It was in the middle of the night on a pallet laid on the dirt floor of an auto mechanic’s garage with the faint scent of gasoline and engine oil still lingering in the cool darkness that a twelve-year-old began to weep. His mother, the wife of pioneering evangelist C.P. Kilgore, heard one of her ten children stirring. Kneeling beside each pallet, she began to sense the presence of God in that old garage, and as she approached James, she recognized a special anointing of the Holy Ghost and quietly began to pray with him as he received his initial call to the ministry.
When James was born on September 23, 1926, his sister, Blanche, fell in love with her little brother. She thought he looked like their daddy and soon noticed that he grew to be more like him every day. Little did she know that James would someday take his father’s place in the ministry and become the spiritual leader of the Kilgore children. But their mother, Ella Lee Kilgore, had known there was a holy calling on his life, and that night in the old garage in Idaho, intuition was confirmed.
James’ early life was spent travelling across the country with his ministering family, singing in the old brush arbors, building pulpits, altar benches and churches, and eventually preaching the gospel. In July 1950, young evangelist James Kilgore met the love of his life in Sherman, Texas, and six weeks later on September 13, 1950, Imogene Ellen Ritchie became Mrs. James Leroy Kilgore. What a wonderful blessed life they built together!
The new couple began their marriage in the parsonage of their first church in Paris, Texas. When God called the James Kilgore family to Houston, Texas, eight years later, they left behind a growing congregation that today is still a thriving church. The group who welcomed them to Houston believed God had chosen this little family to pave the way for a great harvest of souls in their city, as well. And they did! The Kilgore’s reached thousands of souls and mentored hundreds of Sunday school workers, Bible school students, evangelists, pastors and missionaries. The results of their vision and leadership are evident not only in Life Tabernacle of Houston, Texas, but also in the many daughter works established throughout the city. Their love for souls reached around the world as well, as Life Tabernacle financially supported many foreign missionaries and helped to establish Bible colleges in other countries.
Pastor Kilgore refused to let his congregation be satisfied with the ordinary; going the extra mile has always been a way of life for his church, inspired by the example of a loving and faithful leader. For forty-five years as Pastor and 14 years as Bishop, he tirelessly admonished his church to dig deeper, to reach higher and to go farther.
When in Paris, Texas, James Kilgore began a lifetime of service to the United Pentecostal Church when elected as the Texas District youth president. He served faithfully in the capacity from 1952 to 1960. As a founding father of Texas Bible College, he served as its president from 1963 to 1964. In 1971, at General Conference in Houston, the ministers of the United Pentecostal Church International elected James L. Kilgore as the assistant general superintendent of the Western Zone, an office he filled until he was elected as the district superintendent of Texas in 1994.
Living his life to serve others was his most fervent calling. His faithfulness, generosity, compassion and steadfastness was a strength to people in every walk of life, and in virtually every country in the world. James L. Kilgore was a hero to many and an inspiration to the ministry, a father to the fatherless; a help to the widows; a comfort to the broken, a champion of young people, a matchmaker, a friend, a Godly example, a leader and a rock.
The many people who have been touched by his life remain committed to helping bring life to his vision of a worldwide harvest that began in his heart in that cold garage in Idaho so many years ago. Still today, his son Jim now carries on this successful ministry as Lead Pastor of Life Church.
Bishop Kilgore’s journey on this earth concluded on February 5, 2014 after seven decades of ministry. For those who were blessed to know him, you know his goal was to see Jesus and lead others to Christ. His mission is accomplished.