Highlands Community Church has a new lead pastor for the first time in almost 30 years.
Tenured pastor Jim Amandus passed the Shepherd’s hook, a tall, carved wooden staff the church’s founder got from Israel, to Jesse Campbell on Nov. 20.
Amandus will continue his work as a counselor and Campbell, originally from Florida, will be new Lead Pastor.
This kind of longevity in church leadership is quite uncommon, church spokesperson David Newcomb said. The church was founded by Pastor Wally Wilson in 1946, who served almost 40 years before Amandus took over. According to some studies the average leadership tenure at a church is three to four years.
“Pastoral leadership is not for the faint of heart. Short tenure due to discouragement, burnout, and moral failure are all too common,” Newcomb said. “Highlands Community Church has been blessed with faithful, God honoring leaders who have stayed the course through the highs and lows of ministry.”
Amandus also actively engaged in the community as president of the Renton Rotary, police chaplain and connected with the business and government in Renton. He said he believes that alignment between business, government and churches in a community can be beneficial.
“Probably the biggest privilege for me has been the people I’ve had the privilege of working with,” Amandus said. “Just a really unique partnership for how that touches people’s everyday lives, it’s amazing. I feel honored and humbled for that to continue in a different capacity.”
He said he will always remember the morning of 9/11, and his first call to the mayor, and other Renton church’s leadership. He asked them how they would react to this on a local level. That week a service was held in partnership of multiple local churches at McKnight Middle School, and the 1,500 capacity room was at max, standing room. For the church, Amandus said there’s too many memories to count.
But for him, the big privilege was helping others in the church remove barriers so they could express their ministry, Amandus said. Under his leadership, Vision House, for mothers and children, GriefShare for those experiencing loss, his time as a Renton Police Department chaplain and the array of 12-step programs offered at the church are all “trophies” Amandus has of his tenure.
“I think Highlands has continued to serve what its name recognizes, the church in the community, for the community,” Amandus said.
Newcomb said his leadership helped the church become a “spiritual hospital.”
Amandus in recent years completed a counseling internship with CoHear in Bellevue, where Amandus will continue part time with marriage, family and addiction counseling. He loves Renton and intends to stay in the city.
Amandus and spokesperson Newcomb are excited for new pastor Campbell. Newcomb said they are already starting to see Campbell advance the mission and vision of Highlands in new ways.
Campbell said he won’t try to fill Amandus’ shoes, but instead his own shoes. He started in a small broke church in Pensacola, Florida, and ended up working at a Christian publishing company, Lifeway Christian Resources, in Nashville, Tennessee, where his videos reached 1.3 million people. But it wasn’t the same as pastoring a church.
“I was frustrated, I was sitting alone in an empty office. I was like, ‘When am I going to get the opportunity to answer this call as a pastor?’” Campbell said.
He said he reached out to a firm who showed him options, and Highlands appealed to him with their work in global missions, something he and his wife are passionate about. Newcomb said the Highlands search team worked with a firm to spend hours studying and vetting potential pastors. Now the church is using the curriculum Campbell wrote at the publisher.
“It’s cool we’re the only church in the world that can say the lead pastor carved out the study plan the curriculum for the small church. That’s pretty cool, look what God did. It brings healing to my heart for that season of frustration,” he said.
Campbell said he’s excited as the church continues to boom.
“I feel as though I’m ridiculously privileged to step into a very healthy church that has reaped the benefits of longevity twice over now,” he said.