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Confessions of faith: Will Jones

After discovering true hope in the gospel, a man goes from lukewarm church-hopper to bona fide lay evangelist.

After Jesus was born, a radiant star pointed to a house where the Magi could find their Savior. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, bustling crowds were a dead giveaway for where the miracle-working preacher would be found doing his thing.

God doesn’t always provide such obvious indicators as he guides his people through life, but one thing is for sure: Where the gospel is faithfully preached, Christ will be found every single time.

Will Jones and his wife, Sydney, saw a different kind of “star in the sky” one Sunday morning as a sign outside their local YMCA invited them to worship at The Way, Fredericksburg, Va. What seemed like a coincidence at the time would change their lives forever.

Looking for answers

Will and Sydney had been church-shopping together since they met in college, but no congregation seemed like home. Will grew up nondenominational, and Sydney was raised Roman Catholic, but both had questions about their faith. One Sunday, they had the wrong service time for the church they intended to visit. On their way home, they drove past a sign pointing them to a WELS mission congregation gathered inside the YMCA. Ten minutes later, they were being welcomed to The Way by Matt Rothe, the congregation’s pastor.

“I didn’t think we’d go back,” Will says. “The order of service was different than I was used to, and I had some questions about the sacraments. I didn’t have a chance to sneak away, though, because Pastor Matt texted us that same day asking to come over and talk.”

Rothe showed up at Will’s house that night with a welcome gift and the desire to get to know Will and Sydney better. When he asked for Will’s thoughts on the service, Will said that while he respected the ministry being done at The Way, it just wasn’t for him. He expected Rothe to walk away, but that didn’t happen. Instead, Rothe leaned in closer and said, “Do you have some time to talk more about that?”

“That was the first time a pastor ever invited me to hash something out,” Will says. “When Pastor Matt took the time to really listen to me and answer my questions, I found out pretty quickly that I had a lot to learn. I got a little humbled by the Word of God.”

Will and Sydney started attending Bible Foundations class and have been at The Way ever since.

Discovering gospel truth

From the outside looking in, Will’s experience looks like complete happenstance. An honest mistake on a Sunday morning led a young couple to visit another church. The Way was in the right place at the right time. Will sees it differently. That morning, when nothing went according to plan, revealed a far greater plan—one that only the God of the universe could orchestrate.

Will’s Sunday night living room conversation with Rothe lit a fire in his belly. He became hungry for the kind of spiritual meal one receives when grappling with Scripture, and he began to seek out these meals whenever he could. In addition to attending Foundations classes and Sunday services with Sydney, he joined one of The Way’s small groups.

Will Jones with family and friends and dog
(Left) Will and Sydney Jones. (Center) Will, Pastor Matt Rothe, and Chris. Gospel ministry is a group effort at The Way. Will invited his friend Chris to The Way to hear the truths he had discovered. Chris was baptized and invited his now-wife, Mischa, and his roommate. (Right) Will Jones.

“When Sydney and I first moved to Fredericksburg, we didn’t really have any friends,” Will explains. “The small group and community that we found at The Way gave us people with whom we could not only spend time but also gather around the Word. The church was where our best friends were!”

As Will’s faith grew, so did his social circles. Soon he went from lukewarm church-hopper to bona fide lay evangelist. No one was out of the reach of his gospel efforts, whether coworkers, college friends, or family members.

In a world where religious ambiguity has taken precedence over the truth of Scripture, Will’s passion for spreading gospel seeds far and wide is refreshing. He sees his new Lutheran identity not as a hindrance to the message he’s been given to proclaim but an invitation to step off the hamster wheel of culture-centric Christianity once and for all.

“I have friends from all different faith backgrounds who have fallen away one by one,” Will says. “I want nothing more than to show them that the truth is so much sweeter than chasing whatever gospel seems popular. I want to invite others to hash things out like Pastor Matt did for me. I’ll sit down and talk about anything with anyone, but we’re going to walk through what the Bible has said for thousands of years, not what people feel like today or what some guy said at a revival one time. That’s the way I’m going to love you as your brother in Christ.”

Will practices what he preaches. He explains, “I brought a friend I knew through work to church. He brought his housemate and his girlfriend, and it all kind of cascaded from there.”

Reaching out unapologetically

This type of “friendship evangelism” is at the core of what has helped The Way thrive as a mission church. The gospel takes root and grows in the hearts of those who worship there every week, and they scatter the seed into their homes, workplaces, and communities.

“It’s important to be unapologetically devoted to the gospel,” Rothe says. “It keeps you close to the truth of the Word, and it bends your heart close to the people to whom you minister. We have an incredible opportunity to reach people who are serious thinkers about doctrine and the church. As a mission church, we have a unique chance to bring people the best of everything we have when it comes to the gospel and all the ways it can be shared. We’re unashamed of the gospel, so we can be unapologetic in our invitation for others to hear it.”

It’s clear that gospel ministry is a group effort at The Way. Rothe might be the one preaching on Sunday mornings, but the messages he shares are for those in the room to carry into their personal mission fields.

“It’s one thing for a pastor to invite neighbors and friends to church,” Rothe says. “It’s a whole different level of awesome when great lay leaders like Will can shine a light for their faith. . . . It comes across as so personal and genuine to have someone who has been touched by the gospel reach out, and Will does that so well. Anything I as his pastor can do to equip and empower people like him is a no-brainer.”

As for Will, he has no intention of slowing down. As long as there are people in his life craving hope, his goal is to point them to the one place where true hope can be found. “I lived in a theological drought for my whole adult life until God led me to The Way,” Will said. “When the Lord offered me living water, he made absolutely sure I’d want to hook up a fire hose to the spiritual fire hydrant for the rest of my life.”

Learn more about The Way and WELS Home Missions in this month’s WELS Connection.

Author: Cameron Schroeder
Volume 111, Number 03
Issue: March 2024

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