Two phrases — not counting “my hero” — describe Bobby Cox, said his son Israel Cox and grandson Noah Cox, a current M.Div. student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Bobby and Noah are both graduates of the seminary.
Israel likes to say his dad “walks slowly” at church. Noah sees his grandfather as “openhanded.” Both are meant as compliments.
As a child, Israel Cox didn’t always appreciate waiting in the car after church as his father “walked slowly” through the crowd, talking and listening. “He was doing ministry,” Israel said. “He was just talking to people and building relationships and listening. He was just giving himself away.”
But as the third-generation representative of the Cox family to attend NOBTS, Noah appreciates a grandfather who modeled what it means to hold on to material possessions lightly.
“When I think of someone who knows that everything they have is not theirs, but God’s, I think of my grandparents,” Noah said. “[My grandfather] lives his life very ‘openhanded.’”
While Bobby’s ministry is marked by humility and service, his journey to seminary had a not-too-typical beginning. After retiring from a career of teaching high school agriculture and shop, Bobby and his wife, Elaine, sold their farm in Colquitt, Georgia, and moved to New Orleans to begin classes — not long after their son Israel had graduated from NOBTS.
While Bobby insists his ministry is simple, his family knows his example is something special.
“He’s my hero,” Noah said.
“He’s mine, too,” Israel added. “Some of the most important things I learned about ministry I learned long before I ever knew I was going to be a pastor. I learned from him.”
Retirement can wait
The unexpected call to ministry came as Bobby and Elaine led a young adult Sunday School class at their home church in Colquitt, Georgia, one of many ministries in which they served. Bobby was set to retire from teaching. Israel was nearing graduation at the time.
“So we went,” Bobby said. “If I wasn’t the oldest guy on campus, I was close to it.”
Israel said his father took his habit of “slow walking” to seminary with him and soon was pouring his life into others. One student — who knew English as a second language — benefitted from Bobby’s many hours of help with grammar and language, Israel said.
After Bobby and Elaine joined Edgewater Baptist Church, near the NOBTS campus, Bobby worked alongside David Platt in the church’s French Quarter ministry, serving the homeless community. Platt was dean of chapel at the time, and he would go on to become president of the International Mission Board and a New York Times bestselling author. For one semester, Platt met with Bobby as a prayer partner before chapel each week.
‘A wealth of information’
While the classes and time with professors made a great impact on his life, Bobby made sure to attend every chapel service.
“I never missed a day of chapel,” Bobby said. “I love good preaching, and they had it.”
Bobby still returns from time to time to the five notebooks he filled with notes from chapel, a resource he calls “a wealth of information.”
Graduation meant another step of faith as Bobby and Elaine moved to Nashville to help with a church plant. They stayed there for eight years.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it was also very rewarding,” Bobby said. “We tried to grow the church by loving on the people. That’s what you gotta do. It was there that I really learned to serve people and love on people.”
Passing it on
Passing the faith on to the next generation is not always easy. With a son and a grandson in ministry, Bobby is quick to credit God’s work in their lives rather than anything he has said or done.
While each credits God’s grace in their lives, they also recognize the importance of living out their faith.
“I think it’s less formal than we think it is, and I think it’s simpler than we make it,” Israel said. “It’s just lived. It’s God’s grace in our lives. … I think it’s just modeled and lived.”
For Noah, Christians serving others made an impact. Noah watched as his father, Israel, planted a church in Gulfport, Mississippi. Soon after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast in 2005, Noah watched his father, and hundreds of volunteers, work to meet needs and help others rebuild.
“I fell in love with the church before I fell in love with Jesus,” Noah said.
Israel leads Crosspoint Church, Gulfport, as pastor. His parents serve as volunteers, with Bobby leading the men’s group.
“He serves the community there so well,” Noah said of his grandfather.
Bobby said, “I wish I was the man Noah is when I was his age. He’s something else.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Marilyn Stewart and was originally published by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.