Shortly after Dr. John Robbins came to Central United Methodist Church as our new Senior Pastor he held communion in the Classic Services. At the time I was on the old Administrative Board of the church and so I wanted to make a good impression. He knew who I was but not much about me I think. So as I walked up the aisle for communion and just as it was my turn to take the elements I took off my new trifocals to be sure and not lose my balance and trip. I should have taken off my boots. I tripped. I am not sure which of us was more surprised. I didn’t hit anything, not even the floor. But I was sufficiently embarrassed even though John smiled at my husband and me. After the service he was standing by the door where we left the sanctuary. Ugh! What could I say? So, smiling, I said something brilliant like “Overwhelmed by the moment.” John Robbins threw his head back and laughed out loud, definitely catching the attention of everyone around. But it made me feel great and the embarrassment was gone. I will never forget that incident and the gratitude I felt. That and many church meetings have given me a real appreciation for a wonderful senior pastor with a great sense of humor who is leaving much too soon, but who has left a powerful legacy nonetheless. So this is for you Dr. John Robbins, in much appreciation from myself and from Central United Methodist Church.
The Note From Central United Methodist Church
-On January 8, 2016, Central wrote a letter to her younger self about “her past and about the possibilities of her future.” The note’s purpose was to help clarify a path forward. The thing is, even then the 184-year-old Central didn’t know the other crossroads waiting in the wings. Today she does. So she writes another “Note to Self–Crossroads, Part II.”
I wrote your younger self not long ago. We talked about crossroads, you and I. We talked a lot about growth and how the steps of growth were a way to reach out and witness for Christ and salvation. What we did not do was talk about love and loss. We did not talk about the surprise of loss or how confirming the sadness of that loss could be as a way to heal, reach out, and witness for Christ nonetheless.
The loss will be your senior pastor John Robbins. The crossroads will be in understanding, saying goodbye, and finding joy in both his and our moving on. You are well aware Central that God uses his people to help others. Your part in transitioning from Dr. John Robbins to Dr. Jan Davis may very well be to let go and let God guide you in the next turn of the crossroads. In the meantime you will celebrate who John Robbins is, what he brought to us, and the person God will use in his next ministry.
When you meet John for the first time you really will not know what to expect. You will have had the care and ministry of a longtime pastor and friend of some eighteen years. You will have been comfortable-–you knew Tony Holifield. He was good for Central and good for the members. But nothing stays the same. Time and God’s leading will see to that. There is a new pastor in your future and change will propel you forward.
When John Robbins comes to Central he will be 49 years old, medium height, dark hair, and always on the move. He “claims” to have an undiagnosed condition (ADD, ADHD, ABCDEFG he says as he laughs) that keeps him from sitting still for very long. His back hurts constantly and he is not much for standing in reception lines. But he has a great sense of humor that endears him to those who get a chance to know him. He is complicated, charismatic, and compassionate, even though on occasion he appears to have a tough exterior – it camouflages a marshmallow heart. And then there are those famous blue eyes of which he is quite proud by the way, some say reminiscent of Brad Pitt, others with better judgment say Paul Newman. He is a frustrated never quite got there quarterback. God had other plans. Most of all Central, you will be surprised by his big voice and the sermons that mesmerize, never letting you fall asleep.
The vision John Robbins will bring to you Central will reveal not only keys to your future, but essential aspects of his character. Early he will state his vision for Central at the first new Church Council retreat, and will lie out his challenge:
“To produce and expect excellence in all areas of ministry from both lay people and staff in the name of Jesus Christ as a part of Central United Methodist Church. To become and stay a powerful and visible force in Northwest Arkansas for the sake of God’s kingdom.”
Those key words—“excellent, powerful, and visible force” for the sake of God’s kingdom—that will be what he will want for you because he will be all those things himself. The sermons he will spend hours in preparing, the delivery he has perfected over the years, will be designed to inspire and move you, to understand the magnitude and the joy, as well as the obligations, of living in God’s kingdom.
John’s faith and love for Jesus Christ will be evident, his message to make true believers of us all, even more than ever before. In following his vision there will be work to do to grow a mighty ministry for Christ’s sake. There will be dreams and long range plans. There will be three forms of worship in your future, on two campuses, reaching the “unchurched” and the marginal Christian. There will be changes to improve worship experiences and space, choirs and music, technology and handicap accessibility, a dream for a gathering space to bring us together in fellowship, friendship, and love.
You, Central, will do things you have wanted for years, including purchasing the Post Office property, empowering the staff to reach established goals and dreams, improving quality programing and again, among the lay people, expecting and demanding excellence.
An important dream of John’s will be making it critical for Central to be spiritually, socially, and financially centered as members. There will be works in progress and on the way to fruition, small biblically based groups, better assimilation of new members, and the beginnings of a terrific college ministry with a brand new building ready for their use.
These and many other plans and dreams will be a part of your future, Central, under the guiding hand of John Robbins. You will step up to the plate and achieve again and again. You will take on a new Genesis campus and remodel it, and a Wesley Center campus and build it, and changes in the Activity Center and remodel it as well. You will pay for these things as you go and your budget will increase even as you meet that budget every time. You will have the faith that whatever God asks of you, with His help, you Central will do. The clergy and the administrative staff will work hard and do great things behind the scenes many will never see. Many Central members will say, “give us goals and what you want to achieve.” They will know and believe Central can be much more than ever before.
John Robbins won’t want to take credit for any of this. This is Central’s work, he will say. And it is. But at times you will be picked up and carried along by the fire of his faith and the determination of his leadership. At times you may well resist. Change is almost always hard. But Central, your love for a man so in love with God is irresistible and you will follow where he leads. And after John leaves he will tell Central there will be a new pastor in Dr. Jan Davis who will be a shining example of what it means for a church to be led by a woman so highly skilled and capable, and another great change in perspective that she will show us. Central’s greatest days are ahead.
So there has come a day, much too soon, when another church (larger and even more challenging in the kind of ministries John has always dreamed of) calls, and John will answer that call because it will be the right thing to do. And you Central, will be saddened, and rightly so, but will nevertheless be happy for John, and you will celebrate the gifts of faith and leadership he has given to Central, as Central has given much to him. You will send him on to his new church knowing that you are stronger and have played an important role in making him stronger, too, for the kingdom work of Jesus Christ.
Central will say farewell to John Robbins. You will say farewell to Susan Robbins, loving and wise wife, mother, and friend. You will thank them both for everything, and then welcome your future with open arms.
Central United Methodist Church
As dictated to Donna Pettus, Lay Leader.