Bakersfield – “I was Southern Baptist born, Southern Baptist bred, and I’ll be Southern Baptist dead!” Jim Thomas declares. “I love Southern Baptists. The Lord took an old hillbilly out of the hills of southwest Missouri and educated him.”
In April 2003, Jim joined the California Southern Baptist Convention (CSBC) Healthy Church Group as chaplain liaison.
Jim’s ministry spanned 47 years of Christ-centered service before coming to CSBC. That service included ministering in some of the great convention congregations such as Southcliff Baptist Church in Fort Worth as minister of education and administration.
“I’ve done everything except music,” Jim recalled. “I have been an associate pastor and pastor in several churches. Before coming to CSBC, I pastored First Baptist Church of Rialto. Then I went to help a culturally diverse church in West Covina. We started with 29 people and in nine months the church had grown to 362. We saw real growth, and that was most exciting.”
Born and raised in Springfield, Missouri, Jim learned quickly not to go to revivals where the pastor or deacons might confront him about his spiritual condition. However, his teenage sweetheart, Shirley, attended a revival where she accepted Christ as her Savior.
Shirley immediately went looking for Jim on the campus of Southwest Missouri State University where he was a student. Seated in the front porch-swing at his fraternity house, Shirley led Jim, her future husband, to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Jim was 19 years old.
“I was baptized and became a junior deacon,” he recalled. “Later I became the church treasurer and church clerk, and I became a full deacon in my church.”
Jim’s mother was a Christian, but his father was not. There was conflict in their home until his father accepted Christ in their living room at the age of 58. Jim’s father also became a deacon, and both Jim and his father were ordained as deacons at the same time in 1956. Jim was ordained to ministry in 1957. Before being ordained, Jim was already pastoring a church outside Springfield.
“I had lots of church experience and worked for a large corporation for five years,” Jim said. “When I felt God’s call, I returned to school in preparation for ministry.”
While working in churches full-time, there was always something else for Jim to do. Those other activities included being a chaplain to three Salvation Army homes for unwed mothers and working at a mental hospital behind locked doors.
Jim served as a U.S. Air Force chaplain for 13 years, both full-time and in the Air Force Reserve. He left the service with the rank of colonel.
Through the years, Jim has made numerous mission trips to Korea, Mexico, Jamaica and Japan; and he has preached revivals in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Jim served Long Beach Baptist Association as a church planter where he saw approximately 60 churches planted before moving to Bakersfield where he and his wife, Linda, currently live.
In Bakersfield, Jim has a two-fold chaplaincy ministry. As CSBC chaplain liaison, he oversees California’s Southern Baptist chaplains, encouraging, training, giving advice and helping with denominational endorsement as needed. Jim counsels many chaplains released from their positions because of the failing economy. In many of those cases, volunteers untrained to do the work of a chaplain are filling those positions.
Jim also is a chaplain at Lerdo Prison in Bakersfield, a private prison that houses 3,800 federal, state and county prisoners – male and female. Some of the prisoners are violent offenders. There are 20 recovery programs in Bakersfield for released inmates, six of which are faith-based. Those programs get the majority of inmates.
“We have more inmates being saved and lives being changed through the weekend services at the prison and in the recovery programs than probably all of the churches in Bakersfield put together in a year,” Jim stated. “I saw 32 professions of faith (during a recent) weekend, just on Saturday and Sunday.”
As a private prison, Lerdo does not restrict the actions of their chaplains as do government prisons. The chaplains have access to all the inmates regardless of their race or religion.
“That’s why I like it there,” Jim said. “In a state prison you have to take an oath that you will not talk to people of other faiths. We have all of the nationalities at Lerdo, and we are able to talk with anyone that we want to at any time. It is a joy to see all of these people saved. I feel stronger about my ministry now than I’ve felt in a long time.”
Jim and Shirley were married for 28 years before her death in 1985.
Jim holds a bachelor of science degree from Missouri State University in Springfield, and bachelor of arts degrees from Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri and Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee. While attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Jim earned a master’s degree in Christian education and a master’s degree in theology. He earned a doctorate in Christian education from Denver Seminary in Denver, Colorado.
James’ message to California Southern Baptists:
The slowing economy has hurt our churches and California’s people, and that hurts my heart. Our country needs revival more than I’ve ever seen it, and I’ve been around a long time. We are reaching out to our contemporary world with contemporary events, but right now, with people hurting so much, it is time to hold some good old-fashioned revivals in our churches.
Pray for California’s chaplains who are losing their jobs because of the slowing economy.
Pray for military chaplains who are facing uncertain times of salary cuts or job losses due to the economy.
Pray that God will intervene to help in all of the chaplaincy ministries.
Pray for wisdom and guidance for our military chaplains who are ministering in harm’s way.
Pray for the safety and salvation of all of our military personnel.
Pray that God will place a hedge of protection around the families of military chaplains as they face worldly influences while dad is away.
Pray that God will intercede in the lives of the vast number of military families torn by separation and divorce.
Pray for continued strength and good health for Jim.
Praise God for His faithfulness through more than 50 years of ministry.
Praise God for the salvation of men and women through the prison ministry.
Praise God for the changed lives of those attending recovery programs.
Praise God for California Southern Baptist chaplains who faithfully take the gospel message beyond church walls.
What is chaplaincy?
Chaplaincy is an expression of ministry that extends the function of the local church into the diverse and multi-cultural society providing spiritual care to people in specific settings. Chaplains perform the roles of pastor, teacher, evangelist, counselor and administrator as they represent the church and the denomination from “inside” the using agency (www.namb.net).
Military chaplains serve through the chaplain corps of all branches of the armed services.
Hospital chaplains serve in general medical centers, Veterans Affairs medical and psychiatric centers, developmental disability centers, and hospice, home care and retirement facilities.
Institutional chaplains serve in correctional facilities, children’s homes and academies.
Corporate chaplains serve in businesses, motels/hotels, sports organizations and other related areas.
Public safety chaplains serve in law enforcement, fire departments and emergency medical services.
Disaster relief chaplains serve people who unexpectedly find their lives disrupted by environmental disaster.
Do you know a chaplain?
Many California Southern Baptists who are serving as chaplains minister without the benefit of encouragement or knowledge of resources available to them. Many of them serve part-time with little training or denominational endorsement. Jim Thomas is available to offer that support. Send the names, addresses and telephone numbers of chaplains to Jim at the contact information below.
PO Box 80092
Bakersfield CA 93380