Winter 1997


Volume 16, Issue 4

Multi-Talented Musician Turns to Ministry

by Becky Hobbs


Skip Burzumato was only ten years old when God entered his life in a profound way. He was playing guitar for a poolside party in Florida when a pastor’s wife asked him if he would like to play for a new youth group that she and her husband were starting. An extremely talented musician, Skip said yes ("I’d do anything then for a gig"), not knowing that his entire life was about to change.

During that first youth group meeting, Skip heard the Gospel and accepted Christ as His Savior. He made up his mind that he wanted to attend the small evangelical church sponsoring the youth group. But that was going to be a problem.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Skip had been christened Ernest Burzumato and had been raised in a devout Catholic family -- three of his grandparents are from Italy. The family moved to the Tampa Bay area when Skip was ten. His father said there were three religions -- Jewish, Catholic, and Brand X. As far as he was concerned, Skip was flirting with Brand X.

"Early on he told me that I could go to the evangelical church if I gave equal time to the Catholic church," recalls Skip. "So I went to mass on Saturday night, and on Sunday morning my Sunday School teacher picked me up and took me to church."

This continued throughout junior and senior high school. While growing in faith, he excelled in music, playing jazz guitar for clubs, in bands, and for his youth group. During high school his life sustained a jolt when his parents divorced. Eventually he went to live with his father, who was in the Navy.

After graduation he went on the road with a Christian touring group called "His Ambassadors" for eighteen months, recording some albums with them and visiting thirty-six states, five Canadian provinces, and thirteen European countries. It was while he was on the road with the group that he met his wife, Stacey, who was attending Miami Christian College and planning to be a Wycliffe Bible translator.

A PULL TOWARDS MINISTRY

Upon leaving "His Ambassadors," Skip decided that he wanted to go to music school to become a recording engineer. His dream was to work in a recording studio. But there was no money for college. So, in 1984, he enlisted in the Navy and spent four years in Naval intelligence. Most of his time was spent working the bombing raids over Libya.

After his tour in Libya, he and Stacey were married. They lived in Jacksonville, Florida, and Portsmouth, Virginia, saving Skip’s Naval pay so that he could study engineering. During this time they were introduced to the Reformed faith through an interesting set of circumstances.

They had been having trouble finding a church, a fact which Skip mentioned to a fellow Naval volunteer with Prison Fellowship. Skip had already been reading Francis Schaeffer’s works, and the friend advised Skip to call his son-in-law, who also read Schaeffer. The son-in-law invited the Burzumatos to his little church, where a seminary student introduced them to the Reformed faith.

When they left the Navy in 1988, Skip went to Full Sail Center for the Recording Arts in Orlando. A year later he graduated and received a paid internship job offer from a recording studio in Memphis, Tennessee. The match was a good one, and after the internship, the studio offered Skip a job, which he accepted. For the next year, Skip enjoyed his dream, working for top-name recording artists and singing groups.

But the Lord had also been pulling Skip toward ministry. During that year, he had been doing part-time volunteer work for Streets Ministries in the inner city. He began to love the work more and more, while he came to realize that the music business was not the Lord’s will for his family. It was not conducive to Christianity; even though the owner of the studio tried to keep the presence of drugs down, keeping them totally out was impossible.

"One day the leader of the ministry confided to me that they needed a staff person to work with me, but they couldn’t find anyone," Skip recalls. "They wanted a black male with an undergraduate degree and some urban experience. I met none of the qualifications, unless you call being from Brooklyn urban experience. But I was interested and, believe it or not, they hired me."

His area of ministry encompassed two of the largest housing projects in Memphis -- an entire zip code which was ninety-nine per cent black and below the poverty line. Since he was not black, he and the ministry decided he must earn the right to be heard. So he "walked softly" and did everything in his power to serve the community. It worked well, and they accepted Skip, allowing him a very fruitful ministry. He and Stacey even gained custody of an inner city child whose mother was an addict. They had legal custody of him until he turned eighteen.

A CALL TO SEMINARY

While he worked in the inner city, Streets Ministries graciously sent Skip to the University of Memphis to finish his college hours, and in 1994 he received a degree in sociology. Slowly the Lord had been making it plain to Skip that He was calling him into ministry within the organized church. Skip also realized that his position in the ministry should really be filled by a different person, even though he had been successful. His thoughts turned more and more toward seminary.

In 1993 Skip accepted a call from Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis to be their youth pastor. He accepted, while continuing to work on a masters degree in sociology and philosophy from the University of Memphis.

Three and a half years later, Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis asked Skip to come on board as their college and singles minister. While tempted to say "yes," he told them that his heart’s desire was to go to seminary and he had postponed going long enough. Sandy Willson, the pastor, was willing to think about sending Skip to RTS part-time for block studies, so he accepted the job.

"I thought everything was settled, but God had other plans," says Skip. "At dinner one night, Reverend Willson asked Stacey how she felt about the seminary plans and she said she wished I could attend seminary in residence as she had at Miami Christian College. She wanted me to get the most out of my seminary experience. Subsequently, Reverend Willson and others at Second Presbyterian became convicted that the church should help get us to seminary full-time, and we accepted their gracious offer."

Skip worked for Second Presbyterian during the summer of 1996, then came to RTS. His great wit and winsome personality have endeared him to professors and students alike. "Skip is a cheerful, sparkling presence, with a gift for lively conversation and a contagious sense of humor," reveals Dr. Knox Chamblin, RTS/Jackson Professor of New Testament. "At the same time he is very serious about loving God from the heart, about worshipping him authentically, and about presenting the claims of Christ effectively to people beyond the church."

Because of his engineering and recording background, he has become a valuable asset in the seminary’s External Education Department. "Skip loves working in External Education because he has an opportunity to meet people all across country who are serious about deepening their knowledge of God," says Steve Froehlich, Executive Vice President at RTS/Jackson. "He is in a position to serve them and propel them forward in their pursuit of personal growth."

A middler in the Master of Divinity program, Skip is hoping to plant a church when he leaves RTS, possibly in an urban or college community. "The church is missing the boat by moving to the suburbs and leaving these urban centers behind," laments Skip. "People who live there need to be ministered to. In fact, I believe more "community" in the true sense exists in some urban centers than in the suburbs, where people often merely eat and sleep, then return to their communities of work. In some of these inner city communities, people keep up with each other and know their neighbors. They have block parties and meet on Saturdays to talk and read the paper together."

Those who know Skip feel that his background in ministry coupled with his diverse experience have prepared him for the real benefits of theological education. He is able to put what he’s learning into context and have a vision for how seminary will change him as a person and help him plan for the ministry ahead.

His imaginative creativity and his deep compassion for people will also serve him well in a church planting situation. Says Froehlich, "His desire is to see people change. He has a love for the truth and has seen enough of ministry and of life to understand the power the Gospel can have in people’s lives. The Gospel has gripped him and made him a new man, and he yearns to see that same reformation happen in the lives of people who know they need to be changed."



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