My earliest memories of Jim Wilkes involve constantly mistaking him for Joe Coppola during those early days at New England Baptist Church. He was known as the author of “world class skits” each year at our annual stewardship banquets. (Perhaps he wishes known remembered anything about “Kung-fu Christian.”) As I grew older he became that guy who filled in for Pastor Ward when he was away. You know, that funny guy who told great stories. By my college years, he had become a skilled expository preacher and my most trusted confidant/councilor.
My fondest memories of Pastor Wilkes were the long talks in his office after an evening service. I knew his door was always open to me. I loved those one-on-one talks we had. He knew me. He knew my family and all the issues I struggled with. Yet, he still made the time to chat whenever he could. We talked about personal issues, theological issues and whatever was on my mind. He was truly interested in what I had to say and wanted to help with whatever was plaguing me at the moment. Looking back on it, I can see know how time-consuming and taxing that must of been. That’s putting it nicely. I must have been that guy, annoying and hard to get rid of… But if that was true, he never made that known to me.
It was there in his office that I began my love affair with books as I gazed at the titles in his library. I knew each of his messages were the result of much study and laboring in the Word. Soon I began recognizing names and creating a library of my own. Every once in awhile while I’m in my office today looking at my own library my mind will go back to those days.
Specifically I recall the day when, in his office, I blurted out the big secret. I had been contemplating the doctrines of grace (i.e. Calvinism). I wasn’t sure how he was going to take it. Little did I know he was way ahead of me on this. He was able to guide and encourage me. This was all the confirmation I needed that I wasn’t a crazy heretic. It was during that conversation in which he asked me to consider that the gospel was not something that was merely past tense, it was something I needed today. It wasn’t something that had ever crossed my mind before and it wouldn’t be something I truly grasped till much later. But God used that conversation to begin the process that would one day allow me to understand grace and the gospel in a whole new light.
During some of the most challenging times of my life, Pastor Wilkes was right there with me in the thick of it. Emotional struggles, academic struggles, theological struggles and even struggles in my early days of ministry – the door to that office was always open.
It was these interactions with Pastor Wilkes that gave me a strong desire to enter into ministry myself. I saw Christ through this man. I saw what it meant to be a shepherd. I saw what it meant to throw yourself into a text and passionately proclaim its message as opposed to one I wished to hoist upon it. I saw in Pastor Wilkes what it means to be a pastor. With that kind of example, how could I not want to be one myself?
In more recent times I’ve seen Pastor Wilkes himself go through challenging times as he transitioned to a new ministry. While I’m certain it was a difficult time for him, it was a joy for me to see him standing firm in the faith. Just a few months ago I was able to visit his current church. He’s a better preacher today than ever before. His message was not merely sound, but was saturated in gospel truth. After all these years, he has not merely maintained a ministry he has grown in grace and in the knowledge of Christ.
Pastor Wilkes, I don’t know where to begin to thank you. If there’s ever a time you doubt that your ministry has produced fruit, please know that everyday I benefit from your influence and the impact you had on my life. Anything that I accomplish in my ministry is a direct result of your ministry to me. Thank you.