Travis Jones doesn’t pull any punches.
Young people who perceive that Christianity is about doing good, he said, have missed the boat.
“When I tell them it’s about chasing Jesus,” said Jones, young adult pastor at Silverdale Baptist Church, “it’s mind blowing.”
The native Texan was called to the church in 2009 when he and his wife were serving as missionaries in Tanzania.
Today, he is the lead teacher for The Pit, a Thursday night service that started on his back porch in 2009 and has been doubling in size every six months.
“By the grace of God,” Jones said, “the Lord chose to bless this ministry.”
He not only reaches them in person, though, but through free podcasts available at the online iTunes store and through
a new app available at the online App Store or through Google+.
One of his recent sermons, for instance, had 2,500 downloads.
What began as a Bible study with two unchurched guys, Jones said, now is a multigenerational service. And, with the exception of the addition of music, nothing much has changed from the beginning.
It’s basically expository preaching, he said.
There is no fancy lighting, no elaborate music, no bells and whistles.
Instead, there is Jones, 39, dressed in jeans with his hair pulled into a ponytail, preaching from the Bible. His current topic is the Sermon on the Mount, he said, and will be for the next eight months.
Since about half his audience is new to church, there is much to talk about, much to disabuse them of.
Even those who have grown up in a Christian culture are biblically illiterate, Jones said.
To many of those, “church is a hobby,” he said. “They think if they’re moral, if they do good things, they’ll be OK.”
Sometimes, they want to flirt with Jesus, Jones said.
They believe if they attend church, they’re going to grow.
However, when they see their fellow young adults end their abuse of illegal substances, when they see couples living together rethink that strategy, when they see lives changed, they, too, become hungry, he said.
“That’s attraction, that’s exciting,” he said. “It’s exciting to see things happening.”
Several young adults who attend The Pit said they found something different in Jones.
It wasn’t all about right and wrong, said Jeff Barry, 24. It was about focusing on Jesus and letting him save you.
“True change started happening in my life,” he said, “when I started applying those things.”
Chris George, 22, said he’d attended a Christian school but felt officials there tiptoed around important issues Jones met head-on.
“He addressed the subjects in a biblical and godly way,” he said. “He kind of taught us to be men of Christ.”
John Kloosterhuis, 32, said as a raft guide he’d been a part of a house church but was looking for encouragement and connection to more believers when he moved to Chattanooga. When he met Jones, he noted a sincerity he’d been seeking and hit it off with him immediately.
“It was kind of a God thing,” he said. “The experiences [there] were inspiring. I could relate a whole lot.”
Taylor Smith said he first attended The Pit when he got tired of a friend annoying him to do so.
In reality, he said, it was “the Holy Spirit’s time of getting hold of me.”
All four men said Jones’ primary messages were to drop the artifice of a culture Christianity and to focus on the real thing.
We’re to be true Christians, Barry said, and not Christian actors.
“It’s up to our generation,” said George. “We are the lights of the world. It’s on us. This is our job. It’s our hour to shine, to be like him.”
Kloosterhuis, who is raising support to become a missionary in the Czech Republic, said people don’t have to work “to make Jesus cool” but must experience him to find “out how valuable he is.”
Those who hear him, Jones said, often refer to him as intense. Unfortunately, a lack of intensity is often what plagues churches today, he said.
“The proclamation of Jesus Christ — and being saved — it is intense,” he said.
Jones is even forthright about the name of the service. He’s not a fan.
But it grew out of the second place the group met, a basement, and has stuck. It’s what the attendees who come from Dayton and Cleveland, Tenn., from Ringgold, Ga., and from UTC call it.
Yet, said Jones, it doesn’t matter what people call it if they know why they’re there — “to live in the light of the influence of Christ.” When they do, they’re no longer in the pit.
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...