Revival leader starting Southlake church

Star-Telegram/September 13, 2003
By Darren Barbee

After years of being on the road, Steve Hill is settling down. The preacher is taking his message to Heartland Fellowship Church, which will have its first meeting Sunday.

Evangelist Steve Hill owns a rare oversize volume of Fox's Book of Martyrs, an account of persecuted Christians that features illustrations of men strung between trees, torn apart by horses and scalded with boiling oil.

Newer versions of the book sometimes skimp on such details. But Hill, best known for his five-year revival at a church in Pensacola, Fla., that drew as many as 3 million people, doesn't care for abridged versions. Not of this book, and especially not of the Bible.

After years of international revivals, Hill is leaving the road to bring his often fire-and-brimstone brand of preaching to a new church in Southlake. Called Heartland Fellowship Church, its first meeting will begin at 10 a.m. Sunday at Carroll Senior High School.

"I can't keep doing what I'm doing," Hill said. "I would look back and I would not be a happy man, because I held crusades all over the world, but I had nothing tangible to show for it."

In crusades from Scotland to Japan, Hill has seen thousands make commitments to Jesus Christ. Friends say Hill is far from burned out, and he will continue some overseas crusades.

An Assemblies of God pastor, Hill is known for condemning homosexuality and non-Christians. Attendees of the Pensacola revivals say the meetings manifested spiritual gifts and healings.

But Hill says he can also be a nurturing pastor, a role he has been practicing for about year as his Colleyville-based Together in the Harvest Ministries slowly winds down. Nonetheless, Hill plans to warn his congregation about the peril unrepentant sinners face -- a subject he says some pastors ignore all too often.

"You can go to hell with a Bible in your hand," he said. "You can go to hell with a 'Honk if you love Jesus' bumper sticker on your car.

"I want to sow into people's lives. I want to give my time to people."

And his personal story has often resonated with people facing their own struggles.

"Jail had become my second home," Hill wrote in Stone Cold Heart, his short autobiography about a youth spent addicted to drugs and alcohol. It features Hill's jail mug shot and follows him from smoking marijuana at age 13 to his acceptance of Christianity and deliverance from evil.

Hill spent his 20s building churches. His friends believe that experience, along with the Florida revival, has matured and prepared him for a church.

Bob Rogers, a pastor in Wichita Falls who formerly worked as missions director for Hill's ministry, said he sees his longtime friend as someone with an "enormous level of honesty."

But the transition to pastor from evangelist is not always easy, said Roy Fish, evangelism professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.

"Somebody who is gifted for evangelism has trouble moving away from an evangelistic message," said Fish, who has twice made that change in ministry himself. "But Steve Hill may have the heart of a pastor."

Rogers said Hill's personal drive to spread the Gospel never obscured his love for people.

"I've watched him night after night after night, with 2,000 people watching him," Rogers said. "And after that he would sit down on the floor with a 10-year-old boy and talk with him."

New members of the fledgling church expect something different from Hill's church.

"It will not be church as usual," said Val Delmar, a Keller businessman who will head Heartland's mission efforts.

Delmar said Heartland will try to be a ministry for the entire family -- but also a congregation that challenges its members to live up to biblical standards.

"It may not always be the most comfortable church," he said, "but it certainly will be a church that changes people's lives."

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