When Jim Congdon arrived in Topeka, Kansas, in 1976, he was fresh out of Dallas Theological Seminary. At that time, Topeka Bible Church (TBC) had about 300 people attending its services. In those days, the congregation was considered large, especially for a church with no denominational ties.
Jim, a Portland, Oregon, native, was the second oldest of twelve children. He graduated from high school early and went to college at age sixteen. In 1971, Jim received a bachelor of science degree in mathematics from Wheaton College in Illinois. After graduating, he studied at Multnomah Bible College, then received a master of theology degree in Old Testament from DTS, where he received the Old Testament Award in 1976. He earned his DMin from Trinity Evangelical Divinity Seminary (now Trinity International University) in Illinois in 1996.
Topeka Bible Church
Jim, who was just twenty-five years old when he started at TBC, said he would stay in Topeka just long enough to get some experience as a youth pastor. However, he became the church’s sixth senior pastor in 1977, replacing Thom Burbridge (MABS, 1980) who served for three years from 1974 to 1977.
The church’s attendance grew and, instead of moving to another church in a larger city, Jim stayed put. His close friend Jerry Brosius offers an explanation: “I asked him, ‘You had a lot of chances to go to a larger church—Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta are at least three I know of—what made you stay here?’ I remember his response, ‘I always wondered what it would be like if a man committed himself to a ministry for a lifetime.’ I think that’s what you see here.”
In 1978, he married his sweetheart, Melody. “Their marriage is exemplary in that they readily share how the Lord has been the foundation of their relationship, allowing them to navigate the ups and downs of marriage. Through the process, they have built a marriage that is strong and based on complete devotion to each other, allowing the differences in their personalities to give a beautiful picture of how two individuals with very different abilities and styles can create a balanced team, amazingly effective in ministry,” wrote Doug Will, executive pastor at TBC.
The couple today have four children: Adriel (Daniel), Mark (Katy), Doug (Leigh), and Craig (Emily), and eight grandchildren; Liviya, Judah, Cora, Asher, Darcy, Reuben, Beatrice, and Harvey. The Congdon home, known as a place of hospitality, continues to be a haven of fellowship for the Topeka community.
“Each time an invitation came, after prayer and discussion with Melody, we decided to stay, for various reasons, primarily an indifference to personal achievement. I am far from a super saint, as those who know me best will attest,” Jim once said. “But I do believe that heaven’s rewards are the only ones worth striving for in the end.”
While visiting DTS to interview candidates for a youth pastor position, Jim met Hank Nelson (ThM, 1980). At the time, Jim served alongside one other full-time associate pastor, and he hired Hank as part of TBC’s full-time staff. They have worked together for the last thirty-five years. Hank said, “Over the years our relationship has morphed from extremely close—now because of all kinds of ‘life’ issues—to partners in ministry at TBC.”
In nominating Jim, Hank shared the following: “There is NO doubt that Jim Congdon is worthy of this award. He has been a humble, godly example at TBC for over forty years. In his personal and professional life, he has been open and honest about the challenges that the Christian life brings, and how he has processed his vulnerable humanity in that journey. He doesn’t shy away in the pulpit from illustrations or stories that reveal that. His commitment to Scripture has been relentless.”
“Scripture,” Hank wrote, “is part of Jim’s DNA from his childhood.” His father, Roger (ThM, 1945; ThD, 1949), brother, Phillip (ThM, 1983), and his two sons, Doug (ThM, 2009) and Craig (ThM, 2014) all studied God’s Word here at DTS. “He is/has been/always will be a man of God’s Word,” Hank wrote. “He continues today to be a student of the Word, sprinkling his messages with the original languages, and using multiple translations to communicate God’s Word.”
Hank describes Jim as a “world Christian.” During his early years at TBC, Jim took small teams and traveled overseas to visit their church missionaries. TBC is a missions-minded church. Even in the eighties, they had at least a dozen international missionaries. Doug Will explained, “Jim’s degree of ministry success is evident, not only in Topeka but throughout the world. Jim has been an avid supporter of mission endeavors, helping to galvanize and coordinate missionary efforts in several places, including the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, and Morocco.”
Jim led the church to help build a camp that one of their missionaries had started in the Philippines. Teams have traveled there for about ten years. In addition to being involved in projects in the Dominican Republic and Honduras, the church most recently made a deep investment in Haiti. Not only did they make humanitarian efforts, but they also invested in an orphanage and church building ministry. Jim also participates and serves with Jews for Jesus (longtime chairman of the board) and Bibles for the World (board member)—both have taken him around the world with other members of TBC.
His Leadership Role
Described as a pastor who possesses a bold and often humorous preaching style, Jim’s teaching resonates with all kinds of people. “He makes the Bible applicable to people’s lives. He believes the Bible speaks to the heart and heads of people,” Jerry Brosius said.
Some say the reason his preaching has continued to attract people to his congregation over the years is that it doesn’t matter what Bible passage he selects for his text to preach on, “he makes it relevant to your life. His preaching is practical, useful, and immediately applicable to your life situation.”
Jim is not afraid to dive into controversial social issues, especially when he tackles it from a biblical standpoint. In so doing, he shows a willingness to go to places some pastors may fear to tread. “The reason I’m fearless is I believe in the old mantra that all truth is God’s truth,” Jim said. “If all truth is God’s truth, we need not be afraid. Our goal is not just to teach biblical text. It’s to teach a Christian worldview so young people grow up and go out knowing how to be in the world with a Bible in their back pocket, rather than being at home with a Bible in their back pocket.”
Terry Kimes, elder at TBC and longtime friend of the Congdons, explained, “Our family decided to leave a mainline church and find one that was focused on teaching the truths of the Bible. We heard of this fast-growing Bible church with a young dynamic pastor who was an excellent teacher, so we visited Topeka Bible Church and have never left. People come to TBC for various reasons.” The seekers come to find out if they think Christ is real—Jim shares the gospel in nearly every message. The growing believer comes to cultivate their relationship with Christ—they get excellent expository, biblical teaching from Jim. For those who want both the teaching and the opportunity to serve others as the hands and feet of Christ, TBC offers opportunities to get involved. “The elders did a survey of the congregation of what they thought was the most important thing they received from TBC, and the overwhelming answer was Jim’s teaching.”
Jim’s favorite hobbies include playing volleyball, basketball, studying the Bible, leading tours to the lands of the Bible, doing archaeological digs, strategizing about outreach to Jews and the nation of India, and teaching Wisdom Literature at a local high school. He is an avid reader, enjoys playing the piano, and loves to travel with Melody. He collects ancient pottery, loves to spend time with his children and grandchildren, and passionately pursues people so they too can know Christ.
About the Award
All nominations for the Alumni Distinguished Service Award come solely from fellow DTS graduates. Nominees are prayerfully considered in light of 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:6-9; Ephesians 5:1-33; Galatians 5:22-23 and Romans 12:1-21.
For more information or to nominate a fellow DTS graduate, visit the Alumni Distinguished Service Award page.