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ACU Remembers: Dr. Charles Siburt

Dr. Charles A. Siburt Jr., who served as one of Abilene Christian University’s leading voices in Churches of Christ for more than two decades, died early this morning in Abilene at age 65 of complications from a nearly three-year battle with IgM Multiple Myeloma.
Following a private family graveside service, there will be a service honoring his life at 1 p.m. Saturday, July 14, at the University Church of Christ. Afterward, a time of visitation will be held with the family in the church’s Ministry Activity Center (MAC). The family will have a visitation and viewing Friday at the Piersall Funeral Home (733 Butternut) from 5-7 p.m.
Siburt underwent a bone-marrow transplant in March 2010 but had a relapse in January 2011. One of his goals was to return to teach in the Graduate School of Theology, which he recovered well enough to do briefly in May 2012. He also surprised students and colleagues by participating in Commencement earlier that month.
Formerly the vice president for church relations, Siburt served ACU as associate dean for ministry programs and services, O.L. and Irene Frazer Professor of Church Enrichment, director of the Doctor of Ministry program, and director of the Center for Church Enrichment. He joined the ACU faculty full time in 1988.
Siburt was a respected churchman who committed his personal and professional life to understanding the complex needs of congregations struggling with communication, conflict resolution, administration, and leadership training. He was a beloved mentor and father figure to countless numbers of students, providing encouragement and counsel long after they transitioned into ministry.
He led ACU’s popular ElderLink Forum program since its inception in November 2000, as well as sabbatical retreats for more than 400 ministers and spouses over the past 15 years through the university’s Ministers Support Network, both designed as proactive and restorative services for church leaders.
“My son says I’m a church doctor,” Siburt once said of his role. “Which means they bring me in to diagnose the situation and prescribe treatments for getting better.”
“These ACU-based ministries – one very public and the other private – have made a profound difference in Churches of Christ because of Charles and his commitment to serving others,” said ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91).
Dr. David Wray (’67), associate professor emeritus of Bible, missions and ministry, said Siburt’s genius was in finding a way through ACU’s ElderLink Forums to unite church leaders.
“ACU does a great job training and educating individuals for church ministry, and being a resource to churches,” said Wray. “The missing link, as Charles saw it, was the opportunity to communicate with church leaders. He believed it was essential for them to be able to come together and share thoughts. Because of the autonomous nature of Churches of Christ, it’s not common for congregational leaders to have much conversation with each other.”
Siburt and others worked hard to make resources available to them through ElderLink Forums in places such as Dallas and Houston; New Hampshire; Atlanta, Ga.; Portland, Ore.; and Brazil.
“Charles brought enormous credibility to every situation in which he was invited,” Wray said. “He had all kinds of expertise, knowledge and experience in relationships. He was a trusted expert in conflict resolution and was so well networked that you could hardly have a conversation with him without being interrupted by a phone call from a person who needed his advice.”
“One of his great character strengths was the shepherding sense he felt for people who sought his counsel. Our elders especially listened to Charles during times of conflict management and when hiring ministers,” said William E. Young (’57), who was a fellow elder at Abilene’s University Church of Christ. “He had a heart for resolving disputes. He was the consummate researcher whose appetite for statistical data to support interpersonal relationships and fairness have been invaluable to our missions projects and effective church governance.”
“There’s not a person who knows our churches better than Charles did,” said Dr. Eddie Sharp (’73), ACU trustee and pulpit minister of the University Avenue Church of Christ in Austin, Texas. “Not just on doctrinal issues but dynamics of interpersonal relationships between ministers and elderships. The people who heard him speak and listened to his wisdom were always blessed.
“For a man who was legally blind, he had more vision than anybody I know,” Sharp said of Siburt, who had a rare eye condition.
“I cannot imagine my career without his encouragement,” said Dr. James Thompson (’64), ACU professor of New Testament, and Robert and Kay Onstead Chair for Biblical Studies. “I think he knew everyone. His ability to recall details about people always amazed me, and although he spent most weeks dealing with the problems of other churches, he was totally engaged with University Church of Christ. I was always amazed at his awareness of the people and their personal crises.”
ACU chancellor Dr. Royce Money (’64) said Siburt was unique in every sense of the word.
“I have rarely known any person who was more attuned to God’s calling for him than Charlie. His God-given ministry skills, blended with a personality that could be tender or tough as the occasion demanded, made him one of the greatest servant leaders I have ever known,” Money said. “ACU was the perfect place for him to establish his base for ministry outreach to countless people and churches. That distinctive, booming voice, that sweet and caring spirit, and a heart brimming full of the fruit of the Spirit, will be dearly missed. But Charles Siburt’s influence will live on for generations in those servants of God who were touched by his life.”
Born Nov. 27, 1946, in Denison, Texas, Siburt graduated from Midland High School in 1964. He earned an associate’s degree from Lubbock Christian University in 1966 and a bachelor’s degree from ACU in 1968. Siburt graduated from ACU with a M.Div. degree in 1971 and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 1978. He did post-graduate studies at Colorado State University, The University of Texas at Tyler and The Menninger Foundation, and was a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.
He married Judy Bailey (’69) in 1967; they were named Outstanding Family Ministry Couple of the Year in 1998 by the Herald of Truth at the National Family Conference.
Siburt served as a minister to Churches of Christ in Imperial, Lingleville, Austin (University Avenue), and Tyler (Glenwood), Texas; and Fort Collins, Colo. (Meadow-Lark). He also served as interim preaching minister for Abilene’s Highland Church of Christ from 1990-91 and Lubbock’s Broadway Church of Christ in 1989.
He served on the boards of the Center for Parish Development, Texas Commission for the Blind, Hospice of Abilene, and Christian Village of Abilene, on Hendrick Hospice Care’s Community Council, and on Abilene High School’s Campus Consultation Committee. Siburt also was on national steering committees for the Association for Doctor of Ministry Education, and was a frequent speaker at lectureships, retreats and conferences.
Among survivors are his wife, Judy; two sons, John Siburt (’96) and his wife, Sarah (McKinney ’99) of Garland, Texas, and Ben Siburt (’00) and his wife, Emme (Luster ’99) of Abilene; two sisters, Elva Devers of Canyon, Texas, and Myra (Siburt ’65) Holmans and her husband, Jim, of Abilene; and four grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Dr. Charles and Judy Siburt Endowed Fund for Church Enrichment, the Dr. Charles and Judy Siburt Endowed Scholarship Fund for GST Student Assistance, or the Charles and Judy Siburt Endowed Scholarship, c/o Abilene Christian University (ACU Box 29132, Abilene, Texas 79699-9132) and to the Charles Siburt Clinical Pastoral Education Study Center at Hendrick Medical Center Foundation (1900 Pine Street, Abilene, Texas, 79601).