Florida Baptist Historical Society’s Gallery of Historic Baptist Leaders
The story of Florida Baptists is a saga of God’s people who migrated to the Florida Territory and brought with them their missionary Baptist perspective of Christianity. It is also a story comprised of native born Floridians, who as God-called men and women used their talents, skills and resources to share the claims of Jesus Christ to a spiritually lost world. The following person is representative of those men and women that comprise the great multitude of historically significant Florida Baptists.
Historic Florida Baptist: BILL F. BILLINGSLEY
Bill F. Billingsley (1934 – 1998) was a long-time Florida pastor and denominational servant with a missionary heart. During Billingsley’s 35-year tenure as pastor of the Sheridan Hills Baptist Church Hollywood, he led the congregation sponsor the start of 54 mission churches within the Gulf Stream Baptist Association.
The son of a Baptist minister, Billingsley was born
in Easley, S.C., in 1934. A graduate of Furman University, Billingsley became
the youngest person at the time to graduate from Southern Baptist Theological
Seminary in Louisville, Ky., at age 21.
He served as associate pastor (youth) of Northwood Baptist Church in West Palm Beach from 1957-1958, then as pastor of Belvedere Baptist Church, a mission of Northwood, from 1958-1963. In 1963 he became the first pastor of Sheridan Hills Baptist Church in Hollywood. He served the church as pastor for 35 years until his untimely death in 1998.
During his service at Sheridan Hills, Billingsley led the congregation to sponsor the start of 54 mission churches within the Gulf Stream Baptist Association. Billingsley also led his congregation to start a community Christian counseling center, Sheridan House Family Ministries, a Christian school, and a crisis pregnancy care facility.
Encouraging churches to offer abortion alternatives such as crisis pregnancy care ministries became a cornerstone of Billingsley’s one-year term as Florida Baptist State Convention president that began in November, 1988. By July of the following year, Billingsley requested the State Board of Missions to authorize the holding of a special session of the Florida Baptist State Convention in September. This was scheduled prior to a planned special session of the Florida Legislature which was to consider a variety of proposed anti-abortion initiatives. After the State Convention special session was approved, Billingsley said, “Now we must pray and unite so that our representatives at the state capital will hear a ‘certain sound’ from Florida Baptists.”
Billingsley led the standing-room only crowd of State Convention messengers – held at the Downtown Baptist Church in Orlando – to overwhelmingly approve a statement that called upon “Florida Baptists to support legislation that will achieve the dramatic saving and nurturing of human life.” The statement further declared that life “begins at conception” and “the right of human life must be protected by the state.” Subsequently, despite Florida Baptists’ efforts, all eight of the major anti-abortion proposals considered by the Florida Legislature were defeated by the Senate in committee and never made it to House committees for consideration.
He also served in many denominational roles in addition to election as president of the Florida Baptist State Convention in 1988-1989. Other statewide posts included service as a Pembrook Foundation trustee from 1993-1998; a member of the State Board of Missions from 1965-1968 and 1979-1982; and as a director of the Florida Baptist Witness Commission from 1984-1990. In the Gulf Stream Association, Billingsley served as moderator from 1970-1971 and was a member, at one time or another, of most of the association’s standing committees.
Billingsley died from a recurrence of cancer on August 21, 1998, at the age of 64. He was survived by his wife, Betty Jean, and three grown children.
Primary and Secondary Sources:
Florida Baptist State Convention Annual, 1998, p. 8.
John C. Hillhouse, Jr., We Came from Many Nations, 1948-1998, Fifty-Year History of South
Florida’s Gulf Stream Baptist Association (Graceville, FL: Hargrave Press, 1998), 32.
Kristi Hodge, “Billingsley remembered as man of God,” Florida Baptist Witness, August 27, 1998.
Barbara Denman and Greg Warner, “State Board approves abortion session,”
Florida Baptist Witness, August 17, 1989.
Greg Warner, “Consensus’ approach offered on abortion,” Florida Baptist Witness, August 24,
Greg Warner, “Governor, Baptists link up to fight abortion,” Florida Baptist Witness, September 14,
Greg Warner, “Effort to tighten abortion laws fails,” Florida Baptist Witness, October 19, 1989.
Jack E. Brymer, “Billingsley seeks Baptist togetherness,” Florida Baptist Witness, December 1,