Larry Wynn shows off a book of his photography at UGA football games. At left is one of his favorites, capturing running back Sony Michel as he heads toward the end zone for the game-winning score against Georgia Southern in 2015. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index
DULUTH — Larry Wynn’s plans didn’t involve ministry. They didn’t include becoming a children’s pastor, then the pastor of a church that would become one of Georgia Baptists’ largest. Not of growing into a leader for Southern Baptists in evangelism. Not of going into retirement as assistant executive director for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.
No, the original plans were different. Wynn grew up in Northside Baptist Church in his native Fitzgerald where his parents, Jesse and Rosalee, worked in a textile mill. He “settled his salvation,” as he puts it, at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton.
“I love to hunt and fish, so I wanted to become a police officer for the Department of Natural Resources. I was going to be paid to hunt, fish, and arrest my friends,” he laughs.
But at ABAC, he was called to preach. That was good news to the girl he was dating at the time, who had felt called to be a preacher’s wife. His confirmation became hers.
Becoming a pastor
“This little church in Dacula, Georgia was looking for a children’s minister,” remembers Wynn, who would also earn a degree in religion from Mercer. “So, my dad let them know his son had been called to preach.” (The Wynn family had later moved to Snellville due to a job change.)
Wynn’s father told the church his son would even do the position for free. “Yeah, thanks dad,” he jokes today.
That’s how Wynn, 20 years old at the time, first joined the staff at Hebron Baptist Church. Though he would become known for leading the church, Hebron wasn’t his first pastorate. That would be later at Metropolitan Baptist Church, a mission through Lawrenceville Baptist Association (now Gwinnett Metro) that met in a mobile home park. Two years to the day he began at Metropolitan, Hebron called him as pastor.
From July 1978 through the end of February 2011, Hebron would grow under Wynn’s leadership to become a leader in evangelism and Cooperative Program giving. Wynn says it began with a few friends meeting to pray.
“A layman in the church encouraged me to start a prayer group. He, I, and about 3-4 other men began meeting to pray. In that group God planted in my heart that I was to stay at Hebron for a long time.”
The importance of those 7 p.m. Thursday night prayer meetings cannot be overstated as to their effects on Hebron. Eventually it grew to around a dozen men, with the meeting time going to mornings for work schedules. Primarily they simply prayed for the church.
Excitement over Hebron
Over more than three decades in the pastorate, Wynn says it’s still the basics that lead to a healthy church.
“I always say the church should pattern itself after the one in the Book of Acts, not the church down the road,” he points out. “It should focus on prayer, evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, and service. At Hebron we focused especially on prayer, evangelism, and being connected in the community.”
Wynn has a habit of working his hobbies into ministry and evangelistic encounters. A cyclist, he would invite others to join his cycling group if they didn’t have a church home. He also took part in the University of Georgia’s annual bike ride for missions to Gainesville, Florida for the football matchup against the Gators.
It reflects an overarching philosophy of ministry for him. “Our message is sacred; it cannot change,” he stresses. “Our methods aren’t sacred; they must always change.”
Wynn counts himself a fan of Hebron’s current pastor, Landon Dowden. “One of the strengths of Hebron, even today, is that he will not do everything the same way I did. And he shouldn’t. His message is very biblical and hasn’t changed, but he’s incorporated some methodology that would not have worked during my time as pastor. It will now.
“There have been two very godly men as pastor at Hebron since I was there (Kevin Miller was pastor from March 2011-October 2017.). I’m as excited, or more so, about what God’s doing at Hebron now than when I was there.”
On to NAMB and the GBC
In February 2011 Wynn resigned from Hebron to become the North American Mission Board’s vice president for evangelism. Although Wynn enjoyed the work, he would realize he felt more at home closer to the ground, so to speak.
“I am a relational leader. I told [NAMB President] Kevin [Ezell] that the national scale is so large, I may see a pastor once every three years. I need to see that pastor more consistently.”
That led Wynn to accept a position as vice president for church revitalization with the Georgia Baptist Convention (now-Georgia Baptist Mission Board) through the 5 Smooth Stones initiative.
“I remember the day early in my ministry with Georgia Baptists that Larry and I were in a conversation,” says J. Robert White, president of the Georgia Baptist Health Care Ministry Foundation who was the state’s executive director at the time. “I told him how I hoped the Lord would give us the opportunity to serve together some day. The Lord opened that door and Larry has been an outstanding blessing to Georgia Baptists.”
At the recent Executive Committee meeting, Georgia Baptist Executive Director Thomas Hammond honored Wynn’s service as well.
“He’s been a mentor to pastors,” Hammond stated in front of those gathered. “He’s helped them understand the difficulties of pastoring, but also been someone they could call if they needed advice. But the other thing that’s amazing about Larry Wynn is he can always brighten your heart.”
‘It’s about the local church’
Wynn’s role for Georgia Baptists transitioned earlier this year into assistant executive director, becoming a guide as the Mission Board underwent a transformative restructuring. But for someone who has served in such high-profile positions – including those as GBC president, SBC vice president, trustee for the SBC Sunday School Board, and on the Executive Committee and Administration Committee – retirement brings him back to the setting where he feels the gospel changes the world.
“It’s about the local church,” he testifies. “I’m looking forward to continue preaching and serving as an interim, maybe get involved in chaplaincy again. The power of the gospel is there to change lives.”
It’s amazing how quickly time goes by, he says. “It seems like just yesterday I was the children’s minister at Hebron.”
In addition to being active in the local church, Wynn will dote on his grandchildren and root for his Georgia Bulldogs. He’ll have more time for a photography hobby he began around 2009 and has taken him not only to local football fields for outlets like the Barrow County News, but on Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium. His highlight was shooting the double-overtime UGA/Georgia Tech game in 2013.
Larry Wynn still has plans. At 66 he has no intentions of slowing down. As he’s done his whole life, he’s just anticipating what God has next.
Scott Barkley serves as editor of The Christian Index.