Soul winner: Harry Williams

November 20, 2012

by Dan Nelson

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



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Daniel Wilcox


Glad to hear what a great life Harry Williams had of winning people for Christ.

But I’m confused about the latter part of your article. You mention Saddleback Church.

But a pastor of Saddleback told me personally that God “passes over” humans–ie doesn’t will/love to save some of us:-(. I could never continue witnessing if I thought God didn’t love us, didn’t will for everyone to be saved. And when I quoted Billy Graham’s famous quotes of God’s love for every single person, the Saddleback pastor told me that such “theology was off.”:-( Saddleback has had a wondrous ministry,
but seems to have turned to hard Calvinism now.

And then you refer to Spurgeon! I, too, used to admire him.

But Spurgeon, theologically, was a hard Calvinist subscribing to all 5 points of Calvinism. I have some of his books right here on my bookshelf. I used to so admire him and his “soul-winning” emphasis, until I read his book
in which he declared that God only wills for a limited number of humans to be saved,
that we don’t have any choice, etc. and where he says that “Calvinism is the Gospel.”

How can we continue to hope and to witness when we and our listeners get such contradictory messages about whether God loves them or not?

Such tragic contradictions:-(

David R. Brumbelow

Good article and testimony.
Revival Teams are a great ministry.
David R. Brumbelow

Dan Nelson

I am reporting all that I have seen and heard. I don’t believe Saddleback and Ric Warren believe what you have described since the church was started to reached the unchurched with the gospel. Rick Warren was on first Student Evangelism Team along with Harry’s son Steve. I sat with him and talked for about an hour at the reunion.. I can assure you Rick Warren still wants to and is winning people to Christ in his ministry. You may not agree with his methods and I could never have a “Rick Warren type ministry”. But Paul rejoiced in Phil. 1:18 for those when people to Christ even if they hated him. Can’t we do the same with Saddleback? We had the reunion of the Evangelism teams there because Rick was heavily involved for 4 years on these teams and was thrilled at the people won to Christ through them.
I don’t agree with all Spurgeon believed since I am not a 5 point Calvinist but he did win people to Christ. One of the greatest evangelist of all time was George Whitefield. He believed God would save the elect but used the preaching of the gospel to do so. He said, “I don’t know who the elect are so I preach the gospel to everyone and let God call them out. Spurgeon said Whitefield was his human model behind Christ who he patterned his ministry after. 5 point Calvinist can win people to Christ as well as we who identify with General Baptist. May we rejoice in however one comes to Christ no matter who brings them to Him

    Daniel Wilcox


    Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

    You wrote: “I don’t believe Saddleback and Rick Warren believe what you have described…”

    I didn’t believe it at first either when I read that Rick Warren claimed he was a “mongerist” and “Reformed.”

    Keep in mind he was one of my heroes along with Adrian Rogers (one of my family’s heroes), Billy Graham, etc. I’ve attended church at Saddleback, dialogged twice with Saddleback pastors, etc.

    But recently on various sites, I read exact quotes from Rick Warren claiming that he was now a “mongerist” and “Reformed.” This totally contradicted everything I had understood that he believed. I thought he truly believed that God loves and wills everyone to be saved. But, of course, “mongerism” and “Reformed” are adamant denials of this.

    I emailed one of the pastors at Saddleback and he emailed me back the very quotes I gave you–that “God passes over people” (ie doesn’t will for them to be saved) and that theology which claims God’s love to save everyone– is “off.” (quotes from Billy Graham emphasizing God wills for every single person to be saved)

    Check this out for yourself. Do a Google search on Rick Warren and Calvinism or speak with Saddleback.

    I must admit it is still hard for me to believe. It totally devastated me.

    Then you add: “You may not agree with his methods and I could never have a “Rick Warren type ministry”.

    Actually, I was never a naysayer on Warren’s methods. I think through preaching the Good News in a vivid way he has reached many.

    His drastic change in theology is the reason that now I am so devastated that he claims to be a “mongerist.”:-(

    Then you say: “I don’t agree with all Spurgeon believed since I am not a 5 point Calvinist but he did win people to Christ. One of the greatest evangelist of all time was George Whitefield. He believed God would save the elect but used the preaching of the gospel to do so.”

    But these two ministers didn’t believe God loves us:-(, but only a limited number of humans. They didn’t believe we have a choice to accept God,
    didn’t even think God sent Jesus to die for us”-(

    How tragic is that?

    What they preached wasn’t the Gospel, wasn’t the Good News because they preached that God unconditionally elects and only loves to save some people.
    All of the rest of us God “passes over, doesn’t will to save:-(

    I would agree though that God has used those with faulty theology. God can reach people even by what is wrong.

    But shouldn’t we be preaching the Good News–that God lovingly wills for everyone to be saved, that everyone may respond to God, that no one is born hopeless?


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