For 28 years, Dan Nelson has served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Camarillo, Calif. Pastor Nelson will submit a series of posts to SBCToday about people who influenced him for the sake of evangelism.
Harry Williams was a successful California pastor who became director of evangelism for the California Southern Baptist Convention. He served in this position for almost three decades. During his watch in this position great things happened among and through Southern Baptists. The Lord led Harry in many areas such as Lay Evangelism School, Disciple Ministry in churches, Lay Renewal Weekends. The most important aspect to me of Harry’s ministry was the one I was personally involved in: student led evangelism teams.
Youth led evangelism teams enlisted college and seminary students as trios of preachers, music directors and fellowship leaders. Harry’s son Steve began to witness at his school and was paired with a relatively unknown California Baptist College student at the time named Rick Warren. They constituted the first youth led evangelism team for the state convention in 1971. For more than four decades, hundreds of college and seminary students were involved in this explosive ministry.
I got involved as a first year seminary student at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. Another student at the seminary, Janice Rowan, served as a fellowship leader and pianist on my team. We were trained by Harry to go into churches, lead witness training, and preach in meetings for the whole church specifically designed to reach youth with the gospel. My fellowship leader eventually became my wife the next summer. Needless to say the team ministries became a life-altering event for me. We were in more than a dozen churches my first year in seminary. It was a great time of leading people to Christ and seeing revival in churches within in driving distance of the seminary.
Latter in the spring we went to Camp Sugarpine outside of Fresno and were trained for summer teams by Harry, several leaders in the state and Rick Warren. It was my first time to meet Rick. That summer I preached in meetings throughout the LA area. Again we saw people saved in every church. We even had a group of young people from one church that followed us from church to church. I got married after that summer and transferred to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
When I graduated I from New Orleans, and was interested in coming back out west as a mission field, I wrote to Harry. The day he got my letter, Howard Ramsey, evangelism director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, contacted Harry and was wanting a recommendation of recent seminary graduate that could serve in training students for revival teams like we had been on in California, training youth to witness and serve as his associate. Harry was reading my letter when Howard called him about his need. Harry said, “I think I have just the guy you are looking for.” I went to the Northwest and have served there and in California for over 36 year in that position and two churches.
God used Harry Williams to send many into the vast mission field of California and the West Coast. Harry was an encourager and a wonderful instructor in how to lead people to Christ and conduct meetings in churches. He believed in people and mentored them in such a way so that they believed God could use them greatly no matter what the obstacle.
Harry was a man of vision. In a sense, the Saddleback ministry got its beginning through Rick Warren’s vision cultivated in those first student led evangelism teams. Harry’s son, Steve, continues to pastor a growing church in Fresno after serving on staff with Rick at Saddleback.
Even in death Harry still encourages. Last summer we had the 40th Anniversary of the student led revival teams at Saddleback. Rick Warren hosted the reunion of those who had served on teams. Harry got us all excited to see one another and be there to recollect all God did in starting us in ministry and all that He did on the teams. One week before the reunion Harry went on to glory. We stared with a memorial service. People shared of Harry’s influence. I was the first one to share the story I have just shared with you. I am serving in California because of God using Harry Williams to encourage and motivate me to dream and act on those dreams.
Monty McWhorter, Harry’s associate for many years, revealed in the 40th reunion Harry’s vision of “being dead yet speaking.” He said, “Harry wanted you to come back to this place not just for good times and wonderful remembrances. He believed that fire in you on these teams could be rekindled to see great revival in your ministries and a great spiritual awakening through you once again in this county. He believed God wanted to do something again through such commitment you exhibited on these teams. What a legacy Harry has: to be able to motivate and bring you together for even greater things than we had experienced long ago on these teams. Harry influenced many and will see much fruits of encouragement in God’s eternal kingdom. I don’t know how to measure that influence. In a way it is immeasurable! Only God knows that influence and will reward it one day.”
Harry’s reward is great in glory because of all the young preachers he has encouraged who have, in turn, won many to Christ through all these years. I am one of them and will always thank God for using Harry Williams for encouraging me. His legacy is one of a trainer of soul-winners, a multiplier of ministry.
Spurgeon said that a soul winner is one who fills bottles of water by throwing water on a row of bottles and some of the water filling them. A trainer of soul winners though is one who takes the bottle individually and fills them up with water one at a time.
Harry was the latter in training soul winners. May we realize the impact of Harry’s ministry and go and do likewise.
Harry Williams, soul winner