The Dallas Morning News Fiery minister Hill has Florida roots Steve Hill,
a hellfire-and-brimstone evangelist who led one of the largest and longest Pentecostal
revivals in modern American history, has announced that he's moving to Dallas.
During his five years at the Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Fla., Mr. Hill drew 3 million people to six-hour services during which worshipers leaped over pews to repent their sins, then fell to the floor weeping and writhing. Word spread quickly about the Pensacola Outpouring, as it became known, and soon, people from all over the world flocked to the church. Mr. Hill wasn't available for comment. Calls to leaders at the Brownsville church weren't returned.
But the 46-year-old evangelist has told friends that he isn't starting a church in Dallas but will travel the world leading crusades. He apparently chose Dallas because he wanted access to a large airport to make traveling more efficient and cost-effective.
"Steve feels like the Lord has spoken to him to spread the message beyond Brownsville," said the Rev. Darius Johnston, senior pastor of Christ Church Assembly of God in Fort Worth. "The thrust of his ministry is to awaken people to a relationship with God. Mostly, it's a call to repentance." Mr. Hill will lead an Awake America crusade Sept. 1-3 at Mr. Johnston's church. Mr. Hill also operates Together in the Harvest Ministries (www.stevehill.org), which has a mission of "calling sinners to repentance."
He and his wife, Jeri, have said they hope to be settled in Dallas by August.
Observers of Pentecostalism expect Mr. Hill to be well received in Dallas, but said he'd run into problems if he tried to start a ministry similar to Brownsville.
"He can pretty much trade on the reputation of Pensacola to gather a crowd," said Edith Blumhofer, an expert on Pentecostalism at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill. "People would come initially, but I'm not sure they would stick.
Pentecostals like to move around to where they think God is. In Pensacola, he was the river. Outside of Pensacola, who knows?"
A former drug-addict-turned-preacher, Mr. Hill was a missionary evangelist
in Argentina before being invited to preach in the Brownsville church on Father's
Day in 1995, the day the revival broke out. The Rev. John Kilpatrick, pastor
of the church, said he felt the Holy Spirit blow through his legs like a gust
of wind. "Folks, this is it!" he shouted to his coungregation. "The
Lord is here! Get in, get in!" Mr. Kilpatrick said 1,000 people rushed
forward and fell to the floor, repenting of their sins. Mr. Hill was asked to
preach another day, and then another. Word spread that prostitutes, addicts
and other sinners were being converted, and Christians who had lost their zeal
for the faith were being "reawakened."
Soon Mr. Hill was preaching four or five nights a week to overflow crowds of 6,000 people. The large church built an even larger church. Some church historians drew comparisons with the great revivals in the early 1900s. Even so, Mr. Hill has never enjoyed the name recognition of the Rev. Billy Graham, television evangelist Benny Hinn or Bishop T.D. Jakes. "He's not up to their level in terms of popularity, and in terms of having a proven track record that would make people trust him," said the Rev. Gary Stratton, dean of the chapel at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., and a student of American revivals. "Many people have been so burned by evangelists with meteoric rises, that they want to sit back and watch for a while."
Mr. Stratton said Mr. Hill's confrontational preaching was off-putting to some Christians. During sermons at Brownsville, Mr. Hill would shake his fist at the cowd. With sweat pouring down ever reddening cheeks, he bellowed a be-saved-or-be-damned message.
"If you are living in sin and calling yourself a Christian, either change your name or get right with God," he shouted during one sermon.
Mr. Hill's time in Pensacola wasn't without turmoil. In 1998, the Pensacola
News Journal accused him of fabricating parts of his dramatic testimony and
raised questions about how the money made from the sales of books, tapes and
other products was being spent. It also reported that Mr. Hill and Mr. Kilpatrick
hadn't paid state sales tax on the products, which they quickly rectified. Mr.
Hill said the problems were honest mistakes.
Mr. Hill also faced criticism from within Pentecostal circles. Hank Hanegraaf wrote in his 1997 book, Counterfeit Revival, that the Pensacola Outpouring was duping followers through hypnosis and hysteria, a charge that Mr. Hill vehemently denied.
Crowds at the revival began diminishing two years ago, when Mr. Hill and Mr.
Kilpatrick began traveling around the country leading crusades. The men said
they wanted all of America to share in the Pensacola experience. But without
Mr. Hill's fiery preaching, the revival seemed to lose it fervor. Today, services
have been scaled back, though on weekends the 2,000-seat sanctuary is full.
J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma, a leading Pentecostal magazine, said the church's
emphasis has shifted to its school of ministry, which trains students for missions
and evangelism. The program has 1,400 students.
"It's not fair to say that the revival is over," Mr. Grady said. "It's shifted and matured. It's gone from being an exciting place to be on a week night to mobilizing people for missions all over the world. That's the point of revival. It's natural for Steve to move on."
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