Faith in the Struggle
Steve Ayers speaks to Hillvue Heights church goers at 6 a.m. “First Monday Prayer” on March 4, 2024. The event takes place the first Monday of every month in the worship center, where participants worship and pray to start off the month.
Every Sunday, Lead Pastor of Hillvue Heights Church, Steve Ayers wakes up, gets dressed, brushes his teeth, puts on his shoes and he’s out the door on his way to his morning services.

He walks backstage, connects his microphone, and prepares to share the truth of the Word of God in a place of all people. Ayers preaches to thousands, sharing the Gospel, while bringing the congregation to smiles and laughs through his humorous personality.

After service ends, everyone goes home and goes about their lives until the next Sunday. Steve takes off his microphone, engages with his community and continues to live out his life as a pastor throughout the week. But what happens in Steve’s life that goes unseen?
Steve is the lead pastor of Hillvue Heights Church and leads three services every Sunday morning. “My job is to tell you about Jesus Christ,” Ayers said.
Steve baptizes a new member of the church, Kennady Ashley, during a Wednesday evening service. He prays for everyone he baptizes and says, “go tell somebody” about Jesus.
As in every human experience struggle is inevitable. Whether someone is like Ayers, speaking in front of thousands of people weekly or a person who isn’t widely known in their community, no one is unfamiliar to hardship.
Steve and his wife, Elizabeth Ayers, always try to pray before eating meals, even if it is in his office before church. The Ayers house was under maintenance and they were without a fridge, so the couple had temporally resorted to eating at the church. Prayer is a big part of their daily routine, especially in times of hardship. Steve’s burn accident in 2016 was a time when prayer was sometimes all they could do. “He was saying I’m going to die. I said not today, you keep talking to me. And we kept praying,” Elizabeth said.
Steve and Elizabeth lead the new members meeting which explains the church’s mission and values. The meeting also serves as a way for Steve to interact with his congregation.
In the summer of 2016, Steve was in a burn accident on his house boat that caused him to burn 60% of his body. He was rushed to the hospital, intubated, coded with ketamine within the first 72 hours and was given a 17% chance to live.
Worship is an important part services at Hillvue and people are encouraged to join in song. Garrett and Jacquelyn Cline, members of CLINE music help lead singing at worship.

“He said he went to the waiting room of heaven and Jesus said he had to come back to fight the fight. He did,” Elizabeth said.

“Football is a big part of our family,” Steve said. Although Steve is a busy man with a full schedule he makes time to go see his grandson’s flag football game.
Steve was in the burn unit at Vanderbilt Hospital for 33 days, went through three years of skin grafts, 28 surgeries, rehab, and had to learn how to walk again. Ayers fully recovered by June 2019.

“The burn accident was a dramatic change to the church for the better,” Steve said.

Steve and Elizabeth wait in the lobby of the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center on March 11, 2024. Over the past 7 years, the Ayers have spent a lot of time at Vanderbilt hospital from his burn accident to his cancer treatment. Steve’s prostate cancer recently came back and he had his last radiation treatment to complete. During the many weeks in the hospital for his burns, Steve had to be isolated from everyone. “My conversations were Elizabeth and Jesus, that was about the extent of it,” Steve said.
Ayers rings a bell after 6 radiation treatments to celebrate being done with his radiation treatment for prostate cancer.
Hillvue had to learn to adapt to Steve’s absence for many months, which caused the church to redirect and change a lot of things. In September of 2016 Steve was able to preach again.
“What I’ve learned in struggle, especially over the last eight years, through trauma and then through cancer, is that the struggle is actually the teacher,” Ayers said.
Ayers has led Hillvue from a church of about 30 people to now several thousand. “Coming down this parkway and I see that little steeple on this church. I pull in and I’m like, Lord, I hope you send somebody here with a vision and somebody that can lead it. And he’s like, ‘why do you think you’re sitting in the parking lot’? I thought we were going to Florida. But this is far south as we got. We got south 31W. And we’ve been here 34 years now and we’ll wrap it up here,” Ayers said.

“I have not lost faith in the struggle. I’ve learned about God in the struggle more than I have at the times where the struggles not as intense,” Steve said.

The church has baptized over 13,000 people since March, 1991, and since September 1, 2023, there have been 500 baptisms. Steve is always excited to baptize somebody.
Ayers continues to lead his community through all the struggle, but most importantly, he continues to live a full life as a husband, father, grandfather, volunteer, advocate, and follower of Jesus Christ.

In early 2024, Steve found out that his prostate cancer had come back. From treatments and travel, Ayers still managed to lead his congregation on Sunday services and be a helpful citizen to his Bowling Green community.

Steve isn’t just the pastor seen on Sunday mornings. He values his family and prioritizes spending as much time as he can with them. He’s a human who wakes up, faces life’s challenges head on, and keeps his faith in God along the way.

“In our weakness, we find God’s strength,” Ayers said.

Steve has persevered through hardship, from bringing the church out of debt, surviving his burns and fighting cancer. He plans to continue his journey at Hillvue for many years to come and hopes to baptize many other people.
Through Steve’s faith, he has overcome years of pain, both physical and mental and he continues put his faith in whatever plan God has in store for him and Hillvue Heights Church.

“Hillvue is a place of struggle,” Ayers said.

Made on