Everyone needs a Jim Whitmire in his or her life. “Mr. Whitmire,” as I knew him, was the minister of music at my church when I was a teenager. I have hundreds of memories from Merritt Island and most of them are affiliated in some way with Jim Whitmire and the music program. Because I am married now to a youth pastor, I’ve come to realize that while we didn’t have a youth pastor at Merritt Island in those years, we had Jim Whitmire and he functioned as a pastor in practically every area of our lives.
I remember a sign he had hanging in the choir room: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”
I remember feeling my heart in my throat as I struggled to ring my handbell in the proper instant. A handbell choir with more than ten members was an insult to the music (fewer people is harder, but Mr. Whitmire assured us ten people should be able to handle anything), therefore we played a LOT of bells and a lot of notes . . . usually very quickly. He challenged us to do the near-impossible . . . and somehow, we rose to the occasion, though I was nail-biting nervous every time I slid on those white gloves.
I remember him asking us to consider what movies we went to see on Saturday night . . . because those were the thoughts that would follow us into worship on Sunday morning.
I remember him singing, “The love of God . . . is greater far, than tongue or pen can ever tell.” To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone sing that song more eloquently.
I remember one Sunday in particular. I and a couple of friends had come in late, and we slipped into a pew down front while the youth choir was singing in the early Sunday morning service. During the benediction, Mr. Whitmire came down off the platform, leaned over the front pew, and caught our attention. “I want to see you in my office,” he said.
We—and I don’t remember exactly who was with me, though I have my suspicions—promptly went upstairs and took seats in Mr. Whitmire’s small office. He came in, opened his Bible to the last chapter of Hebrews, and read a single verse: “Obey your spiritual leaders and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they know they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this joyfully and now with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit” (Hebrews 13:17, NLT).
Mr. Whitmire proceeded to tell us that when we joined the choir, we made a commitment and effectively gave up our seats in the congregation. I don’t remember everything else he said, but I left feeling chastened and cared for, not brow-beaten. By reminding us that he watched over us in order to give a good account to God, Mr. Whitmire challenged us to do better, be stronger . . . and to get out of bed on time on Sunday mornings.
Those were the lessons of leadership, and I’m glad I learned them early, because they have followed me into adulthood, motherhood, and my “job” as a youth pastor’s wife. Thanks, Jim, for everything you taught me. I hope one day to stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and hear “Well done” from Him . . . and catch a smile from you.
P.S. Jim has recently retired as minister of music from Bellvue Baptist in Memphis, TN. I know they’ll miss him!