Monday, February 27, 2006

On Leadership and Calling: An Interview with Ravi Zacharias Pt. 1

Ravi Zacharias and Major John Carter
2005 - Fall

Ravi Zacharias was interviewed in April 2005 by Major John Carter of The Salvation Army for a leadership class at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Charlotte, NC branch).

Major John Carter: In our leadership class, Dr. Zacharias, we discussed metaphors or images which guide leaders. Do you have a metaphor or image which has guided you in your life?

Ravi Zacharias: I think the best description I would give is that of a “privileged servant.” That would be the best description. There are different types, of course, but the Son of Man came to seek and to serve. I remember a number of years ago being a part of a conference in Wales where the theme on Christ was “The Servant King.” If the King Himself came as a servant and to serve, then that should be the model we have for ourselves. So I see it as a privileged servant. Coming from the East, where we had trusted, household help, trusted servants in the home, my father would trust them with the entire household, the children, etc., doing all types of things. This is our role, being a real servant of the King.

JC: That’s a wonderful metaphor and image of what we should think of, when thinking of our role, in Christianity. What biblical leaders are most important to you, perhaps in defining your own leadership?

RZ: There are several of them actually. In the earliest days, when I first looked at my calling, Jeremiah was the one, as the weeping prophet. The one who had such a tender heart towards so many things and yet had to be taken into such tough situations. One of the things God has fashioned me with is a tender heart. I have never been able to deny this or speak in laudable terms or in less than laudable terms than just to tell you the way I am or who I am. When I see a need, my heart is touched. I think that comes through my mother, who was a very tenderhearted woman. Looking at Jeremiah and the demands God placed on him, with all of the questions that he had, he was always raising questions before God, Why, why, why? And yet he had such a tender heart. Being told at one point that he was not going to be able to marry, and here was a man that needed that type of support, but didn’t have it.

Then, as time went on, because of the reluctance in my own heart, I would say Moses became a model for me: “Here I am, send Aaron.” I always felt unprepared and ill-prepared for this. I’m not comfortable in front of people. I do not like the attention that it brings. I love my anonymity. I’m not necessarily comfortable as a speaker; I’m more comfortable writing. I do not like leaving home and yet half of my life is spent on the road. I would rather step back and let somebody else do it in the forefront, so Moses became that model leader that I looked at. I could see why Moses questioned whether or not he should go and whether or not he felt prepared.

But in the last few years, I think the one who has best represented my calling is the apostle Paul. Abnormally born as it were, wrenched from the womb (in terms of calling), the convergence of various cultures into his life—the Greek, the Hebrew, the Roman, and now speaking to the Christian. The one who was a traveling missionary; the one who reasoned with the Epicureans and the Athenians. His apologetic especially given to Felix, is, I think, absolutely marvelous. He reasoned with Felix of righteousness and self-control and the things to come—the judgment and points of relevance, points of reference, points of disturbance—which is what apologetics is all about. So I would say in these last few years of my ministry, Paul has become that person.

JC: Are there any leaders outside of the Bible or outside the church that may have influenced you in a specific way?

RZ: Yes. They do in terms of their writing. I love reading some of the great authors of our time. I think John Piper is clearly one of my favorites. He plumbs the depths of the Scriptures and keeps God always as God before us and we as his creation. English writers have also helped me greatly. In terms of leadership, I have learned a lot from the life of a man like Joseph Stowell, [former] president of Moody. I’m just a few months younger than he is, but Joseph has modeled a lot for me. My pastors I worked under while I was a young man. My professors were very influential in my life in the early days—people like Norm Geisler, his impact on me. And prior to that in my undergraduate studies, from a methodology point of view, there were people like John Montgomery in the early days.

In terms of the leadership model, I also learned by observing fine pastoral men. Going back to India, just after my conversion, there was a man named Sam Kamaleson who became the vice president of World Vision. He led their pastoral conferences. There was John Tiebe, who was a Canadian and was a Youth for Christ Director in Delhi under whose watch I really came to know Christ. There was Sam Wolgemuth, who was also the great Youth for Christ International Director. In reference to these men, there’s something you borrow, not always specific, but an impression that is left in your mind. That impression begins to grow, nurtured by your reading and your studies. Observing the kind of men I worked under, they left me with this impression and a desire to be like them.

JC: In our leadership class, we discussed the paradigm from Jeremiah in the third chapter that related to calling, character, competence. We then we added a fourth word that could also be included, which was community. Dr. Zacharias, do you feel called to do this type of work?

RZ: Absolutely. And I don’t use that word lightly. Yesterday, as I was driving my wife to the airport (she was going to see her father who is not well), I said to her, “You know, if it weren’t for the call of God, this is not what I would do.” It demands a type of mental mindset, especially the travel side of it. It takes its toll physically and emotionally. I’ve never wanted to be away from my wife and kids for any period of time, and yet that’s what I have to do in my itinerant world. I think to know that you are called is a seal within your heart. I might also add—this is one thing that is not stressed for many who go into the ministry at this time. Today it is almost a manufactured profession. John Stott’s comment years ago was very appropriate when he said that the pastor’s study is replaced by the terminology “pastor’s office.” He said the study is where you learned and understood and heard from God and then went and spoke to the people. The office is where you manage a group of people. And without pushing it too far, the point is still well taken.

A calling is a beckoning. It is something like Samuel Wesley dying and telling his son: it’s that inner witness. There is something in your heart that God seals, and when I look at the way it has happened, the steps one after another, I could never have engineered any thing like this. I wouldn’t have wanted to or had the capacity to. It’s the calling of God that prepares your heart and prepares the place for your heart. No doubt, I am a hundred percent sure in my heart that God’s calling is on my life to do this work of a Christian apologist.

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