Choosing chapel speakers with intentionality

John Brown University requires each student to attend at least 21 chapels each semester in order to fulfill graduation requirements. The format for chapel each week is typically to have University staff members speak at each Tuesday chapel and guest speakers for every Thursday chapel.

University Chaplain Rod Reed is in charge of selecting the chapel speakers for each semester. Reed states how there are certain criteria that each possible speaker must meet before they are considered to speak in front of the JBU student and faculty body.

“I receive approximately 100-150 recommendations each year, and we can only bring about 25 speakers to campus per year,” said Reed. “We typically plan our chapels about 6-18 months in advance, so most recommendations for speakers that are accepted won’t appear on the calendar for one to three semesters. That means that we are very selective among many good options for chapel programs.”

Director of Christian Formation Tracy Balzer also notes how there are many criteria points that they look for in a candidate before deciding.

“Our first concern (beyond staying true to orthodox Christian faith) is that they actually have the ability to communicate well to this particular population—Christian college students,” said Balzer. “If they don’t understand something of the life and challenges of a college student, it probably won’t go well!”

Blazer also notes that, within being aligned with the doctrine and being able to communicate well to the college-aged audience, there are other factors that play a role in the decision process.

“We do want challenging messages and presentations that will challenge all of us to think critically and expand our growing understanding of who God is and how He is calling us to Kingdom work,” said Balzer.

Sophomore Haley Maguire notes how she appreciates JBU bringing in a variety of chapel speakers from an array of different backgrounds.

“I really enjoyed Guillaume Bignon (French atheist turned theologian). It was really nice to hear someone who has not been a Christian their whole life,” Maguire said.

Since JBU is an interdenominational University, Balzer and Reed strive to bring in those that reflect the same diversity that JBU holds, while still upholding with the core Evangelical fundamentals.

“The denominational backgrounds of our speakers will vary. And we certainly want minority voices to have a strong presence—women as well as men, and a spectrum of ethnicities,” Balzer said.

For both Balzer and Reed, their main goal is to see students challenged and stretched mentally and emotionally. Their goal is not necessarily to have a speaker that will please every student. Instead, each week, they hope to have a speaker that will be able to impact some students where they are at spiritually, and as a result, be moved through the words of the speaker.

Chapel speakers are also a way for students to hear and connect with people who have gone out into the world to accomplish God’s plan for them and, hopefully, be an encouragement or inspiration for students.

“I hope that, at each chapel, some students will see an example of what their lives could look like down the road as they follow Christ,” said Reed. “This is one reason why I try to bring a variety of speakers to campus so that as many students as possible can hear someone speak to where they are and where they might be.”