Leaders Considered Persson Their ‘Spiritual Father’

(From left to right) Steve Dawson, Lon Allison, Jim Persson, Gary Walter

(From left to right) Steve Dawson, Lon Allison, Jim Persson, Gary Walter

WESTMINSTER, CO (December 21, 2015) – In October three key leaders in the Covenant flew to Denver to spend the day with Jim Persson, former director of Church Growth and Evangelism and the man each of them considered a “spiritual father.”

“I’ve known a fair number of good men,” said Steve Dawson, president of National Covenant Properties. “None, not even my own dad would fit the title of ‘spiritual father’ like Jim. Always the encourager, always pointing to the Savior’s love for us, always helping us to envision the kingdom impact that God has called us to, always willing to take a back seat so God could be glorified. It’s a lot to even think about paying forward to those around me. And that is only a little bit of the life change Jim has helped me toward.”

When Dawson, together with ECC president Gary Walter, and Lon Allison, a Covenant minister who formerly served as director of evangelism for the ECC, visited their 81-year-old friend, they knew it might be their last time to see him because his health had been failing. Although at the time he was the best he had been in months, on Sunday Persson died while in hospice care.

“Jim was a friend to us all, a remarkable model and inspiration of a God-first life given to Jesus, family, Christ’s work in the world, and the ECC,” said Walter, who was recruited by Persson to serve as director of church planting.

Allison was one of the church planters. Persson had mentored him for more than three decades and then led Allison’s father to faith.

Allison became a Christian when he was a teenager and then began attending Hillside Covenant Church in Walnut Creek, California, where Persson was his pastor. When Allison was in his early twenties, Persson asked him to take a three-month interim youth ministry position.

That stretched into three and a half years until Persson asked him to plant Hope Center Covenant Church in Pleasant Hill, California. “He always saw more in me than I saw in myself,” said Allison, who also planted Life Community Covenant Church in Roseville, California.

Persson later encouraged Allison to serve as the ECC director of prayer and evangelism. Allison went on to serve as executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. He currently serves as pastor of teaching and outreach at Wheaton Bible Church.

In a book Persson wrote about his life for his family, he recounted that his years as director of Church Growth and Evangelism were “the most enjoyable and fulfilling years of my lifelong call to be a pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church. The reason was the bonding that occurred with Lon Allison, Steve Dawson, and Gary Walter.”





  • Jim came to Shawnee, Kansas, and did a comprehensive survey of our young church, and he put the results in a book about a half inch thick. Every now and then someone would say, “Where’s the book survey. What did Jim say about this or that?” What a great mentor. I’ll miss him and his humility and wisdom and love of God.

  • God bless Jim´s memory. He was a truly remarkable encourager and mentor to many.
    And God bless Steve, Lon and Gary for the time spent with him – God´s perfect timing.

  • In the spring of 1974, a Covenant chaplain, Ernie Matson on active duty, sat next to me in the tenor section of our base chapel choir at the Seabee base in Port Hueneme, California. Learning I was going to Berkeley to study, he said, “Look up Jim Persson. He pastors a church in Walnut Creek.” Carla and I did, and that began a relationship of his great influence in our lives. One Sunday, he preached on the value of tithing and we obeyed. What a blessing that has been.

    He encouraged a home Bible study to explore starting a new church, and Crossroads Covenant Church was birthed. He became our developer pastor and faithfully led our fledgling congregation from meeting at the Farm Bureau Hall to buying the property where our facility now stands. More than 40 years ago with one week to go to fulfill our offer on the property, and ten thousand dollars short, he still encouraged us. He reported receipt of a check from a farmer in southern Minnesota for exactly ten thousand dollars two days before the expiration of our offer. Another lesson of faith in action.

    Later I served five years with Jim on our denomination board when he was director of the Covenant Department of Church Growth and Evangelism. I observed firsthand his faith, commitment to prayer, tremendous tenacity and his faithful leadership of his three musketeers, Steve Dawson, Lon Allison and Gary Walters. Three of our denomination presidents, Paul Larson, Glen Palmberg and now Gary Walters, remarked on his valuable leadership and spiritual walk. They talked, I listened.

    To Arlys, Ron, Rollie and Russ, Carla and I say, “Thanks be to God for your husband and father, Jim Persson, for his life and example that have helped us among so many to live lives of influence following Jesus Christ as their Lord, Savior and Master.”

  • I believe Jim Persson left a huge impact on all of us who had the privilege of knowing him. Did he travel with Caravan or Heartsong or one of the youth ministry groups who travelled to various Covenant Churches years ago?

  • I had the privilege of being with Jim in Nashville many years ago having lunch at a little restaurant that featured (not surprisingly) a young woman country singer and her guitar, who entertained all of us during lunch.

    When Jim and I went to pay our tab, I noticed Jim hanging back some, and wondered why he was delaying our departure. Then I realized he had engaged the young singer in conversation, as she was packing up her guitar to leave. As I walked back, I could hear Jim encouraging her to explore her faith and accept Christ as Savior. It was so quick, and it seemed so easy for him. And she was deeply engaged as well, her eyes welling with tears. I just marveled at how quickly Jim could engage people in conversation about Christ, and not in any awkward or forward manner, but it just seemed so comfortable. His sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading was obvious.

    That kind of experience leaves a deep imprint – it did for me. I only wished I could have that kind of gift of engaging others so quickly and comfortably.

  • Leave a Reply to Don Meyer Cancel reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *