Yesterday I preached in both morning services at Pontiac (IL) Bible Church. I first met Pastor Brian Bill in May 1989 when I was a visiting preacher at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park. After I became the senior pastor, we served together on staff for three years and developed a friendship that has continued to this day. Seven-and-a-half years ago I preached at his installation service in Pontiac, I told the people that when a great man comes to a great church, we should expect great things to happen. God’s hand of blessing has been upon Brian’s ministry in a powerful way. Under his leadership, the church has more than doubled and now has a growing national and international influence through his online sermons and his widely-read weblog. Saturday night Brian and Beth took us out to a Mexican restaurant and we spent most of the time telling stories and laughing. Then we went their home and had dessert with their four daughters–Emily, Lydia, Rebecca and Megan. Brian reminded me that I dedicated Emily when she was baby. Now she is a freshman at Moody Bible Institute.
Brian asked me to use my sermon to help prepare the people for the upcoming Easter service at the local high school auditorium. They have blanketed Pontiac with yard signs that say, “What Are You Waiting For?” and even have a website called wruw4.com that has drawn lots of visitors from the surrounding communities. In my sermon I urged the people to pray “Lord, do things we’re not used to” and to ask God to help them see their friends and neighbors as Jesus would see them. At the end of my message, we had some fun when I asked people to name various communities in Livingston County. The people called out names like Dwight, Saunemin, Fairbury and Chenoa, all farming communities near Pontiac. I told them that the harvest is plentiful in all those communities. The problem is not with the harvest. The problem is with the lack of workers. People are more willing to come to an Easter service than we are to invite them. The church has gotten incredible coverage in the local paper and on the local radio station. Today they probably had over 400 people. I wouldn’t be surprised if the have 1000 on Easter Sunday. I felt a wonderful atmosphere from the moment we walked into the church. There are children everywhere–tons of children and the balcony was filled with teenagers in the second service. Any church that attracts children and teenagers like that must be doing something right.
Brian encouraged us to bring our books and some CD sets with us. I told the congregation that a week ago the CD sets didn’t exist. I also said that I write books primarily to be given away as ministry tools to reach others for Christ. And I offered to sign books with a personal note from me to their loved ones and to pray with them for those who will receive the books. We had many moving moments, especially with parents asking me to sign a book and pray with them for their children who are away from the Lord.
After the second service, we had a luncheon in the fellowship hall attended by at least 100 people. I talked about the vision of Keep Believing Ministries to serve the body of Christ worldwide through evangelism and encouragement. We talked a lot about China, our book ministry to prisoners, and our desire to encourage pastors by offering resources on the Internet. Afterwards I met Jason Woolever, a blogging buddy who is the associate pastor of the First Methodist Church of Pontiac.
It was a great day of ministry in every respect, and I want to thank Brian and Beth Bill, their wonderful daughters, and the whole congregation of Pontiac Bible Church for receiving us with so much hospitality. We didn’t feel like visitors. We felt like part of the family, and that’s the highest praise I could give to any church we visit.
Click here to see pictures of our visit.