By now, you have seen many articles, news reports and columns about the passing of Jeffrey Rollins, the beloved pastor of Springfield Baptist Church for 25 years. And if you knew Pastor Jeff, you certainly understood the adjectives used to describe him — caring, selfless, loving, gracious, encouraging, giving and supportive. Many have added that they feel privileged to have known Jeff.
Count me among those.
Yet, when I think more deeply about why Pastor Jeff was so beloved and about why I enjoyed our work together and the lunch meetings we often had, I keep coming back to one word — authenticity. You couldn’t meet Jeffrey Rollins without walking away thinking, “This man is the real deal.”
Intuitively, you know what I mean. We have all met people who have elicited a small alarm inside us, one signaling a lack of genuineness and complete honesty. In other words, what you saw was not exactly what was behind the façade. Yes, that happens even with Christians.
And then there are those you meet — like Pastor Jeff — who exude authenticity. Christian writer Chuck Swindoll defined “authenticity” this way: “Authenticity occurs when real people say real things about real issues with real feelings. When you’re authentic you live what you are.” So, to be authentic is to be real. Yep, that was Jeffrey Rollins — the real deal.
There was never anything phony or pretentious about Pastor Jeff. You could just sense that when you spoke with him. I saw and appreciated that authenticity, and I know others did as well. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons for Springfield Baptist’s success as a church. Swindoll explains that when a church leader models authenticity, people can’t stay away. “It’s like an invisible magnet that draws them in,” he says.
Historians often remark that 99 percent of people are not remembered by those outside their immediate family. Of the 1 percent remembered, 99 percent are remembered for bad deeds. Of the 1 percent remembered for good deeds, 99 percent die young. Pastor Jeff left us too soon, and the entire community has experienced a profound loss.
What we can learn from Pastor Jeff is the way he lived his life. As a Christian, Pastor Jeff was humble, transparent and genuine — authentic to his core. I don’t think he could be anything else. To me, that’s what it was about him. That’s what we have lost.
You will be missed, Brother Jeff. You were the real deal. Rest in peace.
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.