For the last six years, the Rev. RYAN HARRIS has served as pastor at The Assembly, a 230-member church in the heart of Danville.
Actually, the congregation is up to 231 as of Sept. 16, when Harris’ wife, SHONTAE, gave birth to their fourth child, EMBERSON.
The 35-year-old pastor, a die-hard Cubs and Kentucky Wildcats fan, took time out from baby care to chat with us in his office, which is adorned with a huge Rupp Arena poster and a Ryne Sandberg photo.
Tell us about your upbringing.
I was raised in a Christian home. My mom is a physical therapist, and my dad was a computer programmer turned accountant and now a pastor. But he never pastored while I was at home growing up. I was in Bible college when he became a pastor.
We lived in Karnak, Illinois, until I was 4, but I was raised in Paducah, Kentucky.
I remember being 4 years old getting new church shoes that were slick on the bottom. I was out in the parking lot outside the First Pentecostal Church sliding around. I slipped and hit my head and busted it wide open. I remember being carried into the sanctuary and everybody in church praying for me because I was bleeding so badly.
How did you meet Shontae?
I met her at church camp in Lorain, Ohio, when I was 16 and she was 14. She was the best friend of one of my cousins. Shontae and I didn’t date for another two years.
My family and I were conducting a kids’ crusade in St. Louis, and Shontae’s family lived near there. She went with me to the morning session of the crusade, and I planned to take her out to dinner. But I ended up getting lost in St. Louis.
We ended up going to a Jack in the Box drive-thru and eating cheeseburgers in order to get her home to meet curfew. We got married on Sept. 3, 2004.
How did you decide to become a minister?
When I was a kid, I really wanted to become Ryne Sandberg. I became a Cubs fan because of Ryne Sandberg. My dad is actually a die-hard Cardinals fan, but when I was 5 years old we were watching a Cubs-Cardinals game together, and Ryne Sandberg came up to bat. I thought Ryne sounded a lot like my name, Ryan. From that point forward, he was my favorite.
I felt the calling to ministry when I was 12 years old, and really surrendered to it. I felt like God spoke to me that becoming a minister was something I was supposed to do.
I ended up speaking at a lot of the chapel services at my high school. Through my teen years, I spoke about Christ and faith at churches, schools and youth groups throughout the region. Being a young person speaking to other young persons was an effective way to spread God’s word. It seemed like the kids would listen to me.
My dad was skeptical at first about me becoming a minister, but, after he heard me speak at two different churches, he realized it was the right thing for me to do. Before I was 16, I needed a ride to all these churches, and my parents drove me all over from one church to the next. They would work all day, come home and drive me to my next speaking engagement.
When were you ordained?
I was ordained in 2014 at Calvary Church in Naperville. I remember we had a little baby, and my in-laws were supposed to help with the baby during the ordination portion of the service.
My in-laws had to leave because my mother-in-law had a health issue. We didn’t know what to do about our baby. A lady at the church there came to me and offered to sit with the baby for the whole process. She made a nerve-wracking moment for us become calm. That’s what I remember most.
How did you end up at The Assembly?
We were pastoring in Du Quoin, Illinois, and our district superintendent had recommended I become pastor at a church in Evansville, Indiana. Since I was in discussions with the Evansville church, I thought I would send out feelers to a couple other churches that were of similar size in the region.
It turned out that The Assembly in Danville responded to my inquiry more quickly than the Evansville church. I told them I was probably going to Evansville, but they asked me to come to Danville and interview with them anyway.
During my interview, I still told them I was probably going to Evansville, but I felt led to speak here on a Sunday. I told them I would speak at a service here, but told them not to read anything into it.
That Sunday, I preached here and met and greeted the people. Before the weekend was over, we decided that Danville was where we were supposed to be.
How many people have you baptized?
Since I have been in Danville, we have probably baptized at least 150 people. At our youth ministry last Wednesday night, we planned on having a baptism for a 14-year-old young lady and a 15-year-old young lady on Sunday morning.
They were afraid they might not be back Sunday morning due to unforeseen circumstances. They wanted to be baptized right then, so we did it.
What’s it like officiating at a baptism?
It is the whole reason why we do what we do. We introduce people to Jesus and help them make the first step in the right direction. Then we equip them to walk that out every day.
There is a whole lot that goes into the life of a pastor that I really don’t enjoy. When it comes to helping people experiencing Christ for the first time, that’s what keeps me doing the stuff I don’t want to do. You can talk people into joining a religion, but you can’t introduce them to Jesus without the presence of God with you.
A few last personal things: What’s your favorite restaurant in Danville?
Jocko’s. I really enjoy the soup and salad bar. It is the best deal you can get anywhere.
Favorite pair of shoes?
I really like my Adidas Alphabouces. They are what the kids call “all whites.” And my teenage son says they are really cool. I wear them because his friends think they are cool.
Have a favorite movie?
“The Untouchables.” I really like Kevin Costner as federal agent Eliot Ness setting out to stop Al Capone. I like Sean Connery, and he was in it, too.