Called to and sent from Idaho Falls: Jim Spencer
(written by Charles Barnes)
Jim Spencer pastored Shiloh Foursquare Church in Idaho Falls (and its predecessors Shiloh Chapel and Shiloh Christian Center) from 1980 to 1989. He left Idaho Falls to devote his full time to the ministry he founded to win Mormons to Christ, “Through the Maze”. Jim passed away last Sunday in Boise.
Jim was born in Basin, Wyoming in 1942. After service in the Navy, he worked for an electronics firm in Southern California, and according to his book, Beyond Mormonism, An Elder’s Story, his life at this time was filled with women, gambling and booze. Yet he knew he was searching for something more in life. That search took him to Alaska, and then back to California. Through the testimony of a close boyhood friend and numerous visits from LDS missionaries, Jim was persuaded to become a Mormon; he was baptized in Santa Ana in 1964. Over the next ten years he served in numerous positions, including stake missionary, youth worker and, for five years, gospel doctrine class teacher. In 1966, he married Margaretta Long in the Idaho Falls Temple. In early 1969, the family moved from California to St. Anthony so that Jim could attend Ricks College for two years, where he majored in journalism. After a year at Arizona State University, the family moved back to Idaho and Jim worked at the Rexburg Standard Journal. Reflecting on this time in his life, he wrote:
“A nagging sense of emptiness haunted the nooks and crannies of my mind. Something within me, in quiet moments, cried out that my life was shallow and unfulfilling. What could be wrong? What was missing? For one thing, I was beginning to feel genuine disappointment in the Church. I was becoming convinced that something basic was missing. I had tried, God knew, to fit into the organization. In fact, I had fit in so successfully that no one knew I was dissatisfied.
So Jim’s personal search continued. He took his family on a trip to Illinois and Missouri to visit historic LDS sites, and on the trip had contact with various Mormon splinter groups who raised more questions in his mind. He began an investigation of LDS Church history. And he probed various people – the Presbyterian pastor in St. Anthony, a childhood friend who had become a Baptist, a man he thought was a Catholic priest – with his questions, and they all pointed him to a relationship with Jesus. These conversations led up to what Jim would later refer to his experience on the “Sugar City Curve”, while commuting between Rexburg and St. Anthony.
I entered the curve a self-centered intellectual failure who, after ten years on a treadmill of religious performance, was about as far from knowing God as I had been when I joined the Mormon Church. I was sick of myself. Sick of religion. Sick of life. “God,” I said, “Where are You? Where am I going? What am I supposed to do?”
Well, Jim, came the response, let’s start at the beginning. The problem is, you are doing things your own way. You say you want to find Me. O.K., here’s how to do it. Turn your life over to Me.
I must be crazy, I thought, I’m having a two-way conversation in my head. But Mike had said I needed to talk to God. Fred said I needed a personal experience with Christ. Maybe this was it. Just in case it was, I wasn’t about to pass up the chance.
O.K. God, I said, You say I’m supposed to what?
Give Me your life.
Yeah, right. But what do You mean?
You don’t seem to be listening.
I am listening. I’m just not understanding. Do you mean do what those radio evangelists tell you – give your heart to Jesus?
But I don’t even know what that means.
It means that you give Me permission to do anything with you that I want.
What do you mean by anything?
Anything means anything.
I had no idea of the full implications of the talk I had with God that day. It would take weeks for me to recognize the deep significance of those sixty seconds when I said yes to Him on the Sugar City Curve. That afternoon I felt an irresistible desire to read the Bible. So after supper I found a copy of a New Testament called Good News for Modern Man (I had no idea where I got it) and went down to the basement by myself. What I read put the finishing touches on the contact begun earlier in the day.
This was 1974. Pockets of revival were springing up in Idaho Falls and other places in the Eastern Idaho. Through these Jim found fellowship and encouragement, and in Christ he found the answer to his deepest need. It took two more years before his wife – who at first was ready to send Jim packing and seek a divorce, but then started seeing the change in his life, experiencing love in Christian churches, reading materials Jim had around the house, and for whom a lot of people were praying – responded to an evangelist’s invitation at the Community Church in St. Anthony.
While pastoring in Idaho Falls, Jim wrote his first book, Beyond Mormonism, An Elder’s Story. He later wrote eight other books, as well as hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. After leaving Idaho Falls and founding Through the Maze Ministry, he traveled extensively, holding seminars in local churches, and seeing many Mormons come to Christ. In 1996 he and Ed Decker presented a seminar on Mormonism in Idaho Falls that was sponsored by fifteen local churches.
If you have stories of how God used Jim during his years in Idaho Falls, please contact us or post them on the Jesus in Idaho Falls Facebook page.
Jim’s obituary (more than was published in the Post Register), and tributes from people whose lives he touched, can be found at http://www.cremationsociety-idaho.com/obituaries/James-Richardson-Spencer-4632637924/#!/Obituary.