Rob Kirbach really enjoys riding his Yamaha Stratoliner. He has ridden his motorcycle through 11 states.
When he’s cruising on his bike, any worries in his life seem to be swept to the side of the highway by the wind blowing over his shoulders.
“I like that it gives me quiet time to think. There’s no distraction from cell phones. I don’t have a radio on the motorcycle. It’s just the engine noise and the wind, and that’s it.” He said.
The comfort he discovers on the open road, he also finds every day he goes to work. Though there, Kirbach is paid to be vocal.
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A call to ministry
Kirbach, who grew up in Godfrey, recently accepted a position as the new pastor of First Baptist Church of Highland.
A life-long American Baptist, Kirbach said a part of him has always knew his calling was the ministry. But the pull toward to the pulpit became more apparent when he was about to enter into the ninth grade at Alton High School.
“It really began with my own peers were seeking me out for spiritual guidance and counsel,” Kirbach said. “I shared with my pastor that maybe ministry was my calling in life, and his reply was very affirming, something to the effect of, ‘Well, we’ve always known this about you, Rob.’”
While he was in school, under the instruction of his pastor, Kirbach found some part-time ministry work, and that was when he said his beliefs were affirmed.
After graduating from Alton High School, Kirbach began studying at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, before transferring to Greenville College, which is now Greenville University. After completing his undergrad, Kirbach earned a master of arts degree in clinical counseling master’s degree from Missouri Baptist University in 2011 and a master of divinity from Eden Theological Seminary in 2015, where he also was awarded a graduate teaching assistantship in constructive theology.
Over the past 15 years, Kirbach has held multiple positions in an assortment of churches in the metro-east. These positions included youth director at First Congregational Church in Highland in 2004, youth pastor at the First Baptist Church of Edwardsville from 2005 to2008, the director of campus ministries through the Shurtleff Foundation at SIUE from 2008 to 2011, and pastor of the First Baptist Church of Wood River from 2011 to the present.
“Excitement for the future”
Last month, Kirbach preached his candidate sermon at the First Baptist Church of Highland, located at 2709 Poplar St. He spoke about the Old Testament; Joseph and his multicolored coat; relationships; and most importantly, forgiveness. The sermon won him admiration and vote of his new congregation, where the Rev. Kirbach gave his first official sermon on Oct. 22.
“I really like the community feeling that this particular congregation has fostered,” said Kirbach, who currently lives in Glen Carbon with his wife, Julie, and their three children, Ella, 9, Ben, 4, and Evan, 2.
Kirbach said that his new congregation can expect services filled with story telling and narration. While he is giving his sermons, Kirbach said he likes to use his mental health background to get into the minds and animate biblical characters in his sermon. He said the goal of his narrative style is to help his congregation ask question relative to the teachings of the bible and their own lives.
“Those sorts of questions that help us relate to characters in the scripture as fellow human beings, not merely biblical or historical figures,” Kirbach said.
Kirbach’s specific vision for the future of the church are focused on the principles of the denomination.
“The American Baptist Churches USA has a rich history of responding to the needs of the world with prayerful action,” Kirbach said. “Our denomination is ecumenically-minded and mission-focused. My vision for this congregation is to continue this legacy of service within the local community and region.”
A congregation “like no other”
Kirbach said that he believes his new congregation is special.
“They’re really interested in one another’s lives,” said Kirbach, who outside of the church, also enjoys being a tennis and band dad, reading, traveling, and playing at the park with his kids. “They’re like a large extended family. So that’s really exciting for me — to be a part of a church that’s not merely a congregation, but a community.”
Kirbach also said he admires how, over the years, the church has stayed strong when it has faced adversity. Years ago, the original First Baptist Church of Highland burned down, but they bounced back.
“To have everything — their church building, all of their archives history photos, everything — completely taken away and then to make an effort to rebuild, there is a resiliency in this church that is pretty remarkable,” Kirbach said.