My Friend, Bill Banowsky

“I’m Dr. Bill Banowsky. It’s very nice to meet you, Tim. I hope you don’t mess things up, too badly.” That was how I met Bill. It was June 2002, and he spoke those words to me during the closing song of the service in which I was announced as the newly hired preacher at the Highland Oaks Church of Christ. One might assume after such and awkward introduction we did not get along well. To the contrary, we became quite close friends. I was Bill’s preacher for six years starting then, and his friend ever since.

Today, he went to be with the Lord.

Here’s how I experienced Bill as his preacher and friend. Feel free to share your own memories in the comments:

Some of the notes Bill left me giving me feedback on my preaching.
  • Bill Banowsky was the first person I ever asked for money to fund a campaign. Talk about jumping into the deep end! I was new to it, and I did it poorly. I’m chuckling to myself as I remember that night. It was Highland Oaks’ annual Mission campaign. Bill said no with great enthusiasm, and then began to rather sternly tell me everything I had done wrong and why it was a terrible idea, etc. Gay, his always gracious wife, intervened and calmed the waters. I left with my head hanging. Sunday, Bill said after thinking it over, he’d be happy to help out and he helped us reach the goal.
  • From that night forward, I learned everything I could from Bill about communication, organizational strategy, universities, and raising money. He was a legend at it, and he taught me a great deal about how people with money think and feel about being asked and how he and Norvel Young did “friendraising.” It was extremely insightful and helps me to this day.
  • Emily (my wife) and I were among the first editors of his book, the Malibu Miracle and worked with him on it for many months. We have one of what I believe are four original copies, and I’ll always treasure that time with him. We sat with Bill for hours, multiple times a week, listening to him talk about what it was like to build Pepperdine…what Blanche Seaver was like, what Ronald Reagan was like. What Gerald Ford was like; what really happened and how he felt during some of Pepperdine’s most difficult moments.
  • Bill taught me the importance of correct word choice when preaching. He said, “You’re not anxious for Easter Sunday to arrive. You’re eager! Anxious implies you’re nervous, or on edge. Eager means you can’t wait! You’re not anxious. You’re eager.”
  • Bill gave used the church bulletin to grade my sermons every Sunday he attended (some pictured above). Literally. I have kept some of the dozens (maybe even a hundred) of them with his usually constructive communication tips, and letter grades, ranging from B- to A+++. Rarely a Sunday went by we didn’t have an amusing interaction, and rarely a week went by we didn’t talk on the phone or in person. He only wanted to deliver his “report cards,” in person. Occasionally, he’d hand one to an elder to deliver to me. Thankfully, only the good ones 🙂
  • He took an interest in me for whatever reason, and I was so fortunate he did. As our friendship grew, he not only became a great encourager, but really helped me understand the power of oratory on a large stage. He taught me how powerfully language can move people, not just he personality of the communicator—though Bill had a rather grand personality.
  • Perhaps most importantly, Bill and Gay Banowsky took our young family under their wing during some challenging seasons of ministry. They had our back when our back was rather exposed. We will always love he and Gay for that.
  • In 2006, I was blessed to preach the Opening Night Keynote sermon at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures—probably the most prestigious invitation I’ve ever received, being a Pepperdine alumnus. Before a capacity crowd in Firestone Fieldhouse, with all the nerves fluttering within, I asked my dad and Bill to say the opening prayers before I got up to preach.
  • Bill was my friend, and I will miss him. Like the university he gave his best years to, he was one-of-a-kind. Funny, charming, eccentric, tough as leather, brilliant, thought-provoking, loyal, and generous. That was the best of Bill.
  • Over the years, I’ve recommended at least a hundred students to Pepperdine, and I regret those who attended won’t know the price that was paid by people named Baxter, Sanders, Wilburn, Lovell, Young, Banowsky, White, Davenport, Benton, and others. That’s a Hall of Fame list, which couldn’t be complete without Bill Banowsky.

Miracles don’t happen by accident. Neither did Pepperdine’s Malibu campus, which Bill called, “The Malibu Miracle.” Sometimes I think there aren’t a lot of Pepperdines is because there aren’t many Bill Banowskys. He and Norvel Young had that special combination of vision, charisma, courage and resilience it took to grow Pepperdine into the one-of-a-kind university it is today. It was a miracle of God, but they really worked hard to show up with the fish and the loaves.

Tonight, on the eve of the 2019 Pepperdine Bible Lectures, I’m thankful for the Banowsky family and their legacy that has helped provided a quality, Christian education for my dad, me, my wife, and her two brothers (and maybe my own daughters someday).

Tomorrow night I’ll look at that stage and remember his prayer over my preaching thirteen years ago, and walk a loop around the campus on the street that bears his name. I’ll say a prayer, and I’ll thank God for miracles.

Inscription from Bill the night of the release of the Malibu Miracle.

Dr. Tim Spivey is Pastor of New Vintage Church in Escondido, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on numerous websites, including: ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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