A View from the Summit
As we saunter through the days that reside between Christmas and the new year, I am reflecting on the solemn fact that my 25 years on the staff of Summit Ministries will come to an end this Saturday.
If I’m honest, I’m feeling a bit reminiscent just now.
It was in May of 1992 when I first joined Summit in a temporary position on Summer Staff. They assigned me to the classroom. I was tasked with quieting the students, introducing the speakers, and making sure everything was in working order throughout their presentations. Perhaps the greatest honor came in being assigned the task of delivering the morning devotions.
Ah, yes, the morning devotions: those 5-to-7 minutes of concise reflection that occured just prior to Dr. David Noebel’s “Bible Hour.” And, yes, that meant that Doc quite often was sitting in the back of the classroom listening to my every word. And, no, that fact didn’t make me less nervous.
In fact, I used to be, and sometimes still now am (if I’m honest), a nervous speaker (especially when I’m preaching, though not so much when I’m teaching). I remember firmly gripping the podium with both hands lest the 180 students discern that my entire body threatened to shake to pieces before their very eyes. I would release one hand to turn a page in my Bible (when needed), and then quickly grip the podium again just to steady the world.
I had something of a formula for the series of ten devotions. The only deviation was the first devotion: that one always was an abbreviated form of my testimony about coming to faith in Christ as a Mormon and then exiting the Mormon Church. The other devotions would run something like this: a short setting of the topic; reading a select passage of Scripture; perhaps some quick observations on the text; a longer story that drew out the relevant point, complete with something of a clear and climactic closing. (And many of the stories were borrowed from Ravi Zacharias talks that I had listened to in the previous years, if I recall.) Then we would pray.
As that first summer progressed, my deliveries became a bit more nimble, if not less nervous. I learned that I could move away from the podium, but only if I made strong gestures that would expend the energy that was surging to the surface throughout my being. If I failed to use that energy quickly and wisely, then it could be heard in my voice as I gained an increasingly prominent vibrato. When I noticed that coming on, I sort of hopped over to grip the podium and again steady the world whose foundations were tremoring.
One day, while I was walking out of the classroom to go off and regain my composure, Dr. Noebel took to the podium and remarked to the students about the quality and content of my devotions. The room burst into applause. I was a little embarrassed, if I’m honest, though that was something of a turning point for me.
The affirmations of Doc and the students granted me a bit of boldness, even if they didn’t diminish my nervousness.
The very next session I was asked to lead an Open Forum on the Summit’s porch. The topic was Mormonism. That went well, though there was some push back as in those years, two or four Mormon students would attend a session or two of the summer conferences. But this merely opened up a new phase of ministry for me, and an exciting one at that.
Yes, the summer of 1992 was my first enduring experience with public speaking with an audience larger than about 20 people. The students could be a tough crowd. Devotions ran at about 8:30am, which was hard enough in itself. Being the first speaker actually put power in my hands (oh, and I could feel it!). And with great power, comes great responsibility. (Ha!)
I am grateful for that first summer, where my skills as a speaker and teacher were forged through the fires of those morning devotions. And I’m thankful for David Noebel’s words of commendation and encouragement all the way back in 1992.
• • •
As 2016 draws to a close, as we transition from Summit Ministries and see the Oxford Study Centre launched, would you please pray for us. I imagine that I could be rather reflective over the next few weeks. Perhaps I’ll write about small groups, about curriculum development, about slogging through the published works of the signatories of the Humanist Manifestoes (yuck!), or more. But one thing is for certain:
I am grateful for Summit Ministries!
As I’ve previously mentioned, Summit will receive and receipt all donations for ‘Bywaters’ or ‘Oxford’ here at the end of 2016. We would be most grateful for your support as we metamorphose into the new year! You can give at the link just below. But be sure to select ‘Oxford’ and note ‘for the Bywater family’ in the designation box.
Along with us, will you invest in the lives of emerging Christian scholars? We’re keen to do that every day of our lives!
The Oxford Study Centre exists to foster scholarly skills and virtues for sake of the church and for the well-being of our culture.