By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
NASHVILLE — For the past 11 years Gene Mims has served as pastor of Judson Baptist Church here.
Mims is still pastor but he’s no longer alone in the task. In September, his son Jeff Mims officially became the church’s co-pastor.
Jeff Mims is no stranger to the Judson family, having served in a variety of roles on the church’s staff since 2007.
The elder Mims, who became pastor of Judson in 2006 after a 13-year career as a vice president with LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, recalled that when he accepted the position he planned to serve about 10 years and “look at it then.”
Two years ago, he did just that. In talking with leadership at Judson, they stressed that the church wanted him to remain as pastor but a transition plan was needed. The 66-year-old Mims was agreeable. “I was not ready to retire (and is still not) but I was ready to transition,” he said.
The transition took about two years as all areas of the church were examined and decisions were made. To help the church through the process, a consultant with past experience in church transitions was employed. Judson leaders discovered what worked for successful transitions and what did not. “We did not want to rush,” Gene said.
Gene Mims observed that the primary reason for a transition not working was the pastor who was leaving had no clearly defined role. For the elder Mims, that will not be an issue. “I do not want to be an ‘emeritus’ pastor,” he stressed. Mims sees himself in a missional role, possibly as pastor of a mission or campus church.
In addition, he was advised that if a transition is to be effective, the pastor who is leaving must be the one who “pulls the trigger” on when to do it.
Gene Mims stressed that at no point was his son ever promised that he would be his dad’s successor. “I had to ask him if he wanted to be considered,” he recalled. “It was never understood that when he came here he would become pastor,” the elder Mims said.
As it became apparent that Jeff might be the choice to succeed his dad as pastor, Gene Mims gave him more responsibility, especially in management of church staff. Yet, he stressed that Jeff did not receive special treatment for being his son. “He was held accountable like anyone else,” Gene Mims said.
Though he loves his son and is excited that Jeff will eventually be his successor, Mims stressed his first responsibility was to do what was in the best interest of the church. “The church trusted me,” he said. “I’ve never lied to them and they know that.”
Like his dad, Jeff Mims said at no time was he ever promised he would succeed Gene. When he came to Judson after serving as a pastor in Virginia he wondered what it would be like if he was still at Judson when his dad retired.
Over the past few years the younger Mims has had contacts from churches that wanted to consider calling him as pastor. Jeff Mims recalled that four years ago he and his wife had to decide once and for all if they would leave or stay until his dad made a decision about retirement. “I decided I would be here until he retired and I would not talk to another church. We would stay and see what God would do.”
Now, that the transition is taking place, Jeff Mims said he does not feel any pressure. The plan of succession removes the pressure, he noted. The younger Mims has been asked what he will change. “We don’t have to change. We have to emphasize some of our core beliefs and practices again. I believe in the DNA of this church and who we are,” he stressed.
Jeff Mims said he will benefit from working alongside his dad and Phil Jones, administrative pastor. Between the two of them they have 89 years of ministerial experience, he said. “When they leave there is a wealth of knowledge that walks out the door,” Jeff said. “We can learn from them.”
The two ministers agreed there is no set timetable as to when Gene will move from his role as co-pastor. “We don’t want a timetable. If it just happens it will be better,” Jeff said.
Both men acknowledged there will be a learning curve for the church. “We are two different personalities. The church will have to adjust,” Gene Mims said.
He noted they are easing into the transition. Currently, Jeff is preaching one Sunday a month but that will gradually increase after the first of the year, the two men said. “So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Gene said. “Our people have been very supportive of Jeff. I feel the shift away from me to him is going as it should. Our people understand I am not being pushed out.”
Gene noted he is enjoying helping his son develop his vision, his voice. “I need to decrease in this.” He noted the transition is easier for him because he is being replaced by his son. “I know Jeff and I know his heart. He has earned the respect of the staff and our people.”
The elder Mims laughed that his one regret is that he is no longer his wife Ann’s favorite preacher. That distinction now belongs to Jeff, he said.