From the cockpit to the pulpit

By Roger Alford

Published: March 5, 2019

Since he was a little boy, Jim Ewing had known he wanted to be an Air Force pilot.

It was a passion that drove him as a teenager to make the best grades possible in hopes of getting into the Air Force Academy —an ambition that he would achieve.

That passion ultimately landed him in the cockpit of the B-52 bomber and later in a variety of high-level leadership roles, including working at the Pentagon.

Having risen to the rank of colonel over a 23-year military career, Ewing retired in 2000 to pursue another passion, as a Southern Baptist minister.

Now pastor at First Baptist Church in Calvert City, an Ohio River town in western Kentucky, Ewing, 64, looks back over his years in the military and sees God's hand at work training and preparing him for ministry.

As it turns out, the roles of a pilot and a pastor are similar in key ways.

"A B-52 aircraft commander, is responsible for his own proficiency as well as those of his crew members," he said. "The pilot is also responsible for the overall morale and welfare."

Ewing said his military service also gave him a strong work ethic, fostered a commitment to self-discipline, gave him the opportunity to work with people from many different back-grounds, cultures, and perspectives, and put him in positions to make tough calls that weren't always popular but that were necessary to the success of the mission.

"These lessons from 23—plus years of military service have been extremely valuable over 18 years in vocational ministry."

Todd Gray, the Kentucky Baptist Convention's evangelism team leader, said Ewing brings the same diligent work ethic and steady hand to ministry that allowed him to rise through the military ranks.

"The integrity he possessed

in the U.S. Armed Forces has served him well in shepherding God's people," Gray said.

Ewing said he looks back over the years and sees how the Lord was guiding his steps, even though he didn't always realize it at the time.

In one instance, Ewing was offered an unexpected opportunity for a job outside the cockpit at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Due to the needs of the Air Force, accepting that assignment didn't look to be possible. At the time, his wife, Cheryl, was six months pregnant with their son, Joshua, the oldest of their four children. The Ewings didn't know it at the time, but they were going to need a world-class pediatric cardiologist because Joshua arrived with life-threatening heart defects. One of the best pediatric cardiologists in the Air Force happened to be stationed at Andrews and provided the kind of special care Joshua required.

"God took care of our need even before we knew about it," Ewing said. "That whole experience has been a blessing to our family. It taught us that God knows exactly what we need when we need it. I've learned to trust Him in times of uncertainty."

Ewing surrendered his heart and life to Christ as a junior in high school when one of his classmates, an enthusiastic witness, convinced him to go to a Christmas get-together with classmates involved in the Youth for Christ ministry. He recognized that something was very different about these people, and soon after, he was led to Christ by one of the group leaders.

"It changed everything I want-ed to do and be," he said. "I wanted to walk with the Lord. I wanted to learn how to follow Jesus."

After his time in the military, Ewing had planned to be an aeronautical engineer in the aerospace industry. But the Lord changed those plans, leading him instead to enroll at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where he received his Master of Divinity degree and later at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville where he received his Doctor of Ministry degree.

"The Lord totally changed my heart," Ewing said. "He shifted me from military to ministry. He took me out of the cockpit and put me into the pulpit."