Pastor Shot Dead in the Pulpit: 5 Questions to Heed

Mark Driscoll
Preaching at his 8 a.m. service today, Pastor Fred Winters was shot dead in the pulpit of First Baptist Church of Maryville, Illinois. According to reports, he was shot three times and other shots may have been fired had the gun not apparently jammed. The assailant then pulled a knife and injured himself and other congregants until he was forcibly subdued. No motive has yet been determined. A statement released by the church said, “Please pray for Dr. Winters' family, our two brave members who were injured when they stopped the assailant, for the assailant himself and his family, and for our church members as they deal with this tragic loss. . . . To those who believe in the power of prayer, we covet your prayers right now.” In seeing Pastor Winters with his lovely family, it is devastating to consider what his wife and daughters must be experiencing at this moment and indeed we must all be praying for them and the flock that he shepherded. In addition, this is a very concerning and sober occasion for pastors and other church leaders to examine if they are in fact doing all they can to ensure the safety of their flock and church leaders. I personally have had people try to get on stage to fight me during sermons, someone pull a machete and rush the stage while I was preaching before being stopped by security, and I have preached under threat of death via anonymous email in years past; still, I do not believe we should minister in panic but rather with wise caution.

Therefore, the following questions are offered in hopes of helping church leaders do all they can to ensure the safety of their church.

I want to stress that I am in no way seeking to criticize or call into question anything that the staff or leaders at First Baptist Church did or did not do. My questions below are in no way directed toward any single church or ministry and rather are based on lessons we have learned at Mars Hill Church. I offer them to help churches do all they can to ensure safety. I am in no way critical of any other church on this issue and simply want to serve the safety of all those who gather for worship everywhere. As a general rule, if we are going to err, it is best to err on the side of caution and preparedness.

1. Does your church have a series of written, known, and practiced emergency plans?

For example, if there is a fire, the children will need to be safely escorted out of the building. However, if someone pulls a gun, the last thing you want is to have the children taken outside into the open and instead the children’s ministry needs to be locked down for safety.

2. How secure is your children’s ministry?

Are there security guards ensuring that no one but approved parents are allowed into the children’s area or can anyone walk in off the street and have access to the children? Is there a safe and secure check in and check out procedure for the children?

3. Does your church have security?

Are there trained men who ensure that those who are dangerous, mentally unstable, disruptive, or violent are not allowed in the building and if they are in the building that they are escorted out safely?

4. Does your church have a warm relationship with the local police?

Are you friends with the police officers in your area and can you reach them quickly in a crisis? Have they met with your church staff to inform you of what to do under various emergencies and what you can do to work with them to ensure the safety of your people?

5. Does your church have a policy for potentially dangerous people?

For example, are registered sex offenders (including those registered at the highest level and likely to offend again) required to check in and be escorted on property, if they are allowed to worship at all? When someone is disruptive or dangerous, does your church have a policy for filing a restraining order to keep them from walking on church property? What do you do with threats that come in against the pastor or church?

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