Reflections on the Life and Ministry of John and Daria Greening
By David Gunn
On June 24, 1996, John Greening was confirmed by a vote of 562 to 15 as the GARBC’s seventh national representative. Twenty-two years later, as he prepares to step down and pass the baton to Mike Hess, he holds the distinction of being the longest-serving national representative in the association’s history.
Shortly before their retirement, I sat down with the Greenings to discuss their years of service to the association. It’s evident that their departure from this role is bittersweet. “The association has been good to us,” John says. “It’s our family. We’re respectful of other groups, but deeply committed to this one, and also very excited about its future.”
Listening to their life stories, one almost gets the impression that the Greenings were predestined to play an influential role in the GARBC. John is an eighth-generation Baptist pastor. His family heritage tracks along familiar lines to students of fundamentalist history: his dad studied under T. T. Shields at Toronto Baptist Seminary and then pastored a GARBC church. His grandfather separated from the Northern Baptist Convention when the denomination embraced liberalism. It ended up costing him his pension. John’s great-grandfather stood with Charles Spurgeon in the Downgrade Controversy of the late nineteenth century, a British precursor to America’s fundamentalist-modernist controversy, out of which the GARBC was born.
“It’s an interesting family heritage,” John says. “But although heritage may be a great treasure, it does not save.” At the age of 6, while attending a Bible club rally in downtown Philadelphia, John came to realize his need for a Savior and trusted in Christ for salvation.
As a senior in high school, John dedicated himself to vocational ministry. Like his family heritage, his years in pastoral ministry would also foreshadow his eventual role at the GARBC’s helm: his first post was at Walnut Ridge Baptist Church (Waterloo, Iowa), serving under future Interim National Representative Mark Jackson. In his second pastorate John succeeded Joseph Stowell III, the son of the GARBC’s fourth national representative, as pastor of Southgate Baptist Church (Springfield, Ohio).
Daria had a background in the association, too, even before she met John. When she was a girl, she and her mother attended a GARBC church in Bucyrus, Ohio, where Daria came to know Christ. Shortly thereafter she saw the transformative power of the gospel when her unbelieving father began attending church, too, and before long placed his faith in Christ. “He was always a very moral, faithful man,” Daria remembers, “but after he became a Christian, it added a whole new dimension to our family.”
Years later, when Daria was a student majoring in elementary education at Bowling State University, her parents were indirectly responsible for her meeting John. “My dad was a big fan of John’s dad, even before he met him, because of John’s dad’s radio program,” she remembers. Daria didn’t have a car at the time, so every week her parents would drive her to the church where John’s dad served as pastor. That’s where John and Daria met—and the rest, as they say, is history. They were married in April 1976. Forty-two years later, they’ve written one book on marriage and another on parenting.
For just over two decades prior to assuming his role as national representative, John served in pastoral ministries in Iowa, Ohio, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Looking back, John recognizes that those ministry experiences were vitally important in preparing him for his tenure as national representative.
“It gave to us a realistic awareness of the ups and downs, the challenges, the heartaches, and the thrills of ministry,” he says, “as well as the perseverance to keep going, and a push to strive for excellence. It also taught us to be more accepting and respectful of others and of different approaches to ministry.”
Daria agrees and points out that a national representative needs to be able to relate to and minister in churches all over the country. Moving from Ohio to Washington entailed a certain degree of culture shock, but that helped to broaden the Greenings’ perspective on America’s various subcultures. “Living in different parts of the country really prepared us,” Daria says. “Ministering in the Pacific Northwest is so different from ministering in the Midwest.”
Throughout his various ministries, John has always been active in both state and national Regular Baptist fellowships. He served on the OARBC’s Council of Twelve, and later on the GARBC’s Council of Eighteen. John remembers making a conscious decision to be actively engaged in the association:
Looking at a neighbor’s yard, you might notice how green his grass is on the other side of the fence, and think, “I’d like to have that. It’s so much better than mine.” But instead of griping about your yard, wouldn’t it make more sense to get to work on it and make it the best it can be? When I was younger, sometimes I’d look at the “lawn” of our association and think, “It’s kind of patchy.” And I’d look across the fence at other groups at a distance and think, “Oh man, wouldn’t that be wonderful?” And then one day I kind of consciously made a decision to say—rather than simply pine away for something somebody else has—why not just say, “This is the yard that God’s placed me in, and I’m going to try to make this lawn the best it can be.”
That impulse would eventually impel John to serve as chairman of the Council of Eighteen, and after that as the GARBC’s national representative. Along the way, John and Daria were blessed with two children, Scott and Andrea, who have followed them into vocational ministry. Scott is a pastor at Branch Life Church, a GARBC-affiliated church plant in the Philadelphia area. Andrea serves at the association’s resource center as communications manager for Regular Baptist Ministries.
Ministry Focus: “Together We Can Accomplish More”
From the very beginning of their ministry, the Greenings have championed the virtues of cooperation, coordination, and bridge building. For them, “together we can accomplish more” isn’t just a platitude—it’s a ministry goal, a motivating heartbeat, and the spirit by which Regular Baptists can rise to the challenges of ministering in the twenty-first century. At his installation in 1996, John said:
We fulfill our mission not by isolating ourselves from the world but by following the pattern of Christ. He came into this world rubbing shoulders with dishonest businessmen, individuals who had been unfaithful to marriage partners, people influenced by demonic activity, runaways, hot-tempered men, political zealots, misguided religious fanatics, and confused ideologues. He did not embrace their worldly ways but rather offered them the privilege to share in His eternal life through faith.
In a similar way, John contends, Regular Baptist churches today need to seek points of commonality that will enable strategically coordinated and cooperative engagement in ministry so that—together—we might more effectively impact the world for Christ. “I see tremendous value in our Regular Baptist doctrinal position and our Regular Baptist network,” he says.
But I happen to think it’s bigger than just who we are. It’s “little rb—regular baptist” in that sense, not just GARBC. We don’t need to be embarrassed about our position, but we need to leverage it and keep moving it forward. We’re not just this tiny remnant; there is a vast network of like-minded people that exist throughout the world. And a lot of them exist because of the previous generations who have come along: the missionaries and the faithful pastors who have done the work. Now what we have to do is just leverage that, build on it, and keep that emphasis going forward.
True to his word, John has spent his years in this role striving to be a bridge builder, expanding the association’s sphere of influence and capitalizing on networking opportunities with like-minded believers. Examples of this would include developments in the GARBC’s relationship with the FBFA, international associations, and educational institutions.
Fundamental Baptist Fellowship Association
Make no mistake: the GARBC’s history is far from flawless. Our most shameful hour came during the 1950s and ’60s when a group of like-minded African-American churches sought to join our association. Rather than welcoming them with open arms, the GARBC turned them away. “These pastors and churches were steeped in the doctrine and position of the Regular Baptist movement,” Kevin Bauder has written. “In everything except race they were indistinguishable from the GARBC. Logically and Biblically, the GARBC should have received their churches into its fellowship, modeling the oneness of the Body of Christ at a time when American civilization badly needed such a demonstration.”
But we didn’t. To our shame, we pursued a sinful policy of racial segregation instead. After being rebuffed several times, the African-American churches forged their own association: The Fundamental Baptist Fellowship Association (FBFA). For many decades, there was tension between our two groups. The GARBC had wronged our brothers in Christ, and John Greening knew we could not expect God’s continued blessing unless we publicly confessed our wrongdoing and sought forgiveness and reconciliation.
Even before his installation as national representative, John worked toward that end. Under his leadership as chairman, the Council of Eighteen drafted a resolution on race relations, which openly confessed the GARBC’s shameful history and sought forgiveness for its prior actions:
We . . . acknowledge the sin of excluding brethren because of their race, and express our sincerest regret for the offense against those so treated, including those who formed the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship Association. . . . [W]here we have individually done wrong, we ask forgiveness from our Black-American brethren.
The resolution was passed by the voting messengers in 1996, the same year John began his tenure as national representative.
The FBFA was quick to express their forgiveness, and four years later the two groups formally reconciled during a joint FBFA-GARBC conference in Ames, Iowa. “It certainly marks the beginning of new beginnings for both the FBFA and the GARBC,” said FBFA leader Frank Gainer. “With God’s help and the leadership of His Holy Spirit, ‘together we can do more’ to build bridges of love as a testimony to impact the world for Jesus Christ.”
For several years, the FBFA and GARBC held joint annual conferences as a tangible way of symbolizing their reconciliation and solidarity. Today they continue to enjoy a warm relationship marked by friendship, mutual respect, and cooperation in the work of the ministry.
John felt strongly about the GARBC’s need to increase its influence internationally. By the time his ministry as national representative began, steps had already been taken in that direction through Gospel Literature Services (now Regular Baptist Press International), which had been founded to distribute RBP’s church curriculum all over the world.
“There were all of these groups out there that needed educational resources,” John explains. “They were groups that had matured, in many cases, beyond the North American missionary stage. They had become well-established, indigenous works. So I asked myself, ‘Is it possible for us to cooperate globally?’ ”
To answer that question, John worked closely with his predecessor, Mark Jackson, to build the International Partnership of Fundamental Baptist Ministries, a global network of like-minded churches and church organizations. The IPFBM was formally established in 1999. Its stated purpose is “to join the hands of Bible believing Baptists around the world, encouraging one another to more effectively fulfill the command of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, to carry the gospel to all people everywhere.” Today it comprises over 10,000 churches in nearly 20 countries.
Not bad—particularly for an organization birthed by a national association of just 1,200 churches, give or take.
The GARBC’s decision to drop the “approval system” in 2000 was controversial. Some skeptics insisted that this system—which involved the association formally recognizing certain schools and parachurch organizations as GARBC-approved—was the “glue that held the association together.” But John had noticed various problems popping up in connection with the system. Oftentimes, people misconstrued “approval” to involve some degree of ownership or oversight. “People would write in and say, ‘Why are you and the council not dealing with what’s going on in this or that institution?’” John recalls. “So some tweaking had to be done to the system, and I started leading in the process of reevaluating that whole approval system.”
“I also questioned, from a conflict of interest standpoint, the ability to accurately and fairly assess schools, because all of us were so tied up in these different institutions, either as alumni or being on the board or having children there,” he elaborates.
So the approval system was dropped, and John sought to strengthen the association’s ties with like-minded educational institutions in a more informal manner. Contrary to some skeptics’ expectations, this has resulted in an increase—not a lessening—of educational institutions’ involvement with the GARBC.
“When I started my tenure as national representative, there were only seven schools represented,” Greening explains. “Now there are 11 schools exhibiting at the national conference and advertising in the Baptist Bulletin.”
The BuildUP Philosophy
One of the Greenings’ most enduring contributions will probably prove to be the BuildUP approach to spiritual formation. This concept had its genesis in the confluence of John’s theological training and Daria’s years of experience as a schoolteacher.
“God brought our lives together,” John says, “and I would not have accomplished nearly as much as I have apart from drawing on Daria’s skill set. Particularly in the area of education, because that just catapulted my understanding of an intentional, deliberate approach to moving people toward an instructional goal of likeness to Christ, and the importance of an educational taxonomy.”
Noting that the goal of discipleship is to guide people into ever-increasing Christlikeness, John and Daria set out to put together a taxonomic and Biblical strategy that would be intentional, coordinated, comprehensive, and assessable. The result was the BuildUP philosophy, which is built around seven measurable aims for spiritual development: Believe the gospel; Understand Biblical ethics; Internalize godliness; Learn doctrine; Develop life skills; Uplift others; and Prepare to serve.
“There have to be aims in mind,” John explains. “Every book in the Bible has a purpose and a direction and an intent. And according to 2 Timothy 3:16–17, it’s this: by correction and instruction and reproof, you’re working toward a goal of producing complete people who are equipped for every good work. And so it’s not enough to just hold a doctrinal position. You have to then work toward a goal of sanctification—moving people toward spiritual maturity.” That’s what the BuildUP model is intended to do. It was first introduced in the Greenings’ book Blueprint for Spiritual Maturity and was quickly embraced as an educational philosophy by Regular Baptist Press. Today this approach undergirds all of RBP’s educational resources.
As my interview with the Greenings began to wind down, I asked John if he had any advice he’d like to pass on to the next generation of Regular Baptist pastors and ministry leaders. In good Baptist fashion, he pointed immediately to the centrality of God’s Word:
The preaching and teaching of the Word of God is vitally important. And that means making sure that the terminus of preaching and teaching is not simply with interpretation, but that it ultimately goes on to the step of equipping people for every good work. It’s helping them to be transformed and changed for every dimension of their life. And there’s a constant need to keep that going forward.
At this year’s national conference, voting messengers enthusiastically passed a resolution of appreciation to John and Daria Greening. It read, in part:
You have guided our fellowship of churches with a steady hand and an unswerving loyalty to God and His Word. At every point, you have conducted yourselves with poise, dignity, selflessness, and graciousness. Your “team spirit” approach has instilled in us a recognition and appreciation of the fact that “together we can accomplish more.” . . . Words alone cannot adequately convey how much we appreciate you both and your many years of service to our association and to our Lord. May God continue to bless your lives and ministry in the days ahead.
David Gunn is director of Regular Baptist Press and managing editor of the Baptist Bulletin.