By Adam Armour
Itawamba County Times
Even after all these years, Bro. Jimmy Davis still believes in God. That’s never changed.
Spread across the large coffee table in the living room of his Fulton home were five copies of the Holy Bible. More were in the back, Davis said. It’s the kind of thing a man who’s been preaching for more than six decades tends to collect. An assortment of framed family photographs peppered just about every surface in the room. In one black and white, a much younger Davis sermonizes to a crowd beyond the frame. His arms are spread as if awaiting an embrace, an open Bible lay across one palm.
“That was taken when I was preaching in Texas,” he said of the photograph. “I feel like I’ve grown some since I was a young preacher.”
At 82, Davis has been preaching for most of his life. He began when he was only 16 years old and pastored his first church – a little place in Alabama – the very next year. Since then, he’s preached in what he estimates to be more than 30 states, although most of the churches he’s pastored have been in the South, primarily in Mississippi and Alabama.
For the past 30 years, Davis has pastored Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Fulton. But that’s just one of two congregations he leads. Since the late 1950s, Davis has also pastored at Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church in Fayette, Alabama. Every Sunday morning, Davis rises early and drives across the line between Mississippi and Alabama to preach the 8:30 a.m. service at Mt. Lebanon. The trip takes about an hour. Afterward, he returns to Fulton to preach the 11 a.m. service at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church. In the three decades he’s been making this trip, he’s only missed a service a handful of times.
“I’ve married a lot of people and buried a lot of people over there,” Davis said of the Alabama church. When he began preaching there, the church, which has a long, storied history dating back to mid 1800s, wasn’t far from where he lived. Members of the congregation had seen him deliver the eulogy at a funeral and asked if he’d like to preach for them for a time. Davis was always willing to follow where the Lord was leading him, so he agreed.
“They had a real fine group of people out there … a good community,” he said. “Of course, I had no idea when I agreed to preach there at 8:30 on Sunday mornings, I’d be there for the next 55 years.”
Mt. Lebanon’s congregation has the option of selecting a new pastor each year. They do this by collecting a pool of names and then participating in an election of sorts.
No name, other than Davis’, has ever been submitted.
Davis called himself the “black sheep,” of his family, with no other preachers in his lineage as far as he knew. When asked what brought him into the service of the divine, he said he had always been drawn to his spiritual side.
“I felt that the Lord was calling me to the ministry,” he said. “I never could get it off my mind.
“I never was nervous about it,” he said about pastoring at such a young age. “I just wanted to minister to God’s children and bring them the truth that He’s given us.”
Davis said his style mostly involves expository preaching, that is, digging deep into the meaning of a particular passage or line of text within the Bible.
Usually, he doesn’t preach the same sermon to both churches he pastors, choosing instead to find a particular passage that may be applicable to whichever congregation he’s leading at the time.
Although he could probably never say for certain, Davis likes to believe that over the years he’s helped some of the people to whom he’s preached find some peace in their lives, no matter what they might have been going through at the time.
There’s comfort in what he has to say because they are the Lord’s words. There’s strength in them, and guidance.
“I don’t feel like I’ve personally done much, but I give the Lord credit for all of it … everything I have done,” Davis said. “He’s been really good to me. I’ve been blessed, and I’m grateful for that.”
When asked if, even after all this time, he still felt as passionately about preaching as he did when he was still a boy, Davis laughed.
“That’s the $69,000 question, isn’t it?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “But what I do know is that I love to preach the Gospel. And I’ve learned that if you just teach what the Bible tells you, it will do some people some good … I’m going to keep doing that until the Lord retires me.”
As much as the world’s changed in six decades he’s been preaching, Davis believes one thing has remained constant: The strength of God’s word.
Just as he always has been, Davis remains a man with faith.
“God doesn’t change,” he said. “God is the same yesterday, now and forever.”