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RESOURCE CENTER AND ARCHIVES

Jackson celebrates 30 years as pastor of Whitesburg Baptistcomment (0)

July 10, 2008

By Megan Norris Jones


When Jimmy Jackson became the senior pastor of Whitesburg Baptist Church, Huntsville, June 4, 1978, the Madison Baptist Association church had about 2,900 members. When he celebrated his 30th anniversary as pastor June 8 of this year, the congregation had grown to more than 7,000 members.

But more telling than either of those numbers is the 5,666 baptisms that have taken place at the church under Jackson’s leadership. Of course, pinning down those numbers just by talking to him is pretty difficult to do. That’s because he’s never let the numbers become more important than the people they represent.

"One thing about Brother Jimmy is that he’s never cared about the numbers," said Karen Tidwell, his executive assistant for the past four years and a church member for the past 30 years.

Indeed the names of the people who make up Whitesburg Baptist have been on Jackson’s lips every day of all his years there. One of his first requests as pastor was for a list of members so that he could pray for each one by name every week. That’s a practice he’s continued for 30 years, and he credits God’s response to those prayers as an underlying source of strength for the church.

Whitesburg celebrated Jackson’s 30-year milestone by inviting Jerry Vines, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), to preach in the morning services and Alabama evangelist Junior Hill to preach in the evening service.

After the evening service, the church held a reception honoring Jackson, who also serves as first vice president of the Alabama Baptist State Convention, and his wife, Bobbi.

Video greetings from friends and colleagues across the SBC were shown in the morning service.

The weekend was a busy one for Jackson. His granddaughter was married at 2 p.m. on Saturday, the anniversary celebration kicked off Sunday morning and he didn’t leave the reception until 10 p.m.

"We pulled out all the stops," said Dick Thomassian, first minister of music and then minister of missions at Whitesburg from 1966 until 2005, who served as chairman of the committee organizing the event. "We gave him some wonderful gifts and a love offering."

Of Jackson’s leadership style, Thomassian said, "He’s blessed with an unusual amount of wisdom and insight."

He added that Jackson never thinks simply in terms of day-to-day operations but always keeps in mind his vision for the future. It’s a talent Thomassian sees as key to Jackson’s guidance of the church in all its years of growth.

"He doesn’t tell us what to do," Thomassian said. "He shows us and we follow after him."

Of all the changes at and accomplishments of Whitesburg during his tenure, Jackson is most pleased with the balance the church has maintained as it has grown and remained strong and grounded in its conservative roots while branching out into new ministries throughout Huntsville and the world.

Among those ministries are Christian education for students from kindergarten through 12th grade at Whitesburg Christian Academy, weekday child care and even ministry training through Whitesburg Heritage Bible College.

As it sends missions teams around the world, the church is also increasing its giving through the Cooperative Program and to the work of all Southern Baptists on the missions field.

Growth hasn’t always been easy or certain, however. In 1981, the church was faced with the decision to either build a new church building it couldn’t afford or stop growing. A sanctuary that held 3,000 people was built, and the church doubled in size in three years, Jackson said.

But instead of focusing on filling buildings and increasing numbers, Whitesburg is about adapting to cultural changes in order to continue to effectively reach people for Christ.

"In 30 years, our whole culture has changed," Jackson said. "It’s been a tremendous change from a local to a global ministry."

When he came to Whitesburg 30 years ago, Jackson felt God was calling him there. Since then, he’s found plenty of work to do.

"I’m going to keep on working and serving and guiding our people as long as the Lord gives me health to do so," Jackson said.

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