Dan Yeary, former pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church and longtime Baptist minister, died Jan. 4 in Houston. He was 81.

“We are grateful for Pastor Dan’s 20 years of faithful leadership at North Phoenix Baptist Church,” North Phoenix Pastor Noe Garcia wrote  in a social media post. “He led with the Holy Spirit, humility and a passion that every generation would know Jesus. Pastor Dan always said, ‘The best is yet to come.’ So, it is with both earthly sorrow and heavenly joy we know the Lord welcomed Pastor Dan into heaven.”

Dick Stafford, who followed Yeary on staff at South Main Baptist Church in Houston and served as executive pastor with Yeary at North Phoenix, described him as “always the mentor, always the coach, always the encourager.” Speaking at the memorial service, held Jan. 10 at South Main, Stafford said, “Everything about Dan Yeary and everything about his understanding of the gospel was about love.”

David Johnson, Arizona Southern Baptist Convention executive director, called Yeary “a great friend to me and Arizona Southern Baptists.”

“I have often said that he was the most gracious man I ever met!” Johnson said. “He was the same in person as he was from the pulpit, and his life demonstrated the truth that he preached. His care for his wife, Melinda, in her illness was an example to us all of the kind of love a husband should have for his wife. I am truly thankful for the opportunity to know this godly man. He made a difference in the lives of everyone he touched!”

As a student at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, Yeary served on staff at Colonial Hill Baptist Church in Snyder and Southside Baptist Church in Abilene. He and Melinda Millican married on March 31, 1961.

Following his graduation from Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, where he received the J. M. Price Scholarship Award as outstanding student in the School of Religious Education, Yeary began leading student work for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

After two years, he was called to lead the college ministry at First Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas. Under his leadership, the ministry grew so large the church initiated one of the first student-led worship services in the country. More than 1,000 students attended each Sunday.

From Lubbock, the Yearys moved to South Main Baptist Church in Houston, where he served as associate pastor and developed a pioneering ministry to single adults.

In 1975, he was called to University Baptist Church in Coral Gables, Fla., as senior pastor. Under his leadership, the church grew to exceed 2,000 in attendance any given Sunday.

After 18 years in Florida, the Yearys followed God’s call to Arizona, where for two decades he served as pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church. Facing the challenge of leading the church and being his wife’s primary caregiver during her long struggle with Multiple Sclerosis, Yeary stepped down from his pastorate at North Phoenix.

The couple moved to Waco, Texas, in 2013, where he was interim pastor of First Woodway Baptist Church and adjunct professor at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary. Following Melinda’s death in 2016, he moved to Houston in 2017 to be closer to his children and grandchildren.

Yeary was preceded in death by his beloved wife of 55 years, Melinda, and his brother, Ron (Speedy) Yeary. He is survived by son Wes Yeary and daughter-in-law Erica; daughter Missy Yeary Wells and son-in-law Steve; son Doak Yeary and daughter-in-law Amy; and 10 grandchildren. He was looking forward to the birth of his first great-grandchild at the end of January.

–The Baptist Standard and Portraits contributed to this story.