Several notable leaders in the evangelical church died in 2020. Some passed due to complications associated with COVID-19, while for others that was not the case. Either way, these leaders are no longer with us but their work and the memories associated with them live on in the lives they impacted.
9 Well-Known Church Leaders Who Died in 2020
March 10, 2020
Sister Dory, the Rev. Adoracion Jose Villanueva
Sister Dory, along with her husband, Brother Eddie Villanueva, founded Jesus Is Lord Church Worldwide (JIL) in the Philippines 1978. JIL has 5 million members in 60 countries. Sister Dory is being remembered as “a spiritual mother, a competent teacher, a prayer warrior, and a model of faith.” She was 73 when she passed.
March 27, 2020
The Rev. Joseph Lowery
The Rev. Joseph Lowery is most known for his work in the Civil Rights Movement, working alongside people like Martin Luther King, Jr. A United Methodist minister, Lowery offered a prayer at President Obama’s inauguration. He also co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with King. Lowery was 98 years old.
April 20, 2020
Pastor and former president of Exodus International, Sy Rogers was notable in the evangelical world for leaving a homosexual and transsexual lifestyle behind to follow Christ. Rogers lost his battle with kidney cancer at the age of 63.
May 7, 2020
Darrin Patrick served as a teaching pastor at Seacoast Church, and was also the founding pastor of The Journey Church in St. Louis, Missouri. He was a founding member of the Pastor’s Collective and the author of multiple books. Patrick was fired from Journey Church in 2016 and later submitted to a restoration process under the direction of Gregg Surratt. Patrick, who was only 49, died by suicide.
May 19, 2020
Author and apologist Ravi Zacharias founded Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in 1984. Ravi, along with his team, spoke to thousands of people around the world about apologetics and addressed questions of doubt. In more recent years, Zacharias has been accused of sexual misconduct and abuse. A recent report from an independent investigation found some of the accusations to be credible. Zacharias had a brief battle with sarcoma before passing away at the age of 74.
July 17, 2020
The Rev. C.T. Vivian
C.T. Vivian was a Missouri native who worked in the civil rights movement. Starting in 1947, Vivian protested segregated lunch counters before joining Martin Luther King, Jr. In addition to serving as a pastor, Vivian served as an editor for a Baptist Sunday School publisher and dean of divinity at Shaw University Seminary in Raleigh, North Carolina. Vivian was 95.
July 17, 2020
James Innell Packer (or J.I. Packer as he was more widely known) was one of the most influential evangelical theologians of the twentieth century. Over his lifetime he published over 160 books, and was best known as the author of the 1973 best-selling book Knowing God, that sold over 1.5 million copies and has been translated into more than a dozen languages. He was 93.
October 20, 2020
The older sister of Chuck Swindoll, Luci Swindoll authored several books. The popular Christian book Wide My World, Narrow My Bed on singleness was written by Luci in 1982. In addition to writing about singleness and serving God, Luci took a role in over 30 operas at the Dallas Civic Opera and worked 30 years for Mobil Oil in Dallas, Texas. She was also involved in the popular conferences Women of Faith. She was 88.
November 9, 2020
Bishop Harry Jackson
Bishop Harry Jackson was the senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Maryland. Known for his conservatism on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, Jackson was an informal evangelical advisor to President Trump. Jackson founded the High Impact Leadership Coalition (HILC). He was 66.
Other Lesser-Known, But Equally Important, People Who Died in 2020
In addition to these leaders who had more public profiles and ministries, the church lost many others throughout the year. We recall the beloved youth minister in Seymour, Indiana who died from complications with the flu earlier in the year.
As the year was fraught with insecurity and fear, we can’t help but be thankful for the ministers who served their congregations with faithfulness and diligence. Many of these ministers died from COVID-19, including 30 in the Church of God in Christ denomination during the early stages of the pandemic. Another eight ministers from various denominations were honored in a mass obituary The New York Times published about victims of COVID-19.
As church leaders were major contributors to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, we remember other Civil Rights heroes like John Lewis who helped our country take a step closer to becoming a more perfect union.
All of these people, regardless of how they died, lived and brought light and life to the people around them. We will miss them and remember their contributions to the world.