Tuesday, February 28, 2006

On Leadership and Calling: Ravi Z Pt. 2

Click HERE for the first part of this interview.

JC: How important do you feel character is in the realm of leadership?

RZ: Definitive. I think if character is not there, you are not only destroying the role that you are called to, but the message that you are carrying. You are in effect becoming a counterpoint to what it is you are propagating. When I think of character, I think of not only behavior, I also think of motive. Motive is key, that which drives a person to do this.

You see, the pulpit can become quite the show window for a person and it can become a big ego thing. You see it happening again and again, much more than you would want to or even thought it would happen. When I think of character, I just don’t think of obedience or of simply being aligned with the claims of God upon your life. I think of it as the very motive: What it is that drives you to serve and do what it is that you are doing?

I really think that today, as Christian apologists, that the biggest challenge to the faith is not an intellectual question. In fact, I have not heard an intellectual question to the faith that has disturbed me. I am more convinced than ever of the message of the Gospel. But the biggest challenge to the Christian faith is this: If the message that we have lays claim to a supernatural regeneration, then why is it that we do not see that regeneration more often? No other religion claims a supernatural regeneration. They may claim ethics and morality. Hinduism does. But we are the only ones who claim a new birth. Born of the Holy Spirit, our hungers have changed, our disciplines have changed, our behavior has changed. If it is a supernaturally engendered thing, why do we not see it more often? And if that is true of the common person in conversion, how much more true it must be of ones in leadership. So I believe character is essential, and without that, you cannot serve.

JC: Where does competence play out in this area of leadership? You’ve talked about the calling, you’ve talked about the character formation that needs to be in place. What about the competence level of leadership?

RZ: This obviously is very important. I think Billy Graham made a very simple statement years ago when he said it was a great day in his life when he learned that God can use good organization. We sometimes are haphazard. Sometimes we are ill-equipped. Sometimes we are ragged in our planning and doing. Competence is very important, especially in the gifted situation. You have the calling to be an expositor of the Gospel. You have that gift within you; it is there. The competence is shown by somebody who works at what it is that he is gifted and called to do. If a leader is not competent, many things will fall by the wayside. In the organization that he works with, there will be ripple effects of failure. The disciplines that are needed for sermon preparation and delivery will be taken for granted.
I think this whole idea of organization building—of the process that has to be taken on when you are moving from point A to point B—the vision and the passion in you wants to take you in that direction. However, the passion and the end will not automatically come together because it takes competence to get you there. Competence is a big word. It is important. I almost want to nuance it with the idea of giftedness because sometimes you can teach a lot of skills on exposition but a person may not have the competence or the giftedness to do it. Therefore, it is very important to have that.

JC: We added a word: community. We discussed the importance of leadership in the community that a person is engaged in and the type of impact that is needed in order to make change possible. Do you see community as being an important part of leadership?

RZ: Very important. I am more and more convinced, as the seventies and eighties have brought to our attention, you cannot have lone horses out there. There are dangers to it. That’s one of the reasons why our organization is a team. It would have been very comfortable in a self-serving way to be the lone member of this organization and carry on with all of the privacy and all of the privilege of funding, etc. and keep going that way, but I never wanted it that way. I keep telling members who join the team: “You need to be part of a community. There is a fraternity that we all must have. Fire begets fire. Iron sharpens iron.” And not only that, if the church is a community, then how can you in your own life not be part of one and expect to build community while you yourself are in isolation? Many entailments come from the concept of community.

In this postmodern era, one of the few redeeming factors is that there is still hunger for community. It is important that we understand how God has so fashioned us. The starting point of good apologetics is Trinitarian, and God Himself is a being in relationship. He has fine tuned us that way. So community is an essential part of what I do as a leader and what I do in my leadership.

JC: That is so very true. You spoke about your calling, and this is a personal question: Was there anything that came as a confirmation of your calling to do this type of work more than anything else?

RZ: Yes, there were several things. Most important are the people God brings into your life. John Stott played that early role when I was looking for a seminary and he directed my paths to Trinity. It became the school where I needed to be and with members of the faculty: Walt Kaiser, J.I. Packer, John R.W. Stott, John Montgomery, Norm Geisler, John Gerstner, Carl Henry, and Kenneth Kantzer. There were some fine men and women teaching in that seminary at that time. That was the first thing; God took me there.

But before RZIM was formed, I was a professor at Nyack, the Alliance seminary, and I had just spoken for Billy Graham in Amsterdam in 1983. I was flying back from there and I thought to myself, Apologetics… How desperately it is needed. All of my evangelism, as I heard it then, was geared to the unhappy pagan, as it were. And I thought, What about the happy pagan? What about the person who has questions and feels no need? What about that type of person? They are more lost in a sense, and desperately in need of finding the Savior.

I wanted to start an organization and I said to Margie, I wish we had $50,000 to get a ministry like this going. She sat back in her seat and chuckled and said, “That’s a lot of money.” I was a seminary professor. I said, “If God were to bring that in, I would build an organization to reach the thinker and train men and women to do Christian apologetics all over the globe and to do it well.” That was in August. I came back and resigned. I gave one year’s notice, really believing that the Lord was leading us. She was uneasy with this. I was uneasy too, and we made one agreement: We would not tell anybody what we were thinking.

In November of that year, two months after that, I was speaking in Ohio to three hundred laymen, and after my last message I made this comment: “As you are driving back to the airport, would one of you in each car pray for God’s leading in my life? I am seeking Him and his wisdom in a certain matter. I cannot tell you what it is, just pray for us.” They did not even know that I had resigned from the seminary, effective one year after that. I went back to my room and picked up our bags. Margie and I were walking out, and there was a man standing there. He said, “Can I talk to you for a minute?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “I don’t know what it is you are seeking God for, but I went back to my room and got on my knees and said, ‘God, what is it that that young couple is seeking wisdom for? Is there a role you want me to play?’” The man said, “I have no idea what it is you are seeking wisdom for, but I just got off my knees with God impressing me to give you a check for $50,000.”

I thought to myself, This is unbelievable. I mean, I have never received anything like that in my life. I looked at him and said, “Sir, I don’t even know you.” He said, “I’m going to trust you.” I said, “You know, that is a lot of money to take from a stranger. I cannot do it. But if you tell me where you live, I will fly in sometime in the next two months to see you. We can talk, and then if it is still on your heart, we can move forward with that.” He said, “You’re a busy man. I have a plane. Tell me where you live; I’ll fly in to see you.” And he flew to New York where we lived, to White Plains. My wife and I shared with him the vision to reach the thinker and he had tears in his eyes. He said, “I’m not an educated man, but I know how to make money and God has blessed me. You stay faithful and you stay honorable. I’ll take care of you. I’ll support your ministry because God has his hand on your life and you are reaching a segment of society that needs to be reached.” That was 1983. In January, we called together fifty friends, and this ministry was born in August of 1984.

That was just one link, but there were a series of links from John Stott directing me to the seminary to the man, Mr. D.D. Davis. He passed away very suddenly two years ago. Also, the wife God gave me, who affirmed and reassured me. There are so many things to affirm that this was of God.

JC: That is quite a remarkable story. Here is an interesting question: Is there a relationship between your conversion and your call that is more than just incidental?

RZ: I think to me there is a very clear relationship. Sometimes it may not always be that evident. God raised Moses in a palace in order to use him in a desert. He raised Joseph in a desert in order to use him in a palace. God always works in some marvelous and mysterious ways. Although that theme in many ways is a bit of a cliché, God did prepare Moses to stand before kings and leaders. I think in my conversion, there are two or three things.

First, in my ancestry. My ancestors going back four or five generations were of the highest caste of the Hindu priesthood. They were priests in South India, the top rung of priests. They were officiants at ceremonies; they were Nambudiris. The Nambudiris are on the top rung of Hindu priesthood. And yet, they came to know Christ. I now look at my family tree and think it is remarkable. My great-grandfather and my grandfather were linguists. They translated the first Malayalam-English dictionary, which is one of the most difficult languages in the world. It’s the Webster’s of the Malayalam language. It’s spelled front and back the same way. It’s a very tough language. They were into languages. My great grandfather translated the works of Shakespeare and Arabian Nights; he was a linguist. When I think of my life as being so involved in words, I think of God putting in that DNA right from the beginning.

The second thing is that my conversion was on a bed of suicide. I was empty, purposeless. Those are the issues I address today and people sit up and listen. When you talk about life’s meaning, everyone wants to hear your answer. People are looking for that. I was raised in the Anglican Church, and I never knew Christ. But now as I look back, the Anglican prayer book is a masterpiece—the hymns, the liturgy. I now think of worship as the clue to the meaning of life. So all of this, being raised in India, living in the West, connecting now between East and West, there is no doubt in my mind that my calling, my upbringing and conversion, there is a very real strand tying it all together.

JC: You have certainly given us definition of your calling. Has there been any time over the past in which you felt your calling has changed to some degree?

RZ: Not in the recent past. But twenty years ago when this ministry as an organization was formed, I moved from being an itinerant evangelist to an itinerant evangelist-apologist. Apologetics became the seasoning in the main course that I offered, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Apologetics does not dominate our message; it undergirds our message. Argument doesn’t save people, but it certainly clears the obstacles so they can take a direct look at the Cross. The change came when I recognized that I needed to be in hostile and adversarial areas because those are where the people are that need to be rescued. That was a big change for me, moving from the comfort zone of church evangelism, where I cut my teeth. However, I’m still licensed and ordained by the Christian and Missionary Alliance. I’ve covered the globe for them. I’ve covered the country for them—little churches, country churches, big churches. I miss some of that; it was wonderful.

But God moved me away from my comfort zone. That is why we turn down ninety-nine percent of our engagements. I take very few within the Christian world. As much as I want to be there, I take a few for my need so I can be replenished and blessed, but my primary ministry is in adversarial settings.

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