WWJD – What Would Jim Do?


It was the 1990s, and yet another craze was sweeping the evangelical nation. Christians all over the country were wearing bracelets with the letters «WWJD.»  Though cryptic to some, these initials were readily identified by anyone who was born again: «What would Jesus do?»

At the height of this phenomenon, I showed up for a church staff meeting with a note card on which I had scrawled the letters «WWJD.»  When it was my turn to report, I pushed my note card to the middle of the table and told my colleagues at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church that I had a new approach to ministry. Whenever I wasn’t sure what to do—how to write a sermon, for example, or how to give someone good spiritual counsel—I simply looked at the card and asked myself, «What would Jim do?»

No one laughed harder about my new ministry tool than our senior minister, Dr. James Montgomery Boice, who always enjoyed a good joke, even when the joke was on him. The others laughed too, partly because I was poking fun at the latest Christian fad, but also because they know how much truth there was in what I said.

I was privileged to serve with Jim Boice for five years at Tenth Presbyterian until his sudden death from liver cancer in 2000. Here are some of the many lessons I learned from the example of his life and ministry.


Over the course of 180 years, Tenth Presbyterian has been blessed with long pastorates. Five of our twelve ministers served for 25 years or more, including Dr. Boice, who preached at Tenth for 32 years. Such consistency in the pulpit is crucial for the long-term health of an urban congregation, where turnover is constant. Early in his ministry Dr. Boice made a personal commitment not to leave the church except for some extraordinary providence. No one can ever know the future, of course, but I too have prayed for a long ministry in the same church.


Dr. Boice was a strong leader who put his stamp on every aspect of Tenth’s ministry. He had a keen interest in knowing what was happening in the life of the church, even when he was not directly involved. Yet he was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a micro-manager. On the contrary, he recognized and praised the gifts of his colleagues in ministry (women as well as men) and gave us all tremendous freedom to use those gifts according to the calling that God had given to each one of us. He also supported us through prayer. As a result, his ministry was not limited by his own gifts, but extended through the gifts that God had given many others to serve the kingdom through missionary work, urban outreach, mercy ministry, worship music, youth ministry, Christian education, and gospel discipleship.


Anyone familiar with Dr. Boice’s ministry will know that he was exceptionally productive. He wrote or edited nearly 60 books, including many Bible commentaries. He started a Christian school, sustained a radio ministry on over 400 stations around the country, served as one of the primary architects for the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, co-founded the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and did a good many other things besides. Needless to say, he was an extremely hard worker, as every pastor must be. He did not waste time, which is a temptation that every wise pastor learns to avoid. He was well read, not just in theology, but also in history, literature, and contemporary culture. One of Dr. Boice’s practices has been especially helpful for me to emulate: each week he revised the previous week’s sermon for publication—a regular discipline that makes a huge difference over a span of years.


People often ask me to share what I learned from Dr. Boice about expository preaching. Most of what I learned was by way of example, since Dr. Boice rarely if ever offered a sermon critique, even when I asked for one. But he did give me this one precious gift: he listened attentively to my preaching, almost always with a broad smile on his face. If you heard me preach, especially in my early days of ministry, you would know that this says more about Dr. Boice than about me. There is a place in ministry for constructive critiques. But there is also a good deal to be said for letting people learn by doing, and for encouraging them along the way.


I’ve saved the best for last. The most important thing I learned from Dr. Boice—by far—was the power of God’s Word to shape the life of the church. Everything that Dr. Boice did was based on his absolute faith in the authority of the Bible and his prayerful confidence in the ability of the Holy Spirit to use the Bible to save and sanctify sinners. People often tell me that they look to Tenth Church as a model for ministry. Certainly God has blessed the church in many different aspects of ministry. But it has all begun with the week-in, week-out exposition of the Word of God. Teach the Bible faithfully, and God will do whatever work he desires to do in the church. If you want the proof, just look at what Jim did—or rather, look at what God did through his ministry.

Phil Ryken

Philip Graham Ryken is the eighth president of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.

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