JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Making good on an invitation first offered nearly 40 years ago, James Whitmire finally is leading worship at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.
Whitmire, 68, is best known as the music minister at the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Tennessee, where he served from 1975-2005 with the late Adrian Rogers and became known for his annual “Singing Christmas Tree.”
Whitmire first was invited to join First Baptist Jacksonville’s staff in 1969 by then-pastor Homer Lindsay Sr., but Whitmire felt led to continue working with Rogers when they were at First Baptist Church in Merritt Island, Fla.
In 1975, just as he was leaving to join Rogers in his new post at Bellevue, Whitmire was invited again, this time by Homer Lindsay Jr., who had assumed the Jacksonville pastorate after his father.
When Whitmire received a third invitation from First Baptist Jacksonville — from senior pastor Mac Brunson last spring -– he was ready. He assumed his new role as executive pastor of worship Aug. 26.
No matter that Whitmire, a father of six with 12 grandchildren, was formally retired.
“How wonderful that God gave me another chance,” Whitmire told the Florida Baptist Witness. Obviously “the timing just wasn’t right” the first two times, he said.
Noting that Brunson is following in the same line as the Lindsays and former senior pastor Jerry Vines, Whitmire said, “It is a blessing to see that God is still raising up great, great preachers. Jacksonville is so blessed to have that heritage. Mac loves people and I thought it was a blessing from the Lord to give me another chance to work with a great man.”
Whitmire also credited former minister of music Rodney Brooks, who is now serving at First Baptist Church in Atlanta, with leaving behind a rich heritage of music leadership.
“I want to be a blessing to people,” Whitmire said. “The music program is so wonderful. I don’t want anything to happen to it on my watch.”
Whitmire also is well-known for having served on the committees for five hymnals, spanning a period of 40-plus years for three different publishers, and for introducing the concept of banners bearing the names of God to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings. He has led choir tours to 38 states and 13 foreign countries.
At Bellevue, Whitmire said more than 100,000 decisions for Christ were recorded in 30 years of ministry, with nearly 5,000 people enrolled in choirs and musical programs at the church.
Not denying what he called his God-given “strength” in producing elaborate performances, Whitmire reminded those who might think he intends to bring Bellevue’s program to Jacksonville, “Every church doesn’t have to do what another church does. A man’s got to be wise in learning the church and seeing how God leads in that….
“I don’t want to be so crusted in the past that I can’t learn. I want to be a blessing to Mac Brunson, too. I just want to be the man that listens to what God says, and not in the direction I’ve gone with another pastor.”
And as for worship styles, Whitmire reflected, “When you are starting out at a new church, you can be as edgy as you want to because you are creating your own tradition. But when you go to a large church like Bellevue or like First Baptist Jacksonville, you have thousands of people. You don’t just minister to the youth or to the senior adults.”
Calling a “blended” repertoire best for established churches, Whitmire said he believes Scripture teaches congregations to worship through hymns, psalms and spiritual songs. Hymns sing “about the Trinity and teach doctrine,” he said. Psalms are for Scripture memory and spiritual songs are new songs that tell about people’s experiences with God.
“We need all of those,” he said.
A focus on Jesus, and not on worship styles, can bring people of all ages, races and backgrounds together in worship, Whitmire emphasized.
“No one minister of music is going to do it all perfectly,” he said, “but this one is going to try, and I pray that I do.”
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.floridabaptistwitness.com.