Leadership and Martyrdom: a pastor gives his life in the Midwest

Six years ago was a Sunday much like today, but would end very differently at First Baptist Church in Maryville IL.


FBC was a growing church (at the time about 1,200 average attendance) with a dynamic pastor who had been at the helm for more than two decades. Pastor Fred was a visionary leader who had a plan to spread the church through a multi-site model, eventually having at least three locations. That’s where I come in.

My wife and I were looking into church planting and other pastoring options when I got a call from this guy named Fred who pastored a church in the middle of a corn field in Illinois. I had been talking with Pastor Fred and FBC Maryville for about 6-months before March 8, 2009.

The plan was for me to come on staff as Fred’s “right hand man” and help him as he would lead the church into this new phase. He had expressed to me the desire for me to assume the role of caring for the “main campus” as their Pastor as the church expanded into more campuses and he was the overall “Lead Pastor” who would provide leadership for the church as a whole.

I have had some excellent mentors in my life, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to continue my development under the leadership of a great Pastor, but that would not end up being the case, and the church’s plans took a dramatic turn…

Beth, Reagan, and Myself came to FBC Maryville that Sunday March 8, 2009. This was the tragic day that Pastor Fred Winters was shot and killed while he preached the gospel during the 8:15AM service.

Reagan had just been born less than 3-months prior so Beth was in the nursing mother’s room while I went around to the classrooms to say hello to people. Beth had hit it off with Cindy Winters (Pastor Fred’s wife), some staff wives, and other ladies of the church on a previous visit, so she really wanted to come back on the day we were presented to the church. The original plan was just for me to be there, in which case I would have likely been in the room if not on the stage when the shooting took place.

It was a scary experience, but one through which God spoke to us and confirmed to us that this is where he had called us. Fred was a master of building a team and in many ways I was already being woven into the fabric of the church and staff. I knew this was a unique opportunity and this church was going to do great things for God’s Kingdom, and we did. God changed our plan from one of learning from a strong leader, to helping provide leadership (along with the rest of the staff) in a turbulent time in which the Lord came through in a big way!

During that first year at FBC Maryville as I oversaw all the families of the church as their Adult Pastor, we saw over 100 people baptized! That was the first time in the church’s history that they broke the 100 mark in annual baptisms. That would have meant a lot to Pastor Fred. By the time we left the church about 3 1/2 years later the church had grown to over 1,400 in average attendance, what a wild ride!

Now on the 6th anniversary of Pastor Fred’s passing, our daughter Reagan, who was just a couple months old at the time, will be baptized at Crossroads Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, TX where I’m the Sr. Pastor.

Church Executive was kind enough to ask me to write about my experience. It came out in print in the August 2010 edition, and you can read the article Online as well.

Hopefully this will make you think… Life is short, serve the Lord every minute, you never know when your last will come.

About John Harris

I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
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