A number of people have asked me to comment on the tragic shooting in Maryville, Illinois of a Baptist pastor in the pulpit on Sunday. What do I think? Do I feel safe in church?
First and foremost, let me say that my heart aches for the family of Pastor Fred Winters. By all accounts, he was a faithful servant of the Lord, ministering to the First Baptist Church of Maryville for 22 years. He leaves behind a wife and two children. They are in my prayers. It was touching to see the photos of church members embracing and praying outside the church as they tried to make sense of the event and process their grief.
There is undeniably a risk connected with every profession. Churches and Christian ministries are not immune. (Think about the young people gunned down while training for mission work at the YWAM camp in Colorado and the two young ladies killed by the same gunman in the parking lot of New Life Church in Colorado Springs.) Ministry keeps you in the public eye, we need to be accessible and approachable, and that can make our exposure to risk a little higher.
For these very reasons, some of my colleagues in ministry in other places have chosen to surround themselves with security in hopes of insulating themselves from this danger. While I respect what they are doing and why, I would personally resist that approach tooth and nail. I cannot imagine doing ministry on Sunday morning surrounded by guys with earplugs talking into their watches. You cannot do ministry insulated from people.
In every major worship service we conduct, police officers are present. They will often remind me that bad things can happen. These officers have told me, “We have your back.” I certainly appreciate that. Ultimately, we must do what we are called to do and trust in the Lord for his protection. We will trust in the Lord who says, “If you make the Most High your dwelling – even the Lord, who is my refuge – then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. (Psalm 91:9)