Derek Jones of Conway said he knew when he was 8 years old that he was called to the ministry, but he went astray for years before accepting the call.
His passion reignited, the now 32-year-old started Sold Out Church about two years ago with approximately 30 people in his living room, and on Mother’s Day, May 11, the church will hold a grand opening in its renovated building at 1015 Lincoln St. in Conway.
“We don’t believe the church is a building; we believe we are the church. We’re here for the world,” he said.
The flier for the church uses the saying: “This ain’t your momma’s church.”
Jones said he grew up in North Little Rock, the son of an alcoholic. His parents divorced when he was 2, and his father has since died.
“When I was 12, my godfather passed away,” Jones said. “I turned away, looked for answers” in unhealthy ways. “I ran into trouble. I felt Jesus had betrayed me.”
Things got much worse before they got better.
Jones served in the Air Force in 2001-2002, stationed in North Carolina, but after a drunken fight, he shot two people and went to prison.
“My whole congregation knows about it; I never hide anything,” he said. “I truly believe I’m a testament to what happens when you encounter a holy God,” Jones said.
“I went to a party one night; things went really bad. Me and a guy got into a fight,” Jones said. “He threw a cinder block through my windshield.” Another individual was involved, too, Jones said. “I decided I was going to go back with a gun and make them give me money and make them pay for it.
“I did shoot two people. They did not die; I did not kill them.”
One man was treated and released for a “flesh wound,” Jones said. The other was seriously injured.
Jones said he didn’t immediately become a Christian while in prison. He said he saw people come into prison, “walk in the door and say, ‘Oh, Jesus, save me.’ That wasn’t me.
“Somebody gave me a Bible, and that’s when everything changed.”
Jones was 21 years old. Although he started out in a North Carolina prison, he transferred to Arkansas to do his time — seven years.
One of his prison jobs was to catch chickens.
“Literally, I went out in a van with seven other guys, and we’d go into chicken houses with thousands of chickens and catch them,” Jones said. The men went all over southern Arkansas.
Jones, who said he had turned his life around, married his wife, Amie, in 2009, and moved to Conway.
Another event dramatically changed his life.
“On Oct. 29, 2009, our son, the day he was due — we found out his heart wasn’t beating,” Jones said.
“I had been clean and sober since 2002. In 2009, that’s when everything really, really changed. I realized I’m not in control.
“I threw up my hands in surrender and said, ‘Lord, you’ve been calling me for years.’ Although this makes no sense, that’s all I can lean on.”
Three days later, Jones said, his best friend called and encouraged him to apply for a job.
“He said, ‘God told me you have to know about it,’” Jones said the friend told him. The friend also had applied for the position.
Jones was working at a plumbing company at the time.
“I knew in my spirit what was taking place,” he said. “I said, ‘I’m afraid if I apply, I’m going to get it.’”
Sure enough, Jones got the job as director of the homeless ministry at Union Rescue Mission in Little Rock.
“It’s been like riding a rocket ship ever since,” Jones said.
About two years ago, he said, he started a church service in his home with around 30 people. It grew like crazy, he said. Today, there are about 100 members of Sold Out Church.
“I have experience dealing with the last, the least and the lost,” he said.
As director, he worked hand in hand with a nine-month “life-recovery” program for people at the mission who had struggled, like he had.
Jones said he was ordained through That Church, which is no longer in Conway, although its Sherwood location is thriving, he said.
“I do have a biblical degree through Andersonville Theological Seminary,” he said, which is an online program.
It was too hard to be a pastor and work at the mission and “do both excellently,” he said.
He resigned Jan. 3 from his job at the Union Rescue Mission and took a $23,000 pay cut to become a full-time pastor, he said.
“Four weeks after I resigned, I found out my wife was pregnant with our sixth child — Logan is with the Lord — our fifth that’s with us,” he said.
Jones said it was a surprise, albeit a happy one.
Despite the financial impact, Jones said he has no doubt that he’s where God wants him to be.
“It’s stepping out on faith,” he said.
He said Sold Out Church meets in a 6,500-square-foot facility on Lincoln Street. The building includes a 3,200-square-foot warehouse.
Jones said the warehouse is serving as a tornado-relief distribution center following the April 27 tornado that hit Vilonia and Mayflower and destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses.
Wednesday night, he was waiting on a semitrailer to bring a load of water, medical supplies and diapers.
The United Way of Central Arkansas has given him donations it has collected, as well.
“What I’d really like to see happen for us is to have
volunteers come get it and take it out to the destruction zone. A lot of people lost their vehicles and can’t necessarily get to us,” he said.
“People who have extensive damage, they can certainly come,” he said.
Jones said the remodeling on the church isn’t finished.
“I’ve been here every day for almost a month from 8, 8:30 in the morning to 11, 11:30 at night,” he said.
The facility includes a sanctuary space, a children’s room, handicapped-accessible bathrooms and the area for the food and clothing pantry, which is a separate mission from the tornado relief.
“The food and clothing pantry will be stocked as we go,” he said. “There are people all around this city who have needs. We’re not going to charge anything.
“You don’t have to be a member of this church to receive food or clothing; that’s not biblical. Anyone of any faith or any sexual orientation or anything can come [here for help].”
“My background, I was baptized Baptist, … but we are not Baptist; we are nondenominational. We’re about Jesus. That’s what we’re about,” he said. “We’re a church, and we represent Jesus Christ, and that’s what we do. On our website, it says it doesn’t matter what your race, religion, sexuality, anything.
“I’m not going to tell anyone sin is OK, but we’re going to love anyone who comes through the door.”
The name Sold Out — not Souled Out as some assume, he said — came to him as he was driving.
“I was thinking about all sorts of names for a church, and I hadn’t settled on one, and I was driving down the interstate, and it just hit me,” he said.
“Acts 20:28 says, ‘Be shepherds of the church of God for it was bought with his own blood.’ My stance is anything that was bought had to be sold. We want to live our lives sold out to him because he bought us with his own blood,” Jones said.
“We’re not Wednesday-through-Sunday Christians,” he said. “Church does not end when you leave on Sunday.”
Every fifth Sunday, which happens a few times a year, he said, the church won’t hold services.
Instead of having a church service, he said, church members will volunteer with City of Hope Outreach, the Women’s Shelter of Central Arkansas, Bethlehem House or other missions.
“We want to go out and make a difference in the community and instill that culture of service,” he said. “We love our city.”
Mother’s Day services will be held at 9:45 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Today, services are at 11 a.m.
To donate to the tornado relief, or for more information, call Jones at (501) 786-3279.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.