CLEVELAND — John Yarbrough is among an elite and distinguished group of Georgia Baptists who have had a significant impact upon not only Georgia, but the nation. He has served as pastor of some of Georgia Baptists’ finest churches, president of the Georgia Baptist Convention, vice president of Evangelism for the North American Mission Board, and director of Alumni and Public Policy and associate professor of Christian Studies at Truett McConnell University.
His varied and notable career recently transitioned into a new dimension of Christian service when he announced his retirement from fulltime employment with Truett McConnell University.
He stated, “I am only retiring from a fulltime position with salary and benefits. I am retiring from a position, not my calling. I will continue to serve churches in interim positions as opportunities arise, supply in pulpits, and preach in revivals/conferences and at any opportunity share the Word of God.”
Yarbrough’s more than half-century of experience, wisdom, love for people, and passion for Christ could result in his fourth quarter of ministry becoming his most productive and fulfilling yet.
Yarbrough will continue to serve from time to time as an adjunct professor at the university when needed. He has also agreed to continue to represent TMU in the area of public policy. A graduate of Truett McConnell, Yarbrough stated, “I am so very grateful for what God is doing at my alma mater and will look forward to serving the university as I have opportunity.
“I respect and appreciate [TMU President] Dr. [Emir] Caner,” Yarbrough added, “or I would not have served under his leadership. I was honored to serve on the search committee that brought Dr. Caner to the trustees for his election as the eighth president of Truett McConnell. He is a scholar with a brilliant mind, a leader with a vision of what a Christian institution on higher education should be, a preacher of the Word, and a minister that genuinely loves people, especially students.”
Yarbrough continued, “It has been a privilege to serve under his leadership and to watch what God has done at the university, to see the growth, the expansion, and how a biblical worldview can permeate an institution and impact the lives of students.
“Dr. Caner and I share a concern for religious freedom protection, for the life of the unborn, and for the protection of the university and our students. That is why he asked me to serve as director of Public Policy and be involved in the community and at the [Georgia State] Capitol to influence legislation in a way that supports religious freedom and biblical principles.”
Yarbrough’s background as a pastor and denominational leader prepared him for his ministry at Truett McConnell. He was licensed to the ministry in 1966 and pastored some of Georgia’s most significant churches including Tabernacle Baptist Church in Cartersville and First Baptist Church in Perry.
He explained, “God blessed me with the opportunity to serve churches with tremendously supportive people and great church staff members. I saw God do amazing things in people’s lives that can only be explained by His grace and His power.
“We were able to see hundreds of people respond to the Gospel and follow the Lord in believer’s baptism. We have seen God call more than forty people into the Gospel ministry and hundreds of witnesses equipped to share the Gospel.
“My wife, Diana, and I have friends with whom we communicate on a regular basis from the churches we have served. We have had the privilege of being invited back to every church we have served to preach revivals or homecomings.
“Watching what God has done in people’s lives, their marriages, families, and careers has been one of God’s great blessings in my life. I have seen God turn tragedies into victories. I have watched the lost get saved, addictions overcome, marriages saved, babies allowed to live rather than being aborted, homosexuals transformed, and suicides prevented. We were able to establish servant ministries and pregnancy centers. We were able to develop ministries to ministers who had been terminated by churches.
“It impossible to summarize 50 years of ministry, but I can say it has all been of the Lord and to Him be the glory.”
Yarbrough’s election as president of the Georgia Baptist Convention in 1994 was historic and instrumental in turning the tide in Georgia’s quest to embrace the Conservative Resurgence in the state convention. There were 5,386 messengers who met in Macon for the annual convention session and Yarbrough received 34 more votes than James Ramsey, pastor of First Baptist Church in Albany. Yarbrough quipped about being called “Landslide Yarbrough,” but speaking of Ramsey, said, “We are friends and will continue to work together for the cause of Christ.”
When asked about the challenges of his presidency, Yarbrough commented, “We were a divided convention and the controversy around Mercer was one of the major flashpoints of our division.
“Dr. Kirby Godsey, the president of Mercer, published his controversial book ‘When We Talk About God, Let’s Be Honest.’ The publication of this book was like putting gas on the fire of controversy centering around Mercer and Dr. Godsey’s leadership. There were some who wanted to dismiss Godsey (which the convention could not do, only his trustees could) and others wanted to publicly censor him, which we did by convention action at our meeting in Perry.
“I had met with Dr. Godsey in his office to address concerns with the book. He would not change his positions expressed in the book nor agree to resign from the university. We headed to the convention meeting in Perry with Dr. Godsey being the center of controversy.”
Yarbrough’s election and two years of service as president were strategic in the battle for the inerrancy of the Bible. He added, “I had the privilege to serve as president between two of my friends. I followed Larry Wynn and Frank Cox followed me. Frank was elected by an overwhelming majority and the Resurgence was secure in Georgia.”
In 1997 Yarbrough became the chairman of the committee assigned the task of restructuring the Southern Baptist Convention (called the Covenant for a New Century) – a mammoth undertaking. Subsequent to that assignment, he was asked to serve as the vice president of Evangelism for the North American Mission Board, which some have referred to as the most strategic position in the Southern Baptist Convention.
“When I was asked to come to the position in evangelism I was humbled, honored, and intimidated,” remarked Yarbrough. “I knew the leaders who had held that position in the past and I knew the awesome responsibility of standing with our partners to assist churches to reach the lost in North America.
“I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to serve with an amazing team of passionate people on staff and partners in state conventions. These capable individuals came together as teams to assist churches and provide resources for churches to use to equip Christ followers to show and share the Gospel in their world.
“While we had four years of seeing Southern Baptist report baptisms of over 400,000, we recognized that Southern Baptists were not keeping pace with the population growth of North America. My regret is that we couldn’t do more.
“We recognized the culture was changing and that our resources needed to change to communicate a biblical gospel in a secular culture. Servanthood evangelism and apologetics became valued resources that were developed for churches by teams on our staff.”
When asked what he would say to pastors today in regard to establishing an evangelistic culture, Yarbrough responded, “Lead by example; be a soul winner! Equip the saints for the work to which God has called us. Preach evangelistic messages. Offer public invitations. Minister to people, (food, counseling, job corps, support groups, whatever the needs are in your mission field) but share the Gospel.
“It is wrong to feed a hungry person and not tell them about the love of Jesus; and it is wrong to tell a hungry person about the love of Jesus and not feed them.
“You must stand with the Bible in one hand and your community in the other. You must know and preach the Bible, but you must know your community to reach your community. Learn the community, and without compromising the Word of God, meet the needs and get involved in the community.”
To a man called by God to serve Him, there is no retirement. But in addition to preaching, writing, and continuing to provide leadership and support to Dr. Caner’s presidency at TMU, Yarbrough does plan to spend more time with Diana, his grown kids, and “four of the greatest grandkids in the world.”
“Landslide” Yarbrough added, “God has blessed me with good health at this time and I intend to serve Him and share His Word until He calls me home to heaven.”