In this episode of Inspiring Stewards, Nathan Jones speaks with Kehinde Ojo from Nigeria. He talks about his journey from discipling university students to training staff workers to developing stewards with IFES around the world. He helps us see how our ability to steward God's resources in our care is a function of our relationship with Him. Finally, he concludes with keen insights for those who desire to live with relevance and purpose, especially in the COVID era.
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The music is Concerto a’ 4 Violini No 2 by Telemann played on classical guitar by Jon Sayles. Published by Exzel Music Publishing.
On today's podcast, we head to Abuja, Nigeria on the beautiful continent of Africa. Kehinde Ojo is involved in the unique work of helping God's Kingdom-minded leaders raise up local generosity for the sustainability and growth of His work in their local context. Lean in with me as we reflect on God's abundance and vision for stewardship in every corner of His Kingdom and in the heart of every one of His followers.
My name is Nathan Jones and I have the privilege of serving as your host on this episode of the Inspiring Stewards podcast.
Kehinde, thank you so much for your time. I've been looking forward to jumping into this conversation with you. So, let's just get started. Give us a little bit of your story, your background growing up.
Thank you, Nathan. Such a privilege for me to be on this podcast with you. Well, my story: God has been so gracious to me for over 50 years of my life. Now, I wouldn't tell you exactly how old I am. It's not usually a practice for us on this side of the world to tell people our age.
I'm one of six male children to my dad and mom. Interestingly, both of them have gone to be with the Lord now. So my mom, originally a Muslim, came to faith in Christ when she got married to my dad, and they were very committed Christians. And so when my two brothers and I were born into this family, we were immediately exposed, as it were, to Christianity.
So, growing up was fun. My dad had a business, and he was in a position to provide for us and sent us to good schools where by God’s grace, we had very good education. And so I had such a, what I say, closely knitted family upbringing. And my parents were respected in community.
My mum was in the health profession and she was one of the top leaders in her profession and she was also such a blessing to our community and environment. So, both my dad and mom taught us the Christian way and introduced us early, I would say, to church, but not necessarily to Christ because they did the best they knew at the time until when God mercifully brought us to a saving knowledge of Him. So, I grew up in Western Nigeria, and that's where my story started.
That's wonderful. And I bet having a mom in the health profession helped with six boys running around. You probably had some injuries, and that was helpful I’m sure.
It was very interesting because being in the nursing services at the time, she was in community health, and that meant she didn't even stay at home all of the time. So, we had ourselves who helped while she was away. And so pretty much we grew up all by ourselves, Nathan.
Wow. I bet that was a wild, wild time. Well, that's great. So as a family, your parents discipled and led you to the Lord. What was it for you personally that drew you to a relationship with Christ?
So, I wouldn't strictly say they led me to the Lord. But I must say my mom played a very fundamental role in my coming to Christ. Even though they grew up religiously, as it were, when my mom came to marry my dad, she basically converted to Christianity, which was more nominal than an actual conversion experience. But much later, she met Jesus and I guess she started to pray for all us children, for God to bring them to Him.
So while I was in the university, I met the Christian Union. I hadn't made a commitment to Jesus, but I started to move closer to Christian fellowship through the campus group. And when my mum noticed that, she invited me to an outreach during one of the holidays. And that was when I made a commitment to Christ. So in some ways, my mom facilitated my coming to knowing Jesus, Savior of my life.
Wow. What a story to see her conversion in her own life and the impact that that had in your life. Now, what impact did that decision to follow Jesus then have on your life?
Nathan, the best way to tell that story is to think of 2 Corinthians 5:17. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation.” I tell you this: growing up was fun, like I said much earlier. And one of the fun things about growing up, especially while in the university, was parties. We would spend the weekends just partying and doing anything that came to our minds or something that we felt we should do.
And so basically, I think I was living a purposeless life. I was studying engineering, but I had no ambition. I had no goal. I had no focus. When I met Jesus, everything changed. For the first time, I understood what it meant to live purposefully and what it meant to live to fulfill a particular goal. So, coming to Christ brought a significant change, not just to me, but to my circle of influence. My priorities changed. And in fact, I will tell you this, Nathan, my grace got better.
So, my Christian experience changed my social circle, changed my values, changed my association, and brought me – I would normally put it this way – out of religion to relationship.
And so I started to hear God's voice from the time I came to faith in Christ Jesus. And that made a huge, significant difference in my life to the date.
That's wonderful. It's very encouraging to hear you distinguish between a religion and relationship. I think that's very important for us to remember. And for those that are listening, perhaps that feel like they're living a religion but haven't encountered the person of Jesus, this is a great encouragement to continue to pursue that relationship.
So let's jump to 2022. Give us an overview of how the Lord has you involved in His Kingdom today. You mentioned going to school for engineering, but how has that woven up to your story today and what He has you involved in?
Interestingly, Nathan, I wouldn't start that story from 2022, because that goes back to 1988 when I said yes to Jesus. Actually, I was 20 years old at the time when Jesus found me, and I was at just less than two years in the university.
At graduation in 1990, God called me out of my engineering profession to full time Christian work in discipling Christian students in universities and colleges. Fast track to 2022: I have remained engaged for a little over 30 years in discipling university students and helping to build a community of disciples in universities and colleges first within Nigeria and, in the last ten years, all over the world.
Wow. What is the calling that He's put on your life, the vocation, the corner of his Kingdom that he Has you working in?
There's something about what is called the “leadership emergence theory” and that helps you to understand over time how God continues to work in one's life from a particular place to a different place over time.
Leadership emergence theory?
Absolutely. So many years ago, I had first worked in discipleship. So when God called me to join the IFES movement, my first calling was to work as a discipler, helping students in Bible study, in evangelism and showing them the way of Christ as we work in community. So, I would spend a lot of my time at that time on the campuses.
As I grew in leadership within the organization, I was moved from working directly with students to training staff workers who are now working more with the students. So, my role changed from direct discipleship to training. And so I started to provide training for staff workers, helping them to do better discipleship, helping them to grow in their own leadership journeys as they continue to influence university and college students.
Something interesting happened after my theological studies in England in the late ‘90s into early 2000. I said to my organization, “At this time, I think I would like to focus exclusively on developing staff.” Here was I: left university without any theological training, went into discipling Christian students with a background in engineering, and then after many years, felt called to give attention to leadership development.
Because I then recognize that, unless those directly involved with students are clear and focused and purposeful, they couldn’t provide leadership to the students on the campuses because the times kept changing. And when you think of where we are today, the change has even grown in so many ways that we are trying to keep track of the changes around us.
So in 2022, God has helped me to move from providing broad-based leadership training to staff to providing specific kind of training for leaders within my organization. As I engaged over those years in leadership training, I also started to find the need to help leaders to develop resources for the work that they were doing, especially on the campuses at the time.
In our context, once you aren't able to move from A to B, frustration sets in. And no matter the dream, no matter the passion, you are unable to achieve those goals. So I had a passion to find ways to help staff to discover God's given resources within their environment in order to do ministry effectively.
Wow. You're really then on the front end of inspiring what the Bible would call stewardship or generosity. And that's really the important thing we want to promote with this podcast is what does that look like to live a life of stewardship and responsiveness to the Spirit? So what are some of the ways that you were able to be involved in that process in the lives of either leaders or those that they were connected with?
So stewardship, it's something that I find important to discuss regularly within the body of Christ. And for me, stewardship is about that recognition that – let me put it this way – we are not on our own. In the New Testament, the Bible says we are bought with the price, and so our lives belong to God, and we ought to account for the gift of that life that God's given to us.
So for me, stewardship is about giving account back to God of how I've used my time, how I've used my talent, how I've used my treasures. So it's about stewarding the resources that God has given me. And when you think of the work I'm currently involved with in helping leaders to locate resources in their different nations, it becomes quite important that for such resources to be made available those who have been given the privileges of owning it must recognize that they are holding these resources in trust for God. And God has the prerogative to make a demand on them to use those resources, either of their time, either of their talent, of their treasures for God's glory. So stewardship is about a recognition that whatever God has given to us is for His own use, not just for us, but for the body and for not just for the body, but for the entire humanity.
So my idea, my desire is to enable leaders across the nations of the world to recognize that it's a privilege to have resources and that God would have them make available those resources for His own use. Now, when we don't have a good relationship with God, we are unable to know how God wants us to use those resources for Him and for His glory. So stewardship has a dimension of relationship to it, that our ability to steward our resources properly is a function of our relationship with God. So for me, growing in stewardship is growing in relationship with God in order to properly channel the resources made available to us.
Boy, that's a beautiful reminder that can then happen anywhere in the world and in any community. And what's powerful about your story is, living in North America and having such an emphasis on supporting missions around the world, what you're doing is you're saying, but why does it have to come from other countries? Can't we express that stewardship and that generosity locally? And that's a beautiful picture of the Kingdom at work and seeing that relationship that we are all afforded with Jesus can lead to incredible generosity and partnership in his Kingdom. And that's wonderful.
Yeah. I like the way you put that, Nathan, because there's this stereotype and mindset, especially by leaders from the Global South, that suggests that God has endowed the North American church with resources and all we need to do is to look up to them to make available the resources that we need for missions.
And I often say this when I travel. I said, “James 1:17 reminds me that every good gift and perfect gift is from above, not abroad.” And so when you are looking to a particular location of the world, your hand’s looking up and you had to be looking up. That’s why I think it's just not okay to separate your concept of stewardship from relationship.
My ability to steward God's resources in my care, it's a function of my relationship with God to understand purpose. And what He would have me do with the resources is made available to me. So, think of me studying engineering and the prospect of serving as an engineer with the opportunities, with the financial reward. But recognizing my life as the steward helped me to appreciate and accept God’s redirection, if I can put it that way, from engineering to making disciples and knowing that God's purpose serves me best, serves my community best, serves my church best, gave me that encouragement to make myself available to serve that purpose.
So in that way, I'm not just stewarding my resources. I'm stewarding my time, I'm stewarding my talent in a way that brings glory to God and bless God’s people. And so my invitation in the last few years to leaders of the Global South is to recognize that God, in His wisdom, has made available huge resources to all the nations of the world. And there isn't anything single nation that is not endowed. And what God calls us to is to steward those resources and use it for God's glory within our different spheres of influence. So the expectation is not to look for a particular country, but to look up to God who has given us equal opportunities to use what we have to fulfill His purpose first in our immediate context and to the ends of the earth.
That is powerful. As you're seeing this play out and people realize that stewardship begins with that relationship with Jesus and then it flows out, what's the vision you're seeing for the world as this becomes a reality and how God is working through this?
Thank you, Nathan. That's a very important question, especially in the COVID era. One of the things I have stated very recently, especially given the experiences of the last two years, is that COVID, even though it's a disruptor, is a timely reminder that we weren’t in charge, we weren’t meant to be in control.
COVID disrupted everything that we called normal in a way that reset our lives to rediscover God and the purpose for which we are kept here. How do we respond to that reality? One of the things I've stated in some of my opportunities to make presentations is that it's a good time for us to recalibrate and do a reassessment of our values and our priorities.
It's time we live relevantly and purposefully. What has happened to our exotic holidays? What has happened to our acquisitions? Immaterial things – we couldn't use any of them during the COVID seasons. And that tells us that, in the real sense, those things are not as important as serving God's purpose.
When there was no physical building to go to, we still did church. Because then we connected more. We related more. And we spoke to each other more based on the confinements and the lock downs of COVID.
And so it's my invitation to lead us today to recognize that COVID was a reminder that we weren’t meant to live here and now. We ought to live in the light of something else, and that's in the light of eternity and in the light of reconnecting with God, who’s put us here on earth for a specific purpose. So it's a call to lead us to reevaluate and recognize that church should be purposeful, not just celebration, not just maintenance. We need to get into that space and be salt and light indeed for our generation.
That's a wonderful final word and challenge to our listeners today that there is more to this world than we see, and it begins with that relationship with the Lord. So as we wrap up, any final word you would have for our listeners today?
Thank you, listeners, for connecting again with this podcast. It's just been a privilege for me to share my thoughts briefly with you. Thanks to Inspiring Stewards for the great job that you're doing, reminding us of what is important. And if we wake up every day recognizing that God has expectations of us, I think we will live differently. We would live with accountability in mind. God bless you. Thank you, Nathan.
That's wonderful, Kehinde. Thank you.