Mark Emerson (right) led prayer for Sylvan Knobloch and his wife, Kathy, during a retirement celebration in November. Knobloch said he’s not certain exactly what shape life after retirement will take, other than he “wants to be a good grandparent.” The Knoblochs have two adult children and six grandkids.
Sylvan Knobloch, currently the Illinois Baptist State Association’s longest-tenured employee, will retire at the end of this year after 38 years in the areas of campus ministry, church health, and leadership development.
Knobloch was honored at a Nov. 27 retirement dinner in Springfield, where friends and co-workers celebrated his work over the years—and the nearly one million miles he has traveled as a consultant for IBSA churches.
Bob Dickerson, pastor of First Baptist Church, Marion, and a one-time co-worker of Knobloch’s at IBSA, spoke during the dinner and cited the familiar passage in Matthew—“Well done, good and faithful servant.”
A native of Waterloo, Ill., Knobloch was working as a pastor and volunteer campus minister in Bowling Green, Ohio, when he met then-IBSA campus ministry director Bob Blattner at a missions conference. A few months later, Blattner asked him to consider leading student ministry at Eastern Illinois University. Knobloch, who had been looking for a full-time campus ministry position, sensed God was opening a door.
He worked in Charleston from 1979 until 1988, when he moved with his wife, Kathy, and their two children to Carbondale to direct ministry at Southern Illinois University. In 1993, then-IBSA Executive Director Maurice Swinford offered Knobloch the opportunity to join the Springfield-based staff as director of discipleship, singles ministry, and senior ministry, a job move that later morphed into a long stint in the areas of church/minister relations and church health. In those capacities, Knobloch helped churches and pastors navigate conflict, negotiation, and reconciliation.
He helped establish a severance process by which churches can ease a difficult transition for their pastor. He also aided individual ministries through Rekindling the Call retreats designed to refresh and renew pastors and their spouses.
In 2016, he took on the area of leadership development and helped IBSA continue to establish processes to help churches identify emerging leaders and equip current leaders by making available a spiritual gift and personality profile.
On the eve of his retirement, Knobloch talked to the Illinois Baptist about the joys of 38 years of ministry, the challenges still facing Illinois Baptists, and the journey toward true understanding between pastors and churches.
Illinois Baptist: What have been the greatest joys of your years of ministry in Illinois?
Sylvan Knobloch: One of the most significant joys from my years of campus ministry has been seeing the numerous students from the Baptist Student Union continue to serve faithfully in their respective churches across Illinois.
Another great joy is witnessing church growth and renewal in congregations that I worked with over the years. It is gratifying to know I played a small part in their transition.
IB: How have you seen churches and communities in Illinois change over the past 38 years, as far as how churches do ministry?
SK: There is more diversity in both the types of pastoral leadership and the types of churches. A growing number of pastors today simultaneously serve two churches, while other churches have more than one campus.
The single-staff pastor is not a new phenomenon, but many of these pastors today are serving in declining and aging congregations. Often these churches are resistant to the changes needed to reach younger families.
IBSA is meeting this challenge by encouraging ministers to build relationships with other pastors and to support each other through cohorts.
IB: What are some other challenges facing IBSA leaders today?
SK: Pastors need relationships. Pastors and staff today often are not going away to one of the six SBC seminaries for education like they did 38 years ago. Today’s minister often chooses to take advantage of online seminary degrees; a decisive advantage is the minister remains in Illinois serving their churches. But on the negative side, these pastors miss out on the relationships that develop naturally on the seminary campus.
IB: If you could tell church members one thing about their pastor, what would it be?
SK: I would ask search committees to spend time getting to know their pastoral candidate before calling him. He will be doing life with you; therefore, consider the iceberg. Don’t merely look at what is above the waterline, but consider what is below, the unseen: character, ministry goals, and dreams. Church leaders should ask the new pastor how they can help him succeed.
IB: If you could tell a pastor one thing about his church, what would it be?
SK: I would encourage him to spend time with church leaders to understand their dreams and goals, both for their church and for their own lives. Pray for ways you can enable each leader to become all he/she is called to be.
The prerequisite for this is for the pastor to have self-awareness, to understand his emotions and their impact on others. In this way, he will become an effective leader.