Wendell Winkler (1931-2005)

Written by Drew on October 26th, 2005

Yesterday in Israel there was weeping and lamentation. Yesterday Israel buried a prince.

Wendell Winkler died Sunday, October 23, at 2:08 A.M. I attended his funeral yesterday, along with hundreds of others who came to pay their respects. It was a beautiful service, preached by his three sons, Dan, Mike, and Tim.

I’ve known brother Winkler since I was a small boy. He was the reason my dad moved our family from West Tennessee to Fort Worth, Texas, in the midseventies. Brother Winkler was the director of the Brown Trail School of Preaching, and my dad was one of his students. Even then, I developed a great respect for this man. When he approached, I inherently knew he was someone important, someone to be held in respect. At the same time, he was a friend. He genuinely liked people, and it showed.

Wendell Winkler was an impressive figure in the pulpit. Always prepared and always eloquent, he directed men to the message of Christ. But just as impressive was his sterling character. While other great orators have experienced moral setbacks in their personal lives, brother Winkler set an example to follow. Like Christ, “he went about doing good” (Acts 10:38).

He made it his life’s mission to train young men to preach the gospel. This he did in “preacher boys’ classes” at church, the Brown Trail School of Preaching, Faulkner University, the “Polishing the Pulpit” workshop, and anywhere he happened to run into potential gospel preachers. Personally, I never had the opportunity to sit at his feet, but I did benefit from his instruction indirectly. Most of what I know about gospel preaching I learned from my dad, who sat in many of brother Winkler’s classes at Brown Trail, and Mike, Wendell’s middle son.

I probably would not be preaching at Ashville Road if it were not for brother Winkler’s influence. He preached at Ashville Road the Sunday following my tryout lesson, and, not coincidentally, the elders called me the Monday after his speaking appointment. Later I found out that he told them, “If you don’t hire that man now, you won’t be able to afford him in five years!” This was a bit of an exaggeration, but it gave my elders the confidence they needed to hire an inexperienced preacher who seemed a little too young. To this day, the confidence he showed in me gives me courage.

I think brother Winkler was prepared for his inevitable appointment with death. He believed in the resurrection and preached it quite frequently. It’s a little eerie to open this month’s issue of the Spiritual Sword and find that the last article he probably wrote was entitled “To Believe in Life Beyond the Grave.” I remember driving out to a cemetery in Jasper, Alabama with brother Winkler on one occasion and visiting the grave of one of his mentors, Gus Nichols. The tombstone was located in a place of honor, central to the cemetery and in front of a great fountain. He was greatly moved by the occasion, and as we turned to go, he exclaimed to those of us who were with him, “Men, on the day of the Resurrection, the body of a great man will rise from this very ground!” The same words can be said now of a plot in Tuscaloosa.

In his old age, King David went out with his mighty men to do battle with the Philistines. David was not the warrior he used to be and grew weary with the fight. One of the Philistines, Ishbi-benob, one of the descendants of the giants–probably a relative of Goliath–sought to kill David. But Abishai, one of David’s men, came to the king’s rescue and killed the Philistine. Then David’s men sat their commander down with these instructions: “You shall no longer go out with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel” (2 Sam. 21:17). David was not valuable to Israel because of his brute strength; he was important to them because he was their lamp. They protected him as long as they could. They needed his leadership and wisdom. But eventually David had to go the way of all the earth.

Again today, Israel is a little dimmer. Another lamp has been quenched. But Paradise is that much brighter because Wendell is there.


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