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Baptist editor ministers in variety of situations

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–He has been an associate pastor, pastor, mission leader, writer and editor, administrator and lobbyist. Today he serves as the recording secretary for the 16-million member Southern Baptist Convention and as editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger. Thousands read his editorials every week.

Much like the apostle Paul, whom he considers a role model, John Yeats believes that ministry may always lead to new endeavors. “He [Paul] did multiple things, and most pastors do. By doing a lot of things we have more opportunities to articulate the gospel to people because we can enter their world,” Yeats said.

“If we enter their world then we can facilitate their being able to understand the gospel, and that’s something that’s important to me,” he said.

Yeats said he first felt a call to ministry as a teenager. He attended Mansfield Baptist Church near Fort Worth, and when he graduated from Mansfield High School he knew where to go.

“When I was called to preach I knew the agenda that I was on,” he said.

That agenda first took him to Dallas Baptist University where he earned a bachelor’s degree. His desired destination, however, was Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

“Dallas Baptist was just something I had to go through to be able to get to Southwestern,” he said.

The seminary was an obvious choice, Yeats said. “It was in my backyard. Southwestern was the conservative school that had a passion for evangelism. That was the perception that I had and that was the desire of my heart — to be equipped to be that kind of pastor.”

Yeats graduated from DBU in 1971 and enrolled at Southwestern two days later. While he was attending Southwestern he also gained practical experience at his home church in Mansfield. Shortly before he finished college, his pastor had asked him to join the staff as an associate pastor. He accepted the offer and served as an associate under three different pastors. He served as associate pastor at Mansfield until his graduation from seminary in 1975.

Yeats subsequently pastored several churches in Texas and later served for more than 13 years in Kansas. He served as a lobbyist for pro-family organizations in the state and also became commissioner-at-large of the Christian Life Commission (now the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) of the SBC.

Yeats later served for a short time as director of communications for the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana and now serves in a similar role in Oklahoma.

In addition to overseeing and administering the printing and communication ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, Yeats serves as editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger. While most state conventions have their newspapers printed by outside printing plants it’s not the case in Oklahoma.

The Baptist Messenger, which celebrated its 90th anniversary this year, is one of the few state Baptist papers still printed in-house. That fact, Yeats said, has opened up new opportunities for ministry.

Local churches in Oklahoma can request special editions of the Baptist Messenger which include the church’s newsletter or other information for distribution in the community or to church members. The Baptist Messenger currently prints 167 such special editions with each issue.

This venture happened at the request of the churches, Yeats said. Churches wanted to customize the newspaper to go along with their local newsletters, and the staff of the Baptist Messenger, led by Yeats, made it happen.

“That means we stop the press, change plates, and add their newsletter information on the Baptist Messenger every week,” Yeats said.

In addition to printing and distributing the Baptist Messenger, the print shop that Yeats now runs provides affordable printing services to churches that would have paid much higher prices for the same services elsewhere.

“That’s a phenomenal thing. We have just a conventional two-color press and then we have some copy machines, and we’re serving something like 120 local churches,” he said.

Churches who use the service obtain everything from stationery to bulletin inserts at seven percent over cost, Yeats said.

“We just decided we’re going to put our arms around that and embrace it,” Yeats said. “We’ve got all this equipment sitting here. We’ve got the personnel, and instead of printing material just for us, we’ve started serving [churches].”

The printing ministry has blossomed during the two years it has been in operation, Yeats said, because of the people dedicated to doing the work. “The only reason it happens is that I have great people who work with me,” he said.

Yeats’ goal in ministry, he said, is to change the public perception of the state convention. “A lot of churches and pastors have this idea that conventions — state conventions, national conventions, associations — are all takers more than we are givers,” he said.

“One of the things we are trying to do here in Oklahoma with our print shop is to demonstrate to our local churches that we are givers,” Yeats said.

As the recording secretary for the SBC, Yeats records the proceedings of the Executive Committee and is the final editor of the Book of Reports and the SBC Annual. The recording secretary is one of only two offices in the convention that sit on the Executive Committee. The other is the president.

The work, he said, requires a team effort. Yeats said that he could not accomplish the work without his wife, Sharon.

“I am elected to the position, but my wife Sharon really helps me work with the Executive Committee staff to make all this happen,” Yeats said. “So she’s the lady that’s sitting at the desk with me and helping me keep track of all the motions and the proceedings of the convention. That’s really a neat thing.”

While not a graduate, Sharon took several classes at Southwestern while her husband was a student. The two met at DBU and now have three children — all are sons and all were educated at home.

The Yeats’ oldest child is a doctoral student at Trinity Evangelical Seminary, and holds master’s degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and from Oxford University. Their middle son lives and works in Indianapolis, Ind. Their youngest son is currently a student at Oklahoma Baptist University.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: HOT OFF THE PRESS and AN EDITION IN THE WORKS.

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  • Tony Imms