Bishop Bob Hayes
Bishop in Residence
After 12 years overseeing 615 churches as Bishop of the Oklahoma Area, Bob Hayes is happy to be The Woodlands UMC’s Bishop-in-Residence, a position that allows him to continue in ministry while also leaving behind the administrative details and frantic pace of his former role.
“Just about every Sunday I was in two, three, or four different pulpits,” he says. “You never could really stay in one place too long. This job is a lot slower than that one, but it’s still ministry. I think the stress and the pressure have diminished substantially and I can now enjoy and treasure these moments that I have here with folks without having to be worried about the next stop.”
Indeed, while Bishop Hayes will preach occasionally in The Woodlands UMC services, his main desire is to get involved in the church community and to mentor and be a chaplain to the church’s staff — especially the newer ministers who are still in seminary or have recently completed their studies.
“I hope that I can use some of the things that I’ve learned in ministry to help other people,” he says. “This is a staff of several ministers, but who ministers to them? When you’re in a church this size and you’re new, sometimes you can get lost among the trees. It’s important for them to know they’re significant and that their ministry, their role, is important.”
As someone who comes from a family of ministers and has had his own 40-plus years of ministry, Bishop Hayes is uniquely equipped to advise The Woodlands UMC’s pastors. He has witnessed first-hand as the United Methodist Church experienced radical changes, from its formation in 1968 and the struggle to integrate black and white churches all the way to how technology has changed the worship experience itself.
“I’m privileged to have spent a generation or two of seeing ministry, and I marvel now because when people show up, they don’t carry a Bible,” he says. “They open up their iPad, bring their iPhone and read the scripture on the screen.”
Through all of this evolution, there is one key element that he says has stayed the same and that he would want to emphasize to every minister.
“At the end of the day, I don’t care how much technology you have,” he says. “It’s still going to come down to being relational. It’s about people, it’s about knowing that you and I are human beings and we are made in the image of God and we need to identify with each other. We need to love one another.”
An Early Call to Ministry
Growing up in church as the son and grandson of pastors, Bishop Hayes says he knew from an early age that he wanted to preach.
“When I was about four years old, I would pull up a chair to my father’s pulpit after church on Sundays and bang my hands on the pulpit, imitating my father,” he says. “I’ve always felt like God wanted me to be a minister. It’s part of my life.”
It was the strength his father showed in difficult times growing up in the segregated South that drew Bishop Hayes to the ministry.
“I saw this strength in him and I wondered where it came from,” he says. “I found out later that it was his relationship, his reliance upon God, and so I wanted to have something like that. I wasn’t able to articulate it at the time, but I wanted to have something that resembled what he did. I would go around with him to hospital visits and watch people’s countenance change when he would offer prayer or communion. I got a chance to observe all of those things at an early age.”
By age eight, he was conducting elaborate funerals for deceased cats, birds, and other pets of friends. He preached his first sermon when he was 14. In his teens, he began to truly understand that his desire was God calling him.
After graduating from Austin’s Huston-Tillotson College, Bishop Hayes earned a Master of Theology degree from SMU’s Perkins School of Theology. He then earned his Doctor of Ministry degree at Drew University, in addition to receiving an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Oklahoma City University in 2005.
As a pastor, he ministered for 25 years in Houston and Longview. He also served the United Methodist Church as Treasurer for the Texas Annual Conference and as a chaplain and instructor of religion and philosophy at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas.
In July 2004, Bishop Hayes was the first of four bishops elected at the quadrennial meeting of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church, assuming his duties in the Oklahoma Area in September 2004. He was the first African-American bishop to serve the two Oklahoma conferences.
Bishop Hayes is the author of Strength for the Journey, a devotional collection published in 2007. Strength for the Journey 2, an extended collection of his monthly devotionals was published in 2016 as a surprise to honor him by the Oklahoma Annual Conference. He has also been a contributing writer for Cokesbury’s adult Bible series.
Bishop Hayes is married to Delilah (Dee) and has three adult children — Joya, Robert III and Ryan — and two grandchildren.