JJ Washington delivers the missionary sermon at the recent Georgia Baptist Convention annual meeting at New Hope Baptist in Fayetteville. Washington has been named to the Georgia Baptist Missions team as a consultant in the West Central region. MYRIAH SNYDER/Index
DULUTH — JJ Washington, Austell campus pastor for First Baptist Woodstock, has been named Georgia Baptist Missions consultant for the West Central region.
In his role, Washington will serve in connecting Georgia Baptist churches with missions opportunities in their communities, state, and beyond. Others already on the Missions team and their respective regions include Eric Rentz (Southeast), Samuel Ayala (Southwest), Jeff Gongwer (East Central), and Keith Ivey (Northeast). A Missions consultant position in the Northwest Region has yet to be filled.
“JJ will become a vital part of the overall Missions consultant team for Georgia,” said Buck Burch, Missions catalyst. “As he relocates to live in the West Central region, JJ will begin reaching out to the 600 churches there to help them construct a missions portfolio to reach their Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and uttermost parts.”
Burch spoke on the importance of connecting churches as well as Washington’s skills in connecting groups.
“By developing a strategy for missions, churches in the West Central region can discover partnerships with sister churches, their association, partnering state conventions, and international settings. JJ is a gifted communicator, and he demonstrated that well as he brought the missions sermon at the Georgia Baptist Convention annual meeting last month.”
Leading a revitalization
At First Woodstock’s Austell campus, Washington laid the foundation for a long-term successor in the revitalization project through First Woodstock. Prior to that he served as an assistant to Pastor Johnny Hunt, which included preaching in Hunt’s absence, administrating First Woodstock’s biblical resources division, and assisting in discipleship and pastoral training. All told, he spent four years in a mentorship and assistant role to Hunt.
In early 2018 Washington agreed to become pastor of the Austell campus, formerly First Baptist Austell. The 126-year-old church had been in decline, but after four years of no baptisms, the church recorded 17 in as many months.
Under Washington’s leadership, the church added a missions emphasis and became more multi-ethnic to reflect the surrounding community. It also shifted from being predominately senior adults to become a congregation of many generations.
Young and angry
A native of Clearwater, Florida, Washington moved to the Atlanta area in his early teens. While living in both places, he saw up-close not only the effects of addiction in his parents and extended family, but the allure of gang life through his older brother Victor, who Washington idolized.
In a time of brief sobriety Washington’s parents moved to Decatur, but their son soon became known as the little guy with a short temper. At Stone Mountain Junior High, he was part of many fights and disturbances and was almost sent to an alternative school. His troubles continued at Stone Mountain High, getting into more fights, being frequently suspended, and narrowly escaping expulsion when he convinced others that he had not, in fact, been the one to deliver the blow with a baseball bat that broke someone’s jaw.
Despite all that trouble, though, Washington’s intelligence and charisma couldn’t be ignored.
“The thing was, he was so liked by his teachers,” said Tamara Parker, his then-girlfriend and now-wife in a 2002 article about Washington. “They loved him because he was very, very smart. He was a good athlete. He just had a temper problem.”
For Washington, a turn was coming. But it wouldn’t come without pain.
On May 1, 1996, Washington’s older brother, Victor, broke his neck diving off a fishing boat into shallow water. Days later doctors unplugged the machines keeping him alive. JJ held his hand as Victor died.
A high school sophomore at the time, Washington looked at his brother and vowed to graduate high school and college with honors. He would watch over Victor’s kids. JJ, a burgeoning athlete who would go on to sign a football scholarship with North Carolina State, said he’d make it to the NFL.
Though difficult to channel positively at times, Washington took that fire and work ethic to Raleigh, North Carolina in 1999. A three-star athlete for Stone Mountain High, he was nevertheless undersized for a D-I cornerback at a shade under ‘5’8”.
It didn’t matter. Washington’s speed (4.3 in the 40) and a dog-nipping-at-your-heels tenacity soon made him a defensive starter.
But another setback, in appearance, would happen. On Oct. 14, 2000 in the rival game against North Carolina, Washington tore his ACL. He didn’t play the rest of the year, but was introduced to David Cameron, a pastor and campus Bible study leader at NC State, during his rehabilitation. Washington asked Cameron to pray over his knee. Cameron responded by wanting to know if Washington had ever asked Jesus into his life.
That question led to Washington’s salvation. He and a friend began a popular Bible study on the NC State campus. He’d go on to serve in various ministries and churches throughout Atlanta. It became the moment when the young man once known for his hair-trigger temper began to change his life.
Progress from the pain
Washington attests that the pain and challenges he’s faced – his family’s struggles with addiction, Victor’s death, problems in school, a torn knee ligament – have prepared him for his current place in ministry.
“When God redeemed me, he redeemed my pain and used it for good,” he told The Index. “Those things I’ve gone through in my life didn’t break me. Instead, they helped me build up kind of a shell to face difficult situations, whether in my personal life or in ministry.”
That goes for growing up in a gang-infested neighborhood. It also goes for leading the revitalization of a church’s culture where the gospel is seen as the power that can – and will – change lives. It goes for connecting churches with opportunities to share the gospel with others.
“You learn to stand up under challenges,” said Washington. “God uses those times.”
God also uses the time spent around men like Hunt, he added. When he began as pastor at the Austell campus of First Woodstock, there was little to no emphasis on missions. Since then, members have become involved not only in the community but taken mission trips to South Carolina and Mexico.
“Being at Woodstock under Pastor Johnny’s leadership, traveling with him for work in domestic and international situations, gave me a kingdom heartbeat for missions,” said Washington. “I learned from him that the light that shines furthest shines the brightest at home first.”
Scott Barkley serves as editor of The Christian Index.