Fighting alcoholism along the way, he went from atheist to pastor of a church in Texas with more than 9,000 members.
The Rev. Jim Jackson, who has served as a religious leader at Wesley Heights United Methodist and St. Mark United Methodist in Columbus, has recently written a book, "Covenant Friendship: An Ex-Loner's Guide to Authentic Friendships."
While not a biography, Jackson uses his personal struggle as a loner to help others.
"It took me years to realize that many people felt as different and alone as I did," he said.
He describes the book as one for people who are weary of superficial, conditional relationships, and those who are increasingly aware they are walking alone and now long for authentic friendships.
"Covenants are not meant to be terminated," he said. "A contract can be terminated if certain conditions are not met. With a covenant friendship, you are bonding, becoming one with somebody forever."
He said biblical figures such as David and Jonathan and Ruth and Naomi had covenant friendships.
The thesis of the book is that none of us has a greater need, outside of a redemptive union with Jesus, than covenant friends.
He explains how people develop false selves or masks as a survival mechanism. They do it to fit in with groups with which they seek acceptance.
"Covenant friendship is the means by which we come to terms with the false selves we have adopted, discard them and live authentically," he writes.
The book is designed to help people build covenant friendships through which they are safe to come out of hiding.
It is a relationship in which both parties are accepted without conditions. All is shared.
"There is a need for someone who always has your back, someone who will always tell you the truth," he said.
Through the years, Jackson has formed covenant friendships.
"I can't afford not to have someone like that in my life," Jackson said.
In one section of the book, he lists characteristics of worthwhile friends. No. 1 on that list is they have a positive concept of themselves and encourage others to have a positive self concept.
Jackson, who turns 69 on Wednesday, retired in 2014 after serving as senior pastor at Chapelwood United Methodist Church in Houston, a role he had held since 1994.
He stayed in the city where he lives with Susan, his wife since 1967, and began Banlican House Publishers.
He also serves as a life coach, providing leadership training for corporations in Texas such as Birkman International and the Reynolds and Reynolds Company.
"It has been quite a journey," he said of his life.
Jackson's father died when he was 6. As a boy, Jackson worked to help his family financially. The family moved around a lot and though Jackson appeared to fit in, he always felt like an outsider. He became a binge drinker in college and even sold moonshine. He said he was in pain, and alcohol was his painkiller. He writes he was having an "intimate relationship with alcohol."
There was a period when Jackson was an atheist, convinced western Christianity was more cultural than religious and that church membership was a card of admission into middle-class acceptability.
The beginning of his change came with what he describes in the book as a "genuine conversion experience."
While out for an afternoon walk, he stopped in a small Lutheran church that was empty. He sat on the second row and began to reflect on his life. He prayed. He told God whatever God did for people he wanted God to do in him.
"Something dead in me resurrected that afternoon," he writes.
Jackson went to seminary and got help from Alcoholics Anonymous.
He said for a long time he could not tell anyone in a congregation his story. "I want people to know it now," he said.
Jackson's book is available online at banlicanhousepublishers.com and Amazon.com.