Rob Stockman always assumed a relationship with Jesus was not worth the trouble. And given his first experience with church, who could blame him?
A first impression shouldn’t have this kind of a hold on a man. After all, it was just one Sunday. And it was a very long time ago. But ask this man to simply introduce himself and he’ll first tell you who he is—“My name is Rob Stockman”—and then without hesitation or prompting, he’ll tell you the story of his first first impression.
“One Sunday when I was eight or nine,” he says, “my friends and I went to check out a church in town that was predominantly white. And even though I’m white, they asked us not to come in because I had black friends with me. So, we went to the black church down the street, and the same thing happened only in reverse. We were told my black friends could come in, but I couldn’t. And I remember we all looked at each other and said, ‘Screw it. Let’s go fishing.’”
Every wanderer has to start somewhere. Thirty-something years ago, Rob Stockman, now thoroughly tattooed on the outside and deeply scarred on the inside, was asked to leave two churches on one Sunday. And that first impression affected and afflicted just about everything that came after it.
“My story is, I became a heathen,” he says, “and even though I knew there was a God and I’d heard once or twice of a guy named Jesus, I pretty much just had an agreement with God that I won’t, like, try to kill anybody. I’ll stay away from the really big sins, but apart from that, I’m going to live my life for the pursuit of money and the pursuit of my happiness, and not for anything or anyone else.”
A first impression shouldn’t have that kind of long-term hold on a man. But this one did.
A Salisbury Kind of Thing
White church. Black church. Rob Stockman’s formative segregationist Sunday might’ve seemed to fit best in the year 1950. The fact that it happened in somewhat modern-day Salisbury, Maryland, comes as no surprise to Richard Pope. Richard is a Send Network church planter who recently started Canvas Church in Salisbury. “Historically, Salisbury has been very segregated,” he says. “There’s a highway that cuts through town and on the east side, you have this neighborhood that’s the historic Black community. And on the other side, you have the White community. And then downtown, it’s beautiful and young and hip, but if I go 15 minutes away from downtown it’s not hard to find someone who tells me he wishes ‘the Blacks’ would move out. So, we are racially diverse, which is good. The problem is we’re not racially unified.”
Richard Pope and Rob Stockman are, according to Rob, “semi-related. Sort of by marriage and sort of by divorce… it’s a very Salisbury kind of thing.” One day, in the spring of 2021, Rob received a text from Richard inviting him to Canvas Church’s first official Sunday service. A few days later, he received another text from Richard inviting him to Canvas Church’s first service. And then a few days later, he received another text. And then another. And then another. “Richard just started pestering me,” Rob says. “He must have had some kind of schedule set up where it was like a constant alarm on his phone that said, ‘Send Rob a message.’ So yeah, he just kept bugging me about it and that’s why when Canvas launched, I came.”
Rob Stockman arrived at church on April 4th, 2021 with a wife, four kids, and very low expectations. “I was skeptical,” he says. “We were wearing nicer clothes but everyone else around us was wearing jeans and T-shirts.” Dressed down people, young and old people, Black and White people—all of it took the Stockmans by surprise. “My wife looked around,” he says, “and said, ‘This is definitely not the Baptist church I went to with my grandparents.’”
At the time, Rob thought that had to be one of the truest things he’d ever heard. But then, when Richard Pope got up to preach, Rob heard something even more memorable. “I heard the gospel,” Rob says. “Plain and simple, I heard the gospel. I mean, I knew Jesus had died for my sins and all that, but I also felt like I’d gone so far off the path with my life that there was no coming back. And Richard just laid it out there. He said no matter how far gone you think you are, there’s nothing that Jesus hasn’t paid for.”
First impression. Second impression. One turned him away from Christ. The other one turned him back to Christ. Several weeks after that first, divinely disorienting Sunday, Canvas Church’s baptism service was a Stockman family affair. “My father got baptized and then he helped Richard baptize me,” Rob says. “And then I helped baptize my 14-year-old daughter.”
Several weeks after that, Rob started sharing the gospel with his friends. “I started bringing people to our small group,” he says, “and we ended up getting to baptize one of the girls from my work.”
And then several weeks after that, “Richard was talking to my wife,” Rob says. “And he goes, ‘You know Rob’s going to be a pastor one day, right?’ Well, later my wife told me he’d said that and we just started laughing about it. I was like, ‘Yeah, can you imagine me in front of a congregation telling them about Jesus?’ And my wife was like, ‘Yeah, remember that time you got X, Y and Z drunk? Yeah, you could never be a pastor.’ Yeah, we thought it was funny at first. But then, Richard talked to me about it and it turns out he has a very subtle way of telling you what you already know.”
It’s amazing the hold a good second impression can have on a man. Rob Stockman, thoroughly tattooed on the outside and deeply scarred on the inside, is now a pastoral intern at Canvas Church. Soon, he’ll be taking a team of people to a nearby community where they’ll plant another new church.
Who would’ve thought Rob Stockman would end up being a church planter? Certainly not Rob Stockman. “I’m not what I used to be,” he says. “The old me would always say, ‘Go live it up, go be the rock star, go be the main character in your story.’ But now, all I want people to know about me is that I lived for Jesus.”
Richard Pope launched Canvas Church exactly one month after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis. Now, two years later, Rob is one of more than 110 people who’ve been baptized at Canvas. Hear the amazing story of what God is doing there at TerminalChurchPlanter.com.
Published January 25, 2024