Pastor Emeritus and Founder – Dr. John McNeal, Jr.
As the third child of a sharecropper, Dr. John McNeal, Jr., was born in Metter, Georgia, during the Great Depression. Influenced by the steadfast faith of his parents and grandmother, he came to know the Lord as a young teen and had a great desire to know the Bible. Although no one in his family had graduated from high school, he had a thirst for knowledge and wanted to become an educator. He asked the Lord to enable him to finish high school and go on to college and graduate school.
Dr. McNeal served in the U.S. Air Force for four years after high school, part of that time in the Korean War. It was while in the Air Force that the Lord called him into the gospel ministry. Following his service in the Air Force, he went to Fort Valley State Teachers’ College on the G.I. Bill. A mutual friend introduced him to Earlene Hazel, who was attending Grace Bible College in Omaha, Nebraska. They began a relationship by correspondence and married after graduation.
To have a firm foundation and be adequately equipped to teach the Word of God, Dr. McNeal applied to seminaries known for their sound theological training. Although he was turned down by some because of his race, he was accepted at Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. He and Mrs. McNeal moved there, where he worked his way through school.
While at Grace, he met the grandson of the Chairman of the Board of Carver Bible Institute and College in Atlanta, Georgia. Carver was ministering to black students, but the entire faculty was white. They asked Dr. McNeal to join their faculty after seminary. At the same time, a mission agency under the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) asked Carver if he could use their chapel to start a church since the black students could not attend white churches.
Dr. McNeal followed the Lord’s leading to Atlanta and served for 23 years as Dean of Students and professor at Carver. He founded the Atlanta Bible Baptist Church in 1964 (see Church History below). He began to serve as pastor fulltime in 1984.
Dr. McNeal had asked the Lord to help him go to college and graduate school. One day while teaching at Carver, he received a letter from the Veterans Administration which said, “Congratulations, you have been awarded another 36 months of education on the G.I. Bill.” This resulted in him attending Georgia State University; the Lord had answered the prayer he prayed as a teenager in full!
Dr. McNeal’s life verse is Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” His desire is to know Christ and make Him known through His Word. He has asked the Lord for “a million souls.” Since the Lord has given him a teaching and preaching ministry for over 50 years, he has many sons and daughters in the ministry all over the world. He has helped train many pastors and missionaries who have started churches themselves. He believes the Lord will answer his request for a million souls in full.
Dr. McNeal holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Science from Fort Valley State Teachers’ College, a Bachelor of Religious Education Degree from Grace Theological Seminary, a Masters in Administration from Georgia State University, and a Doctor of Divinity in Bible and Theology from Carver Bible Institute and College.
He is an Emeritus board member of Clarks Summit University and Baptist Bible Seminary. He is a lifetime member and Chaplain of Goodwill Industries of North Georgia. He serves as Southern Representative on the Steering Council for the Baptist Fellowship Association (formerly, Fundamental Baptist Fellowship Association).
Dr. McNeal announced his retirement and transitioned to Pastor Emeritus in January 2021. He and Mrs. McNeal have two daughters, two sons-in-law, and two grandchildren.
Going from door-to-door, Dr. and Mrs. McNeal shared the gospel throughout southwest Atlanta to the “haves and the have-nots” in 1964. They received numerous promises to come to church. Since many failed to keep their word, Pastor McNeal jokes that he was probably “the most lied to pastor in Atlanta.” Undaunted, the McNeals persisted and church services were held in the chapel of the Carver Bible Institute and College.
Dr. McNeal started the church on three essentials: a desire that no one would be ignorant of the Word of God, men would take their biblical roles in the church and home, and no one would be turned away. The importance of the Word of God was indicated by including the word “Bible” in the name of the church. Dr. McNeal wanted to “dispel ignorance” of the Bible in the black community.
In addition, men would serve in positions of leadership as spelled out in the Bible. Specifically, this refers to the offices of pastor/teacher or elder (1 Timothy 3:1-3) and deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13). Opportunities were given to men to fulfill their biblical roles. For example, at ABBC men had nursery duty along with their wives to reinforce to children that the male is the head of the family (1 Corinthians 11:3).
Finally, since “God is not one to show partiality” (Acts 10:34-35) and because of the racism he has experienced, Dr. McNeal knew how critical it was that the church doors be open to everyone. “Racism, hatred, and segregation are not a part of God,” he said. “Anyone can attend ABBC.”
Over the years, the Lord gave Dr. McNeal many opportunities to get involved as it relates to race relations. For example, several African-American pastors seeking fellowship with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) had been turned away during the Civil Rights era. They had founded the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship Association (FBFA) in 1962. He joined and has been actively involved in this association of black fundamental evangelicals.
Under the leadership of Dr. McNeal, ABBC has always had a burden for winning souls and sponsors many home and foreign missionaries. The church is a member of the Baptist Fellowship Association (formerly FBFA) and the GARBC.