What I learned from Bob Allen

I awoke this morning to find out that Bob Allen, long-time Houston TV sports anchor, had passed away overnight at the age of 70.  Many Houstonians knew Bob as one of the three unchanging faces of local news on Channel 13, along with Ed Brandon on weather and the timeless Dave Ward on news.  My first acquaintance with Bob came when I was a young teenager, when my dad turned our rooftop antenna to the East, so that we could pick up our TV out of Houston, not San Antonio.  I appreciated Bob’s smooth delivery as he narrated the Rockets’ magical run to the NBA finals in 1985, and the Astros’ 1986 playoff season.  To me as a teenager, he was the voice of Houston sports.  I had no idea I would be working for him in a few years.

It happened so quickly, so unexpectedly, it was surreal.  I was in college, studying radio-television communications at UH.  Carrie and I had been dating for a few months when her brother-in-law Don found himself seated next to Jeff McShan, another sports reporter at Channel 13.  Don is the most outgoing person I’ve ever known; he could strike up a conversation with Vladimir Putin (in spite of the language barrier), and within ten minutes, they’d be best friends.  Don immediately recognized McShan, and eventually told him about his sister-in-law’s boyfriend, who wanted to get into the sports broadcasting business.  McShan gave Don his card, and said, “Tell the kid to call the station.  We can get him a job.”  I made that call, and met with Robert Leake, the Sports Producer at KTRK.  The “job” was actually an unpaid internship.  That’s how the TV business works…so many people want to get their face on the tube, guys like me would work for free just to have the experience.

There was nothing glamorous about that internship.  I came in the afternoons after my classes were done.  I answered the phone (Instead of “hello,” we said, “Sports!”), edited highlights for the evening’s broadcasts, and did other grunt work.  But I had a chance to learn from Bob, Jeff and Tim Melton, who were all very good at what they did.  Bob was always gracious to me…except once.

It was the early 1990s,.and the rumor was that Texas and Texas A&M were scheming to leave the Southwest Conference.  I was convinced it would never happen; surely those two tradition-rich schools would never break up an all-Texas sports league, destroying so many great rivalries (oh, to be so young and idealistic again).  In the Fall of 1991, there was a meeting of SWC coaches at Rice.  Bob wanted to get an interview with RC Slocum, the coach of the Aggies, to find out what he knew.  However, there was a problem: Slocum was only available when Bob would be on the air.  Melton and McShan were both on other assignments.  Who could they send to get this interview?  In a rare moment of boldness, I said, “I can do it.”  Bob looked at me and hesitated for a moment.  I had been with the station for quite a while now, but I was still just a college kid.  He said to Leake, “Get him a shooter (a cameraman) and a car.” And to me, “Write down a list of questions and let me see them first.”  I went to work.

Bob looked over my questions and seemed satisfied.  The shooter arrived, the car was waiting outside.  Bob walked me to the car, then stopped and looked me dead in the eye.  In a calm but direct voice, he said, “You better understand this much: I know people in every station in this country.  If you embarrass me, I’ll make sure you never work in this industry again, ever.” (That’s not an exact quote; there were some more colorful words included).  Although his tone surprised me, I knew exactly why he said what he said.  I was, after all, a 21-year old male, among the more dangerously stupid species on the planet. If I had chosen to make some kind of foolish spectacle of myself with a camera and a microphone, the coach of Texas A&M–along with all the other coaches at that meeting–would hold it against Bob and his station, and would never trust him again.  Bob knew there was a big risk in sending me out there, but he wanted the story badly enough to take that risk.  I didn’t know what else to say, so I smiled and said, “Thanks, Bob!”

God sends us out into the world to be His hands, feet and voice, even though we embarrass Him time and time again.  Think about it: Every time you or I speak before we think, lose our temper, ignore someone in need, give less than our best effort at work, treat a waitress disrespectfully, or any of a thousand other interpersonal sins, we give a people a reason not to trust the God we serve.  Everything we do and say reflects on Him.  That’s a tremendous responsibility; and it’s why God’s Word tells us in no uncertain terms that we are His ambassadors (2 Co. 5:20), priests (1 Pt. 2:9), and His workmanship (Eph. 2:10).

In the end, old RC Slocum was far too wily to let some kid with a microphone coax any juicy information out of him.  He was polite, but as he responded to my questions with carefully chosen non-answers, I could see that little gleam in his eye that said, “I know what’s going to happen, son, but I’m not sharing it with the likes of you.”  My interview never made it on the air, but it was a great learning experience…in more than just broadcasting.  God had other plans for me, I’m happy to say.  Most of all, I am happy that when I embarrass the Lord, He doesn’t summarily boot me from His Kingdom.  His grace keeps giving me another chance.

How transformation happens

Note: We recently revealed our vision for the direction of First Baptist Church, Conroe in the next few years.  If you’d like to read more, click here.  That’s a big vision, and it’s exciting!  But there aren’t many specifics.  Like explorers and pioneers of the past, we know where we’re going, but we’ve never been this way before, so we don’t yet know all that we will face along the way to our goal.  The details will come as we go.

One of the key details is our process for making disciples.  Here is the process we will follow in the years to come:

FBC Discipleship Process

We are calling on God to renovate the heart of First Baptist Church, so that we become a church in which ordinary people are transformed into world-changing disciplemakers. 

That is our vision.  But how does an ordinary person become a disciplemaker?  And what part can our church play in that process?  We believe there are three steps in the journey from where we are to where God wants us to be.

Connecting with God in Worship.

The journey begins as we connect with God for the first time through His grace.  Jesus said you must be born again.  Then He died on a cross to make it possible.  But that is only the beginning of the journey.  As followers of Christ, we never get over the Gospel.  We constantly renew ourselves by connecting with Him in worship.  A true disciple worships in Spirit and in Truth.  That means we aren’t primarily concerned with whether the worship style fits our preference, and we aren’t motivated by a desire to appear holier than we are.  We aren’t the audience in a worship service; God is, and we want to offer Him something authentic and holy.

As a church, our responsibility is to provide engaging, excellent, Spirit-led, Christ-centered, Biblically based worship services every Sunday.   We also educate and equip our members to connect with God on their own.  Our members will be renewed daily, and will also be prepared to participate in public worship.

Growing into the character of Jesus.

The journey continues as God’s Spirit changes us internally, producing qualities like love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23), humility (Mark 9:35), generosity (Matthew 6:21), and wisdom (Proverbs 3:13-14).  Only God can produce these characteristics in us, but He requires us to work alongside Him in the process of growth (Philippians 2:12-13).

The church’s part in this process of inward growth consists of two things.  First, we offer regular instruction in spiritual disciplines, so that our members become self-feeders who bear fruit for God (Psalm 1:1-3, John 15:5).  Second, we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:11-16), which includes making real Christian fellowship the goal of all our Life Groups, and facilitating and encouraging mentoring relationships in our church and community.


Reaching others with His love.

We can’t journey with God without also bringing others along with us.  As we connect with God, we gain His heart for His lost children.  As we are transformed internally into the character of Jesus, we begin to attract people as He did.  So the third step in the process of discipleship is when we begin to reach out to others, being used by God to make new followers of Him.

As a church, we help our members reach others with His love by training them to share the Gospel; offering strategic mission and ministry opportunities; helping them identify their spiritual gifts; facilitating frequent prayer for the lost; equipping them to be intentional in all their relationships; training them to invite friends to worship services and special events of the church; and publicly celebrating stories of members who reach out.

So that’s it.  Are you connecting with God in worship?  Are you growing inwardly into the character of Jesus?  Are you effectively reaching others with His love?