Index Magazine: Georgia preacher John Yarbrough has served as interim pastor 16 times


CLEVELAND, GA – John Yarbrough has one of the most impressive ministerial resumes imaginable.  He has been a successful pastor. He has academic credentials to be envied. His denominational engagement on the associational, state, and national levels is extraordinary. His preaching opportunities have taken him to 48 states and seven foreign countries.

Up until 2019, Yarbrough was the director of alumni and public policy and associate professor of Christian studies at Truett McConnell University but continues to serve the university as an adjunct professor and part-time director of public policy.

For the past two decades, Yarbrough has served 16 churches as interim/transitional pastor and won the affection and respect of people in all those congregations. He has been affectionally referred to as the dean of interim pastors.

One of Yarbrough’s first interims was at First Baptist Church in Roanoke, Va., and on his last Sunday the mayor issued a proclamation declaring that Sunday as John Yarbrough Day in Roanoke and presented him the key to the city. That expression of appreciation has characterized the honor and respect that Yarbrough has earned throughout his ministry, because of his faithfulness and surrender to Christ.

Melvin Howard, a deacon at Anniston Road Baptist Church during Yarbrough’s interim there and now a fellow member with Yarbrough and hsi wife Diana at Hopewell Baptist Church in Gainesville testified, “John Yarbrough is one of the godliest men I have ever known. I cherish John and Dianne’s friendship and pray for his ministry daily.

“He came to both Anniston Road and Hopewell during a time of transition and struggle and presented a vision for each church and helped the two congregations fullfill their visions through his powerful preaching and organizational skills.”

Howard added, “When John preaches, the first words out of his mouth are ‘Jesus Christ’ and he ends his prayers with the words, ‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight , O Lord, my strength and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). John’s life of surrender has prompted me to call him ‘John the Baptist’”.

Yarbrough also has his lighter moments. He recalled, “At Hopewell I told a story that I had told in another church about my love for Zero candy bars. I was blessed a couple of days later when a case of “Zero” bars appeared on my front porch.

“The next Sunday I told the church about how the anonymous gift and giver had blessed me and that they needed to know that I also liked Porsche sports cars. We all laughed.

“On my last Sunday at Hopewell as interim pastor a 10–11-year-old boy came up to me with his dad. The boy had a big smile on his face and his hands behind his back. He said, ‘I really enjoyed you being here, and I wanted you to have this.’

“At that point he pulled his hands out and gave me a Hot Wheels Porsche still in the package. We all laughed and hugged. The Porsche is still in the package and sits on my desk.”

David Wenger, the pastor at Hopewell, declared, “John Yarbrough is a Baptist statesman and the leadership, wisdom, and unifying spirit he brough to Hopewell is incalculable. Furthermore, the help, wisdom, and encouragement he has brought to me since I became the pastor has been a blessing of inestimable worth.”

Pastor Johnny Nix, who followed Yarbrough’s interim at Pickett’s Mill Baptist Church in Dallas, commented, “Dr. Yarbrough was exactly what our congregation needed at a pivotal point in the history of our church. He preached convictional messages that prepared the church for its next pastor.”

Calvin Thompson, a lay leader at Pickett’s Mill, who was also on the church’s Pastor Search Team, commented, “Dr. Yarbrough prepared Pickett’s Mill for a new pastor through unity and great biblical preaching.  He was a wonderful mentor, leader, and friend to us as we searched for a new pastor. 

“In fact, we loved him so much, I recommended him to my brother-in-law that was on a search team at a different church, and they ended up calling him and loving him as we did.  I can’t say enough good things about Dr. Yarbrough as a man, friend, and for what he did for our church at a very difficult time.”

Derek Howard, pastor at Talmo Baptist Church, stated, “John Yarbrough did a tremendous job as interim pastor prior to my ministry here. He prepared the church for the changes necessary for us to reach our greatest potential.” From all reports the Talmo church is now experiencing significant growth under Pastor Howard’s leadership.

When asked about the challenges of being an interim pastor, Yarbrough remarked, “So often there is the tendency for the church to just wait until the next pastor arrives, so it is important to keep the members committed to their task of reaching people and impacting the world.

“The interim must also focus the church on God’s purpose for His church as declared in the Word of God.

“The interim pastor should love the people, communicate with the people, and trust the Lord. Loving and leading go hand in hand.”

Yarbrough continued, “The reason for the former pastor’s departure often determines the approach the interim must take. Some pastors retire, some are called to another church, and some leave under less that favorable circumstances thus affecting the health of the congregation. Some churches are angry, some are grieving, some are in a hurry to move on.

“The interim must hear their stories, diagnose their situation, seek God’s guidance, and prepare them for the next era in the life of the church.”

Yarbrough concluded, “Establishing a positive focus on prayer is essential. The church needs to spend much time in prayer for unity, for the search team, for the pastor that God is preparing (even before they know about him), and pray for God to give them a vision for the transitional season in the life of the church.  

The reasons John Yarbrough is supremely effective as an interim/transitional pastor is because he still has a pastor’s heart and enjoys loving, leading, and watching what God does as the Word of God is proclaimed. He exclaimed, “Once I leave a church and they have called their next pastor, it is a joy to watch the church and see what God does.”