Pastor shuffles life, ministry priorities in wake of cancer diagnosis

For almost 30 years, Bill Simmons has been “running hard” and “getting after it” as pastor of River Hills Baptist Church near Corpus Christi. His answer to people and projects was a regular and dependable “yes.” 

But after a year of not feeling well led to a diagnosis of renal cell carcinoma that had metastasized to both lungs, a lymph node near his heart and an adrenal gland on his left kidney, much of this activity came to a grinding halt.

“After my diagnosis, I wondered if I still had a purpose or point in life,” Simmons recalled. “I had never felt this way before.  After I was diagnosed, I just wanted to pull inside myself for a couple of days.  However, God, in his still, small voice spoke to me and let me know that people are watching me and wondering if I am going to be able to live out what I have been preaching all these years.”

Simmons visited a Christian counselor who told him that he had an opportunity to prepare the church for his leaving, whether leaving meant retirement or death. With that clarity, Simmons recognized that the Lord was giving him “his marching orders and a new lease on life.”

“Dealing with an incurable disease, the Lord has taught me that priorities change,” Simmons said. “Things that I once thought were important don’t seem so important anymore and vice versa. God’s sovereignty is more evident to me now, and this comforts me.”

As the pastor’s health declines, the church has rallied around him. Between staff members taking on more responsibilities to lighten Simmons’ load and a prayer team dedicated to meeting with him weekly, support from the church has been plentiful. A married couple in the congregation who are both medical doctors even helped Simmons get scheduled for the tests that led to his diagnosis.

With his “new normal,” Simmons’ ministry to those in his church continues, albeit in a different form. Delegation has quickly become a key and vibrant aspect in leadership of the church as staff members step up to share a greater piece of the ministry load. While the pastor can no longer physically do all he previously did, he now has more time to prepare sermons and disciple people—especially the younger people such as the RHBC interns.

Simmons, who will soon celebrate 41 years of marriage to his wife, Susan, says her help in recent months has been incalculable. While she has always been a wonderful wife, he said, her care for him during such a difficult time has been beyond valuable. 

“My whole family has been strong through this journey, and this has been very helpful and encouraging to me,” Simmons said.

Simmons has also found several books to be a great source of encouragement to him and specifically recommends two of them to others who find themselves in similar situations. He suggests A Bend in the Road by David Jeremiah, which he now sends to others in his church or community who are diagnosed with cancer, and John Piper’s booklet Don’t Waste Your Cancer.

The pastor said a church member gave him a sign that he hung on his office wall that offers a daily dose of encouragement to keep pressing forward. It reads: “No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, show up and never give up.”

In keeping with that mantra, Simmons is certain that the Lord has a purpose for every person for every day of life, until death. Convinced of this, Simmons says he will continue to fulfill the work the Lord has given him so long as he allows and however he directs.   

Most Read

Barber exhorts Southwestern graduates to go to the harvest

FORT WORTH—Get to work in the harvest, Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber challenged the 301 graduates of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Texas Baptist College during spring commencement held May 3 on the Fort Worth …

Stay informed on the news that matters most.

Stay connected to quality news affecting the lives of southern baptists in Texas and worldwide. Get Texan news delivered straight to your home and digital device.