By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
CLARKSVILLE — Jimmy Terry, founding pastor of Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church and Tabernacle Christian School in Clarksville, died June 21 after a battle with cancer. He was 79.
Terry was well respected in the Clarksville community and the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
The African-American leader served on the Vision 2021 planning team that was approved by messengers at the 2010 annual meeting. The team’s work led to the eventual adoption of the Five Objectives in 2014, a series of long-range goals for the convention focusing on baptisms and discipleship; church planting; church revitalization; and giving through the Cooperative Program and the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions. In 1998, he became the first black pastor to serve as president of the Tennessee Pastors Conference.
Terry also was a former trustee of Baptist Memorial Health Care in Memphis.
Terry garnered national attention in 2014 when he spent about $100,000 of his own money after taking out a loan to purchase signs which proclaimed “Christmas Is All About JESUS!” He later bought signs for Easter as well.
He said at the time, “When you step out in faith, Jesus will not let you sink. If you don’t believe it, just ask Peter.” Terry was confident that churches and individuals would raise the money needed. The money, however, did not come in and he was left with about $45,000 in debt. After he was diagnosed with Stage 4 prostate cancer last fall, several local churches rallied to raise the money so his family would not be left with the debt.
“Pastor Jimmy was one of the kindest, most encouraging, and visionary pastors I have ever had the joy of knowing,” said Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
“He was a church planter before church planting was so popular. He and Mrs. Terry and Tabernacle Baptist reflected the character and countenance of Christ. He was consistently kingdom-focused and only wanted to promote his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Davis added that “heaven’s gain is Tennessee’s loss. But we will be seeing the eternal fruit from the gospel seed Jimmy Terry planted for many years to come.”
Fellow Clarksville pastor Larry Robertson of Hilldale Baptist Church noted that Terry was “one of the most Christ-like men I’ve ever known. Everything about his life proclaimed Jesus!”
He added that Terry called him many times on his knees to “pray with me and for me. I want to be more like him.”