Choosing chapel speakers a noteworthy task
By ANDREW SMITH
Robert Rohm is one of the more recognizable leaders on the Cedarville University campus. Rohm’s role as campus pastor gives him plenty of responsibilities — campus ministries, community ministries, discipleship ministries, student mission trips and the ERAP program all run under his leadership.
But one of the most common events at Cedarville is also one of his least-known ministries. During each chapel, while students lead music and speakers deliver challenges to the student body, few notice Pastor Rohm sitting in the front row, quietly taking notes. He fills journals with those notes and stores them in a file cabinet in his office.
Sixteen journals for sixteen years of chapel.
And what goes in a journal? An asterisk next to a particularly effective speaker? Perhaps, but Rohm is sure to note the opposite, too.
“I’ll make notes in my daytimer if a speaker doesn’t go over well,” Rohm said. “I don’t want to forget and invite that person back.”
So goes the life of the campus pastor at Cedarville. Chapel notes every day at 10 o’clock in the morning for a semester might seem monotonous, but chapel is too important to the university for that to happen.
“It’s the heartbeat of university life,” said Caleb Kohl, a junior pre-seminary major. “It’s a chance for the students to come together and worship the Father.”
Because chapel is so critical, Rohm is careful to guard it, and he has high standards for speakers.
“First, doctrinal integrity to who we are at Cedarville is crucial for any speaker, and second, [we want] the kind of individual who would go over well with a university-age crowd. Not every speaker [can do that].”
Rohm cited Rob Turner, pastor of Apex Community Church in the Dayton area, as a recent example of that type of speaker. Turner challenged and encouraged the students during the Fall Bible Conference, and, according to Rohm, is an excellent example of connecting with the college-age demographic.
“Rob Turner hit a home run because he can relate to the students and he has a solid theological foundation, so you don’t have to worry about what is about to come out of his mouth.”
Because Cedarville is traditionally a Baptist school, most speakers come from that fold because of the University’s focus on theological consistency. Perhaps the easiest place to find a pastor is about a mile south to Grace Baptist Church, which was founded by Cedarville College students in 1954. The pastor is Dr. Craig Miller, a 1979 graduate and longtime friend of the university. He was brought to Grace to be its senior pastor in 2005. Since then, Pastor Miller has spoken in chapel three times, most recently on September 9, when he challenged the students to embrace personal theology and to develop a core of doctrine.
“An awful lot of students have very little Bible knowledge coming into Cedarville,” said Miller, who also teaches Spiritual Formation at the university . “I’m not even sure how many of my students could name the 66 books of the Bible in order.”
Miller says a chapel speaker should provide a supplement to the daily Bible minor education. “The minor is not enough to ensure that the student leaves with an adequate core of Biblical content. It’s the best we can do, but they’ve been taught very little elsewhere.”
Rohm and Miller expressed the importance of chapel, especially for having it in the middle of the day, every day. It is metaphorically and literally the center of the student’s day.
Miller also had some recommendations for future speakers, were he to decide. “I would bring in John Piper any time he could do it.” As it is, Rohm mentioned that they were planning for Piper to come next year. Miller also mentioned missional pastors Mark Driscoll and Matt Chandler, and biblical academics D.A. Carson, John Woodbridge and Jonathan Edwards scholar Doug Sweeney.
Though Miller admitted that it was difficult to gauge the students’ response to his talk, Rohm said he was left with nothing but good impressions.
“Students have the idea that if it’s somebody really local that it’s not going to be that great of a chapel,” Rohm said about Miller. “I love his expositional preaching. He deals with church history, something he’s a guru in, and he’s very applicational. He went over really well.”
So it seems that Miller, at least, won’t be marked in the day timer. At least not for something bad.