- - Sunday, April 9, 2017

We have begun an ongoing series of interviews with Christians who are working to take “Jesus into the Public Square” by running for local elected office. Many of these people attended Issachar Training workshops — campaign and election training sessions for Christians and Christian pastors.

Of course, we may be tempted to think that the flow will be from pastors moving into the public square. But the flow can go in the opposite direction too, as Christian public servants could find God directing them into vocational ministry.

As Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican, says: “Ministry is not a vocation, it’s not an occupation. It’s a calling to a person. You made a decision: ‘Are you going to follow Christ?’ He determines the location of your ministry.”

Today’s interview is with James King, a lifelong public servant in Eastland County, Texas, who has moved into full-time pastoral ministry. But even now, he holds the part-time position of mayor for his town of Cisco, Texas. King attended two Issachar training events, including the inaugural event in 2015, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The 47-year-old, father of two college-aged kids had the following to say about Christians being involved in the public square.

Trace the arc of your career for us. How long have you been serving as pastor and a public official?

I’ve been doing politics longer. In fact, I’ve had an entire career of public service — since I was 19. I started in the military for 10 years, then served as a police officer. Then I ran and was elected as Justice of the Peace in 2006. In conjunction with that, I became a city judge for two other cities, so I had three courts within the county that I was a judge over.

After about six years of that, Farris Wilks, who was my pastor, came needing a full-time person at the church — an administrative role. I was already an elder in the church, but they needed a full-time administrator. I agreed to step down from my judge position to go to work for the church. I stepped down from being a judge and immediately turned around and ran for mayor. Here in Cisco, the mayor is a part-time, unpaid position.

Here in Cisco, the mayor is a part-time, unpaid position. So then my full-time job is actually at the church. And just about six weeks ago, Wilks resigned and I was appointed the pastor. So, I’m brand new in that role as the pastor.

What do you do in your position as mayor of Cisco?

As mayor, you’re the head of the local governing body, of the city council. You handle all the legal documents — all of that comes through me. I have a full-time city manager that I work closely with, but in essence, he works with me, and I’m the intermediary between the council and the city government as far as the city administration staff. The city manager and I, we do all the major planning for the city — where we’re going, what our vision is, emergency management plans — all of those things.

Some people say, “Pastors shouldn’t get involved in the public square. Doing so will hurt the Gospel and ministry side of things.” What are your thoughts?

I would disagree with that idea. I think they work very well together. In both of these areas, you’re dealing with real people with real issues. Sometimes they need a pastor, and sometimes they need a mayor. It just depends on what’s going on. I think the ability to work with those people in whatever issues they’re dealing with — that ends up being helpful to both aspects. As I said, I was an associate pastor first for a while, and for about three years, Farris started stepping back and letting me take over more in the associate role. But then, when he retired and I became the full-time pastor, it was then that I really realized what he did.

What’s your favorite and least favorite part of pastoring? 

The favorite and least favorite are the same thing. It’s people. They can be your biggest blessing, and they can be your worst headache. It’s just the challenges that people deal with every day, and sometimes you can be a real help to them, and you can work with them to resolve issues, and come closer to God and all that. But other times it just seems like it’s a struggle to get people to get along.

In city government, you have the exact same thing. Sometimes, you can be just a great blessing to people. Other times though, it is just about trying to make people get along.

What advice or encouragement would you give to a pastor thinking about running for local office?

I would say first and foremost, seriously pray about it. Don’t just jump into it, and then find out later all of the pros and cons of what you’re going to be dealing with.

Also, local government is one thing — I think you have a lot of opportunity to affect your community in a real positive way at the local level.

For a while, I was thinking about running for a State Rep position. And now I’m glad that I did not do that, because I helped put somebody in that position who’s a really good man, and he’s done a good job.

And I’ve been seeing the drawbacks of that life also, and especially where we’re at in Texas. That can be a real drain on your personal life, on your family life, and on your ministry. Especially as a pastor, I think it would be very hard. When you’re in an associate or executive pastor role, I think it might be a little easier, and I know some people that are in those roles that are in state government in Texas. But when you are the head pastor, I don’t see how that would work out.

It was just a little eye-opening to me to spend as much time down in Austin [the capital of Texas] as I have recently. To see the issues that people down there are dealing with — from the enemy, attacks, and people trying to get dirt on you, or trying to pressure you into doing things that would violate your values.

So, before you step into that role, you really need to pray about it and make sure that you’re the person to be in that role.

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