Kevin Halloran: Bill, the story of LRI, like the story of any organization or any ministry, begins with one person. You didn’t grow up in a Christian home. Can you share how you came to know the Lord and how that took you on the path of ministry?
Bill Mills: Well Kevin, that’s a very interesting question. How I came to know the Lord is really a miracle of God’s sovereign grace. That’s true of every step of the way that we will talk about. When I was a boy, I grew up in a family where my mother was Jewish and my father was basically a pagan, with no knowledge of God. They lived in an apartment on the north side of the city of Chicago. They decided to buy a piece of land in the southwest suburbs of Chicago and build a house, which they did, and a few years later the house burned down. By then they had four small children. They were in the process of rebuilding the house and they contacted an electrician to do some of the work. And I have no idea how they found his name or came into contact with this man, but he was a believer, a committed Christian. As he was doing work on the house, he said to my mom, “Do your children go to Sunday school?” Neither of my parents had any idea what Sunday school was. But my mom wanted us to have some religious training, so she said to this fellow, “Sure, you can take them.”
From the time I was five years old, I went to Sunday school, church, catechism, vacation Bible school, eventually a Christian school—and God was actually breaking into my life and the life of my family with His mercy and the message of the Lord Jesus. And eventually, through that one man’s witness, my entire family came to Christ.
Kevin: Wow. Such a testimony of God’s grace and the power of invitation. For me, sometimes I think I have to share the gospel and go from point A to Z in one conversation instead of taking little steps along the way—a simple invitation—that the Lord really uses for amazing purposes. That is how you came to know the Lord; what was your call to ministry?
Bill: Even though I had a strong background in the places I just mentioned, I wasn’t converted until I was 17. I remember the church that we were attending. They would have a missionary come every few years when she was home on furlough. She was a nurse near the United Arab Emirates. She would come back and tell stories and show slides and encourage the people at our church with how God was using them in our ministry there in Arabia. I remember sitting there one night as a young boy saying, “Someday I’m going to be a missionary.” It’s just a reminder that God knew me a long time before I knew Him. It was part of His process in my life.
Actually, I was able years later to go back and teach at the station where that missionary served and we remained good friends until her death a few years ago.
“God is at work and He invites us into what He’s doing. Nothing could be more exciting in all the world.” Bill MillsKevin: People can’t help but want to be a part of God’s work after hearing great stories. They develop a greater vision of who God is and His heart for the world. I know that’s a huge part of your ministry.
Bill: God is at work, and He invites us into what He’s doing. Nothing could be more exciting in all the world.
Kevin: From that initial desire to serve from your interactions with this missionary, how did you get from that point to starting Personal Ministries in 1970?
Bill: I had a very low point in my life during my early teens and middle teens. I was very much a hurting, unmotivated lost kid. I didn’t have much of a relationship with my father and it wasn’t until years later, when my son Peter was doing family background/genealogical research, that he found that my father grew up in an orphanage. I never knew that. I never knew anything about my father or my family background. It helped me understand that no one had taught him how to be a father. This helped explain a lot of missing pieces in my life.
The summer before my last year of high school, I continued to go to church even though I wasn’t walking with the Lord (I had a lot of friends there). I had a Sunday school teacher who made a commitment to sit down with every one of his students and talk to them personally about their relationship with the Lord. He led me to Christ. It was about four months later, in the middle of my senior year, that I met Karen, the woman I would marry. Her family, her father (a wonderful model to me), were a great encouragement. God used them to bring a lot of healing and stability to me as a person. That was how God changed my life in preparation for a lot too.
“What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2
Kevin: From that point, did you attend school with a focus on ministry?
Bill: Yes. Since I just had one year of high school left, I worked really hard to get my grades up so I could go on to school. I went to a very fine college in this area and transferred, because of a friendship, to another college and began to study for the ministry.
Kevin: In 1970 you started Personal Ministries. (That’s the organization that eventually became what we now know as Leadership Resources.) How did God put it on your heart, and what did Personal Ministries do?
Bill: Just to give you further background, Karen and I were involved in a youth ministry with the man who led my family and me to Christ. It was quite evangelistic. We provided activities for young people, looking for opportunities to introduce them to Christ. We started to develop follow-up materials for young people coming to Christ to help them grow. We focused on studying the Bible with these people, the fundamentals for them to grow as a Christian, and how we could encourage them in ministry. That’s how Personal Ministries began. And God really blessed that ministry with some of the richest and most satisfying ministry we have ever known. We started adding staff to help us with that. Each of us would have about 20 people that we’d meet with every week, spending a couple of hours with them. We started by studying the Beatitudes [Matthew 5:1-13]—what does it mean to walk with Jesus? How do we grow in relationship with Him and our knowledge of the Word? How do we become the people God has called us to be in Christ? Probably within five years, we had five full-time staff, meeting with about 20 people a week. It was beautiful. It was 2 Timothy 2:2 from the beginning. We were encouraging the people we met with to share with others as a part of their ministry.
Kevin: What are some of the other motivations behind your ministry at that time?
Bill: Two key Scriptures have driven this ministry besides 2 Timothy 2:2. One is a passion of my heart—Habakkuk 2:14: “The earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” That has been our primary motivation. We want the glory of our beautiful God to be known over all the earth.
The second scripture really explains a lot about how we got from one-to-one discipleship to where we are today. And that is in John chapter 5, where Jesus describes the way He walks with the Father in ministry. He says the Son can do nothing of Himself unless it is something He sees the Father doing. Whatever the Son sees the Father doing, that is what the Son does in like manner. So Jesus watched to see what the Father was doing and began to walk with the Father in His eternal work. From the very beginning, we took that as our model. What is God doing? How can we be a part of what God is doing? That is really what has been behind the several transitions in the history of our ministry that has brought us to this global ministry of encouraging and equipping pastors around the world to teach God’s word with His heart.
A passion of my heart is Habakkuk 2:14: “The earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” That has been our primary motivation. We want the glory of our beautiful God to be known over all the earth.Kevin: That’s an extremely important lesson to learn and to follow—not to have your idea in mind, “Lord, here’s how I’m going to serve you,” but rather, “Lord, how are you working, and how can I follow your lead?” That’s a major framework shift.
Bill: It’s such a huge framework shift, Kevin. It sets us free from dreaming dreams and then asking God to enter into our dreams and our work and bless it and make it happen. It has set us free from that pressure and self-centered process and enabled us to walk with God in what He’s doing. Failure and turns are part of that, and you can understand it in a larger perspective. It’s not about us, it’s about God. It’s His work. There’s no pressure to build a great ministry.
Part Two documents another crucial framework shift that transitioned Personal Ministries from a one-to-one discipleship ministry to an international church-conference ministry.