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Jerry Vines retires, returns to Georgia


J. Gerald Harris

At a roast in his honor, Jerry Vines stands behind a picture representing his fifty years in ministry. The event was held at the Omni Hotel in Jacksonville, Fla.

After fifty illustrious years as a pastor, including more than 23 as pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., Jerry Vines is transitioning to a new phase of Christian service, with Woodstock becoming his new home and the home for Jerry Vines Ministries.

The beloved Jacksonville pastor, known for his expository preaching, concluded his ministry at First Baptist on Tuesday evening, Feb. 7 by preaching the closing message at the 20th annual Pastor’s Conference hosted by the church. An estimated congregation of more than 11,000 heard Vines preach a sermon entitled “Glimpses of Glory” from Exodus 33:17-23.

Vines’ sermon was punctuated by shouts of “amen,” “glory” and “hallelujah” as the congregation repeatedly affirmed his message. Tony Samples, pastor of Pickett’s Mill Baptist Church in Dallas, Ga., said of Vines’ message, “I was overwhelmed at the message as Dr. Vines painted a comprehensive picture of the glory of God from Genesis to Revelation.”

The skillful pulpiteer portrayed the glory of God from a typological, Christological, soteriological and eschatological perspective, concluding his masterful sermon and distinguished ministry at Jacksonville’s First Baptist Church by walking from the pulpit to the aisle, up the aisle and out of the church building preaching and at the last singing, “O That Will Be Glory for Me.”

Although Vines has indicated that he is excited about the future, he recently commented, “If you cut me, my blood would flow First Baptist Church.”

Vines added, “I have lived and breathed the ministry of the First Baptist Church for over 23 years. My total life, my total interest, my total love in ministry is directed to this fellowship. The dearest people in the world to me are here.”

J. Gerald harris

Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson takes a friendly jab at Jerry Vines at the roast honoring the mischievous minister. Janet Vines is seated between her husband, left, and O.S. Hawkins, president of Guidestone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

But Vines, a native of Carrollton, is returning to his home state. He was saved at nine years of age at Tabernacle Baptist Church in his hometown, called into the ministry in that same church at age 16 and preached his first sermon on a rainy Sunday night in the 1950s at Shady Grove Baptist Church in Carrollton.

Those who know him say Jerry Vines is unassuming and modest. “He’s a very warm and gentle spirit,” his wife, the former Janet Denney of Atlanta, said. While God gave Vines a humble and gentle spirit, God also prepared him from youth to be a stalwart defender of Christianity and the truth of the Bible in some of the most volatile spiritual and political battles imaginable.

Indeed, his sermons, his opinions, and his writings cause some to label him controversial, even contentious. “Any time a man preaches the truth of Scripture, that in and of itself becomes controversial in our culture, especially,” Vines said.

“We’re in a culture which says that truth is relative, that there is no absolute truth. And a Bible preacher takes the view that there is absolute truth. And so, I think that in and of itself lends itself to controversy.”

But now Vines, who served two terms as Southern Baptist Convention president, is coming back to the red clay hills of Georgia. His retirement from the pastorate marks the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new one.

In a recent interview Vines stated, “For future ministry, I’ve got two purposes in mind. The first is to lead people to Christ. The second is to help Christians grow. But my greatest interest is to have a ministry to preachers, to provide materials for preachers, to provide ‘Power in the Pulpit’ conferences for preachers to help them to learn how to do the job. So, I hope to really, in a much fuller way, devote my life to preachers. I’m really passionate about that.”

J. Gerald Harris

Jerry and Janet Vines still smile after being roasted and toasted by friends.

Although Vines is known for his prowess as a preacher and personal purity, he has also been known for his impish shenanigans and practical jokes; on the eve of his final day as pastor of the Jacksonville church a host of friends gathered in the Omni Hotel to “roast” the venerable pastor.

O. S. Hawkins, president of Guidestone Financial Resources, served as master of ceremonies at the “roast” and alluded to Vines as a hypochondriac and cited several examples of his preoccupation with health issues. Hawkins then recited the epitaphs of great men like D. L. Moody and W.A. Criswell and concluded that Vines’ epitaph would likely read: “See, I told you I was sick.”

Jerry Falwell, chancellor of Liberty University and pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., also took a friendly jab at Vines by saying, “I want to congratulate Dr. Vines and the deacons at First Baptist Church for the way they have handled this whole matter, because the great majority of the people believe that he is leaving voluntarily.”

Danny Watters, Georgia Baptist Convention specialist in Church-Minister Relations and who has perhaps known and loved Vines longer than anyone else on the program, shared some humorous anecdotes, but praised him for his friendship and his faithfulness to his calling.

Southwestern Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, known for being the perpetrator of countless mischievous deeds himself, nearly confessed to being responsible for having the water cut off in the hotel room where Vines was staying when serving as president of the SBC. Patterson commented, “I am not saying that I did it, but I can tell you what it costs to cut a man’s water off.”

So, on the eve of the Jacksonville pastor’s swan song, it was payback time and the chickens came home to roost at Vine’s “roast.” But when Vines returns to Georgia we really don’t prefer the chicken analogy. So, when he settles into his new home in Georgia, we are going to say, “The eagle has landed.” Welcome home Jerry!