John Adolf Held, Baptist leader, was born to Emanuel and Louisa (Braun) Held on March 28, 1869, in Czernowitz, Austria. Although a Catholic in Austria, he was attracted to the Baptist faith by Baptist friends, and after immigrating to the United States at age sixteen he joined the Baptist Church. In 1891, after learning English, Held entered Baylor University, where he was the business manager of the first Baylor annual in 1896. He was also captain of the first bicycle club, co-organizer of the first glee club, and composer of the first class song. He received an A.B. degree in 1896, the year he married Annie Hardie, with whom he had seven children.
After graduation Held became the first business manager of Howard Payne College (now Howard Payne University) and was ordained to the ministry by the First Baptist Church in Brownwood in 1896. From 1897 to 1929 he was the pastor of churches in Comanche, Sanger, McKinney, Tyler, Taylor, San Marcos, Stamford, Bryan, and Mexia. He earned an A.M. degree from Baylor University in 1905. His only pastorate outside Texas was at the First Baptist Church in Natchez, Mississippi, from 1906 to 1910. Held left the pastorate in 1929 and moved to Waco, where he was a missionary under the State Mission Board to European peoples in Texas-especially Germans, Bohemians, and Poles-from 1930 to 1940. In 1941, at age seventy-two, he moved from Waco to Houston, where for ten years he was editor and publisher of the weekly Gulf Coast Baptist.
Deeply committed to expanding the opportunity for Bible study, Held helped initiate or pioneer Bible study at all levels. His success brought a request for him to write the first study manual on the organized Bible-class movement for the Sunday School Board. This book, The Organized Class (1915), was widely taught throughout Southern Baptist churches and seminaries. In the early 1900s, when Sunday school was considered strictly for children, Held promoted and taught a Sunday morning interdenominational Business Men's Bible Class. Such classes became his trademark in successive pastorates. As a strong supporter of the Baptist Young People's Union, he became a popular teacher and speaker at the Palacios and Lampasas encampments, which he also helped organize and develop. He established a "children's church" in Bryan and was one of the first pastors to incorporate vacation Bible school into his church program. He was also a forerunner in using the Royal Ambassador program. A request from Texas A&M president William Bennett Bizzell to Bryan pastors for help in ministering to college students stimulated Held to promote a new movement among Baptists. After his repeated motions, the State Mission Board of the Baptist General Convention voted to support the Baptist efforts among students on college campuses in Texas and authorized Held to engage a student pastor for Texas A&M. These developments were the beginning of the Baptist Student Union movement in the South.
In addition to The Organized Class, Held was the author of European Missions in Texas (1936) and Religion a Factor in Building Texas (1940) and coauthor of History of the B.S.U. Movement (1941). In 1900 he edited the Baptist Visitor in Sherman. He was also an associate editor of the Texas Evangel. As a participant in denominational affairs, he served on numerous boards and committees, including the Executive Board of the General Convention of Texas. He traveled and led tour groups frequently to Europe and Palestine during the 1920s and 1930s. He also served as an army chaplain during World War I. He received two honorary degrees-a D.D. from Mississippi College in 1913 and a Litt.D. from Webster University in 1938. After the death of his first wife in 1930, Held married Lelia E. Tuttle Williams in 1936. He died in Waco on July 28, 1951.