Bob Hall is not a complicated man. He has a love for Jesus and a love for others, and sharing his love for Jesus with others has been a hallmark of his 37 years as campus minister of Baptist Collegiate Ministries at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Bob retires tomorrow (July 31). However, even though the page is turning on decades of formal ministry, Bob’s influence will ripple across Tennessee, the United States, around the world and into eternity.
If you know someone who knows Bob — and thousands of people do — then you know it doesn’t take much prodding to open the floodgates of “Bob” stories. You’ll hear stories about Bob on overseas mission trips. (And believe me, there are some good ones; like the time 20-plus volunteers with return airline tickets were told they’d been bumped from their flight after standing in line for two hours. One Bob conversation later and the airline representative managed to find all of them seats).
You’ll hear people talk about how resourceful he is, or say, “He’s one of the most creative people I know.” People will use words like, “leader,” “servant,” “caring,” “wise,” “nurturing,” “mentor,” and the biggie — “legacy.”
What you will never hear is Bob say anything about himself. There is possibly no one who works harder than Bob at genuinely directing attention away from himself. In fact, Bob politely — but repeatedly and adamantly — declined Baptist and Reflector Editor Lonnie Wilkey’s request for an interview for a story on nearly four decades of ministry.
However, it is a story that needs telling because for 37 years Tennessee Baptists’ giving through the Cooperative Program has enabled Bob to be in position to influence thousands of lives. As a result, Tennessee Baptists have had a part in the thousands of lives that have been changed both directly on Tennessee’s flagship campus and beyond as those students have gone into the market place.
Interestingly, 81 UT students have gone on to serve as Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionaries. Countless others have gone into vocational ministry as pastors or other staff. Countless more have gone on to careers in the secular marketplace. One of those is Joe Petre a successful Knoxville-area commercial real estate broker.
Joe was a freshman in 1981, just three years into Bob’s BCM ministry. That relationship has continued and deepened through the years and Joe says that Bob has had a profound influence on his life.
“I look at all the closest relationships I have today and I see the common link in all of them is Bob, and that includes my wife.” Joe said. “He fostered all of those relationships by drawing us together and into involvement there at the [BCM]. We all learned the definition of servant leadership from Bob. You can’t outwork him and you can’t out-serve him. No matter where we were in the world we always felt safe with Bob.
“Probably the greatest thing I can say about him is that he has never lost his relevance to students. In fact, the older Bob gets the more relevant he becomes.”
I believe Joe hit on something that lies at the root of Bob’s character. The reason Bob never stopped being relevant is because the Jesus Bob so transparently and obediently follows will never be irrelevant. Bob’s legacy in its simplest definition can be boiled down to this: He’s gotten himself out of the way so that others can know the beauty of Christ. In that regard, Bob has set an example for us all.
Bob, on behalf of all Tennessee Baptists, I express a deeply heartfelt, “Thank you.” You’ve modeled for us service to Christ by unconditionally sharing Him with others. I have no doubt that one day Jesus will warmly welcome you and you’ll hear those special words, “Well done good and faithful servant.”
It truly has been a joy to be on the journey with you.