LUTZ — In his younger days, guitarist Mike Jones opened for the likes of Molly Hatchet, Queen, Benny Goodman and Ray Charles.
He played on stages from Sydney to Singapore, from Turkey to Spain.
He even recorded classic jingles including "You deserve a break today …" for McDonald's and "Aren't you glad you used Dial" for the well-known soap company.
Then Jones was invited to jam with two Christian rock 'n' roll musicians.
"I told them religion and rock 'n' roll was an oxymoron," said Jones. "But I was curious to see what that would be like, so I went to check it out anyway."
That was in 1985, and it was a gig that would forever change his life.
Jones had just lost his apartment, and the two musicians were looking for a new roommate. Jones moved in, eventually joined their band and the trio became close friends.
"They showed me how to walk a life with Christ, and for the first time I saw the power of music and the power of spirituality combined," said Jones, 49, who today is senior pastor at Hope Church in Lutz. "My head and my hands had always been into it, but my heart never was."
With his music infused with new meaning and the desire to share that with others, Jones took his talent on the road and played with the very first performers in the Christian rock 'n' roll movement, including Benny Hester and James Ward.
As for the transition and missing the glamour of Hollywood-style rock bands, Jones said he never turned back.
"Once I saw the light, it just lost all of its attraction to me," he said. "Been there, done that, got the T-shirt, and I knew I wasn't going back to that."
What he did not know is that about 10 years later he would marry and, shortly thereafter, feel a calling from God to attend seminary.
"I tell everyone it took me 20 years to learn how to play a guitar, and then three years to learn what to say with it," he said.
And so again, Jones changed careers. This time the move was a bit less drastic, from Christian rock 'n' roll guitarist to full-time pastor.
Jones came to Tampa with his wife, Gina, in 1999, sent out almost 10,000 videos of introduction and later that year founded Hope, a Presbyterian-affiliated church, with 35 members. Today, having grown to 200 members, the church prepares to move into its new building this month, the first of a three-stage development plan to include a new preschool, gymnasium and counseling center.
Church member and drummer Bill Gillespie said the church's success, in part, is due to Jones and the contemporary Christian music he has brought with him. Many members, Gillespie said, either never joined a church or left other churches because they did not want to sing traditional hymns every week.
"The passion in his music transfers into the message of hope that Christ's love is never-ending and is there for whoever wants it," said Gillespie, 57, a product specialist with a guitar manufacturer. "He tells that with his music."
Jones still picks up his electric guitar, either to play at church or at a part-time gig with DeLeon Entertainment, which books him for weddings and corporate events. But the ear-bursting decibels, the bright lights and the cheering, adoring fans are long gone. Some might think his world today is vastly different, but Jones said it has always been about awakening emotions.
"In rock 'n' roll they come in one place, you get the vibes happening, and they go home in another place," he said. "In church, it's very much the same in that people come in bearing a burden and you speak to their heart and wake them up. The difference is that what you're saying to them in church is so much more. This is about them changing their eternity."
Times Correspondent Sheryl Kay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 230-8788.