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James Latimer: Inspiring Service to Others

Published 02/26/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 02/27/2013 12:27 PM

By Melissa Babcock
The Source

North Madison Congregational Church (NMCC) rang in 2013 with a new pastor. Rev. James Latimer, who is also a certified life coach originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, is settling in and learning about Madison and his new congregation.

From 1994 to 2003, Jim was in Berkeley, California, where he held an international business career working in and around San Francisco before deciding to follow the desire he'd felt since he was a freshman in college. He enrolled in Pacific School of Religion and received his master's of divinity to become an ordained pastor.

He served at Congregational churches in California, his home state of Ohio, and two in Pennsylvania before making his way to Madison, a town he has fallen in love with.

"The intellectual events and cultural events in Madison are fabulous; it's tremendous," he says. "I love that. It's a physically beautiful area, too, and great for me because I love to sail, paddle, and play tennis. I live about a mile from the movie theater. I wanted to live down there, because the church is a little bit off the beaten track. I needed to be where some people are. "

Coach Approach

Jim is also a certified life coach, a skill he feels ties in well with his church ministry.

"I'm certified by the International Coach Federation, which is a secular organization," he says. "I'm not a 'Christian' coach; for me it's broader than that. That's one of the things that really clicked with this congregation and me. When pastors and congregations come together, it's a courting process. It's not quite like getting married, but almost, because you're looking for that emotional connection."

Elements of his expertise in coaching find a natural outlet in his role as a pastor.

Jim explains, "Life coaching helps you get clear about what you want and helps you put together a plan to bring it into existence while providing accountability and support, and that's my approach to ministry."

Jim explains that for pastors, like in any job, there are different kinds of themes.

"Some are preachers, ministers, chaplains, administrators, or CEOs," he says. "I call myself an 'equipper.' I take a coaching approach to my ministry. My natural approach is to come alongside a person or a group and, through an artful process of deep listening, help them get clear about what they want."

Service to Others

Jim and the NMCC congregation share a belief in the importance of serving others, and Jim uses what he knows about life coaching to help people uncover their talents and match them with their passion so they can get the most joy out of serving, and serve effectively.

He says, "If we take ourselves seriously as created by God, then we've got some pretty wonderful talents-which in fact we do have, but it depends on where you attribute them from. When we live from that place where what we do best and what we're interested in hooks up with what we actually do, its great."

For Jim, Christian ministry is about helping people find that zone.

"I do that very well and this congregation really wanted that. If you know what you're good at and what you want to do, then you can serve out of joy, not obligation. As I sometimes say to folks that I'm coaching, there's two kinds of tired. The one kind of tired where, man, you're just wiped out at the end of the day, and the other kind of tired where you're wiped out, but you look forward to doing it again the next day. And that kind of tired is a signal that you're in your zone, you're serving in your talent."

Jim says the NMCC congregation differs from some of his former congregations because of the degree of their desire to serve others.

"This congregation kind of grabbed my heart, and I followed the love," he says. "That sounds kind of cheesy, but that's what I did. This congregation is serious about wanting to be equipped for ministry. They don't just want to be cared for, they also want to be equipped to care for others. They also take seriously the notion that, no matter who you are and where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here. It's one thing to say it and its another thing to be serious about it."

He muses, "The secular world that we live in kind of objectifies us and values us on how much we earn, how good we look, and what we've achieved. This congregation says, 'No, you're worthy of love and belonging because you exist as a person.' And that's kind of cool."

Match Made in Heaven

Jim also enjoys another aspect of his new congregation.

"Our worship services are really vibrant," he says. "We love music. I'm a trained singer, so I really love music. I took voice lessons in Berkeley. I started out in life as an engineer for heaven's sakes," he adds with a laugh.

When asked if he had implemented any changes or new programs to the church he now leads, he replies, "It's the early days yet. One of the things you don't do as a pastor is come in and make a bunch of changes. For the first three to six months, you get connected to the congregation. I hear their stories, they hear my story, and we begin to trust each other. You have to build that trust first."

So far, Jim and his congregation seem to be a match made in heaven.

"For us, this is a place where you really are welcome. Come, heal whatever you need to heal, we will hold you and love you, then after that let's equip ourselves to serve. If we're not having a visible impact on our community, then I don't think we're worthy of our faith. This is a faith community that's worthy of the name."

Jim says, "I end every service by saying, 'Our worship is over, now our service begins.' If we don't follow what we do here with service, then what are we really doing?"

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