The Life and Legacy of One Kingdom Worker
“But how will I get in?” That was the question my friend Vince once asked our church secretary a few days before attending our church worship service for the very first time.
Vince was a student at the University at Buffalo and had come to faith in Jesus by examining the veracity of Scripture. The son of a professional gambler/con artist and a Jewish mother, Vince grew up never knowing the hope of the gospel.
That is until one Easter morning when he turned on the television and heard a preacher deliberating the timeline of events during the first Passion week. Even though he had never read the Bible before, Vince found himself intrigued by the questions this preacher was asking about events that preceded Jesus’ crucifixion. Then later that day he discovered a Bible in his girlfriend’s apartment. Confiscating it, he took up the challenge to figure out how all the events in Jesus’ last week fit together.
As Vince dug into Scripture, he was surprised by its historical details.
It didn’t read like a fairytale or myth as he expected. Instead, it was filled with the names of real people, places, and events. Suddenly, Vince began to think that if the Bible wasn’t true and was just a bunch of make-believe stories, he’d be able to prove it. However, if its details checked out, he’d have to take it seriously.
Knowing this, Vince began reading the Bible for hours every day and fact checked its claims. After investigating the Bible, verifying its reliability, and learning about a God who loved him so much that he’d send his son to die in his place, Vince committed his life to Jesus. Shortly thereafter, Vince visited his father and told him about his new faith in Jesus.
Vince’s dad wasn’t as enamored with Jesus as Vince was, but he did introduce Vince to a preacher who had visited him while he was serving hard time for embezzling money from baseball legend Ted Williams. This preacher baptized Vince and then asked him if he had a church home. Vince said he didn’t, so the preacher gave him the name of a preacher from the Buffalo area and the number to his church.
When Vince returned to Buffalo, he called that number. After a couple rings a woman answered, saying, “Clarence Church of Christ, this is Judy speaking; how can I help you?”
Vince said, “Hi, can I please talk to Mr. Walker?”
To which Judy replied, “Oh, I’m sorry he’s not in right now, but can I help you?”
Vince said, “No, I really need to talk with Mr. Walker because I was thinking about coming to church this Sunday.”
“Great! Then you can talk to him on Sunday. He’ll be here then,” Judy assured Vince.
Frustrated and confused Vince asked, “But how will I get in?”
Vince had never been to a church worship service before. He didn’t know churches were open to all people. He figured he needed some sort of admissions ticket or secret handshake to get in. That’s what he was hoping to get from Mr. Walker that day, but Judy assured him he could just show up at the church building on Sunday, walk through the doors, attend service, and meet Mr. Walker then. That’s what Vince did.
That Sunday, Vince walked through the doors of the Clarence Church of Christ for the very first time, met Mr. Walker, and his life was forever changed. Mr. Walker took Vince under his wing and encouraged him to fan into flame his passion to reach people far from God with the gospel.
After graduating from college, Vince enrolled in law school, but when a summer internship fell through, Mr. Walker and his associate minister Mike Bowers invited Vince to an internship with them at the church. Initially, Vince wondered how an internship with a church would help him in his career path. Later that summer Vince felt God tugging at his heart to enter full-time Christian ministry.
That next semester, Vince enrolled in seminary and prepared himself to follow in Mr. Walker’s footsteps.
You may have heard of Vince Antonucci. He’s planted a couple churches, spoken at conferences, and written several books, but you’ve probably not heard of Jim Walker. Jim would prefer it that way. Jim’s fruit grew, as Bob Buford put it, on other people’s trees.
Jim moved to the outskirts of Syracuse, NY in the 1960’s from Ohio to help plant Liverpool Christian Church. While working to establish this new kingdom outpost there, Jim collaborated with several other church leaders in Upstate New York to establish Mountainview Christian Camp just south of Rochester, NY. For over 50 years now Mountainview has provided the space for students and adults to encounter Christ and contemplate their role in advancing the Kingdom of God.
After helping get the Liverpool congregation off the ground, Jim moved his family to Clarence, NY (a suburb of Buffalo) to lead the Clarence Church of Christ. At the time the Clarence church was nearly 150 years old, and as far as we know had never planted another church, but Jim wasted no time changing that.
Shortly after arriving in Clarence, Jim was instrumental in starting New York Christian Institute to train church leaders to mentor men and women for Christian ministry. Although NYCI existed only for a short season, with Jim’s help the school produced many ministers, minister’s wives, church planters, missionaries, Bible college faculty, a magazine editor, and a seminary president.
You’ve probably never heard of Jim Walker. That’s how he would have liked it.
Mr. Walker wasn’t a bestselling author. He didn’t have a podcast or a radio ministry, He wasn’t a sought-after conference speaker or a mega-church pastor. Yet, his influence stretches far and wide because of the example he set and the leaders he influenced.
Hebrews 13:7 says,
“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”
Jim served as the lead minister of the Clarence Church of Christ for over thirty years and when other larger churches called inviting him to serve them, Jim graciously declined due to of his sense of calling to the people of Western New York.
Personally, I’m thankful that Mr. Walker chose to stay in Clarence for all those years so that I had the opportunity to learn under him and follow in his ministry footsteps.
In 2011 I had the opportunity to plant a church with some friends in Buffalo, NY. There by our side, encouraging us, was Mr. Walker. He helped us fundraise, prayed with and for us, and introduced us to Buffalo’s best or at least most affordable breakfast places (to anyone who did know Jim, no it wasn’t Bob Evans).
Having reflected upon the life and legacy of one Kingdom worker, I encourage you to think about the impact you’re leaving on the people in your sphere of influence.
Who’s looking to you for guidance? Whom are you mentoring? Whom are you meeting with regularly to answer their questions about the Bible? Whom are you training to preach and teach God’s Word?
As a church leader, I know you’re busy preaching and pastoring. The thought of making room in your busy schedule to mentor future ministry leaders may frighten you or just seem impractical. You may wonder if such an investment is worth it or perhaps you doubt your ability to develop future leaders.
Passion for Planting is here to help you invest in the next generation of Kingdom workers. Seven years ago, we developed a distance church planter residency program to help churches equip leaders to start healthy multiplying churches.
Our program allows leaders to stay where they are while being trained in the essentials of church planting by nationally recognized church planting practitioners like Bobby Harrington, Todd Wilson, Brett Andrews and Vince Antonucci. To learn more about how our distance residency program is partnering with local churches to develop the next generation of church planters visit church-planting.net/residencies.
We are now accepting applications for our next cohort which start September 8th and runs through June 1st. We’d love to partner with you in training future church leaders. If you have any questions about our training, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.