Doyle Pennington, a pioneer in mobilizing Southern Baptist laypersons for missions and ministry, died Aug. 13 in Stockbridge, Ga., following a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 75.
Pennington, along with his wife, Celeste, was a longtime veteran of Southern Baptists’ lay renewal movement, which sought to bolster church life, marketplace witness and missions during much of the 1970s and ’80s. He was also the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) first lay volunteer with Mission Service Corps (MSC), founded in 1977 at the urging of President Jimmy Carter, a Southern Baptist, to coordinate and promote self-funded missionary volunteers with the Home Mission Board.
Pennington helped the Atlanta-based Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board) establish the MSC program and visited President Jimmy Carter at the White House around the time the program was launched. Later, Pennington helped promote missions through the Baptist Brotherhood Commission (which became part of North American Mission Board) and the Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board).
Pennington’s drive for missions took him to far-flung regions like North Korea to feed thousands of children each day, the American Arctic to lead mission tours and Australia to promote Baptist lay renewal.
Often Pennington served as a facilitator, coming alongside other leaders across the Southern Baptist Convention to flesh out their work and dreams. The Home Mission Board (HMB) dispatched him twice to supervise properties in American Samoa, including the construction of a mission home.
Working out of the office of HMB President Bill Tanner, Pennington used his real estate and business background to shore up properties in state conventions from New England to Alaska and Hawaii.
Initially spurred by a lay renewal emphasis at his church in Florida, Pennington worked with lay renewal pioneer Reid Hardin to establish the concept in Southern Baptist churches, releasing laypeople to serve Christ in their homes, neighborhoods, workplaces and around the world. He also assisted Hardin with church renewal and church reconciliation ministries.
Meeting planning took Pennington around the world. He, along with staff from the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources) and North American Mission Board, coordinated YouthLink 2000 at the turn of the millennium – an event a decade in the planning for students in seven cities, all linked globally by satellite to celebrate Christ. The historic event also linked live to Jerusalem where evangelist Jay Strack spoke to students to welcome the new millennium.
Pennington was active in the Baptist World Alliance (BWA). He served and traveled in more than 40 countries, islands and protectorates. He worked with Baptist Men around the world, serving in and later directing the BWA Men’s Department, working closely with South Korean pastor Billy Kim.
“Doyle was a highly gifted person with a wide range of interests. He began as a volunteer in lay renewal and had many opportunities to touch lay people across the Southern Baptist Convention,” said Jim Williams, who served as president of the Memphis, Tenn.-based Brotherhood Commission.
“Doyle had an uncanny ability to help people evoke their spiritual gifts and find an opportunity to use those gifts in missions. It takes a very special person to do that.
“An enormous number of Southern Baptists are now involved in lay renewal and missions because of Doyle Pennington. The teacher in me saw his special capacity to help people discover and use those gifts, and he was a master at it,” Williams said.
Additionally, Pennington helped coordinate volunteers to assist with ministry projects at the International Evangelism Association in west Texas and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS) in Kansas City. He served on MBTS’s Board of Regents and helped train Chinese English teachers in Yantai, China.
He is survived by his wife, Celeste, of Fayetteville, Ga., two daughters, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
A celebration of his life in Christ is scheduled Sept. 2 at New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Westbury is managing editor of Christian Index, christianindex.org, news journal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.)