NTS and the larger Church recently lost Dr. Ed Robinson. Rev. Dr. Jeren Rowell preached Ed’s memorial service in Kansas City this month and reflects on the marks of a ministry life well lived.


Good morning, Pastor

Yesterday it was my privilege to preach the funeral service for Dr. Ed Robinson. This was the final service following a gathering at Shawnee Church earlier in the week and the service in Nampa, Idaho in June. After the service yesterday, one of our young colleagues asked me an intriguing question. He framed it in terms of his notice of the scope of influence that Ed had across the Church. The testimonies this week and really for the past several weeks since we heard of Ed’s passing, have been remarkable in painting a picture of one who had a deep impact on so many of us. My young friend’s question was something like, “What is it that really makes a person to be a person of that kind of influence?” Of course, the simple answer (which may be the truest answer) is that the power of the Holy Spirit who filled Ed by faith, enabled him to live the life of Jesus. But I think we should wrestle with this good question a bit more, as it may help us to evaluate the conduct of our own lives as ministers of the gospel.

My first thought was to name integrity, by which I mean a consistent correspondence between the conduct of one’s life and the inner reality of one’s life. Ed spoke often of the posture of a servant leader. It was imaged in the services by the towel and basin that was always present during chapel services at MNU under his presidency. The language of servant leader is not hard language to learn. It has, in fact, become popular in some circles. However, part of the reason Ed had such a profound impact on so many of us is because he actually believed the words and operationalized them in his ministry. If he could elevate another by taking a lower or less noticed positon, he did it. If credit or acclaim could come to another even when he had been a major part of the win, he would step back and allow the other to shine. This is a Christ-like quality that is worthy of replication in our lives and ministries.

Another reason that I think Ed had such impact on so many was because of what I would call “relational priority.” So many of the testimonies about Ed noted the ways in which he would pursue important conversations with people, inviting folks to shared meals so that deep conversation could happen, and following up on those talks with actions that helped us to put into practice the advice we received. Some of this may be “natural” in terms of personality and gifts, but I know that for Ed it was also a matter of intention and discipline. Remembering this challenges me to evaluate the allocation of my time and the temptation to think of myself as “busy” which, as Eugene Peterson notes, is another word for “lazy.” The nature of the gospel instructs us that relationships must have significant priority in the mix of all that seeks our attention and energy.

I am sure there are other ways to say this and perhaps other components of what makes one a person of impact. But it seems worth thinking about, praying over, and evaluating in our lives. I am sure each of us hopes that when friends and family gather to mark our contribution to this world, there will be many stories of a positive and life-giving impact we had on them because our lives in the whole were surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ. May God help us so to live.