Earlier today, my friends and colleagues at Gordon-Conwell hosted a retirement luncheon in my honor. It is hard to believe that this was the culmination of 15 years as editor of the Advent Christian Witness followed by 24 years as the Library Director at Gordon-Conwell. Below, I want to share my own reflections which I shared with those assembled at the close of the event. I share them in gratefulness to the Triune God for his providence and care for me over these past many years. I’m not done yet. There is more to do. But this represents the transition to the next stage in my journey of faith. Many of you have shared this with me and I am grateful to you.
Thank you for your kindness toward me this afternoon. It is hard to believe that I’m wrapping up almost a quarter century at GCTS-Charlotte. Over the years, I’ve labored with you to build something special in this place—a campus that could contextualize theological education to a rapidly growing city and metropolitan area. While we probably have not accomplished all that we hoped, we’ve still done a lot against all kinds of odds. Gordon-Conwell Charlotte has been in the center of God’s purposes both for the people of God and for this community.
We have kept the gospel central to our mission. We have sought to prepare people for life and service with academically and spiritually strong programs. We’ve encouraged world missions and involvement with the great matters of contemporary life. We have welcomed Christians of all kinds—Black, Latino, Asian, and White; Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, Presbyterians, folks from independent congregations and evangelical ministries, even from the Advent Christian churches where I first learned about following Jesus.
We have over a thousand graduates serving around Charlotte and around the world. Most of all, in the time that I have worked here, those of us who have worked here have sought to be a real Christian community in how we value each other and treat each other. We’ve rejoiced with each other and suffered with each other. We’ve seen times when things appeared impossible, and yet God has sustained us.
I remember being the new kid on the block. Wayne Goodwin gave me a look at the library and I thought to myself, “This will be a challenge!” And those of you who were here when I started know what I’m talking about. When I came, I had three goals in mind. 1. Find ways to serve well our students and faculty; 2. Connect the work of the library to the academic mission of the school; and 3. Build a high-quality theological library focused on the degree programs and courses we offer. That third goal took over 20 years to accomplish, but with a library team like Matt, David, Audrey, Nick Valadez, Abby Vinez, and a host of student workers, we accomplished it. As I have always told the library team, if you love students and you love books, what better job in the world is there?
Last month, during his retirement dinner Rodney shared some things that he has learned about life and leadership in his pastoral and academic ministry. If you will permit me, I would like to do something similar. I’m going to steal some from a poster that had graced my office here and earlier when I worked across town. But first, 25 somewhat original thoughts:
1. Ground your life in the joy of Christ and pay attention to your own journey of faith. That allows your work to become a sharing of that joy with the others you serve.
2. Never stop learning.
3. Lead by example.
4. Always be willing to do any task that you ask others to do.
5. Listen to individuals on your team. They often have great ideas.
6. Remember that we do not live to work, but we work to live.
7. Almost all library mistakes can be fixed because books don’t talk back to you.
8. Listen, then speak.
9. Read more than one book at a time.
10. Don’t think you have to finish every book that you start (unless it is a textbook assigned by Dr. Davis or Dr. Wheaton.
11. Go see a minor-league baseball game every once-in-awhile. It’s good for the soul.
12. Charlotte is a great city with lots to see and do. Engage with the community in which God has called you to live and work.
13. Remember that technology has its limits. People are not machines.
14. Write personal notes and send them by snail mail. (Think of the joy you receive when you get a personal, handwritten letter or note.)
15. Communicate often and generously with others especially when you are introducing new policies or procedures that impact them.
16. When you get an Email or text message that rings your chimes, wait 24 hours before you respond. You need time to cool down and reflect.
17. If you are finishing an assignment for work or school, never submit it immediately. Wait a day and then give it one final proofreading.
18. Never, never, never, never ask a question that you don’t intend an answer or want someone else to answer.
19. If you have the opportunity, take two weeks off and drive west to the Rocky Mountains. There is something about driving through the Great Plains that opens up your soul and offers a sense of connectedness to God’s beautiful creation.
20. Worship is an embodied experience so be part of a congregation where you can worship and serve.
21. Remember that most sin comes down to the abuse of money, sex, and power. Be very wise in how you approach those areas of life.
22. Don’t be afraid to change your mind about something.
23. Keep in mind how little you know. When I graduated from Seminary, I thought I knew a lot. Now I realize that I know far less than I thought I did. But I know Christ, and that is the one important thing.
24. Remember that legitimate concerns make up only two percent of all the things we worry about. (I confess that this is a hard one for me.)
25. Have a favorite passage of Scripture that frames your life, a theme verse or passage if you wish. Mine is a simple phrase found in Colossians 1:27 “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Let me thank you for making GCTS-Charlotte such a good place to work While here, I had opportunity to work with six of the Seminary’s seven presidents, five Vice-presidents for Academic Affairs, six Charlotte academic deans. I have met and worked with so many wonderful Christian people who have studied and worked in this place.
And that is what has made GCTS-Charlotte such a special place. The people who have worked and studied here. In American organizational life since the industrial revolution there has always been a bias that people exist to serve the organization and that the preservation of organizations is paramount. I disagree with that. I think people are primary and that institutions and organizations exist to promote human flourishing and when they stop doing that, then they are propped up by either fear or force.
I think the Apostle Paul would agree as well. When Paul was challenged about his ministry on behalf of Christ, he responded in a rather startling way. He didn’t point to himself. Instead, he put it this way. “Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all” (2 Cor 2:2). I won’t go into the context of this passage, but when folks ask me about what I’ve done for the past 24 years, my simple answer is “you.” You, all of you who have worked here and you, all of the students who have come through this place, are my lasting legacy. So again, thank you for your friendship, your collegiality, and your love for Christ.
2 thoughts on “Retirement Thoughts”
Bravo, well said, I’m glad you found your life’s work and made a difference. A lot of people in Cali and around the country love you.
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Congratulations, Bob. Your growth and service for our Lord has been a blessing to all you engaged with. Anxious to hear how God will continue to use you.
Love – Ralph & Sheelah
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