When I asked Billy Hornsby to serve as guest editor for the March/April issue of Ministry Today and share the amazing story of the Association of Related Churches (ARC), we had no idea he'd be battling for his life. I knew Billy was dealing with cancer, but he'd made it sound as if it wasn't too bad. Sadly, since the time the articles were assigned and turned in to us, the cancer became so aggressive it affected his everyday functioning.
In February the ARC's senior leaders recognized this and gathered in Birmingham, Ala., to pay tribute to Billy's leadership and to bid him farewell. Rick Bezet, who was featured on the cover of Ministry Today last summer, was one of those. He told me that Billy not only taught them how to live, but also showed them how to die: "He's shown us how enormous the peace of God is when facing death. I've never seen anyone so 'on'—so totally connected to the voice of God."
I was honored to visit Billy at his home in Birmingham, Ala., during his last days. Billy was the sort of man you felt was one of your best friends even if you hadn't known him long. I published one of his books a few years back but didn't get to know him well until a year ago. He told me he approached every relationship as if he would be a friend for life. He certainly treated me that way, and every time I was with Billy—whether in person or on the phone—I came away feeling better.
Billy's heart for church planting and his vision made the ARC take off. He challenged Greg Surratt on a golf course to create a model of churches that would emphasize life, draw others and grow. Surratt agreed to help him, and the first two churches they planted were New Life Church in Conway, Ark., and Church of the Highlands in Birmingham. Within a decade each had been recognized as the fastest-growing congregation in the country.
The day after Christmas Billy taught on "Struggling Well," giving hope and encouragement to others. A few weeks later he gathered the ARC leaders and told them to keep their relationships strong and to continue the work he started. One by one they embraced him and thanked him for believing in them. Billy described this period to me as "the best two weeks of my life."
Billy's gift of establishing strong relationships and peer accountability is badly needed in the church. He raised up good leaders and undoubtedly the ARC will continue to grow and prosper. Part of that is because Billy always believed in people. In fact, Rick Bezet told me that one of Billy's parting words to the ARC leaders was, "Make sure you believe in someone no one believes in."
As we pay tribute to a general in the church-planting movement, I'm sad for our loss, yet I celebrate the legacy Billy left behind that's found in the countless people he believed in to do great things for God.
Founder/Publisher, Charisma and Ministry Today