Bowling Green — The Bowling Green pastor elected last Tuesday as president of the 750,000-member Kentucky Baptist Convention has long been known for his strong support of missions.
Tom James said that will remain his primary focus during his one-year term at the head of the state’s largest religious organization.
“Every president has something they bring to the table that the Lord has groomed them for. For me, it’s missions,” said James, pastor of Eastwood Baptist Church. “So, in an age of declining Cooperative Program giving and more of our dollars being spent on ourselves, I would hope to challenge churches and leaders across the state to raise Cooperative Program giving, to commit to pray for missionaries, and to go.”
James, 53, leads a 1,430-member church that gave more than $248,000 to the Cooperative Program last year alone.
“Tom James is a servant leader who does more than talk about the Great Commission and cooperative missions,” said KBC Executive Director Paul Chitwood. “He assumes this denominational leadership role with integrity because he has led the church he pastors to be very generous toward the ministries he will now lead. Eastwood is one of our top Cooperative Program churches in the state and a church joyfully engaged in hands-on mission work.
“Tom is a man of biblical conviction, a charitable spirit and a pastor’s heart,” Chitwood said. “Kentucky Baptists will again be served well by their choice for convention president.”
James, son of Thomas and Pat James, grew up in a military family that allowed him to live in such diverse places as frigid Alaska and balmy Homestead, Fla.
His life changed on Christmas Eve 1978, when as a teen, he reluctantly went to church in Homestead. The fill-in preacher that day, a local police officer, presented the Romans’ road to salvation, and James accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior.
James, his wife Janet, and their three children, Leah, Andrew and Aaron, moved to Eastwood in 2004. He previously served churches in Anderson, S.C., and in Alcoa and Morristown, Tenn.
As if the job of pastor doesn’t keep James busy enough, he also works as a sports official for the Kentucky High School Athletic Association. He officiates baseball, basketball, softball and volleyball.
“It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a way to meet people and stay active,” he said.
James stays incredibly busy as a minister of a large church, as a referee, and as a leader within the KBC where, two years ago, he served as first vice president.
Besides his pastorates, James also has work experience as a pre-trial release officer at a Texas jail.
“Tom has a heart for God, a connection in the community, a concern for Kentucky and a passion for the world,” said John Mark Toby, director of missions for the Warren Association of Baptists in Bowling Green.
Heading off to college at Florida State University, James goal was to one day be a U.S. senator. But God put a higher calling in his heart-to be a gospel preacher. Words from Scripture beckoned him, despite his initial reluctance.
From Jeremiah 1:7: “The Lord said unto me, say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.”
And from 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season, rebuke, exort with all long suffering and doctrine.”
The political aspirations, James said, evaporated once he surrendered to God, and he hasn’t looked back. “It would be a step down from a higher calling,” he explained.
He transferred to Stetson University, which at the time was affiliated with the Florida Baptist Convention. After graduation, he went to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he received his master of divinity degree.
Besides his roles within the KBC, James served on the SBC Executive Committee from 1999-2004.
Evangelist Don Mathis, a member of Eastwood Baptist, said James is first and foremost a godly man.
“He believes the Bible in its entirety and preaches it in an expository, life application style,” Mathis said. “When you hear him preach, you have heard the Word of God. He is a leader with a kingdom view. Eastwood Baptist Church under Brother Tom’s leadership is a model of mission giving and mission going. Members of Eastwood following our pastor’s model are continually participating in international mission trips, yet Eastwood has resisted the temptation to take monies from the Cooperative Program or special offerings to do this.”
Eastwood, Mathis said, gives more than 12 percent through the Cooperative Program while also providing strong financial support to the Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong and Eliza Broadus special offerings. The church typically gives about $100,000 to the Lottie Moon offering alone.
“So Brother Tom is not only a cheerleader for mission support, but he walks the walk,” Mathis said. “And, he leads our people to do the same. I am grateful for my good and godly pastor, Tom James. He will be one of our best KBC presidents.”
Dan Summerlin, pastor of Lone Oak Baptist Church in Paducah, said he knows of no other person with a greater passion for missions.
“I remember the first time we met, we started talking about missions and Tom became excited about what Eastwood Baptist was doing to reach their community and the world for Christ,” Summerlin said. “When he finished he asked me what we were doing at our church and it seemed he was as excited about what we were doing as he was about his church.”
Summerlin called James “a model pastor.”
“His humility makes him approachable to all, and he can connect with all types of people,” Summerlin said. “I know he will bring that same humility to the presidency of the KBC and will be able to connect and to listen to all people regardless of the size or location of their church. He will promote the Great Commission and be a cheerleader to the Cooperative Program.” (KBC)