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.

 

John Ewart on the Hourglass of Leadership

Have you ever been in a situation where decisions and the ability to move forward were stifled because there was a bottleneck somewhere in the leadership process? It can be extremely frustrating, especially when you are the one causing the problem!

Years ago, I had an experienced leader teach me about what he called the “hourglass of leadership.” Perhaps you will find some aspect of this helpful. I have referred to it often.

Think about the shape of an hourglass. Wide at the top and bottom with a very narrow middle. That middle part is very strategic. It is designed to allow only a certain amount of sand to sift through thus creating the timing mechanism. If the gap is too wide, the sand moves too quickly and the timing is off. If the gap is too narrow, the sand is blocked from making progress and the instrument becomes useless. That small gap actually makes certain the hourglass fulfills its designed purpose.

Leadership can be described as that gap. Good leaders help determine pace and timing. Effective leaders maintain the connection to the designed purpose. When leadership is too wide open, unfocused and inattentive, there is often no calibration. In church life that can result in a bumper car mentality (see previous posts) with ministries all doing their own things. They have little to no connection to a greater, designed purpose. Resources and efforts are going off in a million directions, competing with one another and very little progress is really ever accomplished.

If leadership is too tightly controlling, however, it can lead to a halt of movement, a stifling of creativity and lack of progress as well. Leaders who have to be in every meeting and personally make every decision can hurt and even stop growth no matter how brilliant and talented they are. They create a bottleneck of micromanagement which inevitably becomes frustrating for everyone involved, including them!

There is a needed balance of uniformity and release in church leadership. This proper balance of uniformity, creativity and delegation can create an environment in which healthy scalability can occur. In other words, if everyone is on the same page, actually understands what that page is, why it is important to all be on that page and then is allowed some flexibility to create on that page, you can create a climate of uniform vision and be in a positive position for healthy growth.

Leadership must bring ministry leaders together in a united vision designed to fulfill a biblical mission. They must lead others to participate in building a train that is hooked together, moving down a single track in synergy as compared to riding around on the bumper cars. This takes time and a certain pace that can often be very contextual. Like sand properly sifting through an hourglass. If the attempt is made to change them too suddenly, there is often rebellion. It is similar to a child that have never been told “No” and suddenly is disciplined. It can lead to conflict.

But once that vision page is drawn together and everyone is on board, leadership must also release responsibilities in delegated trust with accountability back to the ministries in order to see the base grow and extend. If you do not, you will create a backlog of decisions and lack of action. You will soon be stuck and plateau can occur. Eventually, you will forget to make certain decisions in a timely fashion because they all rest on your shoulders and you will create even more confusion about the vision and mission.

So think about the hourglass. What is the proper vision and timing for this place and these people to fulfill God’s mission? How can I bring them together in unity and them let them go in ministry?

 

John Ewart on Critical Abilities, Part 7

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.