaic Community in Los Angeles, Calif. Brinker and his wife soon headed to Seattle and later established Harbour Pointe Church in the community of Mukilteo (a planned community near Boeing and Microsoft) in 2002.
"It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life," Brinker
"About 85 percent of those who came to Harbour Point Church
did not attend church.
It was about being missional and intentional everywhere in every way.
The Brinkers labored seven years at the church.
"To this day a sound evangelical church still exists in that community."
Soon, however, Brinker
wife, Angela, thought perhaps the Lord was leading them away from that work into another region of the country or perhaps to another church experience.
As is normal for any pastor who seeks another place of service, the denominational infrastructure can be a benefit and liability in the search for other ministry opportunities.
Having successfully started a new church in a culture hostile to the gospel, Brinker
ability to maneuver through the denominational waters in ways which could easily connect someone with his
gifts and a local church context where his
service might prove profitable.
went to the Tennessee Baptist Convention Web site and began the process of inputting data about his
life and ministerial qualifications.
quit halfway through the exercise, thinking that no church where he
might want to serve would access data about a pastor like him through this means.
didn't know that as he
entered each line the information was saved to a database that would later be viewed, even in its incomplete state, by the pulpit committee from First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, N.C. Through a series of conversations, Brinker
told the pulpit committee he
"was not interested in playing religious games or coming to a church that was not concerned about reaching the lost with the gospel.
Brinker is open about his attempts to derail the process, but with each meeting "the committee members became more excited about the possibility of me becoming the senior pastor here."
Church leaders such as Erwin McManus, Craig Groeschel, Andy Stanley, Louis Giglio, Leonard Sweet and Ed Stetzer influenced Brinker
"What I have found refreshingly unusual here is that many people know the Bible and are eager to learn more," Brinker
"The resistance can come when you begin to align ministry objectives and resources around Biblical values.
So often in the Southern Baptist Convention
there is a programmed mentality that church is to be done in some particular way even if it does not reach the unchurched."
Jacksonville is statistically the youngest city in the United States with Camp LeJeune (one of the largest U.S. Marine bases in the world) nearby.
is careful to preach and teach the Bible in ways that provide space for the military community to find a realism about the fallen world in which they live.
"We live here in a religious culture, and we are learning how to live incarnationally in this community with the gospel.
We aren't shying away from the truth of the Bible."
There is always a tension peculiar to the pastoral ministry between interests of the church and interests of the pastor.
Often, the culture of modern ministry can all too quickly devolve into a celebrity status of the pastor at the expense of the congregation.
is working against that.
style of change seems to be rooted in a deeper knowledge of the Bible becoming more of a reality in marriages, homes and the entire Jacksonville community.
At some point in the future, he
is aware that the "newness" of his
arrival will fade and the difficult work of sustaining a gospel witness over time will ensue.
beginning is any indication, First Baptist Church of Jacksonville may never be the same.