October 7, 1942 – April 26, 2019
written by Rev. Dr. Steven H. Shussett
It is my honor and privilege to speak of the leadership of Bob Nickels exhibited to the benefit of Lehigh Presbytery and its ministries. To do so is a challenge, as he did so much, for so long, and with such love for the church and people.
To list the many roles he assumed is not difficult, as his fingerprints are on so many things. He served as a member of the Presbytery’s Lead Team, to plan and implement its strategies to best serve its congregations. The Committee on Preparation for Ministry benefited from his participation, as he walked alongside those preparing to become pastors. He was a lead organizer for the Jeremiah Initiative, Lehigh’s years-long church transformation effort. And he served as Stated Clerk, the Presbytery’s chief administrative officer, for five years. Those are the official assignments, the data that makes up bureaucratic forms.
What made Bob more than that is what he brought to all of those gatherings, the stuff that made him who he was. He was the kind of person every organization needs, and every smart leader treasurers: a wise person whose experience and knowledge allow looking far ahead and deep into the realities that faced us. And at the same time, Bob personified the best of “hail fellow well met,” at ease in conversation with anyone, quick to share a laugh, and keen to show his care and concern.
With his business education and experience, and teaching out of all that he had been taught, Bob understood organizations, why they become stuck, and how to help them become unstuck. Undoubtedly Lehigh Presbytery gave him ample continuing education.
But is was not just his depth of knowledge and wide-ranging intelligence that served us, but the same enthusiasm that he took weekly to DeSales University to teach. Despite out internal and external struggles, common to the 21st century church, Bob was active and involved. As he would remind me repeatedly, “Woody Allen said ‘99% of success is just showing up.” And Bob showed up, even when it was not easy and it was not fun.
Even the fun he did have, he contributed to ministry in this place. After all, good teachers, and good elders, make use of everything they know and have experienced. For Bob, it was all material that we could use to serve God’s church.
That he would send me articles from the Harvard Business Review was no surprise; that it what business consultants and professors do.
But there was also that fun stuff, the things that stoked his enthusiasm. So while I didn’t understand a word of what he told me of bridge, the Presbytery gained from how that game taught him how to read people and situations. He would offer points on leadership by talking about Bill Walsh and the San Francisco 49ers. How different personalities can be forged into a tight bond was illustrated in a story he told me many times, that after long days he would barricade himself in the house while Karen when out to listen to Jazz, and how later they came back together, better than ever.
Beyond fun, he talked a log about the enduring quality of love, for church, and for people. His voice would soften as he told stories of his father, of Karen, of their children and grandchildren, stories that cut through the what, when, and how, to why, and for whom.
Lehigh Presbytery was a better place for having had Bob and his gifts for so long, and involved in so much. To Bob, through the Spirit, let us say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”