Not My Idea: Jimmy Crawford

From the December 12, 2015 edition of the Baptist New Mexican.

CrawfordPastor Jimmy Crawford of Bethel Baptist Church, Knowles, and Baptist New Mexican editor Kevin Parker record a New Mexico Matters podcast at Burger Builder in Lovington, just before Thanksgiving. A Facebook post by Crawford about God’s work at Bethel prompted the meeting.

By Kevin Parker

After five hours of driving, the Baptist New Mexican caught up with Pastor Jimmy Crawford at Burger Builder in Lovington, his hometown. But, his church, the subject of the conversation, was still another 20 miles farther down the road in Knowles. Crawford said the locals call the church Bethel Baptist Church, Knowles. But, non-locals call it Bethel Baptist Church, Hobbs, referring to the nearest large city. The truth, he said, is that Knowles is “literally a blip on the map.” He continued, “There used to be a post office, but that’s long gone.” However, there is a volunteer fire department just up the road and around the corner. If you stand beside New Mexico Highway 132, which runs by the front of the tidy church property, the road disappears both north and south with little in sight. There’s no bustling community surrounding the church buildings, just open fields. Hardly anyone lives nearby. Luckily though, when the United States Postal Service gave up on Knowles and moved out, God chose to stay. Members and guests drive up to 22 miles to attend church services and activities.

During the interview, Lovington locals filed in and out of the restaurant, placing orders, waiting, picking them up, and leaving. Almost every one curiously eyed the big silver microphone that sat between two men intent on some conversation. Behind the microphone sat a silver laptop, recording the entire affair. The interview fueled this article and produced a New Mexico Matters podcast. A Facebook post inspired the meeting. Crawford had celebrated God’s work at his church in just a few lines and posted a picture of a meal at the church. It sounded like a story worth telling. After several contacts, circumstances came together so Crawford and the Baptist New Mexican’s editor, Kevin Parker, landed in the nondescript booth in the rear of the restaurant at the same time.

Crawford smiled and spoke with energy throughout the interview. He overflowed with enthusiasm. He loves his church. But, that wasn’t always his story.

Crawford has pastored the church for 11 years. He didn’t aim to become a pastor, and he initially avoided preaching at the church. He said, “Eleven years ago I went there. I went to fill in the pulpit. I was teaching Sunday school in a different church. I was a deacon in a different church. I was just helping small churches out. Being a pastor is not what I had in mind.” He began preaching at the church each Sunday after teaching his Sunday school class, then driving 20 miles to the church to preach and leave.

He tells the story of being a successful marketing manager for a telecommunication company. God began to nudge him in a different direction that he thought was a new six-figure job with another company. He said, “It just didn’t feel right.” The gentleman trying to hire him was not a Christian and didn’t understand Crawford’s hesitation. The man thought Crawford was negotiating for a higher salary, but instead he was trying to “get at peace with God.” After declining the position, doors opened for Crawford in another direction, completely unanticipated.

He attended an open house at Lovington High School as a Rotary Club member. But, when he went into the open house in a computer technology lab God spoke. He recalled, “I walked in and knew that’s where God wanted me.” Later in the evening, after finding out the school was going to hire a person to teach in the lab, Crawford told the person hiring for the position, “Don’t look any further, I’m the man for the job.” The school hired him, and he became a full-time teacher. The change meant going back to school and adding a master’s degree in education on top of the two bachelor degrees he had already earned. He said the change “allowed me more free time to work for God in the church.”

Crawford accepted the preaching assignment at Bethel as a temporary arrangement. He planned to help the church find another pastor. He felt compassion for the church, and described how they extended love to him and his family. He told the Baptist New Mexican, “I told them that I would help them for a period of time, because they were a church that was hurting. They had gone through a couple of pitfalls. They were really hurting. I saw their need. I saw their eyes, and I listened to what their heart was saying. They needed help. And, I was going to help them get another pastor.” Ultimately, he did, but not like he expected. He said again, “It was not what I had in mind; I assure you.”

George Bagley, a deacon at his home church in Lovington helped him become ordained as a minister of the gospel. That wasn’t Crawford’s idea either. Each church at which he preached had asked him, “Brother Jimmy, have you thought about being the preacher here?” His answer was always a quick, “No.” Crawford felt he had enough going in his life. He said, “I was a Gideon, as well. I’m also a tennis coach. I referee football games. … I’ve got a wife and three children.”

Things began turning for the church when Crawford and his wife put together a Vacation Bible School. The church had not hosted a Vacation Bible School for five years or so, he said. 11 children attended and two were saved. Later, at home, Crawford walked out to his mailbox one evening and looked up to the stars and prayed. He told God, “Lord, I know you want to use me, but I don’t think I could do this because … I don’t have time, God.” He kept telling God the same thing, “I don’t have time.”

But eventually, an older deacon at Bethel, who is now with Jesus, asked Crawford, “Brother Jimmy, have you really prayed about being the pastor here?” The older man emphasized the word “really.” Crawford responded honestly, “Mr. Cook, I guess I hadn’t really prayed about it.” Cook encouraged Crawford, “Why don’t you really pray about it.” Again, he emphasized “really.” God’s response was simple, “You asked me to use you. I’m using you now, and you’re going to walk away from me? What are you going to do now?” That was 11 years ago. Back then, Crawford said the church had about 16 people in Sunday school and 20-22 in worship. Today, Sunday school attendance runs in the mid 50s and 90 to 100 attend worship. At the time of our interview, he shared that 15 people had joined the church in the last three months. They had also celebrated 12 baptisms over the previous eight months.

Crawford’s ministry has focused on being an accessible pastor and empowering church members for ministry. He tries to multiply himself in others and teach them to do the same. He says, “We need to multiply ourselves into others. It’s not our job to do everything. You can’t physically do everything yourself. What you need to do as a pastor, I believe with all my heart, is to multiply yourself and pour your life into others.” He does, and it seems to be working.

A monthly “Fireside Fellowship” potluck became an initial catalyst for the church’s growth. It was Crawford’s first initiative. He felt the church needed to get to know one another better. He challenged the church with colorful words, “Let’s eat. Let’s have some kind of fellowship together … Let’s grub man!” Now, for 11 years, on the first Sunday of every month, the church gathers to eat and just be together. Crawford said, through the meals, which have no other agenda, church members “share with me food, but they share with me stories and they’re sharing with me their lives.” That happens among church members, too. He says, “That literally is what made our church kind of take off.”

Other developments indicate a change in the church, too. A women’s Bible study has grown from four or five women meeting in a home to over 20 women meeting at the church with preschool childcare. The church’s sewing ministry makes knit caps for premature babies and T-shirt dresses to give to children around the world. Crawford said the church is one of the highest giving churches in southeast New Mexico to Gideons International. The church prepared 490 boxes for Operation Christmas Child this year. Through that ministry, over the past six years, Crawford said, “2,625 kids were changed as a result of these selfless members of Bethel Baptist Church.” In another effort, he had 15 people signed up to share their testimonies from the pulpit on Sunday mornings as a result of a message series about personal testimonies. Also, God led him to share the teaching time on Wednesday nights with others. Enough people responded to cover two months. Some are new believers. Others have been at the church for a long time. He said, “They’re scared to death. But, do you know what? They love the Lord enough and trust in God enough that they want to grow.”

Crawford repeatedly emphasized that the church is careful to focus on growing people in their personal relationship with Jesus, not just to grow in numbers. They’ve not followed some church-growth plan Crawford learned at a conference, though he admits he had gleaned insights from such gatherings. Instead, he says, “It’s not me. It’s God using the people at the church and me empowering them as an undershepherd, empowering them to take ownership of this. And, that’s the reason the membership is growing.”

Crawford carefully repeated over and over that all this activity isn’t about him. It’s God at work. He sees God working through the Bethel people. He cultivates God’s work by challenging Bethel’s old and new members with his two-part philosophy of church membership. He tells them, “Membership is twofold. One is serving the body of Christ. Two is allowing the body of Christ to serve you.” He says, “These are selfless people using their own funds, their own time, to come together to serve others.” So, it’s true. The post office moved out, but God moved in.