Arkansas native Dr. Robert Parsley will retire as pastor of First Baptist Church of Crofton (FBCC) after serving for over 22.5 years. He will preach his last sermon on Sept. 12.
In an ironic twist, Parsley shared, “The man I replaced, Brent Coleman, was also here 22.5 years.” Coleman died a year ago and the family was unable to inter him due to COVID-19. “The last thing I’ll do as pastor (of FBCC) is to drive to Cumberland and do his funeral. It’s so neat to do that for him. He said he wanted to be a pastor to my children. He told me, ‘You are not their pastor; you’re their father.’ He said, ‘I want to do this for your family. He was a sweet man.’”
Parsley began his ministry at the church after a 1998 recruiting call from then Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware Executive Director Charles Barnes. He and his wife, Carole, were surprised that God could be calling them 1,000 miles from home, but after praying, they knew it was where they needed to be.
Robert arrived in Crofton for a visit “when the cherry blossoms were blooming” in April 1999. A few months later, he, Carole, and their three sons, Robert, Kel, and Tim, then 14, 12, and 7, moved to Maryland. Carole began working at Annapolis Area Christian School (AACS) as a second-grade teacher. Robert chuckled as he shared that AACS actually hired Carole before the church called him — adding to the confirmation of the call.
Robert said FBC Crofton was in a difficult season when he began his ministry. They were declining in numbers and were in debt from a $500,000 building program.
“I told them we (were) going to have to kick it into high gear,” Robert said. But rather than tightening the purse strings, the new pastor led in a way he admitted was “contrary to logic.” The church became heavily involved in missions.
During Robert’s first year, the church took a medical missions team to Honduras. That was a turning point. “When we came back, people were so excited — giving for missions doubled and overall church giving increased,” he said. They took other trips, did local outreach, and paid off their debt. “The note was for 15 years, and we paid it off in five,” he added.
“We have continued emphasizing that we are more than a building; we are the people of God serving in Jesus’ name,” he said.
After opening a clothes closet ministry, hundreds of people showed up for donations. “It was the biggest clothes closet around here. That took a lot of volunteers. It also took half of our basement, and we had to rent storage to store clothes,” Robert shared. The clothes ministry shut down due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“Another highlight was about six years ago when 35 people went to Israel. It was a blast,” he remembered.
Streamlining leadership structure
The church also altered its organizational leadership structure. Rather than having 17 committees, many of which overlapped and at times caused arguments, Robert streamlined the organization to three committees and later two. “We got a study group together for about a year, formed three groups to handle everything, and then dropped it to two,” he said. The Administrative Committee handles personnel, budgeting, and other administrative issues. The Missions and Ministry Group oversees ministry, music, programming, and the calendar.
The streamlining helped tremendously. “We just haven’t had any kind of conflict,” Robert added.
Business meetings are quick. “We get approval on the budget and on officers and teachers. If we spend money over a certain amount, we require congregational approval.” Robert emphasizes transparency. “Everyone knows every dime I get paid. Transparency is a really good thing. No one is suspicious,” he explained.
One of the biggest challenges over the years, Robert said, is walking the razor’s edge on potentially divisive issues that have become politicized. Members vary in their opinions regarding the presidency, COVID-19 vaccines, and other topics.
“I’ve been so super careful to stay off of radioactive stuff, and it has worked,” he shared.
COVID-19 has presented challenges and opportunities. Robert said FBCC Executive Pastor Keith Hinton’s media background was a tremendous blessing. The church bought the necessary equipment and began streaming online. “Because of Keith, we have a streaming ability of first-rate quality and excellent audio equipment. Many churches were struggling to get on and had disruptions, but Keith could foresee that and take care of it.
“During the early days of streaming, we had 1,000 views which blew my mind. More people are watching than coming. We doubled our impact because of COVID-19,” he said.
With a long-term emphasis on pastoral care, Robert said another challenging facet of the COVID-19 situation was not being able to do home and hospital visits. “I had to make telephone calls and write postcards and personal letters,” he explained.
Robert made a profession of faith when he was 11. After his father died when Robert was four, his family moved in with his grandparents, who took the children to church. He felt the Holy Spirit convicting him at the age of 11. “I rode my bicycle to the church and, with a heavy heart, talked to my pastor. He explained the love of God and the forgiveness of Christ, and I accepted the Lord and was baptized,” he remembered.
Three years later, one of Robert’s friends surrendered to God’s calling to preach. “I thought, ‘That’s the last thing I want to do!’” he remembered. But shortly afterward, God called Robert. “Oh my, it’s happening to me too!” he thought. Once again, he rode his bicycle to church. “The pastor said, ‘Bobby, I’ve got to be honest. You do this only if you can’t do anything else. It will be the only thing that will keep you in it. This is a call,’” Robert said.
“Some people don’t understand. There are a lot of bad Mondays and hard meetings, but I’ve never doubted it all this time,” he stated.
The pastor had a class for Robert and the other boy. He invested in them and let them preach once in a while. Robert began serving as a bus captain at 15. He did door-to-door evangelism and he worked with children’s ministry. He was licensed at 17 and ordained at 22.
Working through college, Robert graduated from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky. He then earned his doctor of ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
He and Carole met in college and married in 1982.
Carole also retired from AACS this year.
The couple will move to Seattle to spend time with their granddaughters, Ayla, 4, and Karis, 18 months.
Reflecting on their years at FBCC, Robert shared “We love these people. We had a lot of good times together.”
Reception for Bob and Carole
On Sept. 11, the church will have a “come and go” time from 2-4 p.m. for people to visit with Bob and Carole. Additionally, there will be a reception at 11 a.m. on Sept. 12 after the 10 a.m. service.
Cover photo: Robert and his wife, Carole, will be transitioning to Seattle following his retirement (photo submitted).