By David Kneip
“Though she be but little, she is fierce.”
– William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream III.2.325
This famous quotation, a statement of pride by many a young woman, is not the only example in literature of a diminutive hero or heroine. Novels frequently feature characters described as small or short, whether young people like the valiant Gavroche in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, or small adults like Charlotte Brontë’s title character in Jane Eyre. As Christians, we also see this theme in Scripture. The Bible is full of unlikely, “small” heroes, like the insignificant Hebrews becoming God’s chosen people, or the youngest son David becoming the greatest king in Israel’s memory. As readers, we are often drawn to these characters because we can see how the odds are stacked against them, as they try to make their way in a “big” world.
For many decades, ACU’s annual Summit has been big. Like, “thousands of people on campus at one time” big. “Row after row after row of exhibits” big. “Major national speakers” big. We’ve had big themes and big dreams, and those big dreams have often brought big results.
But over the last several years, we’ve noticed that “big” seems to have lost a bit of its luster. Perhaps it’s due to the very power that brings these words to you – the internet – which has brought the big world out there into our homes and even our pockets! People don’t need to come to gatherings like Summit in order to hear those big speakers or participate in large worship gatherings; we can simply subscribe to our favorite preacher’s podcast, or join the Zoom worship at a big church! And people seem to be making that very choice, as attendance at gatherings like Summit has been declining all over the country.
And then COVID showed up and shut down most events like Summit. But at a more personal level, we have faced a whole complex set of challenges as a result of this pandemic: isolation, uncertainty, illness, grief, and anger, just to name a few. Regardless of their source, these challenges sap our joy and weaken our hope; taken together, they can be – and have been – highly debilitating for believers.
As a result, we have created Summit 2021 with these developments in mind. Our theme this fall grows directly out of the past 18 months: “Seeking Hope, Finding Joy.” We will speak frankly about the challenges that we face as disciples, as ministers, as servants. We will seek to renew our hope in Jesus Christ, to refresh the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit, and to revitalize our desire to serve in God’s kingdom. And we will do those things in some tried-and-true ways: through worshiping together, through hearing engaging speakers, and through Christian fellowship.
That word “fellowship” is crucial here. It’s not just Summit’s content that attempts to address the realities of our world – it’s also the format. As we’ve all learned over the past 18 months, there’s just nothing quite like face-to-face, embodied fellowship with other believers. It is absolutely true that we can worship together online, and that we can pray for one another, sing together, and hear an excellent sermon via Facebook Live. The same is true for ministers and other congregational leaders. They need fellowship with others – in their town, in their church fellowship, in similar ministry roles – but like an online worship service, affinity groups on Facebook are just not quite the same.
So this year, in response to realities on the ground, and in light of the things we think we can provide, Summit is “going small.” Rather than inviting you to a smorgasbord of events, hoping that you will find something meaningful to you, we are curating a set of experiences to which we want to invite you. Both this fall and this spring, we will host short, intense gatherings of ministers and congregants for spiritual renewal and growth. This fall’s Summit, to be held at ACU on October 14-15, will feature gathered communities of preachers, children’s ministers, and ministers in small churches, along with a “general interest” group for folks of all stripes. Next spring, we’ll do it again at the end of March, with another set of focused communities for renewal. You can learn more about all things Summit at www.siburtinstitute.org/summit.
We know that this model of Summit will be unfamiliar to some, but our goals are to equip church leaders and help churches thrive. And as we see in Scripture, those goals can be met by moments big or small. This year’s Summit is leaner, hopefully more efficient, and certainly more intentional. Our hope is that, after you leave Abilene this October, you’ll be able to say of Summit, “though it was but little, it was fierce!”