A Journey of Discovery and Ministry

April 16, 2024

Note from the Editor: The following is the third in our 2024 series featuring a president from within the Southwestern Union territory as they explore one Adventist fundamental belief and how it has affected their life, faith and ministry.

The eighteenth fundamental belief of the Seventh-day Adventist Church states, “The Scriptures testify that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and we believe it was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White. Her writings speak with prophetic authority and provide comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction to the church. They make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested.”

James Shires believes in the gift of prophecy. As the president of the Oklahoma Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, it might seem that his belief would be inherent, but this wasn’t always the case for Shires. Born in Fort Worth, Texas, into what he calls a “non-church-going” family, most of Shires’s early exposure to Christianity and faith came through the influence of his friends, classmates and the occasional Vacation Bible School (VBS). 

Shires recalls, “I was surrounded by Christian influences, so God and the Bible weren’t foreign to me. I think the Lord was just planting seeds along the way.” When Shires was 12, the family moved to California, where he says he drifted spiritually. He played football in high school and college. He attended a community college for two years and was set to play for a larger college when he was drafted by the U.S. Army. It was 1972, and it was a turning point in Shires’ spiritual journey. 

Shires was stationed in Thailand during the Vietnam War. While he was serving in the military, his mother was diagnosed with cancer, and he found himself contemplating more than ever the meaning of life. This period of introspection led him to explore various religious and philosophical writings, unknowingly preparing him for a future change in his life’s trajectory. “I just think it was the Holy Spirit sort of tugging on my heart,” he says. 

Upon returning to the United States, Shires embarked on a journey of discovery that led him to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He returned to college, but was unsure what he wanted to do with his life or what to study. He had become interested in adopting a healthier lifestyle, and he and his mother adopted a plant-based diet. 

An avid reader, Shires continued to search for meaning and he recalls clearly the power a particular book had on him. The book was called, The Sayings of Jesus. It was a small book of exactly that, all the words that Jesus spoke as written in the Gospels. The book had a profound impact on how he understood Christianity. “Those words were what made me think that the Bible was true.” 

When an Adventist coworker invited Shires to church, everything became clear. He began to read the inspired works of Ellen G. White, and when he read Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, everything rang true to the words of Christ. Shires felt all the pieces fall into place. He gave his life to God and was baptized. He soon met his wife, Julia, who had recently joined the church.

In the following years, he trained for the ministry at Pacific Union College in Northern California. He was called to pastor in the Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma and Upper Columbia Conferences before returning to Oklahoma in 2014 as a pastor and prayer ministries coordinator for the conference. In 2017, he became the conference’s executive secretary and then president. 

Shires reflects on his journey, “I was searching for the assurance of truth and a truth to follow,” he says. As he read the Bible and studied the life of Jesus, he was impressed with Jesus’ role as a prophet as well as the Savior. “His words spoke to my soul, directly to my life, and changed me.” 

Ellen G. White’s writings have also changed his life, drawing him closer to Christ and making him aware of his need for the Savior. “It was a personal encounter with God through her writings and the words of Jesus,” he says. 

As conference president, Shires emphasizes a mission-focused approach to church leadership. He encourages pastors to seek God’s guidance and communal consensus in discerning and fulfilling their church’s mission.  “First, believe God has a vision for every church to make a difference in that community." Shires says. "It’s the pastor’s and leaders’ role to find out what that mission is.”

Shires maintains a personal commitment to the belief in the gift of prophecy. He sees the continued relevance of prophetic guidance for the church today and believes in the potential for God to raise up prophets in these last days to guide His people through challenging times. “I think God will use young adults in the last days to speak messages for God for us that will help guide us through some difficult times,” he says, underscoring the importance of being open to God’s leading.

Shires is quick to point out that, in addition to inspiration and guidance, he looks to the Bible and prophecy for refinement of his character. “When I have struggled, I’ve read some of White’s encouraging words. When I needed to be rebuked, He would speak words to rebuke my pride or vice or whatever I was struggling with.”

Under his leadership, the Oklahoma Conference has focused on spiritual growth, community engagement and mission-driven initiatives, reflecting Shires’s vision for a church that is actively engaged in fulfilling its divine mandate. Shires is grateful for the close-knit and cohesive team at the conference that is pushing this initiative forward.. “We have amazing ministry directors who oversee different aspects of the mission of the Oklahoma Conference. Our office administrative assistants do great work in support and go the extra mile. I am grateful to God to be part of His work in the conference,” he says.

The fabric of Shires’s life is not only woven with the threads of ministry, but also with the bonds of family. Along with his wife, Julia, who is a nurse, Shires has cultivated a home life that mirrors his commitment to faith, having raised a family that is deeply rooted in the principles of faith. 

Their eldest daughter, Alexis, is a missionary in Lebanon, and has dedicated her life to serving overseas. Their second daughter, Elizabeth, is a flight nurse, combining her professional skills with a commitment to helping others. Their son, Nathan, has followed in his father’s footsteps, embracing pastoral ministry. When Alexis returned home after serving as a missionary in Romania, she told her parents about Oana, a 14-year-old girl whom she had met that had been orphaned. The Shires opened their hearts and adopted Oana, welcoming her to their family. Oana is a student at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska. As a family, they enjoy spending time outdoors—camping, hiking, kayaking and canoeing. 

Shires believes that God has a plan for each person and every church, just as he believes God had a plan for him as a non-churchgoing youth in Texas. In challenging times, Shires’s experiences demonstrate the necessity of being open to God’s guidance and in listening to those whom God has called. As Shires continues to serve his community and lead with a spirit of service, he shares his life’s journey in the hope that it will encourage the community of believers to keep the faith and listen for God’s leading.

By Jessica L. Lozano. Lozano is a writer and consultant from Northwest Arkansas. Photos by Scott Vo Photography. James Shires is the Oklahoma Conference President. He lives in Yukon, Oklahoma with his wife, Julia. They are parents to four adult children: Alexis, Elizabeth, Nathan and Oana.