The Spurgeon Center: Critical Abilities, Part 2 (John Ewart)

Editor’s Note: Every Thursday morning at Between the Times we highlight the work of Southeastern’s Spurgeon Center for Pastoral Leadership and Preaching. Directed by John H. Ewart, who also serves as Associate Vice President for Global Theological Initiatives at Southeastern, the Spurgeon Center existsto equip and encourage pastors to lead healthy, disciple-making churches for the glory of God around the world. In the effort to accomplish this mission, through the board of advisors and others the center will be offering assistance, resources and training to our students, as well as to pastors and churches, to further equip them to serve well in the crucible of real life ministry. This week Dr. Ewart continues his series on Critical Abilities in pastoral leadership.

God has set before us a predetermined plan with principles by which we are to live in order to join Him in His desire to redeem the nations. These principles require leaders in the church to possess key abilities to follow His plan and to practically lead others on the journey.

The first of these critical abilities is to understand the true mission: the overarching purpose for which we exist, God’s Mission. We have read and been told that the mission of God is to bring glory to Himself and therefore our ultimate mission is to bring glory to God. These truths must not simply be some theoretical, theological discussion. They have massive, practical ramifications. Understanding these ramifications is absolutely vital for developing and/or evaluating an effective framework of ministry.

Our ultimate mission is not to plant, revitalize or grow a church or even to see the lost saved. We very much want to see those things occur, but ultimately they must only occur by means that bring glory to God. This reality strikes at the very heart of programming and ministry methodology. The ends do not justify the means if the means do not bring Him glory because that is the ultimate end.

I often refer to train tracks and bumper cars in my consulting, classes and conferences. Think about train tracks. The engineer on a train does not determine the path of the tracks. Those riding the train as passengers do not determine where the train will go either. The owner of the railroad company, the authority, determines where the tracks are laid and where they go.

Trains do not ride well when they are off the tracks. It is catastrophic. They need to ride the rails. Tracks provide them a predetermined path of direction that does not change. They will remain true and reach their appointed destination if they just stay on track.


As simple as this image is I find that as I speak with pastors across the nation, around the world, in doctoral seminars, on our campus and at conferences, they have often taken their eyes off the tracks. They have forgotten why they are doing what they are doing and replaced it with a lot of “what’s the latest cool and how to . . . .” They have found themselves off track and their ministries seem more like bumper car rides than powerful trains. What do I mean?

Think about bumper cars. They are cool, fun, noisy, and flashy, the music is blaring, the sparks are flying and you get to run into people! I like bumper cars. But the problem is clear. When it is all said and done and the music stops, and the flash expires, where do you end up? Same place you started! You just go around and around in a circle bumping into each other!

Ever been in a church like that? Seemingly one good ministry is doing its good thing and another good ministry is doing its good thing. They might even be cool, fun and flashy but in the end the church is just going around and around in an inward facing circle, bumping into each other, competing for time, people, energy and resources. I have seen many a ministry with a lot of flash, volume and spark, but long term not producing anything of value to the mission.

Focusing upon the mission of God, our train tracks, will help us produce spiritual synergy. When everyone and everything is linked together, heading in the same direction, flying down the tracks; that’s when something very special can happen. I am going to talk about how that can come together in the next few posts.

Think about your own life and ministry. Are you on His tracks? Are the ministries and people of your church moving as one with, as Spurgeon said, a “single eye to His glory?” Or, are they running around in circles bumping into each other? Do they even know they are supposed to be on track? Begin telling them now. It is a critical ability of a missional leader.


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