During a brawl that broke out the night before Easter in 2002 among partying teenagers after a drug deal went bad, J.P. Byrd ended up on the floor, badly beaten. Teens present wrapped the bloodied 18-year-old in a sheet. One drove him north of Bossier City, Louisiana, threw Byrd in a ditch, and slit his throat.
That crime resulted in first-degree attempted murder charges against John E. Skipworth. Three months later, police picked up the 18-year-old for cocaine distribution. At 21, strung out on cocaine during a high-speed police chase, he was arrested for seven armed robberies. His crimes brought him prison sentences totaling 12 years.
Skipworth, 42, is now an ordained Assemblies of God minister. This summer he stepped down as lead pastor of Rochester Assembly, a congregation of 1,300 regular attendees, to plant Oaks Church in Monroe, Louisiana.
Skipworth’s journey to the pulpit began in a jail cell where he gave his life to Christ.
In 2002, the decision whether he could be released on bond to enter a Christian drug rehab rested in a faith-based program called Overcomers that later rebranded as Eagle Creek Recovery Center, part of Shreveport Community Church, an AG congregation. But because of his felony convictions, the program rejected Skipworth’s application.
Desperate to help her son, Skipworth’s mother, Brenda Medlin Brown, persisted with the application. The program’s secretary stuck the envelope on the door where the program’s janitor, a drug-using peer of Skipworth by that point involved in the program, saw his friend’s name and interceded for him to the gatekeepers.
Byrd himself had graduated from the church’s program for addicted boys and men. The decision whether to let Skipworth in rested with Byrd’s parents, who were major financial donors to the rehab program.
The Byrds said yes.
While in the recovery program, Skipworth was baptized in the Holy Spirit and received a divine call to preach. But successfully finishing his seven-month rehab didn’t cancel his sentence in the penitentiary. Even so, his years behind bars proved to be a blessing.
“Go to prison and serve time, or have time serve you,” Skipworth says. “I went to prison and had revival.”
While serving his sentence in Forcht-Wade Correctional Center in Keithville, Louisiana, he completed his theological education through the AG’s Global University. With the warden’s and chaplain’s blessing, he pastored 600 Wade inmates. Three months into his term, a judge reduced his sentence to seven years. After five years, in 2008, he received permission to serve the remaining two years in a halfway house. There he completed ministerial training while interning at The Assembly in West Monroe as volunteer young adults pastor, preaching Sundays to 1,500 congregants.
After his release from prison in 2010, Skipworth became youth pastor of The Assembly and later senior pastor of TFA Church in Thibodaux, which grew from 68 to 546 adherents in eight months. In 2018, he accepted the lead pastor position in Rochester.
But Skipworth and his wife, Brooke, also from Louisiana, sensed the Lord preparing them to move. They have three children: Finley, 8; Fisher, 6; and Foster, 3.
“God never called us to be comfortable,” Skipworth says. “God called us back home to do something in northwest Louisiana. We have things we want to give back.”
Planting Oaks Church in a city 90 miles east of Shreveport meant starting from scratch, a daunting prospect. The AG’s Church Multiplication Network provided training, resources, and relationships to empower the plant.
In September, 13 members from Evangel Temple in Monroe, a long-established church in decline on 11 acres of prime Interstate 20 property, voted to dissolve and gift all assets to Oaks Church. After repairs and renovation are completed, Oaks will relocate to the property as its home.
On Oct. 17, Oaks started meeting in an auditorium at the University of Louisiana at Monroe with 543 in attendance and 16 of them making salvation decisions. It became the largest CMN church launch of the year.
Denny R. Duron, 69, senior pastor of Shreveport Community Church remembers when Skipworth arrived as a new Christian, humble, broken, and contrite in spirit.
“He came to Eagle Creek ready to be discipled,” Duron says, noting that Skipworth’s turnaround is among the most dramatic that the 25-year-old program has seen. “He was no small-time thug.”
Duron’s mother, Frances, discipled Skipworth, trained him to preach and financed his theological education while he was still in prison.
“God has visited this man with great power and anointing,” Duron says. “Peoples’ hearts are moved.”