For the last eight plus years, I’ve had a friend I would meet with from time to time. His name was Jim Gibson.
I first met Jim in 1999 when Chris Machen and I were preparing to write our first Easter musical for LifeWay. Until then, I knew of Mr. Gibson, then director of Publishing at LifeWay, by reputation only — a smart, aggressive, and visionary leader in the church music world. But I met him personally the day I presented the idea for this musical. I remember feeling totally inadequate walking in the same circles with people like Jim and Mark Blankenship, then Director of the Music Department, who was also in that meeting.
Over the years, I got to see the softer side of Jim. To be sure, he proved to be as tough and thorough as I always thought he was, but I would learn there was much more to this man. In 2005, when I followed Jim into the leadership role at LifeWay Worship, he slowly became much more to me than the guy who had occupied the same office that I sit in now.
After I had been at LifeWay for a year or so, Jim and I started meeting on a semi-regular basis just to talk about life – the struggles of the music industry and the frustrations of being in such a large organization that adapted to change so slowly. Sometimes I would pick him up at the car place while his car was being serviced. Sometimes we would meet at a restaurant or coffee shop. We would always exchange an email or two to figure out just the right spot to meet.
I loved meeting with him because I could talk with Jim knowing he understood my challenges completely, perhaps even better than I did. He became a sounding board, a confidant, and a counselor to me.
My son, John, was blessed to have Jim’s wife, Barbara, as his middle school music teacher. I would see Jim at the concerts and programs. He was as proud of Barbara’s work as I was of John’s participation. We always enjoyed seeing each other at those events and would usually arrange a follow-up meeting while we were there.
Our meetings often included tears and joys expressed by both of us. And they always seemed to end with words of encouragement and confidence – from this man I respected so much. Jim became one of my biggest cheerleaders.
One day he handed me a huge stack of files and papers. “I saved this for you,” he said. “You might be interested in some of this.” Turns out, I was. It was a summation of his work at LifeWay. I even found the notes he kept of the phone calls he had with a certain minister of music down in Texas that he had signed as a writer. Those notes proved once and for all, to me, that he really did like my writing. I could see for myself how he thought, at that time, my writing could fit into the LifeWay publishing work. Amazing to think about that now.
About six months ago, Jim called me for another one of those meetings. This one was different, though, because he had a specific question on his mind…one he wanted to ask me in person. When we reached our table he looked at me with a twinkle and said, “My recent scans weren’t good. Not good at all. We’re going to take one more run at this thing with a new treatment, but best case, unless God intervenes, I’ve got maybe a year – could be less. So, would you be willing to take a lead role in my celebration service?”
Then I said the only thing I was only ever able to say through the years to this man when he asked me to do anything. It was what I said when he asked me to write that first Easter musical. And it was what I said when he asked me to sign a writing agreement with LifeWay as a songwriter. It was the same answer I always gave to this man whose opinion I greatly respected, who believed in me, and thought I could do things I wasn’t sure I could do myself. It was the only appropriate response to this friend that had done so much for me.
So, today, I will stand and speak about my friend at his celebration service. And one day, we will meet again and share the joy of all God has done for us.
This time, Jim, I’ll meet you there.
Director, LifeWay Worship