James (Jim) Burns, ThM, PhD
Atlanta, Texas 75551
Copyright ©2022 James Burns
Acknowledgement and thanks to Lori Allen for the country road picture used on the cover. This picture was taken on one of the beautiful country roads I grew up in. The picture reminds me of the beginnings of my spiritual journey from which all the passages have traveled through. Thanks again Lori!
My Spiritual and Theological Passages
Several years ago, Gail Sheehy wrote a book entitled Passages, in which she described the predictable crises or passages the individual goes through during adulthood. From reading the book, I wonder if churches and individual Christians go through several stages or passages in their spiritual and theological journeys.
Sheehy describes the passages as the birthing stage, the pedagogical stage, the prime of life stage, the retirement stage, and the demise stage. The seven churches in Revelations may in some degree have been chosen as representing a cross section of churches in that generation and to some degree of all churches in all generations.
I want to focus on the passages of Sheehy’s stages of a church to refer to my own passages in my spiritual and theological journey through life.
I see the birthing stage as when a person accepts Jesus as His Lord; has received the new birth with the newly found Holy Spirit; with excitement and anticipation; he/she is all eyes and ears; he can’t wait to share his newfound life with others. He wants to know more about that newfound life; then he enters the pedagogical stage. Usually, the evangelistic excitement diminishes somewhat and starts to discover the need for personal growth. He joins Bible study groups, starts to read the Bible every chance he gets; starts to look for more training to serve the Lord better. The Christian then moves into the prime of life stage, where he has gained some degree of learning and starts to serve; he gives everything he has to the work of the Lord; and at some time along his passage, the Christian seems to feel like he has attained a degree of accomplishment and he seems to move into a satisfactorily retirement stage. He might say, I’ve done a lot for the Lord and now it is time for the younger Christians to take the bulk of the load. Gail Sheehy calls this the “walking dead,” they are coasting along to the end of their demise.
The demise state is best described by the comatose state of an individual. Living but not living, dead but not dead. The person in the comatose state is in a deep sleep, oblivious to his surroundings. This same thing can happen to a Christian.
Therefore, the Christian should evaluate his life and ministry along his passages. I have witnessed Christians living in the retirement and demise stages and seem to be content with it, but thank God, I have seen some in those stages turn their lives around and become dynamos for Christ during their elderly years.
I am thankful to God that early in my pedagogical stage and again in my prime of life stage, two men of God gave me advice that has kept me going through all the good times and bad times of my life and ministry; seeing all the things in my life as being part of God’s plan to make me a marred vessel for Him right until this time.
This is my story, the passages, I have gone through and am going through, that I want to share with you here today.
As a young man, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and I wanted to serve the Lord as best I could. I had a nagging feeling deep in my spirit that I should do more for the Lord than just go to church on Sunday and occasionally on Wednesday evenings. I could play the guitar and sing, so that must be my gift to God, because I could not stand up and talk before people (I had taken zeroes in high school rather than get up before a class and talk). So, I sang and played in church every chance I had the opportunity, then I had an opportunity to be part of an evangelistic team playing the guitar and singing with an evangelist traveling in tent revivals for a couple of years. But in my heart of hearts there was more that I should do to serve God. Not that what I was doing was glorifying God, but I felt my “calling” was more than what I was doing.
So, I started a multi-church youth group in my area where we rotated between the churches in the area (Baptist, Pentecostal, and Church of God), always being sure that I would invite the host pastor to do the devotional, so I did not have to speak before people. That ministry made a hit with people in our little country churches because we brought youth into the churches, of which we had few before that. Hey, maybe God would be satisfied with my efforts and allow me to enjoy the fruits of my labor. However, there was still that nagging in my spirit that God wanted me to do something else. That nagging was that God wanted me to surrender my life to ministry, lock, stock, and barrel.
I wrestled with that calling for some time (because God and I both knew that I could not preach). I had even told the Great I Am, the Almighty God of the universe, that He must have been mistaken in that call (kind of like a lot of those old guys in the Old Testament, Moses for one did – You want me to go to Pharaoh and ask him to let My people go? I’m tongue tied. Pharaoh would laugh at me – that’s how I felt. God, I want to serve you, but I cannot preach, and that’s that!
In time, I was to learn that God is greater than my fear of speaking in public; when He sets out to do something, it is to be done. I finally surrendered to the ministry on a Sunday morning in my church. My pastor announced my calling and then announced to the congregation that I would be preaching on the very next Sunday night. Hey, I was not ready! Next Sunday night? He had let the cat out of the bag, he had made a public announcement that I would be preaching next Sunday night. I want you to know that that announcement went through the community like a wildfire through a forest. Old James Burns is going to preach? Hey, I want to hear that! That ole boy can’t stand up and say “HI,” much less try to preach.
Well, I can tell you that there were people who had probably never been in a church building before for that next Sunday night service; the church was filled to capacity, and people were standing around the walls, just to see ole James make “a fool of himself.”
On that Sunday night, I had a knot in my stomach bigger than my two fists, my mouth was dry as a bone, and I almost fainted several times sitting there waiting for the appointed time. I went to the water fountain to wet my parched throat, and the pastor thought I was going to bolt out the back door and followed me. Seeing I was at the water fountain, he put his hand on my shoulder and said to me, “Son, whatever God calls you to do, he also qualifies you to do it, now get out there and show them what God can do with you.” 
What an encouragement that was. He did not say get out there and see what you can do; but get out there and see what God can do with you. I was probably the most surprised person in that building that evening. I preached a sermon that had been stored up in me for several years. People were amazed at what God did with that tongue-tied ole country boy that could not stand up and talk before people. I had only one sermon, and I had preached it. Now, what?
I began receiving invitations from churches in the area to come preach, and I had only one sermon and I had delivered it, I had to do more. I knew that I had to get some help and get it fast. I was pushed into my pedagogical stage on my Christian journey. I began to listen to those who had walked before me, and I tried to absorb everything I could. I studied, I prepared sermons as best I could, so I would have a few sermons available when I was invited to preach just in case a church invited me to come back and preach again. I couldn’t do the same sermon again.
Within a couple of months, a small church called me to be their pastor; I did not know how to be a pastor; I was still scared to death to stand up and talk before people. I certainly did not know how to preach on a regular basis. I needed help and I needed it in a cotton-picking hurry. I was pushed over the edge to find some help. I was reaching out to anyone who would give me some help, and quickly.
A cousin recommended that I visit an acquaintance of his at a local Christian college. I make an appointment, and went to see this man, and this man set me on a journey that has never ended. I could never say thank you enough for the words Dr. Whittington shared with me that day almost sixty years ago.
This old preacher man, who had pastored 35 years at the same small church; had more degrees than a thermometer; and was the Chairman of Religion at a major denominational college, gave me some of the best advice I have ever heard. I was a real novice, wet behind the ears in the ministry, had my back to the wall, when he shared these words to me, and I was receptive. He said, “Son, you need to get the very best theological education you can get; don’t accept the final authority on the Word of God from your pastor, your college instructors or your seminary professors – don’t just accept what they tell you; you need to do some research; you need to look at all sides of the issues; you need to get some dirt under your fingernails by digging into the gems of the Word; the gems are there only to be mined from the unsearchable riches of the God’s Word by cutting and polishing the precious stones; explore the various views of those who are opposed to your own views; you can learn from other interpretations from the Word; allow the gems you have mined to be washed over the waters of time until they become bright and brilliant, then you have begun toward having a good theological education. Son, always be a life-long learner; allow everything in your life to become your teacher – your fears, your disappointments, your financial struggles, your sicknesses, your injuries, the people who hurt you, as well as your own successes. Let them teach you throughout your ministry and life!” Wow!
This gentleman gave me stellar advice in the beginning stages of my pedagogical journey. I can never repay the pointers he gave as an up-sprout of a minister. Was it a coincident that I met this man early on in my ministry? I think not! God puts people in places where they need to be at certain times in your life. I believe this meeting was an act of God. And I did not even go to his college! God does do things in marvelous ways to His wonders to perform. I unfortunately cannot repay for that advice, but I can pass that advice forward to others.
Another gentleman who enriched my theological education was along in my prime of life stage, in the middle of my ministry. He was 91years old at the time. He spent a full life as a pastor of several churches over the years and moved back to his hometown to retire in his 80s. One who had been a youth in his old first church grew up and became a pastor; this man was called to become pastor his old first church. The pastor asked this 89-year-old man, who had been his first pastor, to become his youth pastor and he reluctantly accepted the challenge.
I got a call from Brother Tom (a 91-year-old youth pastor who had pastored for many years, who knew more than I could ever know, knocked me out of my socks by saying, “Brother Burns (at the time I was an Education/Youth pastor along in my ministry), I’d like to buy you lunch and pick your brain for a few minutes.” How in the world could this man pick my brain, I should be picking his brain? Brother Tom continued, “I told God, when I surrendered to the call to the ministry, I’d try to keep my theological education current, so I want pick your brain.”
Here is a man 91-years-old, still working on his theological education; a life-long learner; had retired from pastoral ministry but was still ministering to the next generation. AND he developed one of the most vital youth ministries in that area.
I am so glad I listened to those men of God who prompted me to follow God’s leading; to get the best theological education I could afford and keep my spiritual and theological education current.
I had been licensed and ordained to the Gospel Ministry from a Southern Baptist Church), and I started my ministry in late 1963 as a Baptist pastor.
I started my theological & ministerial studies, with Southern Baptist Seminary Extension Department, with an OT Survey, Systematic Theology, and Religious Education. At the time, I was working for the federal government by night (supervisor in the Control Division of Data Processing on the 11 pm to 7 am shift; pastored bi-vocational churches and traveled 36 miles one way to take college courses majoring in pre-ministerial studies. It seemed I was called to churches that were all but dead, get attendance up and was called to another bi-vocational pastorate again. Then, low and behold, I was called to a full-time church. That is another story. I was happy at the time, moving up in my day job and was soon to be promoted to a better job, when one day while standing at my kitchen sink washing dishes, I felt the presence of God, saying to me, “I thought you had surrendered your life to the ministry.” I went to my job, offered a resignation, my boss said to me, “All you have to do is fill in the date and sign it, I have been holding those papers for three months now. I knew you were to be a minister of God.” Wow! I went to my church the next Sunday, and there were some people in the congregation I did not know. They were a pulpit committee; they asked me to come to their church in view of a call; I went, and they called me as their full-time pastor. I never missed a paycheck from the time I left my job to starting my new church. After settling into a pastoral routine, I began taking Bible courses from a Bible Institute. After several years of study, I finally received a Bachelor of Biblical Studies, and Master of Bible degrees.
Following the advice of the two men described above that I should get the best theological education I could afford, I then transferred to an international, inter-denominational seminary with a student body from virtually every major denomination and faith group (about 61 different denominations), from over 70 countries of the world by the time I graduated. (I was there from 1976 to 1990; yes, it took me awhile). I enrolled in a theology program, from which I graduated with a Master of Theology; enrolled in the Doctor of Ministry program, from which I graduated and then enrolled in a PhD upgrade program. After completing my course work and beginning to realize the importance of church administration, doing all my research in the work of ministry (under guidance of my faculty mentor), I chose a dissertation entitled: Church Administration: A Vital Part of the Modern Pastoral Task, which required me to do more intensive research and
look at the broader perspective of ministry – the body of Christ in general.
After my dissertation was completed, I sat for the Oral Defense, and was ultimately conferred the Doctor of Philosophy in Ministry degree in 1990.
Looking back on my experiences, Dr. Whittington’s words had sunk deeply into my being, I needed to get my fingernails dirty and dig into the gems of God’s Word without any slant from a denomination or faith group and polished those gems in the waters of time.
I have tried to pay attention to those wise men of faith who gave me such great advice early on in my ministry and in my prime of life ministry by keeping my theological and ministerial education on track and keeping it current (See PS below about my latest educational adventures).
Just a word about my experience with International Seminary. Most seminaries often do not accept any or all of one’s credits from other seminaries except from their own denomination; IS accepted all my credits from my denominational studies without question, and even gave me some limited credits for my pastoral experience.
Probably the five greatest advantages I received from my education with International Seminary was:
- The wide base of theological views and cultures to draw on – I had to get a little dirt under my fingernails to mine the gems; I had to do a lot of research on my own; I had to take the long look at what was shown to me and began to take away what was actually there – digging the gems I had mined and allowed them to wash over the waters of time to see those gems bright and brilliant. in developing my theological perception.
- A wide range of standard textbooks that were selected for their academic value rather than non-sectarian doctrinal stances, which gave me a wide view of theology without any specific slant (some of which I could hardly stomach at times), but it broadened my education and required me to dig down deep into my own personal convictions and allow them to wash over those convictions in time, to cut and polish those convictions, or change my own perceptions. I can tell you that there were many of those hard-and-fast-rules that I had grown up to believe, and even preached in my earlier days in the ministry, were radically changed by digging into the true gems from the unsearchable riches of God’s Word.
- Offered a quality theological education at an affordable price – the cost was much less than many of those I had looked at because,
- they were at the cutting-edge of nontraditional Christian educationat the time (everyone is doing online courses and independent research classes now), however, IS was the lone-ranger then – online courses, directed home studies, limited life-experience credits, individual and team focused laboratory research – not just the beautiful 40 acre on-campus classes.
- One of the best non-traditional studies was the laboratory type research which was often church based in an actual ministry setting. Many of my courses culminated in my teaching them to my congregation and having my students evaluate the quality of the courses, my teaching, as well as my doing an evaluation of myself and the quality of the courses, and how it benefited my ministry.
Even though it took me fourteen years to do it, I finally graduated from a PhD in Ministry.
Thank God for all the ups and downs along the way. And thank God for those wise men who guided me along the way. Thank God for IS for opening my mind to much wider avenues of ministry opportunities. It provided me the courage to step over the edge into uncharted waters in ministry.
One of those uncharted waters was an interdenominational ministry with some 150 volunteer Christians with some twenty-five different denominations that brought me to a consciousness of the importance of the body of Christ working together without sectarianism – The Louisiana Passion Play. The play ran for 15 years with people in the audience from more than 125 countries. This ministry was acclaimed by several groups nationally and internationally. With the extreme summer heat and the dwindling attendance in all outdoor dramas in the country, that ministry was finally closed. However, only God knows the lives that were touched and changed in that 15-year run. One of our cast members (President of our Board and a seasoned pastor) told me one day, “I realized why this play is so successful, we come here with one mind and one accord to lift up Jesus.” Wow! What a revelation.
After completing my PhD program, had started a very successful international ministry, then my whole world crumbled at my feet — my wife of 25 years told me she was leaving; she no longer wanted to be a pastor’s wife, didn’t want to be married, she wanted to go “find herself.” She divorced me and my whole career went down the drain – no longer could I pastor a Baptist church. After some time of grieving, and licking my wounds, I said, “Now what God, you called me to this ministry, what now?
My former Baptist colleagues would cross the street to avoid me (I know now they simple didn’t know what to say). A friend, a Catholic priest, befriended me and ministered to me. He suggested
considered being a priest, not that you are single. After some praying and considering my options, I enrolled with Sophia Divinity School (a Catholic school) where I took Introduction to the Church and Principles of Liturgy which gave me a broader perspective for worship and a greater respect for other’s worship experiences. I took several other seminary courses, St. Matthew University, a couple from Dallas Bible College (now Dalles Theological Seminary) and have done many other independent biblical studies and programs on a regular basis. I taught several classes in a Bible Institute program and am continuing my education as I write these words (I’m 81 ½ years old).
God provided us a calling to serve one of my most valued ministries with a church in Indiana who was considering closing its doors. Yet, with some innovated, out-of-the-box techniques, focusing on Jesus and the leading of the Holy Spirit, and some old-fashioned hard work, a vital church was revived and became a vital force for Christ, a true body of Christ – we had people who were formerly Baptist, Methodists, Catholics, Disciple of Christ, and others.
From that experience my passage brought me to the chaplaincy; I was soon asked to be a volunteer chaplain with a fire department; from there they began to call me from the County Sheriff’s Office, the County Coroner’s Office, State Police from the district, town police and the Air Force Recruit Command. I was suddenly thrust into the public safety chaplaincy; I had the honor of being a co-founder of the Indiana Fire Chaplain Corps, then was appointed as Regional Director for the Great Lakes Region (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI). After I retired from there, I was appointed to be the Regions Chaplain (US, Canada, SA, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Namibia in Africa) with an international, non-denominational, non-sectarian stance with the Federation of Fire Chaplains.
During my chaplaincy I completed certificates in the basic and advanced Fire Chaplaincy programs, Law Enforcement Chaplaincy; completed Critical Incident Stress Management: Basic, Individual and Group Crisis Intervention, Pastoral Crisis Intervention 1 & II; Suicide Prevention and Intervention Certificates; Weapons of Mass Destruction Preparedness and Anti-Terrorism Certificates; Coping With Grief, Complicated Mourning, Working with Survivors of Homicide, Suicide and Other Violent Death Certificates; Clinical Hypnotherapy Certificate; hold 13 Certificates from FEAMA, hold a Certified Master Trainer with the FFC Training Institute; have completed 14-16 hours each of continued education certificates annually from 2,000 to 2017.
I developed friendships with my fellow disciples from all over the world while doing that ministry. I was also honored to be a co-founder of my home state’s fire chaplaincy organization. I have volunteered as a local chaplain in every town I moved to, except where I am now, because they have a good chaplain who works with fire and police.
Because of my advancing age and my difficulty with travel, I have continued to minister in other ways. I currently have an email group, Insights into the Bible, and recently served as a facilitator with a local Men’s Bible study group and serving as I can with other requests.
Perhaps the greatest value of my educational passage is that I now know very little about the gems of God’s unsearchable riches. I simply trust God with what I do not know and follow Him with what I do know.
After years of digging into the precious gems of the unsearchable riches of God’s Word and broadening my theological perspectives, while searching for a ministry covering, I became ordained with the Pentecostal Holiness Church, who held major emphasis on Holiness, second work of grace, using one’s spiritual gifts, following the early church model.
Still searching for a broader perspective of the body of Christ, I became ordained with the International Society of Christian Ministries (ISCM), a covering for ministers who seek to work outside denominational restrictions, which places major emphasis on the unity of the body of Christ (that Christians could and should unite on the basis of simple faith in Christ, and not on divisive doctrines of denominations; God’s progressive revelation and openness to God in Christ, that the church should be based solely upon the beliefs and practices of New Testament Christianity from the early church model following Pentecost.
Through all the digging, researching, having things washed over in the waters of time, and allowing everything in my life to teach me, both good and bad, I have come to an interim conclusion (which can be changed over time with new revelation) of my current fundamental, theological beliefs:
I believe in God – Eternal, All Powerful, All Wise, All Present; Creator of all things; One, Eternal Being existing in three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I believe the Bible to be the Divinely Inspired Word of God – progressive revelation of God to men, our all-sufficient guide in matters of faith and practice.
I believe in the Deity of Jesus Christ – true God and true man, begotten of the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, a perfect sacrifice for my sin.
I believe in the Finished Word of Christ on the Cross – that justification, regeneration and sanctification, the new birth, are all made possible through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross.
I believe that the Holy Spirit is God – living in us and empowers the Christian to do the work of Jesus Christ.
I believe that the Gifts of the Spirit are manifested through believers – as believers respond and obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
I believe that Water Baptism is an outward symbol or an inward condition – brought about by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and done in obedience to Him.
I believe that Divine Healing – and other miracles remain as ministries of the Holy Spirit in believers today.
I believe that the point at which our talents and Spiritual Gifts – meet the needs of the world is where God wants us to minister at any given time.
I believe that God is our Source – and that we receive in proportion to our giving and the use of what we have. Whatever He calls us to do, He qualifies us to do it by the Holy Spirit.
I believe Jesus has come and is dwelling in us in the person of the Holy Spirit, making His church, His heavenly kingdom here now and forevermore.
Finally, through my long spiritual passages and wide theological journey (up to now), I have learned so little about the precious gems yet to be mined from the unsearchable riches of God’s Word, I can simply conclude that I try to follow God as much as I know about Him (His progressive revelation revealed to me as I can comprehend and understand), with all that I know about who I am (who His progressive revelation has revealed who I am and whose I am) at the present, I have to conclude God is not through with me yet! Looking forward to the next passage.
PS. To keep my commitment to God and those wise men who told me to keep my theological education current, I recently enrolled in several online refresher courses with Dallas Theological Seminary, The Revelation, the General Epistle of James, The Epistle to the Hebrews, taught by Dr. Stanley Toussaint, the late Senior Professor Emeritus of DTS; The Gospel of John, taught by Dr. Mark Bailey, 1 &2 Thessalonians, Jonah, The Study of Scriptures with Dr. Mark Yarborough; Genesis with Dr. James Allman; Study of the Bible with Dr. Howard Hendricks; Daniel with Dr. Stephen Bramer, Life of Christ with Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost; Luther of pre-reformation with Dr. John Hannah; and a class with Hillsdale College with the life and work of C. S. Lewis with Drs. Larry Armn, Michael Ward and David Whalen and am planning to possibly taking others. I am excited to have the opportunity to listen to (via video) with such distinguished, yet humble men to learn more about the awesomeness of God and His relationships with man. DTS has a non-denominational slant to its teaching with the Word of God, and Hillsdale College was founded in 1884 as a patriotic and religious liberty educational institution.
Someone has said, “You live and learn and forget it all.” Well, I’m still learning. Just a few days ago while doing my devotional, the Lord gave me a new word, “Hamashiach,” Anointed to Serve, it seems He has me serving ‘til I die. Praise the Lord!
 Rev. Bobby McCollough, pastor at Flactor Baptist Church, Hicks, LA
 Oak Grove Baptist Church, LaCamp, LA
 Benny Poe, Alexandria, LA
 Dr. R. H. Whittington, Chairman of Religion, Louisiana College, Pineville, LA
 Rev. Tom Mitchell, Youth Pastor, Highland Baptist Church, west Monroe, LA
 Licensed and ordained by Flactor Baptist Church, Hicks, LA, December 1, 1963
 Southern Baptist Seminary Extension Department of the Southern Baptist Convention
 Fort Polk, LA, Data Processing Office
 Oak Grove, La Camp, LA; Davis Crossing, Glenmora, LA; Pisgah, Clifton-Choctaw, LA; Kisatchie, Kisatchie, LA
 Northwestern State University, Natchitoches, LA
 First Baptist Church of Ft. Jessup, Many, LA
 Universal Bible Institute, Birmingham, AL, Bachelor of Biblical Studies, 1975; Master of Biblical Studies, 1976
 International Bible Institute and Seminary, Orlando, FL, ThM, December 28, 1979;
14 International Bible Institute and Seminary, Doctor of Ministry, 1981
 International Seminary, Plymouth, FL, Doctor of Philosophy in Ministry, February 15, 1990
 His Place – New Palestine United Church, New Palestine, IN (1999-2008)
 Sugar Creek Township Fire Department, New Palestine, IN, Hancock Sheriff, County Coroner, Indiana State Police, New Palestine Police Department, Air Force Recruit Command, Indianapolis, IN (2001 – 2008)
 Louisiana Fire Chaplain Network, LA; Ruston Fire Department, Ruston, LA; Rapides Fire District 2, Alexandria, LA.
 The Pentecostal Holiness Church, ordained as a Minister of the Gospel, September 10, 1994
 International Society of Christiam Ministries, ordained to the work of the Gospel Ministry, January 25, 1997