In 1971 I was fresh out of Virginia Tech, a Second Lieutenant in Airborne School, and an avowed agnostic; but I had been challenged by some “real” Christians to ask God to prove His existence. My life was a mess, so I took them up on it. I recall looking up at my barracks ceiling and saying, “God, if you are real, I want to know you.” Late one night a few weeks later, I had a vision. Jesus Christ flew through the same barracks ceiling towards me. He was alive, on the Cross, a translucent gold, and He was looking straight at me. He spoke these simple words, “Bill, I love you and I forgive you for your sins.” To say the least, my life was forever changed, and I started out on an unimaginable adventure.
About two weeks later I was in Vietnam, a new believer without any support. I spent half the year as a forward observer with the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the other half as a Quad 50 platoon leader. I had no Christian friends, so I turned my attention to studying the Bible. Many of the guys thought I was nuts because I carried a giant Thompson Chain Reference Bible, which was slightly mildewed from the climate, in my rucksack.
After Vietnam, the US Army did me the biggest favor of my life by sending me to Fort Bliss, Texas, in El Paso. A revival was occurring among young people around the city in what was called Jesus Chapel gatherings. It was here I really began to grow and met my friend and mentor, Kenn Gulliksen, who would become the founder of the Vineyard.
In 1974 I moved to LA to hang out and see what God was going to do through Kenn and some other friends. I was a pharmaceutical salesman with no plans to become a pastor. When Kenn started the first Vineyard, I helped set up chairs, record sermons, and organize the finances. It was an amazing time and we saw many hundreds come to know Jesus. We also saw the Lord gather and use incredibly talented people like Terry Talbot, Keith Green, Debby Boone, Bob Dylan, Larry Norman, and many more. We established a Christian nightclub, a rehab in Hollywood, and held services on the beach.
In 1979, Kenn and the leaders of the church set me apart to plant the Valley Vineyard. I had always said, “I don’t want to be a pastor,” so the Lord had to personally confirm this decision. I had always struggled with personal insecurity and believed my role was to support those, like Kenn, who were charismatic leaders. I had no formal training in any area of ministry, but I loved the Lord, His Word, and people. It took time for the Lord to get it into my heart that ministry is not about my limitations, but about His ability.
Serving as senior pastor for over thirty years has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. Seeing people come to know His love and then being used by God to share His love is awesome. I’ve had the opportunity to see babies grow into adults, get married, and then go on to serve Christ. I’ve had the honor of seeing many friends serve the Lord faithfully and make the transition into heaven. I’ve seen lives completely turned around by the power of God. Not all the stories are successes, but God has always been good and proven Himself trustworthy. Of course, living in the Valley, we’ve seen so many changes and so many people come and go. There are people spread all over the world who have contributed to or been blessed by being part of the Valley Vineyard. We won’t all be together until we get to heaven; but along the way God gives us significant times to connect and build kingdom relationships as we serve Him.
Bill Dwyer is happily married to his wonderful wife, Anamarie. A graduate of the Business School at Virginia Tech (’70) and the Corps of Cadets, he became a combat veteran of Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star. Bill has served as senior pastor of a Vineyard longer than any other Vineyard leader and has served on both the Leadership Council and Board of the Association of Vineyard Churches. He has been privileged to watch the Vineyard grow from the first Vineyard to over 2000 churches. He has a significant call to foreign missions with a special emphasis upon Mexico. His vision is to see each believer fully engaged in the discipleship process living the life Christ has offered us. Bill has three adult children and three grandchildren he loves very much, and he lives in Northridge, CA.
Pastor Bill can be contacted by email at: