Reformed Quarterly Volume 9, Issue 2
When Stewart Jordan, product of a Christian family, arrived at the University of Southern Mississippi in 1977, he had virtually quit attending church and given up on Christianity — another casualty in the well-known college syndrome of “too much knowledge and too little faith.”
Four years later, Stewart had not only become a Christian, but at twenty-two was also the director of a Christian summer camp, responsible for one hundred youngsters and forty-five staffers and overseeing a quarter of a million dollar budget. Today, the thirty-year-old Master of Divinity student is well on his way to becoming a highly effective church leader.
How did Stewart mature in his faith so quickly? Was he merely a born leader? Hardly — he would be the first to recount numerous failures in learning to lead. No, God simply placed Stewart right next to several men who took the biblical mandate of discipling seriously and made Stewart the beneficiary of their knowledge. How they did that is something every Christian needs to know.
THE YEARS AT KING’S ARROW
Stewart had been a Christian little more than a year when he met Dave Simmons, former pro football player with the Dallas Cowboys and the New Orleans Saints. The summer after his sophomore year, Stewart began working at King’s Arrow Ranch, a Christian leadership training camp for college students founded by Simmons in south Mississippi. The purpose of the camp was to disciple college students by giving them challenging growth experiences in evangelism, discipleship, and leadership. In turn, each was responsible for a group of campers ranging in age from eight to fourteen. Stewart did not know it then, but his friendship with Simmons would change the course of his life forever.
“Dave spent a great deal of time with me, giving me the motivation to step out, take leadership, and grow,” remembers Stewart. “He was not my ‘discipler’ with some set program; he just loved me and took a constant interest in my life. His approach has really shaped my philosophy about discipleship. I am not opposed to programs, but I think the essence of discipleship is loving someone and caring about their life, praying for them and believing that God has given you a burden simply to love them.”
“One of the reasons this approach is so affirming is that the discipler is not forced to do it. Dave’s love and acceptance of me was totally unmerited; therefore, I felt completely open to him.”
Under such tutelage, Stewart’s abilities grew so much that three summers later, in January, 1982, Simmons chose Stewart to take his place as director of the camp. Thus began five quite challenging years which gave Stewart invaluable leadership experience, but kept him on his knees in prayer as he struggled under the weight of the heavy responsibilities. There were failures, weaknesses, and inadequacies during those years, but he welcomed the growth that resulted. And Dave was always there — a constant help.
“Dave taught me everything from counseling to management to teaching; he really poured his life into mine,” says Stewart. “I learned the most from him while we relaxed around the pool, soaking in the rays and discussing problems at the camp.”
A VISION FOR THE CHURCH
Stewart’s leadership abilities were no doubt increasing, but his attitude toward the church had remained the same — sour.
“Typical of many college students after becoming Christians, I thought church was useless,” he recalls ruefully. “After all, I had attended church all those years and had never known Christ. So, even though I went to church, I had a bad attitude about it.”
But God was working to correct that. During Stewart’s second year at King’s Arrow, he became involved in Woodland Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Not only did he work through his problems with the church, he also was introduced to the Reformed faith.
By example and discipleship, one of Woodland’s pastors, David Jussely (RTS ’74), gave Stewart a noble vision for the church — a church that had a heart for the lost, a mission for the community, and a commitment to show Christ in the world. Studying Acts and realizing how the church can bring people to Christ and impact society gave Stewart a keen desire to be active in the church. But as he taught more Bible studies and began preaching, Stewart saw a need for additional training; Jussely encouraged him to go to RTS.
At RTS, God has provided disciplers, too. His first year at seminary, Stewart was a part-time youth minister at Second Presbyterian Church in Yazoo City, Mississippi, where he developed a close relationship with pastor Mike Howell, another RTS grad (’78,’82), and gained valuable experience for the ministry.
In the summer of 1989, Stewart began a year’s internship at Northgate Presbyterian Church in Albany, Georgia, where RTS graduate Ken Cross (’88) pastors. The internship is providing tremendous, unique leadership opportunities.
“Northgate is dedicated to the philosophy that the church should minister to the intern — not the other way around,” says Stewart with a satisfied smile. “Ken wants me to have real responsibility; I feel needed. I have been closely involved with the session and their decision-making process, attending their retreats and developing personal relationships with several of the session members. Interns are often left out of all this. I have been given the opportunity to preach frequently, even a series of sermons, and the session has allowed me to experiment with the structure of the worship service when I lead it.”
In addition to teaching two Bible classes, Stewart is also discipling several men in the church, building relationships and studying different topics together, such as fatherhood. His wife Joy, another former Campus Crusade staffer, also feels that building friendships is a top priority and spends consistent time with a number of ladies in the church.
“I am becoming more and more convinced that there is a desperate need for open relationships like this in the church,” says Stewart. ” While programmed discipleship can provide a helpful structure, the core of discipleship has to be mutual encouragement, a ministry to each other in love.”
Stewart and Joy have also built relationships with some non-Christian neighbors and learned the impact of friendship evangelism — inviting people to their home, getting involved in their problems, and having natural opportunities to share Christ.
Through such an excellent internship, Stewart is rapidly becoming a more effective church leader –overseer, administrator, orchestrator — and handling the stress that goes along with it. Ironically, however, he’s comprehending that one can focus on the technique and forget to pray.
A STUDENT OF PRAYER
“When I arrived at Northgate,” says Stewart, “I was reading quite a bit on prayer but growing cold in my prayer life. I realized I was unconsciously concentrating on strategies and programs, and God convicted me that I was trying to accomplish things on my own.”
Stewart feels it is easy to get caught up with strategy for two reasons. First, our fleshly tendency always wants to be in control. Second, today there is a plethora of strategies and tools to use; any Christian bookstore has a hundred books on every conceivable aspect of ministry. Strategies are extremely helpful, but they cannot become the focus of the ministry.
“No matter how much we know, no matter how many programs we put on, if we are not praying in a deep way and allowing God to be our leader, it really does not matter,” says Stewart. “There are a million ways you can feel in control, that keep you from stopping what you are doing and praying. Really failing is one thing that makes someone pray. It is so hard because everything in our human nature goes against it. It is like walking a tight rope. We are God’s hands in keeping the church on target administratively. But we also need to let God be God and be on our knees before him, knowing that it is His power that changes lives.”
Stewart Jordan — a student of prayer and a budding leader. Discipling has made the difference between an average Christian life and an outstanding one. You could make that difference in someone’s life. Can you think of just one person who could benefit in his Christian walk from your loving encouragement?