Resource Highlight: Wes Crawford and Summer Seminar
For the last four years the Siburt Institute has hosted a weekend short course for adults. Over the years the name has changed, but the purpose has remained steady. Summer Seminar is a wonderful opportunity for church members, students, and church leaders to gather together to delve into a pertinent topic for the church. This year Summer Seminar will explore the topic “Rich Heritage, Unfolding Future: Renewing Churches for God’s Mission.” The event will take place at ACU's Hunter Welcome Center on August 9-10.
We caught up with Dr. Wes Crawford to talk about his recent move to Abilene, his involvement with Summer Seminar, and the importance of studying church history.
Wes recently joined the faculty of ACU’s Graduate School of Theology, teaching in the area of church history and directing ACU’s Center for Restoration Studies. Before coming to ACU, he served as senior minister at the Glenwood Church of Christ in Tyler, Texas, and previously taught church history at LCU.
What got you interested in church history?
I suppose the best way to respond to this question is by saying the church has always been central to my life. I was born into a family that placed the church at the center of its identity. My parents brought all four of their children to the building anytime the doors were opened. We attended Sunday morning, Sunday nights, Wednesday nights, and even the occasional gospel meeting. As a young adult, I attended Lubbock Christian University in order to receive training to become a minister. As my academic career progressed, so did my involvement with the local church. I have held ministry positions in local congregations my entire adult life. So, the church has been an integral part of my faith formation and personal identity.
I attended ACU from 1999 until 2002, while I also served as the preaching minister for Orient Street Church of Christ in Stamford, Texas, a short 30-minute drive north of Abilene. During that season of my life, I met and studied under Doug Foster, who introduced me to Marshall Keeble, Silena Holman, Alexander Campbell, and T. B. Larimore. I became enamored with these and other historic church leaders who helped guide the church through some of its most formative moments. I found church history extremely practical, and I still do. I think present day church leaders would gain valuable insight and vocabulary by paying attention to the voices from yesterday. I think those voices have much to say that would benefit current conversations within the church.
Give us a sneak peak of what we might hear from you at Summer Seminar.
I’ve been invited to serve on a panel of church leaders in order to provide a bird’s eye view of the current and future direction of the church. As a church historian, I have been invited to join this panel in order to explain how an understanding of the past can help us chart a healthy path forward. I know there is a lot of fear among Christians today. The church in America is growing smaller, not larger, and the movement of which we are a part, Churches of Christ, is following that trend as well. It is important to understand, however, that the church around the world is growing at a faster rate than ever before. I think we need to temper our pessimism with a closer look at reality. Yes, there are some challenges before us, but our present age is also ripe for exciting new ministerial ventures, many of which are consistent with our history.
Why is it important to study church history (or restoration history)?
I could spend a lot of time answering this question. But for brevity’s sake, allow me to reference a quote from former and late President Ronald Reagan. In his farewell address from the Oval Office, he said, “If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are.” He was speaking, of course, about the importance of remembering our past as Americans. I believe the same is true about our past as Christians. I grew up in Church of Christ congregations in Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, and New Mexico. I can honestly say I do not remember hearing the names Alexander Campbell or Barton W. Stone in any sermon I ever heard until I was an adult. By forgetting our history, I think many of us have forgotten who we really are.
Speaking for a moment about the Stone-Campbell Movement—of which Churches of Christ are a part—most members of this movement have no idea that Campbell, Stone, and others set out with the goal of uniting all Christians of all denominations. Unity was their goal; restoration was their method to achieve that goal. When the Campbell and Stone movements united, the principal leaders of those two movements disagreed on just about every major theological question of the day, but they still came together. I believe there is much for any generation of Christians to learn from that episode alone. We have a wonderfully rich past; we need to remember it.
What are some positive things about our heritage?
In addition to our early emphasis upon unity, which I already referenced, I would also mention our emphasis upon Scripture. We are certainly not the only Christian movement that elevates the Bible, but I have always appreciated the way our sermons, Bible classes, and colleges routinely go back to Scripture for direction. In a world that changes rapidly, Scripture has provided a compass. I’ve been in church leadership for over 20 years now, and I have never been part of a theological discussion among preachers or elders or faculty members that did not rely on Scripture. Yes, we are sometimes operating with different hermeneutics, but I love the way Scripture has maintained its place within Churches of Christ.
How are you enjoying Abilene so far?
Well, to be honest, we are not actually in town yet. I taught a short-course in May, but my family has been traveling back and forth between Tyler and Abilene as we slowly transition this summer. Our twin daughters will attend ACU as freshmen this fall, so our summer has been kind of hectic. I’ve been wrapping up my ministry with Glenwood Church of Christ in Tyler, beginning my new role at ACU, helping my daughters navigate their transition from high school to college, helping my two sons with their transition from one town and high school to another, selling a house, buying a house, and taking a much-needed vacation with my wife, Kim! It has been a busy season, and we are looking forward to being in Abilene full-time later this summer.
What excites you about working at ACU?
I am looking forward to many things. I have known many of the Graduate School of Theology (GST) faculty members for years, and I am looking forward to renewing and growing those relationships in a different setting. I am excited to be in an Abilene congregation as a member and not a paid minister. I have loved my 20 years in congregational ministry, but I am excited about sitting next to my family during worship for a change!
Most of all, however, I am excited about being in the classroom regularly with students who will be shaping the future trajectory of the church. I realize every generation says this in some way, but I believe it is true that we are living in a time of incredible transition. We all know the church is changing and adapting, and our students are the ones on the front lines. I am excited to bring my years of experience in the church to their conversations about new and emerging directions. I believe this is an exciting time to be on our college campuses, and I consider it an incredible privilege to be joining the faculty at ACU.