The First Baptist Church of Hammond in Indiana has chosen its new pastor to replace former leader Jack Schaap, who is facing sentencing for engaging in a sexual affair with a minor.
John Wilkerson was voted in by 94 percent of First Baptist Church members to lead the 15,000-strong congregation. He will officially begin serving on Feb. 17, and will seek to continue the healing and rebuilding process as the community seeks to distance itself from former pastor Schaap, according to FBC Hammond.
According to the church's website, Wilkerson graduated from Hyles-Anderson school in 1989 and taught at the church's City Baptist Schools before moving on to teach at a Baptist school in Long Beach, Calif. He then became a principal of Calvary Christian School in Baton Rouge, La., in 1993, before returning to California in 2000 to become the pastor of First Baptist Church of Long Beach. There he oversaw the church as its congregation almost double its size, from 849 to 1,700 people, and led services in English, Korean and Spanish, reaching out to the broader community.
Wilkerson and his wife, Linda, have been married for over 23 years, and have raised nine children. One of them, Tyler, tragically died in Aug. 2008 in a car accident at the age of 17. The Sunday after his passing, Pastor Wilkerson delivered a sermon to the congregation titled "God Makes No Mistakes."
Schaap, 55, pleaded guilty in September in U.S. District Court to transporting a minor across state lines for sexual relations. Early in January he said in a court filing that his affair with the then-16-year-old girl began after church-related stress and long hours put him in a state of depression. Speaking to The Christian Post, a spokesman for First Baptist Church of Hammond said that while Schaap had been a talented preacher, he made big mistakes and should not use stress as an excuse for his actions.
During the police investigation into the affair, FBC Hammond is said to have fully co-operated with detectives and removed Schaap from his position right away. A clergy member is believed to have first reported suspicions of the pastor's behavior after he saw a photo on Schaap's phone of the pastor and the unidentified girl kissing.
After firing Schaap at the end of August, First Baptist Church has welcomed many guest speakers and pastors to preach while they began discussing candidates for the full-time position.