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James Griffith, former Ga. Baptist exec, dies

PALMETTO, Ga. (BP) — James H. “Jim” Griffith, 89, executive director emeritus of the Georgia Baptist Convention, died May 7 at Southwest Christian Hospice in Union City, Ga. He had been admitted to the facility the previous Wednesday in failing health.

Griffith led the state convention for 11 years, from 1981-92. At his retirement during Georgia Baptists’ annual meeting in his native Macon, he was lauded for being “people-oriented, Christ-centered and Great Commission-focused.”

Griffith, then 66, said, “The greatness of Georgia Baptists is clearly indicated by the fact that almost without exception, progress has been made in every area of our work.”

During his tenure, churches’ gifts through the Cooperative Program more than doubled while the state missions offering more than tripled. The convention also expanded its work in church planting and language missions, with the number of Georgia Baptist churches growing from 2,977 to 3,282. Additionally: The debt on the former Georgia Baptist Center was paid; an auditorium and a hotel with conference rooms were completed at the Georgia Baptist Conference Center in Toccoa, the latter named in his honor; Camp Kaleo for Royal Ambassadors was constructed, largely with volunteer labor; an alcohol-drug rehabilitation center for men was constructed; and missions partnerships were initiated with Baptists in Liberia, Panama, New York and Germany.

Griffith had been pastor of Beech Haven Baptist Church in Athens, Ga., for 14 years as well as two other Georgia churches — First Baptist in St. Simons Island and First Baptist Church in Gray — and Lakeside Baptist Church in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.

He served two terms as president of the Georgia Baptist Convention during his 24 years in the pastorate and was twice elected as GBC first vice president. He also served two years as chairman of the convention’s Executive Committee.

In Southern Baptist life, Griffith served eight years as trustee of the Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources) and served twice on the Committee on Nominations.

Before entering the ministry, Griffith was a journalist, beginning as an office boy at the Macon Telegraph and News and working his way up to sports editor at age 18 and a nationally syndicated humor columnist at age 20, with his “The Last Straw” column distributed by General Features Corporation in New York. He later held editorial positions with The Herald in Spartanburg, S.C., and the News-Herald in Morganton, N.C. Griffith began writing a weekly column, “Pulpit to Pew,” for The Christian Index, the convention’s newsjournal, in 1956.

Griffith was a graduate of Mercer University, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina and Luther Rice Seminary in Georgia.

He authored three books: “Stepping Stones” (1978), “Sure You Can” (1980), and “From Pulpit to Pew,” a compilation of humor columns published in The Christian Index (1981).

He is survived by his wife, Mildred “Mimi” Scott Roads Griffith, a native of West Palm Beach, Fla.; daughters Doren Yeomans, Rosa Gardner and Sunday Griffith; and one granddaughter.

“Dr. Griffith and his devoted wife Mimi have been Georgia Baptist treasures for many years,” said J. Robert White, Griffith’s successor as GBC executive director. “As a young pastor in Carrollton and a member of the Executive Committee, I had the privilege of serving on the executive director search committee that selected Dr. Griffith to be recommended to serve as our executive director.”

Later as a GBC Administration Committee member, White said it was “a joy to serve with Jim” as the committee met with Griffith each month. “He was a blessing to the work of the convention and navigated through some challenging situations with wisdom and in the spirit of Christ,” White said.

Bobby Boswell, GBC assistant executive director, said Griffith will be remembered as “a leader devoted to cooperative missions causes. He was committed to the principle that more could be accomplished together than separately. He believed in and supported the Cooperative Program as the way for Georgia Baptists to do missions, evangelism and ministry together.”

Joe Graham, GBC missionary in collegiate ministries, said of Griffith, “There has never been a question as to his love for his family, his love for Georgia Baptists, and his love for the Cooperative Program. He brought to his ministry the efficiency of a newspaper man, the heart of a pastor and great joy in Christ.”

Dennis Rogers, who recently retired as a state missionary after 28 years in discipleship ministry, said Griffith was “a wonderful encourager for me when I first came to the state missions staff in 1987. His humor and timely words made me feel welcome and that I belonged. Long after his retirement he always had a kind and affirming word for my wife and me whenever we were together. He was a true Georgia Baptist statesman.”

Griffith’s funeral was May 11 at Providence Baptist Church in Palmetto, Ga., followed by burial at Riverside Cemetery in Macon.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Macedonian Call Foundation in Lake Spivey, Ga., or Developmental Disabilities Ministries in Norcross, Ga.

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  • Joe Westbury & J. Gerald Harris/The Christian Index

    J. Gerald Harris is editor and Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index (www.christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Baptist Press editor Art Toalston contributed to this article.

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