J.T. Elliff, Father of 4 Southern Baptist Leaders, Dies at 97

J.T. Elliff
J.T. Elliff

J.T. Elliff, father of Southern Baptist leaders Tom, Bill and Jim Elliff and Sandy Smith who is married to evangelist Bailey Smith, died Dec. 12 in Moore, Okla. He was 97.

Tom Elliff, immediate past president of the International Mission Board, recounted in a blog that day, “Just before my father’s bodily tent was unstaked from the bed and transported out of the room, we sang his favorite hymn, ‘My Jesus I Love Thee.’ Though struggling to hold back the tears, we made it through that last verse. ‘In mansions of glory, and endless delight, I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright. I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow, If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, tis now.’

“Bye Dad! So happy that at last you are home!” Elliff, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote.

J.T. Elliff, a pastor’s son, was the founding director of the Arkansas Baptist Convention’s missions department and executive director of the Capitol Baptist Association in Oklahoma City during his ministry. He also pastored churches in Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Arizona.

“The remarkable thing about Dad was that he died loving Jesus after 97 years,” Bill Elliff, pastor of The Summit Church in Little Rock, told Baptist Press.

“He was a consummate mentor to all of us even until his death,” Bill Elliff said. “I was in his association in Oklahoma City where hundreds of pastors were helped and encouraged through his ministry. And, in Arkansas now, I have run into numbers of people who were helped by Dad’s ‘Spiritual Life’ weekend conferences in which he taught the basics of walking by the Spirit. This was something he discovered in desperation when he was pastoring in Fordyce, Ark., and it changed his life forever,” an outgrowth, in part, of prayer meetings he led in a sawmill.

“My father was always about evangelism,” Jim Elliff, president of Christian Communicators Worldwide based in Parkville, Mo., said in comments to Baptist Press. “Perhaps this was his principal contribution to the churches he pastored. This was at the forefront also of his ministry in Arkansas as director of missions and evangelism and in Oklahoma City as director of missions.

“When he pastored in Fordyce, Ark., as a young man he set out to talk with someone every day about Christ,” Jim Elliff recounted. “Once this meant getting out of bed to wake up another man already in bed, who opened his heart to Christ. His love for the Gospel continued until the last years of his life when he invited his neighbors to his backyard to eat and hear the truth about Christ. He carried on with a fervor that was found in his parents and that his children hope to pass along as well.”

J.T. Elliff retired in 1971 but another saga in his life began 10 years later when he divorced his wife Jewell and married another woman. Yet, a remarkable story of forgiveness unfolded.

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SOURCE: Baptist Press
Art Toalston

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