John Ewart on God’s Servants in Zambia

I have the privilege of writing this just before Christmas from the campus of the Baptist Theological Seminary of Zambia in Lusaka. I am here teaching courses to a cohort of leaders from around their convention and churches. These men are pastor/teachers who seek to develop other leaders as well. They are a sharp and godly group! They humble me.

No matter where I go and how often I have the opportunity to be a part of the incredible team at Southeastern that helps train leaders in the international church just like these men, I am always struck by how universal and cross cultural the needs of discipleship and leadership development truly are. God has created His church and maintained ownership of it from the beginning. We, as mere stewards and servants, are asked to help guide and lead His people under His command. The task is great but the resources He provides are even greater. They are supra-cultural. They transcend culture.

I recognize and am teaching this week about the reality of contextualization and its great importance. I understand and will expound upon the fact that our specific methods and approaches to church life, missions and discipleship are greatly affected and often specifically defined by context and culture. First Corinthians 9:19-23 shows we must be willing to adapt and be sensitive. But underneath that willingness lays a firm foundation we must always acknowledge that is never changing and wholly dependent upon God.

I have been learning from my students here once again about the power of the Holy Spirit and prayer. I am being schooled on what concepts like total dependency upon God and amazing faith in the Word look like in real world practice. I am being blessed by testimonies of victory and triumph over darkness. It is good as the teacher to also be the student. I appreciate the early Christmas present I am receiving by being here.

As we seek to train trainers in our local churches, our schools and for the nations, I pray we will study well the lessons learned from others. It is good to learn from those who went before us and succeeded at impacting others. The principles we can find in books and conferences or even a blog like this are often valuable, challenging and encouraging. They also give us something to footnote!

Ultimately, however, may we never forget the primacy of Scripture and the Holy Spirit in the fulfillment of the Great Commission to make disciples and leaders. To remember that our relationship with others must be squarely based upon our relationship with our Father as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 22:34-40. To never forget that no matter what role we play in the process, God, in the end, is the One who causes the growth to occur as Paul writes in I Corinthians 3:5-7.

I have already finished teaching these leaders in a course on evangelism. Now I must expand the discussion to missions. I pray I can teach them well; teach them something of value. But if I were to be honest, selfishly, I am really praying they will teach me more as well over the next few days. Good leaders must never stop being good learners. I will be looking for that next early Christmas present as I meet with these dear brothers!

John Ewart on Dog Fighting (or jealousy among leaders)

Have you ever been in a dog fight? I don’t mean a deacon’s meetings gone wrong or a bad church business session. I mean a real fight between two canines. Well I have now unfortunately. So check that off my bucket list.

The day before Thanksgiving I had to break up a fight between my daughter’s pit bull and my very spasmodic beagle mix. They always have to warm up to each other a little bit when they have not seen one another for a while but they were doing just fine. Fine until I showed too much attention to the pit bull. My psycho mutt got jealous and attacked. I found myself bent over the arm of my recliner. I had the pit bull pinned down by the throat with one hand and my dog stiff armed with the other! My wife did not know whether to laugh or cry when she came into the room to my screams for help. Let me tell you, eating turkey and dressing with a busted rib diminishes the festive atmosphere!

Later that day those two knuckleheads were playing with one another and running around the yard like nothing had happened. I literally groaned.

But the wars between the Fido’s reminded me of something. I have known leaders in our denomination and others who were exactly like them sometimes. When they saw God paying attention to and blessing another leader or another ministry they reacted poorly. Instead of being thankful for what God has already given to them and how much God has been blessing them, they were jealous and competitive. Suddenly God’s rich blessing on their lives and ministries was not enough and they wanted to force His hand off of someone else so they could somehow receive more. Some even resorted to tearing down the other leaders and speaking negatively about them in order to feel better about themselves.

All jealousy and negative competition leads to is conflict. Conflict with one another, with ourselves and with God. Coveting the grace of God bestowed upon another is a sin and a shame. God chooses to bless and to favor according to His perfect plan and mission. We cannot see all that is involved and must rest in His grace no matter how He chooses to manifest it in our lives. That is what is right and perfect for us at this time, in this place, with the lessons we must learn and the way He is still molding us. Anything less robs us of what God is doing in and through us.

Everything we have is by his grace. As leaders, we must stay focused upon these right priorities. We cannot be jealous or competitive and we must not pass this attitude on to those we train. Instead we must focus upon His grace given to us. If we do this we can focus better upon bringing him glory rather than worrying about our success. If we do not, I fear first we might find ourselves pinned down by the neck, but far worse, I fear He might remove His hand from us completely.

 

John Ewart on Decision, Discipline, Dependence, and Deliverance

I had the privilege of speaking to our alumni at the North Carolina Baptist State Convention meeting this week. It was a joy to see old friends and make new ones. Hats off to our alumni office and our staff for pulling together a great time together. In my talk, I turned to an Old Testament story found in 2 Samuel 23 to illustrate a few key characteristics of a leader in God’s service. I love this little passage and wanted to pass it along to you.

This chapter tells of King David’s mighty men. They were unusually strong and courageous soldiers. In verse 9, we discover Eleazar, son of Dodo. It is from his life we glean principles to strengthen us to become better leaders for the kingdom.

First, we learn the Principle of Decision. Eleazar did not simply wake up one morning and decide, “I believe I will be one of the king’s three mighty men today.” Decisions were made long before by him and by God in order to prepare him for this service. He had been created in a certain way, equipped and prepared physically, mentally and spiritually by God in order to be used by the king. He made decisions to prepare for this role as a general of generals.

If we want to be used by God we must decide now to serve our King and to prepare ourselves that we might be ready when the call to service comes. Preparation for battle must occur before the battle actually arises. We must be spiritual, physically and mentally prepared before the opportunity comes our way or we might fail or miss the chance to be used. Nate Saint, the missionary martyr, said his life changed when he came to grips with the fact that, “obedience is not a momentary option…it is a die cast decision made beforehand.”

Leadership development involves training for what opportunities and challenges the future may hold. Instead of reactively recruiting people for ministry, why would we not proactively be equipping people for ministry yet to come?

The second principle we learn in verse 9 is the Principle of Discipline. Eleazar stood with his king even when everyone else ran away. The idea of the Hebrew army withdrawing refers to them going up or ascending. As the enemy poured over one side of the valley the Israelites retreated up the other, leaving their king and Eleazar down in the middle!

People retreat for two reasons: misdirected fear and misdirected faith. We forget who God is and who we are and the difference between the two. We fear the wrong things and we believe and trust in the wrong things, or people.

Leaders must learn to stand with their King even when it is not popular, the enemy is attacking, and they are all alone. This is not easy. Leaders stand because they are disciplined. They are disciplined because the right decisions have been made beforehand. We need effective leaders showing others how this is done.

Principle number three is the Principle of Dependence found in verse 10. Eleazar did not wait until he was overwhelmed by the enemy. Instead, he went on the attack with the only weapon he had. He was absolutely dependent on his sword to be strong and to work properly. He swung that sword so long his hand cramped to the hilt. The word means to be joined, to be one. He was one with his sword.

That battle wasn’t the first time the general had ever used his weapon. He was likely a master swordsman. He was one of the three mighty men! He probably had trained many a man in swordsmanship. You see decisions had been made, preparation and experience had taken place to lead him to this discipline and dependence.

Have we became master swordsmen? Have we practiced and prepared, spent time training, so that when the moment came, we could stand with our King? Read Ephesians 6:17 and Hebrews 4:12 and ask yourself if you need a little sword drill today.

Our last principle is the Principle of Deliverance in verse 10. I cannot think of a greater testimony than to acknowledge that all the victory, all the honor and glory belong to and are caused by, the Lord. God delivered Eleazar that day. There is no way he should have survived. God saved him and brought glory to Himself. A godly leader has no problem proclaiming that God did it. In fact, isn’t that the entire goal?

I find the last part of the verse almost humorous if it were not so sad. After the battle was all over and all the hard work was done, here comes the Hebrew army crawling back over the hill to strip the dead. I know a lot of churches and leaders like that. They want to enjoy all the benefits but not all the effort. They settle for spiritual leftovers.

How about you? Are you settling? Or are you serving your King, standing your ground, drawing your sword, and celebrating His victory? Learn and live out the principles of Decision, Discipline, Dependence, and Deliverance. Teach them to someone else.