Prior to Billy Hornsby's death, friends and leaders from across the nation paid tribute to ARC's inspirational co-founder, president and spiritual father. We've gathered some of those tributes here to honor Billy and give you a sense of what a true spiritual general he was.
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
My name is Scott Hornsby, and I’m Billy Hornsby’s brother. Billy and I are 14 months apart and have shared one of the most remarkable friendships you can have—not just as family, but also for almost 40 years as brothers in the Lord and more than 30 years as fellow ministers.
Any ministry relationship is vital, but to walk through our callings together has been so special. We’ve had each other’s support through the good and difficult times of our lives. I always knew I had someone in my corner and because of that, when I was down, I felt like getting up again.
Billy’s life has always been an inspiration to me because I saw in his life a burden to help the underdog. When no one else would believe in a person with limited abilities, Billy saw a spark of greatness in that person and helped ignite that spark into a blazing fire.
I believe one of the greatest compliments you can give someone you grew up with is respect. I’ve seen my brother Billy used by God as a great husband, father, brother, church planter, pastor, missionary, songwriter, author and president of one of the greatest church- planting organizations in the world. He ordained me, he’s one of my presbyters and he is my best friend. Billy has inspired me to be better, reach higher, love unconditionally, give more and never give up.
To the best brother a man could have! Thanks, Billy.
Senior Pastor, Fellowship Church
Billy Hornsby is someone God brought into my life at just the right time to encourage me to be and achieve something I thought I couldn’t do on my own.
About 10 years ago I had a dream to plant 2,000 churches in my lifetime. I had been a part of planting four churches, including the one I’m still in, Seacoast Church. And of the other three churches, two of them failed miserably. At about that time God brought this bigger-than-life, bald-headed Cajun into my life, named Billy Hornsby, and it changed my life forever.
I’ve learned from Billy the value of a friend. I’ve always longed for the type of friendship I’ve read about in the Bible—David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, Paul and Timothy. Billy has been that kind of friend to me. He looked me in the eye over and over again and told me he loved me. It was uncomfortable for me at first, but Billy pressed in, and I desperately needed that. He even made me an honorary Cajun!
His Billyisms on relationships stick with you; like, the four words that diffuse anger in any relationship: “You might be right.” There are others: “Let your subordinates shine”; “When you back someone into a corner let them out”; “Add value to every person you have responsibility for or a relationship with”; and “Don’t ask a fat person if they’ve lost weight, because they haven’t!”
I’ve also learned from Billy the value of having our treasure in heaven. I heard Billy say many times when he was thinking about life decisions or trying to convince the ARC board why we should believe in a church planter who was struggling somewhere: “Why would we leave all we know for something that we’re unsure of? Because we live our lives these days for treasures in heaven.”
I saw Billy live that. I often think I need to get a bracelet that says WWBD—What Would Billy Do?—because I want to be like him. I’m proud to say, more than anything else, that Billy Hornsby is my friend.
Lead Pastor, Seacoast Church
Mount Pleasant, S.C.
It has been a blessing to have some truly great men impact my life. But when I met Billy Hornsby about 11 years ago, he brought a whole new dimension of mentoring to the table.
He is for me a big brother who has lived so much already. He has lived out just about every type of relationship scenario one can live, and as a result he has a deep well of wisdom when it comes to being a peacemaker—navigating and diffusing relationship challenges.
He truly is a peacemaker. I’m thankful he took the time to invest in me to teach me from those strengths he was so rich with.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9).
Lead Pastor, Healing Place Church
Baton Rouge, La.
Billy has always been a strong man, physically and spiritually. When he came on staff at the church where I worked, all of the younger pastors wanted to be near him because of his enthusiasm and commitment to Christ. His house was always the favorite destination, for many reasons. We loved the fact that if he were to see a fault in any of us, he would confront it head-on and tell us that any unresolved problem in our lives would inevitably affect our ministry.
Lately, as members of the ARC have gathered around him, he has continued to challenge all of us to remain unified and clean. There has not been even a hint of division between the members, and he keeps telling us that humility will keep it that way. Most importantly, he said: “Always believe in the person nobody else believes in. Even if it takes breaking your own rules, then believe in them anyway.”
It is because of Billy’s values and strength that we have been able to accomplish what we have done. And that is why so many people love him.
“Love ... bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:6-7).
Lead Pastor, New Life Church
In February of 2003, I had my first experience with Billy Hornsby and it vastly changed the trajectory of my life and ministry forever. Up until then I had been a struggling church planter who had felt pushed out of the current circle of relationships I had been raised in.
Billy Hornsby saw potential in me and believed in the dream that God had placed inside of our hearts for Fort Myers, Fla. After Billy came and spent a weekend encouraging our leadership team, I’ll never forget saying to them, “I really think he believes in us!” From that day forward, everything changed for Next Level Church. We finally knew we weren’t alone, and there’s no better feeling than that.
Billy Hornsby believed in me when we weren’t sure anyone else did. I know my story is multiplied hundreds of times over in other pastors and leaders in the body of Christ today as well.
Thank you, Billy Hornsby, for seeing what I was having a hard time seeing in myself.
Lead Pastor, Next Level Church
Fort Myers, Fla.
When I think of Pastor Billy, I think of someone who is dedicated to the call of God on his life, both in season and out of season. I see a man who is dedicated to his ministry, dedicated to his family and dedicated to life.
Pastor Billy, thank you for being my pastor, my mentor and my friend. Thank you for allowing me in your home, to witness firsthand the extent of your commitment to Mrs. Charlene as she battled her own illness, to watch you tend to her needs, considering your own battle was amazing and somewhat divine. Thank you for taking the time to see something in us and picking up this flicker and breathing on it until we became a flame. You are my David, my Joshua, my Moses, my Paul! Truly you are one of God’s generals.
Lead Pastor, Life in the Spirit Church
Of all the people I’ve been impacted by, no one has meant more than Billy Hornsby. It was 2002 in Memphis, Tenn., where Billy shared with us the principles of the ARC. And from that day forward, our church has not stopped growing. To Billy Hornsby: Thank you. To your life, to your heart, to your spirit, I’m forever indebted to you.
Senior Pastor, Celebration Church
I’m so thankful for the impact that Billy Hornsby has had on my life. His vision to make a difference in this world and his incredible leadership gift have helped so many of us live, think and lead at a higher level. In watching Billy live his life, I’ve seen an amazing example of what it means to lead people. His genuine love for people and passion for family are hallmarks of Billy’s life. There’s simply no way to measure the number of lives that have been impacted through Billy’s Hornsby’s life and ministry.
Billy, thank you for your passion, your encouragement and your commitment to living a life of integrity. All of these qualities and so many more have touched my life in a deep way. You have paved the way for so many people, and our lives are better, richer and stronger because of you.
Lead Pastor, The Life Church
I have known Billy Hornsby for 20 years, and it has been an honor and a privilege. He’s been an incredible influence in my life and ministry. One of the attributes I admire most about Billy is that he’s not afraid to tell you the 10 percent—that small portion of hard truth that can change your life, if you’re willing to listen.
Even with his tough exterior, you quickly learn that he’s one of your biggest fans. He has a keen ability to help you see great things in you. He’s walked with me through two of my most challenging moments: the deaths of my child and my mother. Likewise, he’s celebrated some of my life’s greatest victories, one being the planting of Keypoint Church six years ago. His influence gave me courage to take such a giant leap of faith. If I’ve done anything noteworthy, it’s because I’m standing on the shoulders of great men like Billy Hornsby.
Lead Pastor, Keypoint Church
Sheryll and I were in our car on the way to a beach break, listening to a CD someone gave us. We were several months into our third church plant and were soaking up anything we could find that would help us be better pastors and leaders. As we listened to the simple thoughts being presented on the CD, we both came to the same conclusion at the same time: We needed this man in our life.
A few weeks later we walked up to Billy Hornsby at an ARC roundtable in Birmingham, Ala., and told him, “We need you to be our friend.” The following Sunday he was in our church sharing his simple thoughts about doing church.
Billy means it when he says he is your friend. The day he said that to us, our lives changed. Our church is stronger and we are better pastors because of that friendship. There is a rare group of people you meet along the way in your journey who just make you better because they are around. The body of Christ is stronger, safer and more secure because Billy and Charlene Hornsby are part of it.
Tony and Sheryll Ashmore
Pastors, LifeGate Church
Villa Rica, Ga.