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LifeWay Fellowship’s founding pastor still says casual style works best after 30 years of ministry

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Posted: Saturday, January 12, 2008 12:00 pm | Updated: 5:08 pm, Wed Aug 15, 2012.

By Laura Kaae

Killeen Daily Herald

The button-up short-sleeve shirt and casual men’s pants he wears Sunday mornings are a far cry from the formal pastoral robes he grew up seeing clergymen wear at the pulpit, but in his 30 years of full-time ministry, Jimmy Towers hasn’t done much by way of tradition.

And, looking back on the past three decades, the pastor of LifeWay Fellowship in Killeen wouldn’t change a thing.

“It has always been a comfortable fit,” he said of his ministry. “There are times I didn’t like it, but I’ve never regretted it.”

In addition to forgoing the suit and tie (Towers said that casual communicates warmth and friendliness, not sloppiness, to his congregation), Towers also breaks tradition by filling the music in church with electric keyboards instead of organs, and by shortening his sermons to 15 minutes or less.

“When we started this church, we prayed it would be different,” he said of LifeWay, which had its meager beginnings in 1998 meeting in the Isdale Chiropractic Clinic and Ellison High School before the current church was constructed in 2003.

“We wanted to communicate God’s word in a practical, contemporary way.” he said.

Though he was raised Lutheran, Towers discovered back in high school that if he wanted to take the girl he liked to the big school dance, he’d have to convert first.

Kay, who would one day become his wife, told him plainly in 1960, “I don’t date non-Baptists.”

After graduation, Towers made the decision to become a Baptist. Two years after that, in 1963, he sensed a call to ministry.

But his ministry doesn’t always follow traditional protocol, and Towers said he likes to make his church focus getting to know people in the congregation and engaging them in their faith walks.

“I don’t practice religion,” he said. “I practice relationships. I want to reach people where they are today.”

Shirley Matteson, a member of the LifeWay praise team who has known Towers for 17 years, said the church doesn’t really conform to many traditions.

“He has rejected a lot of the rigidity,” she said, a sentiment Towers would agree with.

“We’re Baptists,” Towers said with a smile. “We just don’t act like it.”

Since he started, Towers hasn’t been one to always play by the book.

“I did part-time ministering for 12 years,” he said, all while he was attending several colleges and pursuing one of his other great loves outside the church and his family — sports.

In 1978, when Towers was coaching a winning high school basketball team, he felt the Lord calling him to full-time ministry, so he quit being a coach and began working as a pastor full-time.

Many community members were shocked that the successful coach would leave his team during the best season they’d had in years. But Towers said it was simple — he felt God calling him.

“I was so convinced that I was doing the will of God and being obedient that it’s never been difficult,” he said.

The change from coach to pastor came naturally to Towers.

“Coaching prepared me,” he said. “The characteristics of it — facing challenges, setting goals and teaching people — helped.”

And challenges have been something Towers has seen his fair share of in the past 30 years.

One of the memories Matteson has of Towers is when he helped a mourning community in the aftermath of the Luby’s massacre in 1991.

The slaying of 23 people shocked Killeen residents, and many looked for spiritual guidance to help them cope. Though he had been in town for just a few months, Towers stepped up to the plate.

“There was such a sense of tragedy,” she recalled. “He just reached out to the community.”

Reaching out, Towers said, is his favorite part of his ministry.

“His responsibilities extend outside of the church,” said his daughter, Shawn Simmonds.

“He takes care of people whether they are in his congregation or not. He practices what he preaches.”

Simmonds said her father isn’t just a nice guy in church; he’s the same at home or at school.

“What you see is what you get,” she said. “He’s very genuine. Just a solid guy.”

Charlie Guidry, chairman of the elders at LifeWay, said Towers is the reason the LifeWay church has grown so much since its meager beginnings in 1998, to the 1,000-plus congregation it is today.

“He is always reaching out to those who don’t have a church home,” Guidry said. “He is such a good right arm of God.”

Guidry called Towers a “real Christian,” someone who not just preaches his faith but lives it out day to day.

“He is the ultimate friend, father and grandfather and he’s just one of the guys,” Guidry said. “It’s easy to forget that he’s the pastor.”

Mitch Connell, who plays piano for the praise team, said the part he appreciates most about Towers is his ability to make people comfortable with him.

Not to mention, he’s a fan of the short sermons.

“His messages are short and profound and he gets you home by kickoff,” Connell said with a smirk.

And Connell’s not the only one who gets a lot out of a 50-minute service that includes praise and worship followed by Towers’ Bible-based message.

Abigail Simmonds, Towers’ 9-year-old granddaughter, said she enjoys attending her grandfather’s church.

“He’s the best grandpa in the world,” she said. “His services are funny and short and you can apply them to your life. Some churches you can just fall asleep, but not in this one at all.”

Of the lessons she’s learned, Abigail said those she remembers most are to “be yourself and always listen to God.”

Though he’s been teaching lessons to family, friends, and community members for more than 40 years, 64-year-old Towers said he’s not finished yet.

“I have no plans for retirement,” he said.

And for many at LifeWay and in the surrounding community, that’s better music to their ears than any traditional organ could provide.

Contact Laura Kaae at lkaae@kdhnews.com or call (254) 501-7464

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