John Ewart on Critical Abilities, Part 7

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In the final post of this series I want to present one more critical ability necessary for missional leaders. Let me remind you of those I have shared about in previous posts so far:

  1. Understand the true mission.
  2. Establish a biblical vision.
  3. Build bridges of leadership.
  4. Manage change and conflict well.

These initial abilities will build on one another or at least lead to the need for one another. This final ability, however, must undergird every step. The fifth critical ability is to pray with a missional heart. I cannot overstate the significance of the need for this skill and practice!

If you want the train to move down the tracks, it needs a powerful engine. That power will not come from within us. It must come from the Holy Spirit. Prayer is one significant way to engage in that power relationship.

The church must acknowledge God’s sovereignty. Matthew 16:18 says, “…and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.” First Corinthians 3:6-7 adds, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

Effective leaders acknowledge that “apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5). They recognize their inability outside of Christ. They are not trying to move the load by themselves and by their own strength. They know they must understand His mission, establish a vision based on His Word to fulfill it, build a team of leaders to join them in that vision and then be equipped to lead in the change and through the conflict that may arise.

It bothers me greatly as I visit with pastors to see how many suffer from the sin of omni-competence. They seem to believe they are supposed to have the answer for every question and be able to accomplish any task. Who told them to do that? We were never intended to be able to do everything on our own. In fact, we were never designed to be able to do anything on our own. Everything belongs to Him. It is His church, His growth, His harvest. My life is even His. He bought me with a great price. Let us be careful that we do not confuse ownership and stewardship!

Stop reading and take a deep breath. I mean it. Breathe in breathe out. You couldn’t create that. Even that breath is a gift of grace from Him. Everything is. Prayer helps us to acknowledge Him and His sovereign rule over everything including the church.

Ironically though, Scripture also shows that the church must accept her service. James 4:2 states, “…you do not have because you do not ask.” Matthew 18:19-20 reminds us, “Again I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” God has chosen for us to play a role in His mission.

I often ask pastors for what are they praying. Are we asking for the lost souls of our communities? Are we sincerely pleading with God to revitalize the church and send her down the tracks? You know I have never met the leader who believes they are praying too much. Perhaps if we focused more in the prayer closet we would see more happening in our ministry field.

Effective missional leaders will not only develop their personal prayer lives, they will develop the prayer experiences of the entire congregation as well. Prayer will be a major part of body life and spill over into outreach efforts as well. This emphasis demands intentionality. Be the church that really prays. Activate a prayer strategy. Jesus is quoted in Matthew 9:37-38, “Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers in to His harvest.’” How will we pray? For what will pray? When?

Prayer must saturate our personal lives, our small group ministries and our corporate worship experiences. This is a DNA issue for a church to experience revival and growth. Historically, no great spiritual awakening has ever occurred without God’s people first being in concerted prayer. Step one, pray. Step one million, pray. At every step in between, pray. Privately and publically, with your leaders and by yourself, pray.


John Ewart on Critical Abilities, Part 5

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I have been discussing specific critical abilities a missional leader must possess in order to lead a church forward. These abilities build on one another. The first critical ability is to understand the true mission. Secondly, leaders must establish a biblical vision. The third ability from my last post is to build bridges of leadership.

The fourth critical ability is to manage change and conflict well. If a leader develops and displays the first three abilities effectively, I promise this one will be urgently needed.

Not everyone is going to get excited about moving everything under the banners of mission and vision and creating synergistic unity. This alignment may require leadership to say “No” to a ministry idea that does not fit as part of the train on the tracks. It may mean shutting down an existing ministry because, based on the mission and vision, it simply is not effectively fitting in with the new direction. It may also mean creating new ministries, decision-making processes, and end goals. Any of these changes can produce conflict and must be managed well.

I once pastored an established church next door to a public elementary school. There was a line of trees and bushes that completely separated the two properties. It was trashy and ugly and prevented one side from being able to see the other. It was a wall.

In addition, years earlier the church had allowed businesses to purchase the frontage property along the major roadway upon which the facility sat so any view from the front was obscured. It was known as “the church behind the Waffle House.” It was a wall.

Finally, the church had built a block wall on both sides of the main entryway. This thing stood several feet tall. It was literally a wall! Thousands of cars drove by every day but in order to actually see the facility you had about a 1.5 second drive by window of opportunity.

So…I met with the school leadership, organized work crews, and we cut down most of those trees, cleared out the overgrown underbrush, cut the front wall in half, planted some flowers and made the whole area park-like. No more physical walls. A teacher at the school actually said she did not even realize there was a church next door!

We then adopted the school, began to host their fifth grade graduation ceremony in our sanctuary along with a reception that followed, invited their sports teams to use our gym, conducted tutoring and reading programs during and after school hours, filled their supply closets, supplied snacks on field days, created experiences of appreciation for their staff and allowed them to use our parking lot as overflow whenever it was needed. In return they allowed us to distribute informational pieces advertising our various children’s programming opportunities to the families. We followed the rules and they did too and it was profitable for all. No more walls!

As a result we saw hundreds of kids and parents become involved in everything from our Upward sports programs, to music programs, to seasonal events, to our weekly programming. Many children and adults were saved and became great church members. In fact we were seeing God save people weekly and were baptizing each week. That was a new experience to this more than two hundred year old church. Walls were falling all around us.

This relationship caught the attention of the city mayor who invited me to his office. I spent 45 minutes alone with him discussing how other churches could and should become community partners like we had become. I even had the privilege of sharing the gospel with him one-on-one. So much for walls….

Or so you might think. While we were out there one Saturday cutting those trees, a long-standing member of the church walked up beside me. She crossed her arms, looked at me with a frown and said, “Pastor, I liked it better when the trees were still up. I liked it better when we could maintain our privacy.” Some walls are thicker than others.

To this day, many years later, all I can say is “WOW!” but I have learned that growth always produces change. Change often produces conflict.

How does a leader manage change and conflict well? I will be writing more about that next time.

John Ewart on Critical Abilities, Part 4

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John Ewart is Director of the Spurgeon Center for Pastoral Leadership and Preaching and Associate Vice President for Global Theological Initiatives. This is the fourth post in a series on Critical Abilities in Pastoral Leadership. 

Previously I have posted that the first two critical abilities a missional leader must possess are 1) the ability to understand the true mission and 2) to establish a biblical vision. With these in place, the tracks are laid; the train has been built and set into place.

Now how does the train stay on track and move forward? I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the question of how do new churches make decisions concerning what they are going to actually do. I was concerned with the “now what?” question. We have planted a church, now what do we do and how do we decide that in order to best move forward?

Over the years I have seen a plethora of churches that cannot make healthy decisions, do not realize they need to, and/or if they did, have unhealthy practices in which they make them. This inability has led to a lot of contextual chaos…bumper cars from a previous post, or a train wreck. They are either going in a million directions with no cohesive process or they are doing virtually nothing. If they continue, they often end up in reverse or totally off track.

So what can a leader do? The third critical ability of a missional leader is to build bridges of leadership. If there is no understanding of the true mission or a strong biblical vision, leaders will not be able to guide the church down the tracks in the proper direction or at the proper speed. But even with those first two abilities, it is absolutely critical to put in place the right leadership team with a proper understanding of bridge building.


A bridge connects two sides of a gap of some kind. Some bridges are designed for one-way traffic; others are for two-way traffic. Some leadership relationships are one-way while others are two-way. Let me illustrate just a couple of them.

The first leadership bridge a missional leader must build and cross is the leadership relationship between leader (himself) and God. This is a one-way bridge. Not the relationship but the leadership. I never lead God. God must always lead me. It is amazing how often pastors and church leaders need to be reminded of this basic truth. This is where it begins and ends. How is your total submission to the leadership of God? Are you trying to lead Him? How is that working for you?

Another bridge to build and cross is the leadership relationship of leader to leaders. Some may argue that this is a one-way bridge. I do not. In fact I am confident this is part of the problem sometimes. I believe this is a two-way bridge. Missional leaders recognize they can still learn from and at times be led by other leaders.

I always worked closely with the other key church leaders, both vocational and volunteer, as a pastor. We worked together in synergy, moving down the tracks as one. We met and communicated with one another frequently and learned to trust and love one another. We were friends and co-laborers. We were on the same page.

I am convinced that if this type of understanding and harmony existed among the leaders of churches, then the health of the church would vastly improve.

Remember a third leadership bridge. The leadership relationship of God to leaders. I actually believe that I do not own the market on discerning God’s will. God speaks to others through His Word as well. This is a one-way bridge for them just like it is for me. A wise man will seek wise godly counsel from God-led people and not attempt to lead alone.

How are you relating to and leading those with whom you serve? Once these initial bridges are built, there are several others to cross. These include leaders to congregation, God to congregation and congregation to the world. Understanding these connections and the proper way they fit together is critical for missional motion down the tracks.

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