A Life’s Message

Pastor Bob Kelley, saved by grace at age 19, called home at 65

Pastor Bob Kelley went home to be with the Lord on Saturday, October 28, following a bout with a terminal illness. He was known by many in Fundamentalism as a true example of a godly pastor and preacher of the Gospel. When 2,000 people show up for a viewing, it would be worth it for us to know why. Pastor Rob Chisholm, a disciple of Pastor Kelley, wrote the following tribute to let many of us in on the life of a man of God.

Jason Janz

Last weekend Dr. Bob Kelley finished preaching his best message, but its sound will reverberate until Jesus comes. These few words are my effort to honor a man whom God chose to save and use for His glory in the ministry of the gospel for 43 years.

He was saved at the Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga on September 11, 1960. By his own testimony, God rescued him from a life of sin. That’s something God really loves to do (1 Tim. 1:15-17). After graduating from Tennessee Temple, he entered the ministry. He was an evangelist, a pastor, and an educator.

The following fact may be disconcerting to pastors, but it is true nonetheless. People will forget most of what you say in the pulpit. What they will not forget is how you lived—or how you loved. I honestly don’t remember very many of Pastor Kelley’s sermons, but I remember a man who loved Jesus and, because of that love for Jesus, loved people. As I attended the visitation Tuesday evening, his family told me, “He loved you.” All I could say was, “I know.” They could have said that to everyone who came through the line. That’s why over 2,000 people attended the viewing. In fact, the doors were to open at 4:00 in the afternoon, and by 3:15 three hundred people were waiting in line outside.

Many of the people who spoke at the funeral echoed that same theme Wednesday morning. It was said over and over again, “He loved Jesus, and he loved people.” He loved April, his wife. He loved his family. He loved Grace Baptist Church. He loved to see sinners saved.

As our family reminisced after the service, we thought of how he demonstrated that love to our family and his church family. When my younger brother was having surgery, Pastor Kelley was there. He didn’t have to be. He wasn’t expected to be. But he was. Here was a man with national influence who didn’t care much what people thought about him outside of serving his local church. Rare was the Sunday that Pastor Kelley was away from his pulpit.

He served the Lord while caring for his wife, who’s had multiple sclerosis for many years. The daily weight of living with MS was great for both of them, but no one ever would have known it by their countenances. When asked why He had turned down a larger church to come to Grace in 1991, he replied, “I had to think of April.” His faithfulness to and deep love for “Mrs. April” was an incredible testimony to all who knew him.

In his last weeks, when he could no longer put two thoughts together, he could still pray and quote scripture—and he still loved souls. When the nurse arrived one morning after he had been unresponsive to anyone for a few days, he asked her, “Have you been born again?” She told him she had. He said, “Good! We’ll be in heaven together, then.”

Probably over 100 preachers attended the “victory service.” Several of those preachers at one time had been members of his “Timothy Club,” a group of students who were considering vocational ministry. He founded the Timothy Club to encourage and equip young people to serve God with their lives. He strongly believed that he should be actively involved in mentoring the next generation. I am one of those preachers who was once a Timothy Club member. He spent time with us every week of the school year on Thursday mornings. We would drag ourselves into that early morning meeting hardly awake, but not Pastor Kelley. He had already met with God for two hours before he would meet with us. I’ll never forget the time he invested.

We are shaped (in part, at least) by our leaders. Driving back from Columbia Wednesday afternoon, I thought about in what ways I am who I am because of Pastor Kelley’s ministry. Well, I can’t preach as fast as he did. (For those who don’t know, he was known as “Machine Gun Kelley” because he talked so fast. He could preach more in 25 minutes than most men could in an hour.) But there was something else I didn’t realize about his preaching until I was preparing my first sermon back in high school. Pastor Kelley always preached with every ounce of energy he had. I hope that’s true of me.

There is so much more that could be said about what Jesus did for, in, and through a simple Tennessee boy. You can read the obituary here. If you would like to hear what was said on Wednesday, please follow the link to the funeral service. You will be blessed by what you hear. You will be challenged toward Christlikeness. If you knew Pastor Kelley, at least one tear will come to your eye. I hadn’t cried that hard in a long time.

Rob Chisholm

Pastor Kelley wanted the Timothy Club meetings to be times of very practical instruction for the students so that we would get a clear picture of what it meant to be in the ministry. Each year he would take at least one meeting to share the “Greatest Lessons” he had learned. These “Lessons” were fleshed out in his life—and that’s what makes them compelling.

The Greatest Lessons I Have Learned as a Preacher of the Gospel:

  1. Your best sermon is your family. Love your wife and teach your children to stay close.
  2. Empty wells produce dead cats and dry leaves—personal devotions are a must to prevent burn out and keep a fresh presence of the Lord.
  3. Love people as they are, rough edges and all, and never, ever give up on them.
  4. You do not get what you want in life and ministry; you get what you are—character matters.
  5. Never, ever lose your burden for souls.
  6. Guard your tongue.
  7. Learn to calculate what is worth making an issue—learn the difference between convictions and preferences.
  8. God called us to build people, not ministries or buildings.
  9. Make good friends.
  10. Have fun! Stay excited! Laugh! People ought to want your job!
  11. Die to self and don’t be all day in doing it! Rise early and get going!
  12. The best protection against falling into sin is to practice hating it.
  13. Count your blessings—then record them. Don’t rely on your memory to recall all of God’s goodness.
  14. Say “thank you” every time and every way you can. A thankful attitude covers a multitude of sins.
  15. Exercise your faith. A faith that cannot be tested is a faith that cannot be trusted.
  16. Keep your shoes shined; stay neat—first impressions matter.
  17. Never forget the Judgment Seat of Christ.
  18. Always remember—God can get along just fine without you.
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