Remembering the Life of Evangelist Bob Shockey
Adapted from a funeral sermon preached by longtime friend and coworker Jack Williams.
Find out more about Free Will Baptist Home Missions by visiting www.homemisions.net.
IT WAS 1949 WHEN BOB SHOCKEY rode a motorcycle in the rain all night long trying to get from Norfolk, Virginia, to Jenkins, Kentucky, in time to welcome his first child into the world—a child he was convinced would be a boy. What he found in Jenkins was not a boy but a girl, a girl he promptly began to call “Stevie.”
A few years later when Bob and Betty’s second child was scheduled to arrive, Bob again poised to welcome a new son into the world. That “boy” turned out to be another beautiful daughter Bob named “Paula.”
Bob Shockey was always proud of his daughters. And while the Good Lord never gave Bob and Betty any sons, He did something better. God let someone else raise the boys, and he used Bob to win those boys to Jesus. His example impacted the lives of so many boys that dozens of young men answered the call to preach during his 54-year ministry. Bob Shockey—the man with no sons—has literally hundreds of men across America who call him their father in the faith.
There’s a 50-year timeline running from 1954-2008 that tracks the miracle we know as Bob Shockey. In that half-century, Bob changed from a rough ‘n’ ready Kentucky roustabout who worked barges on the Ohio and Big Sandy Rivers to one of the greatest soul winners among Free Will Baptists in the 20th century.
If you spent more than a few minutes around Bob, you know the conversation invariably circled back to the moment when God reached down in that river and saved him. Whatever Bob Shockey accomplished (and he did a lot), it all started with his riverbank conversion in 1954 when he was 27 years old.
A year after his conversion, Bob answered the call to preach and enrolled at Free Will Baptist Bible College where he studied and prepared for his life’s work. Who knew that the energetic boy from Clay City, Kentucky, would be trained in the U.S. Navy (where he served two enlistments as a psychiatric nurse), mix it with three years of Bible, Theology, and evangelism classes, and within 10 years launch a preaching and soul-winning ministry that would galvanize a denomination.
Bob began pastoring a few months after his conversion, and he was ordained at age 29. Churches couldn’t get enough of his practical sermons and evangelistic fire. He preached long; he preached hard; and he preached with conversions in mind. He would eventually pastor more than 20 years in seven churches in three states…Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama.
For 54 years, Bob Shockey became God’s wildcat, hurled into Free Will Baptist churches to stir revival fires. He, more than any other, typified the evangelistic spirit of the early denominational fathers.
His preaching style made him welcome from Kentucky to California, from Alabama to Michigan. At age 37, he was named Kentucky’s “Pastor of the Year.” By age 41, he was the promotional secretary for the Home Missions Board. At age 46, he was named general director. His zeal to win souls and build churches caught the attention of a restless generation of preachers and laymen who were ready for something more, something real, something warm—something that said, “God is here!” Nobody went to sleep when Bob Shockey stepped into the pulpit.
Folksy Image, Brilliant Mind
His signature ministry was always evangelism and soul winning. But those who only saw a “good ‘ole boy” when Bob preached missed the brilliant mind behind that folksy image. Bob understood finance and business; he knew how to work with professional people; he juggled deadlines like a magazine editor; he planned conferences for hundreds of people, and would have been a hotel executive’s delight because he always saw the big picture.
Bob Shockey’s sermons were crafted to fit his whirling personality. His messages were laced with humor that kept us laughing. They were loaded with Bible doctrine that kept us studying, but they were deliberately limited to one focus—winning people to Jesus—and that kept us honest. Bob never let people forget that the Christian’s primary duty was the Great Commission.
When he was 55 years old, Bob became president of Bethel Bible Institute in Paintsville, Kentucky. Two years later, at age 57, he reinvented himself in what would become his last ministry role on a national scale—he became campus pastor and Christian Service director at Free Will Baptist Bible College. For the next 11 years, Bob poured himself into young people who now pastor churches, serve on international mission fields, write curriculum, edit publications, and provide leadership to the denomination. He changed the face of the future with a warm heart and a practical approach to Christian living.
Back to the Beginning
Something happened to Bob in 1978 that shifted the priorities for the rest of his life. He was in his fifth year as director of the Home Missions Department, and it looked like the sky was the limit for that agency energized by Bob’s vision for souls and church planting. Then a routine medical check-up revealed a malignant kidney. Bob faced life-threatening surgery. I still remember the eerie hush that filled the national offices on the day when men gathered around Bob to ask God to spare this man who had done so much for so many.
God did spare him, but He also redirected his life. Bob resigned from his stress-filled role as Home Missions director and handed off the job to Roy Thomas.
Within a few months, Bob Shockey was back in Kentucky—happy, healthy, winning souls, and starting another new church in Ashland—Heritage Temple Free Will Baptist Church. The work flourished, and so did Bob, eventually making his way back to Nashville and his incredible ministry as campus pastor at FWBBC.
Everybody has a Bob Shockey story to tell, and most of those stories include a smile—a big smile. Let me tell you mine. Nearly every week for 10 years, Bob would stop by my office when I was editor of Contact magazine. Sometimes, I helped him hammer out ideas for an article or wrote a news release for his revivals. But for the most part, Bob talked, and I listened. During those golden moments, Bob took me on a verbal tour of the Big Sandy River and his conversion. He talked about his Navy years and told me about amazing friends who supported his evangelistic ministry.
One day I startled the business manager by requesting that Bob’s chair be repaired. She wanted to know what happened. I can still hear her laughter when she learned that both Bob and the chair had turned upside down. Bob survived without a scratch; the chair, however, required major surgery.
Barry Simpson, Bob’s pastor for 12 years recalls, “I could always depend on Brother Bob’s encouragement. Every Christmas, he remembered my family—usually with cash—including my boys. [Former pastor] Vernon Barker considers himself Bob’s spiritual son. I suppose that makes me Bob’s spiritual grandson.”
Dr. Charles Thigpen, one of two FWBBC presidents with whom Bob worked, said, “Bob was the best personal soul winner I ever knew. He was one of the best preachers we had, and I don’t know of a better evangelist. His personal testimony was outstanding. We lost a spiritual giant the day Bob died.”
Terry Forrest, chairman of the Pastoral Department at FWBBC, said, “Bob was always thinking about people getting saved. He was an old warrior in the fight against sin.”
Dr. Tom Malone, second FWBBC president who worked with Bob said, “Bob never got over the fact that God saved him and called him to preach. He loved Free Will Baptists. He was the most natural soul winner among us.”
Reverend Robert L. (Bob) Shockey
Born: September 16, 1927
Place: Clay City, Kentucky
Called to Preach: 1955
Ordained to Preach: 1956
Wife: Betty Anne (Gambill) Shockey
Children: Two daughters—Stephanie and Paula
Bible Diploma / Free Will Baptist Bible College / Nashville, Tennessee / 1958
Raccoon Free Will Baptist Church / Greenup, Kentucky / 1954-1955
Bethlehem Free Will Baptist Church / Ashland City, Tennessee / 1955-1957
Donelson Free Will Baptist Church / Nashville, Tennessee / 1957-1959
Second Free Will Baptist Church / Ashland, Kentucky / 1959-1968; 1973-1974
Dothan Free Will Baptist Church / Dothan, Alabama / 1971-1973
Heritage Temple Free Will Baptist Church / Ashland, Kentucky / 1978-1984
Portland Free Will Baptist Church / Portland, Tennessee / 2004
Moderator / Kentucky State Association of Free Will Baptists / 1959-1966
Moderator / Blue Grass Conference / Kentucky
Pastor of the Year / Kentucky / 1964
President / Bethel Bible Institute / Paintsville, Kentucky / 1982-1984
Home Missions Department / 1961-1978 / National Association of Free Will Baptists
Member / Home Missions Board / 1961-1966
Promotional Secretary / 1967-1971
General Director / 1973-1978
(includes Director of Evangelism and Director of Military Chaplains)
Free Will Baptist Bible College / 1984-1995
Christian Service Director
Ministerial Fellowship Director
Director of Student Support
National Radio Speaker / Radio-TV Commission (now Media Commission)
Victorious Faith Program
United States / Canada / Mexico / Virgin Islands
Let’s Go Fishing (pamphlet)
How to Call a Pastor (pamphlet)
Five Smooth Stones (pamphlet)
The Teacher (pamphlet)
Bus Ministry (pamphlet)
How to Go Soulwinning (pamphlet)
God’s Simple Plan of Salvation
Here's a Tip
Now That You Are Saved
Keys to a New Life