A reluctant pastor

Lead pastor of Hope Church Jeff Bills didn’t always want to be a pastor

“I thought senior pastor sounded too old,” joked Jeff Bills, the lead pastor at Hope Church. It’s for that reason that he made the decision to call himself lead pastor and not senior pastor when Hope Church in Voorhees started.

Bills and his wife started the church with a group of people from the Haddonfield United Methodist Church in 1990. According to Bills, within the first four weeks of the church being opened, the group made about 20,000 calls to residents asking if they’d be interested in learning more about the church. Bills did not grow up seeing himself as a pastor. His path to becoming a pastor was part of God’s plan and Bills was reluctant to follow.

He was raised in Monmouth County and faith was a part of his family system. “More in the early days, it was about going to church than really a faith … my older brother, in the ’60s, got involved in the drug culture. He was a hippie and it was really devastating to our family … He ended up coming to a life-changing faith in Jesus, it was such a clear change for who he was and where his life was going,” Bills said.

His brother changing faith in Jesus changed the way his family looked at faith.

Bills attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla. For him, it was a culture shock.

“It was an expression of the Christian faith that was foreign to me,” he said. “It was a fascinating journey … I had a wide range of experience.”

“I did not want to be a pastor,” Bills added. “My education was in counseling.”

When he finished college, he no longer wanted to be a counselor, so he decided to pursue business at some level.

“I had no business background, had no degree, so finding a job in that area was not going very well,” he said. “I had a clear sense that God was calling me into ministry, so I was a reluctant pastor. I began to feel a tug into ministry at least a year before I agreed to go into ministry.

“I was wrestling with God, I was praying and seeking God … that pull got stronger and stronger and my resistance was pretty resolute.”

Bills finally decided to go on a camping trip by himself, and the entire weekend he “wrestled with God.”

“My call was be yourself but I want you to go into pastoral ministry,” he said.

The weekend after his camping trip, Bills met his wife Marilyn who was a teacher in Gloucester Township. They got married in 1983 and had two sons, Josh and Matthew. Josh is 25 years old. Matthew, who has Down syndrome, is 23 years old.

“We live in a 75-mile-per-hour culture, and Matthew operates at 25 miles per hour. When you’re traveling 25 miles per hour, you get to see a lot that you would have missed at 75. [Matthew] has in many ways enriched our lives,” Bills said.

“The heart of Hope Church is that we’re interested in welcoming people in who have either no faith background or struggle in faith and to accept them where they are and love them where they are and encourage them where they are,” Bills said. “While fewer people are going to church, it’s not because they are not interested in knowing God, the church often becomes a roadblock. We try to move the roadblocks away.”

Hope Church is located at 700 Cooper Road in Voorhees.