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To Protect and to Serve

Iowa pastor also serves as police chief

By Christina Quick

When Assemblies of God Pastor Tim Leathers steps behind the pulpit and looks out across his congregation, he sees the faces of people he knows well. He has prayed with them around the altars, baptized them, buried their grandparents, and dedicated their babies. He has arrested a few of them as well.

The senior pastor of Heartland Fellowship Church in Wilton, Iowa, is also the city’s chief of police. In the close-knit community of 3,000 people, the two professions frequently intersect.

“Sometimes I look over at the youth section and just smile,” Leathers says. “I think to myself, I’ve arrested that kid and that kid. Now they’re in church and serving God. I’ve had two hands in helping guide them.”

Leathers became a law enforcement officer four years ago to help supplement his salary as pastor of a small, struggling congregation. Within a year, he rose to the top position on the police force.

Leathers says his church has since grown to the point that he could get by without the second income. However, he views his police work as a natural extension of his ministry.

“I have counseled more people in my police chief’s office than I ever counseled in my pastoral office,” Leathers says. “I have people come in almost weekly and say, ‘Can we talk?’ I’ve led many individuals to the Lord as police chief that I might not have reached within the walls of my church.”

Leathers has arrested Brenda Bowman’s 18-year-old son two times on drug- and alcohol-related charges. The teen now attends Heartland Fellowship.

Bowman’s older son, 23-year-old Ryan, has also struggled with substance abuse. Leathers recently baptized Ryan and helped him get into a Teen Challenge program.

“Pastor Tim has impacted my family in so many ways,” says Brenda Bowman, who attends Heartland Fellowship. “He is the real deal. He came into our lives as a law enforcement officer, but he also demonstrated the love of Christ. I believe it was no coincidence that he showed up at our door.”

When Leathers became a police officer, he told his supervisor he would not be shy about proclaiming Christ to people who needed to hear the message.

“I said, ‘Just so you know, when I’m standing someplace with a bad scene and I feel the need, I’m going to tell them that what they’re looking for is Jesus Christ,’ ” Leathers says. “He looked me in the eye and said, ‘Go for it.’ ”

Over the last four years, Leathers has done just that. He has led handcuffed drunks to Christ while transporting them to jail. He has prayed with distraught people at accident scenes. He has shared the gospel with assault victims. He has comforted families with Scripture after informing them that a loved one was killed in an accident.

“I’m in their living rooms when they’re in the middle of a domestic dispute,” Leathers says. “I’m with their teens when they’re being picked up for stealing. After I’ve arrested them or taken a report, they often say, ‘What time does your church start on Sunday?’ ”

Leathers once responded to a call from a man who was holding a gun to his head and threatening suicide. Leathers talked to the man about Christ for three hours before he finally handed over the gun. Leathers then prayed with him and led him to Christ. The man later became a regular attendee at Heartland Fellowship.

“I’m actually in the real world with real people with real problems,” Leathers says. “I couldn’t ask for a better missionary journey than to be a police officer. Every day I’m with hurting people.”

Leathers says the church has been supportive of his dual careers. The congregation shares his vision of reaching the community for Christ through unconventional methods.

“My people love that their pastor is a police officer,” Leathers says. “Someday I will probably resign as police chief, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon.”

Juggling such demanding jobs is not easy. Leathers considers himself to be on call at all times, both as a police chief and a pastor.

“The hardest thing is maintaining balance in my life,” Leathers says. “Both of my careers are 24/7. There’s no such thing as a part-time pastor. I’ve had times when I spent all night with someone as a pastor and then got called out the next morning as a police officer.”

On a few occasions, Leathers has temporarily set aside his police identity, removing his badge and offering to pray with individuals as a pastor rather than talking to them as an officer. Other times, he has returned to a scene off-duty to counsel family members who have lost loved ones.

Leathers says he has never feared for his life, even when confronting armed suspects.

“I have a peace that God is in control of my life,” he says. “I’m not in fear for my safety. I trust God with my future.”

As an officer and a pastor, Leathers is mindful of church security. He has served as an adviser on the issue for the Iowa District Council of the Assemblies of God.

Leathers’ clout in the community has led to some unique opportunities. He has led prayers in the Iowa Senate and House of Representatives. He has also been invited into local public schools to address children and teens.

“Paul was a tentmaker,” Leathers says. “My being bivocational puts me out there with people.”

CHRISTINA QUICK is a freelance writer who lives in Springfield, Mo., and attends Central Assembly of God.

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