Speech! Speech!

  • Nathan Schneider

I’m becoming less and less shocked by the providential nature of life. I know…that doesn’t sound quite right coming from a pastor and theologian. But it’s true. You can know that God providentially guides all things toward his determined ends and yet still be shocked at how experientially amazing that fact is when you see it happen in real life. That happened to me today.

You see, every Tuesday night, I mull over the topic of my blog the following morning. Sometimes I already know exactly what I want to write about. At other times, it takes me a little bit of time, but by the end of the evening, the topic is set and I head into Wednesday ready to write. That’s what happened to me last night. I had landed on a passage that is right now in the center of my studies…Zechariah 14:20-21, the final two verses of an epic book about the coming of God’s messianic kingdom. But then events this morning changed my mind and I’ve decided to write about something else.

In a way, I feel a bit like Jude, the Lord’s brother, when he wrote, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). That’s a bit of a confession on Jude’s part. Whatever plans he had to celebrate with his readers a common fellowship in the gospel, circumstances compelled him to change his entire stance and tenor. In his case, the issue was the influx of false teachers in the church. For me, it’s not nearly so dramatic or concerning. Just the opposite, in fact.

This morning, I had the privilege of acting as a judge for this year’s Declamatory Speech competition at Grace Christian School. Over a dozen young men and women took the podium in front of faculty and fellow students to recite speeches. Some were orations given in history…Lincoln’s second inaugural address, Reagan’s speech after the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Others recited poetry, passages of Scripture, selections from books, etc. They were graded not only on the accuracy of their recitation, but also on their presentation, their poise, and the ethos and pathos of their performance. Each student who walked up to that podium stood with confidence and demonstrated the nobility of hard work, courage, and academic pursuit. Of course, it’s a competition. Some did better than others, and not everyone will come out as the winner. But that’s the point. Presenting at the “Declams” as they’re called, builds character, self-confidence, and determination. The process is just as important…if not more so…than the results.

I came out of that event having a renewed and reinforced appreciation for the mission of Grace Christian School. It’s not just that I was proud of these students. It’s that I saw what was happening in that room as indicative of something larger than just a speech competition. There’s something unique about the Declams. It offers a tangible example of what these young men and women are being trained to be and do.

Now, you might pause at that comment and retort that GCS isn’t the only place where students give speeches. Most every public school in the country has venues and opportunities for students to grow in their public speaking. That’s true. But that’s not really what’s going on at the Declams…or, at least not all of it. The fundamental difference is simply this: Grace Christian School isn’t just training leaders; they are training distinctly Christian leaders. The issue is worldview, and worldview is everything. The young men and women at GCS, whether they’re 6-year-old kindergarteners or 17-year-old seniors, are being trained to think in a distinctively Christian way…a biblical way. They are being trained to see math, science, geography, history, art, music, literature, sports…everything familiar to life in the world of education…as something through which to glorify God, to give him thanks for, and to think about in a distinctively biblical framework.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of people better suited to lead and have influence in this world. There will be lots of people who will give good speeches. Not all of them will have a worldview which aligns with biblical truth. In the end, it’s the convictions held by these young men and women that matters most…or perhaps, the convictions that hold them. As Albert Mohler writes, in his book, The Conviction to Lead,

If you think about it, just about every leader who is now remembered for making a positive difference in history was a leader with strong convictions about life, liberty, truth, freedom, and human dignity. In the long run, this is the only leadership that matters. Convictional leaders propel action precisely because they are driven by deep convictions, and their passion for these convictions is transferred to followers who join in concerted action to do what they know to be right. And they know what is right because they know what is true. (Mohler, The Conviction to Lead, 26)

Mohler goes on with a salient observation:

Think about this: Most Americans consider the president of the United States to be the highest office of secular leadership imaginable. But how many Americans can name even twenty or thirty of the forty-four [sic] men who have held that office? When was the last time you heard someone mention Chester A. Arthur or William Henry Harrison? We do remember those who were known for their convictions and for the courage that those convictions produced. This same principle can be extended to every office and position of leadership imaginable. Without conviction, nothing really matters, and nothing of significance is passed on. (ibid)

But then Mohler gets to the most central issue at hand. It’s not just about having convictions. Of course, convictions are critical to effective leadership, but one could just as easily hold to horrendous convictions, which then lead inevitably to horrendous consequences (think of the Nazism of Adolf Hitler). The issue isn’t just convictions…it’s right convictions. Here’s Mohler again:

For Christian leaders, this focus on conviction is of even greater importance. We cannot lead in a way that is faithful to Christ and effective for Christ’s people if we are not deeply invested in Christian truth. We cannot faithfully lead if we do not first faithfully believe…. The starting point for Christian leadership is not the leader but the eternal truths that God has revealed to us–the truths that allow the world to make sense, frame our understandings, and propel us to action. (ibid., 26-7)

That’s why the Declams were so amazing. I wasn’t just observing and judging students who had the courage to give speeches. I was witnessing young men and women whose minds are being shaped and influenced around biblical truth…truths which once planted and have taken root, grow into convictions which define who they are as people, shape who they are as citizens, and guide who they become as leaders, laborers, and influencers for the kingdom.