Joe Jones understands that in order to be more like Jesus, he has to learn how to be more like Jesus.
He often reflects on the “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets that were popular in the mid-2000s. This question calls Christ followers to be students—a charge Jones doesn’t take lightly.
“How do we know what Jesus would do if we don’t know what Jesus has done?” Jones asks this question often to his congregation at Brown Hutcherson Ministries in Grand Rapids, Mich. But Jones has also lived this truth throughout his career and his life.
Jones served as president and CEO of the Urban League of West Michigan for nine years. That unique opportunity helped develop his perspective for how God could use him in his work as a leader, a change agent and a Christ follower.
“That work helped me become the person I am today,” Jones recalled. “Whoever came through our doors, the expectation was that we would treat them with dignity and respect.”
Dignity and respect—it’s not always easy to live these out in today’s culture. In late 2020, Jones saw an opportunity to coach people in these areas and inspire them to see others the way Jesus would see them. That involved tackling difficult topics.
“I know that the topics of race, equity, diversity and inclusion are not easy for a lot of people to discuss,” Jones said. “A lot of organizations are trying to enhance what they’re doing in those areas, but they don’t have anywhere to start from. There’s a tension and fear that they’ll say or do the wrong thing.”
Earlier this year, Jones founded The Hekima Group LLC. “Hekima” is Swahili for wisdom. His vision is to provide sound wisdom and strategy to a variety of industries in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion; strategic and multicultural communication; crisis management; and board recruitment. Jones has been an active consultant for decades, but after the racial tension of 2020 and the effects COVID-19 had on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) communities, he felt that it was time to focus even more energy on this area of his life.
“We need to look at people through the lens that God made them in His own image,” Jones said. “This is in many ways the missing element in today’s society. Because of my faith, I know not to approach people as being inferior or superior. When you start by treating people based on their rank or social status, there’s the potential to go away from what the Word teaches us.”
Jones finds strength and purpose in the words of Jesus in Luke 4:18-19, his life’s mission statement. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”
Jones uses his lived experience to both teach and learn, in the marketplace and at the pulpit. Whenever Jones comes across an opportunity to expand on his knowledge, he takes it. That led him and his wife, Jessie Jones (M.A. ’12), to complete their Master of Arts in ministry leadership at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary as part of the very first Urban Cohort.
Through that experience, the Joneses fostered valuable connections with members of the urban church community and engaged deeply with GRTS faculty on issues that our communities face every day.
When it comes to leading, Jones takes his own advice. In order to answer the question, “What would Jesus do?,” he dedicates himself to learning how Jesus led. In all of his experiences—in leading nonprofits, returning to school and teaching the gospel—the teachings of Christ act as his guide.
“There’s power in learning,” Jones said. “That’s what’s required of us—to never stop learning because none of us have fully arrived.”
In a challenging, divisive climate, Jones is using both the gifts and the influence that God gave him to build relationships, start conversations and grow community. He is the first to say that it’s not an easy task, but it is possible through God’s grace and favor.
“At the end of the day, the work that we do is how we meet the challenge before us,” Jones said. “It’s a challenge and sometimes seems to be impossible work, but I love waking up in the morning and trying to master that craft. Even when I fall, He’s there to help pick me back up.”
After each fall, Jones learns something new. And because he learns, he grows closer to his Savior.
Rev. Joe Jones is the president and CEO of The Hekima Group LLC, a consulting firm that provides sound wisdom and strategy to a wide variety of industries in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging; strategic and multicultural communication; and crisis management. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication arts from Oakland University and a Master of Arts in ministry leadership from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. He has graduate certificates from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, Stanford Graduate School of Business and Stern School of Business at New York University. He also serves as Second Ward City Commissioner for the City of Grand Rapids and pastor at Brown Hutcherson Ministries. Jones and his wife have four children and five grandchildren.