Remembering Pastor John Crocker
Some of the people who knew and worked with Pastor John Crocker share their lasting impressions of him.
Jim Killam
June 28, 2023

Pastor John Crocker, who served First Free Rockford as our senior pastor from 1992-2007, went to be with the Lord on May 31. He was 78.

John was born in South Africa on Jan. 31, 1945, to English parents. The family moved to Canada in his teen years, and then John came to the U.S. for college. He earned Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (now Trinity International University). John served as a pastor for 33 years in three churches in Indiana, California and Illinois. He then served seven more churches in the Midwest as an interim pastor.

We asked a few people who knew and worked with Pastor John for their favorite memory or lasting impression.

What a joy it was to have known Pastor John Crocker! He was an awesome man, even though he gave me grief for using the word “awesome” so much. It was truly a gift to begin full-time vocational ministry under his leadership. He was a man who led with truth and grace, two very valuable things to see in a senior pastor from the perspective of a young youth pastor. John was the consummate Christian gentleman. He radiated warmth, joy and authenticity; he was rooted firmly in the Word of God. His walk with Christ was genuine and his devotion to God’s people was profound. I learned so much about being a pastor and being a follower of Jesus from Pastor John. Memories of him will continue to inspire me. A man of God, a man of the Word and a man who loved with all his heart. I am grateful for the blessing of Pastor John Crocker’s influence in my life.

Brandon Early
Director of Christian Life
Valley Church
West Des Moines, Iowa
Former Student Ministries director at First Free Rockford

I loved his kind, gentle nature, and his subtle sense of humor. His love for the Scriptures and teaching God’s Word was prominent. We were blessed to have him at First Free!

Kendra Johnson
Student Ministries Administrative Assistant, First Free Rockford

It was a privilege to have John occasionally travel with me overseas as we ministered to missionaries. At the request of a First Free EFCA missionary in India, John and I helped set up an initial training program for church planters. The original target during the three years of modular training was to start 75 new churches. During this time, the church planters were able to start 100 new churches, seeing hundreds of people come to faith in Jesus.

In the three-year evaluation, national leadership was challenged to improve the process and they proposed a model that would increase training capability by a factor of 10. In the following 10 years this ministry saw 500,000 people come to faith in Jesus as their personal Savior. Today this ministry has grown to include more states in India as well as starting churches in Pakistan and Bangladesh. New churches started by this ministry now number in the thousands, with hundreds of thousands more followers of Jesus.

John did outstanding work in helping build God’s kingdom. As a man of God, John’s focus was on Jesus.

Dr. Bill Patterson
Interim Pastor Ministries / Moody Bible Institute and Moody Theological Seminary
Former Pastor of World Missions and Social Concerns at First Free Rockford

When I was on staff at First Free, John agreed to meet with me weekly in his study and we would chat. He shared with me some of his personal devotion practices, one of which was daily praying the Lord’s Prayer on his knees. He also mentioned that one of his favorite Scriptures was Psalm 73:28, “But as for me, it is good to be near God.”

When I had the chance to preach, I would follow up with him afterward and ask for critical feedback, which he rarely gave me. His heart was entirely one of encouragement. He would just let me know how thankful he was that I was sharing God’s word. Then years later when I was a senior pastor, I would receive a Facebook message from him on occasion that he was praying for me that Sunday morning. 

I found John to have a tender heart of encouragement for others and a genuine love for God’s word. 

Josh Reese
Senior Pastor
NorthLife Church
St. Germain, Wis.
Former Worship Arts Director at First Free Rockford

I was the director of student ministries at First Free Church. We had lost our senior pastor and they brought in John Crocker to candidate. I liked John but didn’t know him at all. Little did I know that I was about to hit the jackpot. I could not have asked for a better, kinder or more supportive pastor. He always had time for me, set me free to do what God called me to do and always had my back.

He had that great South African accent and loved to laugh. He set an example with his deep love for Jesus Christ and servant’s heart. He wasn’t just a colleague in ministry but he became a good friend. After he left First Free we stayed in touch and he even asked to be part of my prayer team as I traveled and spoke. He and Liz always took time to encourage me and speak life into me. 

Today heaven is a sweeter place for me because John is there. Well done John Crocker, good and faithful servant.

Greg Speck
Youth and family communicator, Greg Speck Ministries
Former director of Student Ministries at First Free Rockford

I didn’t have a chance to personally know Pastor John, but I knew him from one Sunday from the balcony. When I was in college at Moody, I visited First Free with a friend. He kept my attention the whole time first of all because of his accent. I loved it. If I remember correctly, he preached on Romans. And I remember walking away knowing, that guy is a great expositor of the Word. He was very, very detailed and focused on the text. It wasn’t about anything other than the text. And I really appreciated that about him when I heard him preach for the first time that day.

Pastor Luke Uran
Lead Pastor, First Free Rockford

I would say the most lasting impression about Pastor John was his love and care for the Word of God. When he taught/preached, he stood firmly on the Word, and carefully explained the deep truths the Lord has for us from the Bible.  I will always be grateful for that.

Mike Young
Former Church Chairman, First Free Rockford

Pastor John is survived by his wife, Liz, in Indianapolis; and their son, Des, his wife Molly and their two children, in Rhode Island. A service celebrating the life of Pastor John is planned for 3 p.m. Friday, July 7, at Faith Church, 9125 N. College Avenue, Indianapolis, Ind. There will be no visitation. For more memories, see his obituary.

Jim Killam
Jim Killam is a journalist, author, teacher and terminal Cubs fan. He and his wife, Lauren, live in Rockford and work internationally with Wycliffe Bible Translators.


  1. Avatar

    I can echo what those above said–always very accurate in what he taught, had a fun sense of humor, and was very loving to us members and attendees.

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    Pastor John’s preaching was formative to my Christian walk. I was a teen and young adult during his ministry. Although I’d grown up in a Christian home and had Christian schooling, those Sunday morning sermons were what shaped my personal walk with God. I’m forever grateful that the Lord saw fit to cross our paths.

  3. Jim Killam

    Thanks for these good memories and tributes, Jim G. and Amy.

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    There are those people who we think of and immediately are hearts swell with love. John Crocker and his partner in life, Liz are two such people. Fare thee well Pastor John! We’ll all be seeing you soon! We serve a great God! Thank-you Jesus for Everlasting Friends.


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