Staff Stories: Rob Russell

My Story

A major part of my story has to do with my mom and dad. I was born an only child to parents who were later in life when I was conceived. When they first married, they began trying to have children but quickly discovered that they were infertile. This devastated my parents. Both of them love and follow Jesus, however, so they quickly turned to the Bible and to prayer for comfort and direction.

My mother, in particular, gravitated toward the story of Hannah in the book of 1 Samuel. Hannah, like my mom, was also unable to have children. Yet, Hannah cried out to God saying, “O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life” (1 Samuel 1:11). Identifying with Hannah’s desperation and longing, my mom began to pray the same prayer as Hannah. Fighting doubt and circumstance, my mom prayed Hannah’s prayer every day of her life for 17 years, and then I was born. Quickly, my mother quit her job in order to raise me and “give me to the LORD all the days of my life.” Some might call it brainwashing, I suppose, but my parents saw my childhood as equipping me, though not forcing me, for whatever area of service that God had in store for me in the future. I truly believe their faithfulness is part of the reason why God saved me at a young age. 

When I was just a child, I remember reflecting one night on what our pastor had said about the gospel. I had heard of it many times before, but being so young there wasnʼt much of an understanding. For some reason that night, however, it seemed different. I felt like I needed to do something in response to it, but I didnʼt know what. I remember my mom was brushing her teeth in the bathroom when I tugged on her nightgown and asked her when I would be able to become a Christian. She spit out her toothpaste and said that that was an important decision, and I could do that once I was ready.

I think I waited about 5 seconds before I tugged on her nightgown again and asked, “Can I become a Christian now?” At that point, she finished up brushing her teeth and brought me into their bedroom. I spent a long time in there asking her questions about what Jesus did and what that meant for me. Eventually, I told my mom that I believed and wanted to give my life to Jesus. We knelt beside her bed, and I prayed trusting Christ as my Lord and Savior. The gospel is as simple as it is complex, and it was the simplicity of Jesus’ love and sacrifice for me that drew me to him as my mom explained the gospel to me that night.

I’ve had the privilege of journeying with Vintage Church since we officially launched in fall 2008. When I got to college at Tulane University in, a friend of mine introduced me to a Rob Wilton. Over the next several years, I had the privilege of serving in various internships with Vintage and being mentored by Rob and other staff members at the church. It was also during this time that I met my wife, Riley. During my junior year, Riley came into Tulane as a freshman. It wasn’t long before we started dating, and, within two years, Riley and I got married.

My Role at Vintage

For the past two years, I have served as the Campus Pastor at Vintage Church. Essentially, this means that I oversee all of the assimilation systems within the church (i.e., welcoming first time guests and responding to Connect Cards and prayer requests) on Sundays and during the week as well as leading our team in pastoral care and counseling. It is such an honor to serve alongside the other pastors and staff as we fight together to live the gospel, love the city, and be the church in New Orleans and beyond.

About 18 months ago, while serving in this role, God began to place a new burden on Riley and I’s heart to holistically engage New York City with the gospel. Over the course of several months, we prayed and sought wisdom from the rest of the pastoral team regarding what God was calling us to do, and you can read about that journey HERE.

Ultimately, we felt that God was leading us to move to New York City and begin the process of planting a new church in Manhattan. Since then, Pastor Rob has shared much of his wisdom and experience with us as we prepare to move this summer (2015) and begin this journey. Currently, he is leading me through a church planting residency before Vintage sends us out to multiply the gospel through this new work in Manhattan. We are both excited as we pray and anticipate all that God has in store for the future.