Maxwell serves church with ‘heart of a leader, spirit of a servant’
It was an admittedly old-fashioned, small-town approach for a 20-something professional woman. But not knowing a soul in Dallas, she thought she’d turn to her extended spiritual family.
Leslie Newson received just one reply — from James Maxwell, minister of the Southern Hills congregation on the city’s south side. A few days later, the couple loaded up their two toddlers and drove a 1991 Ford Escort about 630 miles in the scorching, 100-degree heat to meet and worship with the only man who responded.
“We knew then this was the church we were looking for,” said Leslie Newson, a senior analyst for an insurance company. “Brother Maxwell was so kind to us. Through his words and actions, this clearly was a man who loved God deeply.”
James and BettyMaxwell came to Southern Hills in 1990. James Maxwell was — and still is — vicepresident at Southwestern Christian Collegein nearby Terrell. Betty Maxwell teaches kindergarten in Terrell, and recentlywas chosen as the public school district’s Teacher of the Year. Married for 45years, the Maxwells have three children and five grandchildren.
“We obviously lovethe ministry of teaching,” said James Maxwell, 67, “but I love the Christianministry, too. I had to strike a balance.”
Teaching andpreaching wasn’t James Maxwell’s plan when he graduated high school in Toledo, Ohio.He said he had no idea church schools existed until Southwestern recruited him.He arrived on campus and promptly declared a pre-med major.
“I never, everthought I’d be a preacher,” he said, gesturing wide with arms outstretched,just like the black minister in the ceramic figurine behind him on a bookshelf.“I figured you had to be sprouting wings and be perfect to be a preacher, and Iknew I wasn’t all that.
“But when I went tocollege and saw that none of us were perfect, I thought, ‘I’m as good as theyare.’”
His first ministrywas in Gulfport,Miss. It was the early 1960s, and the mounting racial tension there at the timescared Maxwell’s extended family. No one approved of the move, he said.
“They told me,‘Terrible things happen there,’” Maxwell said. “Well, I was thinking aboutgoing to Africa, so I thought, ‘Well, I may as well just stay close and go to Mississippi if that’sthe case.’”
After serving threechurches in Mississippi, he went on to Ohio and Kansas beforelanding in Texas.At Southern Hills, he said, he saw opportunities to bring Christians across theMetroplex together and reach out to the community. And in the 16 years of workhe’s led since, he still sees the same.
The vision doesn’tfade, he said, it only becomes clearer with time.
Billy Martin, adeacon and education director at Southern Hills, said Maxwell is an organizerat heart. His approach gives everyone an opportunity to own the work of thechurch here, Martin said.
“He has a tremendousability to envision something from start to finish and what it takes to get ajob done,” Martin said. “He is our leader in every sense, and people truly loveto follow him. His gift is having the heart of a leader, but the spirit of aservant.”
Leadership is aquality Maxwell says is lacking in some aspects of black church life today.Parents sing the praises of song leaders to their youngsters and might encouragetheir sons to become ministers someday, but shepherding the church is almostnever mentioned.
At present, SouthernHills has no elders, and this challenges Maxwell on the deepest level, heacknowledged.
“Elders are hard tofind, especially in black communities,” he said. “Men who desire that work arerare.”
On a recent Sundaymorning, the minister’s son Shawn Maxwell led the congregation in a spirited,anything-but-by-the-book version of “Everybody Will Be Happy Over There.”
The song is one of hisparents’ favorites because of the pictures of heaven and unity it paints in thesecond verse.
Its theme: Nothing isperfect on earth, perhaps, but someday it will be.
There theransomed of all ages will be singing ‘round the throne.
In that land where noone ever knows a care;
And all theChristians of all nations will join in the triumph song:
Everybodywill be happy over there.
May 1, 2006