Saturday, July 07, 2018

Honoring a Mentor: Glenn Yarbrough

On Friday, July 6, a memorial service was held at First Baptist Church, Nashville, for Dr. Glenn Yarbrough.  Glenn was one of the people that I often recognize as a mentor, one who influenced me, shared his rich experience, and opened doors for me.

Glenn provided my first full-time position in collegiate ministry when I graduated seminary in 1970. The situation was a challenging one, but he trusted my potential to address it effectively.  He was not happy when I left Middle Tennessee State University in 1976 to accept a position at Mississippi State University, but I was pleased when Carson-Newman College offered me a job in 1980 and Glenn called to let me know that he would be glad to have me back in the state.  

In 1984, I had the opportunity to become his associate in the Student Ministries Department of the Tennessee Baptist Convention and to succeed him as director of that ministry in 1987.

Glenn was a classic “Builder” in generational terms.  He was a man of few words, and you often had to reflect a bit to understand exactly what he meant by those words!  He was an intellectual who read Foreign Affairsmagazine for fun, studied and taught the Bible with great enthusiasm and insight, and often shared quotes that were both classical and whimsical.

Although he was a consummate administrator, he gave me (and other local collegiate ministers) the freedom to explore new ideas and try new approaches in reaching and discipling students. When I admitted that I had tried some things that just had not worked like I thought they would, he responded, “Just keep on trying.”  He was giving me permission to fail.

Especially during my time as his associate, Glenn helped me to understand the ins and outs of working in a denominational bureaucracy.  Once I was questioning a statement in the TBC’s Personnel Manual.  “This is ambiguous,” I argued.  His comeback was, “It’s not ambiguous.  You just don’t like what it says.”  He helped to be able to discern where you could tinker with the system and when you had to let the system run its course.

Another place where he taught me a great deal was in selection of personnel and in supervision. Glenn was patient in identifying and selecting people for any collegiate ministry position, whether it was full-time, part-time, or volunteer.  He considered all the possibilities, consulted with others about candidates, but took the ultimate responsibility for the decision.  In supervising department staff, he was attentive and available, but he treated everyone like a responsible adult with respect for their individuality. This saved him a lot of grief when problems developed and, by following his example, this approach saved my skin and the reputation of the organization more than once.

I’m not sure that Glenn ever understood or accepted my decision to step away from the leadership of collegiate ministries at the state convention, but I always knew that he trusted my judgement and commitment.  Those qualities made him a great mentor and a good friend.  We will not forget him.

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