5 Tips for Preachers

NASHVILLE. My home church, Victory Manila, has over 125 weekly worship services in fifteen Metro Manila locations. Unlike many multi-site churches we never play video sermons. All of our services have live preachers, who preach the same text. This does not mean all the sermons are exactly the same. Some of our preachers are evangelists who end every sermon with an altar call, some are teachers who throw out random Greek and Hebrew words, and some are free-flowing prophets who throw out the clock. Some of our preachers are serious, some use humor. Some preach fifty minutes. Others preach twenty minutes. Some are demonstrative, others move less than the wax Morgan Freeman at Madame Tussauds.

No matter the preaching style or the preacher’s gifting, all Victory preachers preach the same text, title, and big idea every week. And no matter the preacher, we all attempt to apply Isaiah 40:1,2 as we preach.  

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

Here are five preaching tips from Isaiah 40 that are as relevant today as when they were written 2700 years ago.

1. Comfort my people. Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936) said that newspapers were supposed to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I think preachers should do the same. In most congregations, there are far more afflicted people than comfortable people, therefore, our preaching should bring comfort, not add more affliction.

2. Speak tenderly. Harsh words crush dreams and kill relationships. Tender words inspire dreams and restore relationships. Unfortunately there are not many places in society where tender words are being offered. Hopefully we can find them in our pulpits.

3. Warfare has ended Shoichi Yokoi was a Japanese sergeant in WWII. On January 24, 1972 he was discovered in the jungles of Guam. He had been living in a cave, hiding from the Americans for twenty-eight years, because no one told him the war had ended. Many believers are living in spiritual caves, afraid to engage the world. Preachers are supposed to tell them that Jesus already won the war.

4. Iniquity is pardoned. Paul never got tired of preaching the Gospel over and over and over and over. We should never tire of preaching and teaching what Jesus did for us, that because of his death and resurrection, our sins are forgiven. Preach it. Teach it. Sing it. Pray it. Then do it again next week.

5. Received from the Lord’s hand. And finally, our preaching should teach people how to receive from the Lord, not how to beg and manipulate, but how to receive what He freely offers.

If you are preaching this weekend or if you are leading a small discipleship group, I hope these ancient preaching principles will help you honor God and make disciples.


Declaring War on Low Expectations

NASHVILLE. It is common in some modern ministry circles, to not only accept, but to actually celebrate low expectation and smallness. Big vision is considered arrogant and status quo is confused with humility. While some visionaries are certainly arrogant and some small-thinkers are truly humble, this does not mean that biblical humility and big vision cannot peacefully coexist. From Moses to Paul to Medieval martyrs to modern Bible translators, church history is filled with humble visionaries who dreamed big and actually accomplished much.

Consider the familiar words of Jesus in John 15. While exhorting his disciples to “abide in the vine” and to “remain in Him” Jesus listed five levels of fruitfulness that seemed designed to help his followers think bigger and expect more.

1. No fruit. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away. (John 15:2) Other translations say he cuts off fruitless branches. This text is more an exhortation to fruitfulness than an explanation of the doctrine of perseverance of the saints. Bottom line: fruitlessness is not an acceptable option. So, if your church or campus ministry is doing activities that are not bearing fruit, they probably need to be cut off or taken away. Unless of course, busyness is our ultimate goal.

2. Fruit. Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes. (John 15:2) Fruitfulness is the goal. Fruitless branches get cut off, and fruitful branches get pruned. Either way we get cut, so we might as well get cut for fruitfulness rather than for fruitlessness.

3. More fruit. He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:2) The divine purpose in pruning (cutting things off) is so that we bear more fruit. If you have been fruitful in church planting or campus ministry, the next step is more fruit.

4. Much Fruit. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:8) We have all been repelled by insecure leaders who think ministry growth and size is all about them. Fortunately, they are the exception not the rule. If your ministry has born fruit and then more fruit, I suggest you brace yourself for more pruning. And after the pain of pruning, it might be a good idea to start planning, preparing, and staffing for much fruit.

5. Lasting Fruit. I appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide. (John 15:16) Alternate translations use the words remain or last. Jesus wants our fruit to abide, remain, and last. Unfortunately it is common for churches and campus ministries to experience much fruit that vanishes as soon as we tweet about it. Jesus is not interested in giving us temporary fruit. His fruitfulness progression goes from no fruit to fruit to more fruit to much fruit to lasting fruit.

Are you praying for, planning for, preparing for much fruit? Or have you made peace with no fruit or with little fruit?

The fields are ripe for harvest. That means we declare war on fruitlessness and low expectations, and begin to think and dream big as if God really wants to give us fruit, more fruit, much fruit, and lasting fruit.

Grace or Truth?

NASHVILLE. In one of my all-time favorite movie scenes, Cuba Gooding Jr plays a mentally challenged young man nicknamed “Radio” who is being mentored by a high school football coach played by Ed Harris.

Coach and Radio are eating in a diner. When they finish their meal, the waitress politely and slowly addresses Radio, “Do you want strawberry pie or apple pie?”

Radio answers, “I wan’ boff.”

Radio was not the smartest movie character ever, but he understood that he could choose both.

Unfortunately, many of today’s church leaders have a difficult time embracing the concept of both. In our confused and polarized Western church world, we think have to choose between grace and truth, as if the two concepts are mutually exclusive.

Jesus choose both. We should choose both.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (‭John‬ ‭1‬:‭14‬)

According to this passage, Jesus was “full of grace AND truth.” The idea of grace and truth is not a multiple choice question. It is not an either/or decision. This is one of those both/and situations.

But we prefer to pick one or the other. Then we build a camp. In time, our camp becomes our identity. Then we start a blog. And a twitter account. Eventually we vilify people in other camps. I’m not sure why we do this, but we do.

Preachers in the “grace camp” are accused of ignoring certain Bible texts that seem to condemn politically correct lifestyles and culturally protected sins. On the other hand, preachers in the “truth camp” overemphasize a few sins and are stereotyped as hateful religious bigots and religious Pharisees.

Why can’t we just be like Jesus and embrace grace and truth?

My guess is that everyone reading this wants to be filled with grace and truth, but how? In today’s crazy out-of-balance ministry world, when we want grace we listen to a Joseph Prince podcast or watch a Joel Osteen broadcast. When we want truth we read a John MacArthur book or a John Piper tweet.

Question: What if we want to be filled with both grace and truth?

Answer: If we want both grace and truth, we have to go to Jesus.

The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)



Healthy Church Growth: Measuring What Matters

TOKYO. Earlier this week I was in Kuala Lumpur speaking to Asian mega-church pastors at the 2015 Asia Leaders Summit. With all due respect to my mega-church pastor friends, I would much rather spend three days with regular church pastors. Three days with mega-church leaders reciting huge numbers reminded me that some numbers matter more than others.

Every time I am asked to teach discipleship, at some point I have to talk about numbers. I always do so with some reluctance, but not because it is necessarily wrong to count and track numbers. My reluctance is due to people’s common tendency of attributing all kinds of virtue, worth, and wisdom to individuals and churches based on how many people show up at their meetings. By those same calculations, there is a tendency to diminish the efforts of other leaders and churches because their attendance numbers don’t have as many digits.

This is simply not fair. Growing a church to 100 in Tokyo or Teheran takes more work and is a greater accomplishment than growing a church to 1000 in Singapore or Manila. Some cities are ripe for harvest. Some are not. We cannot judge the quality of a church or a pastor’s ministry simply by how many people attend the weekend worship service because raw numbers do not account for soil conditions.

Judging pastors and churches by attendance numbers completely misses the main point of ministry. Weekend worship attendance numbers without context are totally unreliable indicators of church health.

Jesus did not call us to gather crowds. He called us to make disciples. In Matthew 16, Jesus said He would build His church. A few chapters later in Matthew 28, He told His followers to make disciples. His job is to build His church. Our job is to make disciples. When we make disciples, He takes those disciples and builds them into a church that the gates of hell cannot overcome.

Last week I received the Victory-Manila 2015 second quarter report. As you might expect, the report contained numbers, graphs, and charts. My eyes quickly sought the two numbers that matter more than all other numbers, the two numbers that give context to all the other numbers.

Those numbers were 3039 and 7166.

The first number is the number of new believers who were baptized in Manila in the first two quarters of 2015. (Plus, we baptized another 5248 in the provinces for a total of 8287 nationwide.) The second number is the number of active Victory discipleship groups that meet weekly in Metro Manila.

Why do these numbers matter more than all others, including the attendance number and the offering amount?

The first number (baptisms) matters because lost people matter to God.

The Parable of the Ninety-nine and the One (Luke 15) presents a radically different way of looking at numbers. Many pastors today focus all their attention on the ninety-nine. Pastors feed the sheep in their flock; pastors serve the sheep in their flock; pastors occasionally recruit sheep from other flocks. We celebrate the ninety-nine and ignore the lost one. No matter how great we are at caring for the flock, Jesus calls us to pursue the lost.

The second number (Victory discipleship groups) matters because lost people matter to us.

The more Victory discipleship group leaders we equip and empower, the more opportunities we will have to engage the lost in every area of culture and community. Since lost people matter to God, they should matter to us.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to help lead a small Every Nation church in the Nashville area. When I received the first year-end report, my eyes immediately went to the two numbers that matter most: 12 and 27. Twelve new believers baptized and twenty-seven discipleship group leaders equipped and empowered in the first year. Like in Manila, those two numbers mattered more than total attendance and offering amount. Those numbers were worth celebrating because evangelism and discipleship matter to God and to us.

What numbers do you celebrate?




Asia Leaders Summit: Asians Reaching Asia

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA. I was surprised and honored to be invited to speak at the 2015 Asia Pastors Summit. Unfortunately, I was given the dreaded post-lunch 1:30 PM slot. For afternoon speakers, the standard for success is pretty low. I figure that if at least half of the conference people actually attend to the post-lunch afternoon session, it is a success, whether they pay attention or fall asleep. My talk ended four hours ago, and I am calling it a success.

The Asia Leaders Summit is an invitation-only conference for Asian mega-church pastors. The motto is “Asians Reaching Asia.” Apparently no one on the organizing committee googled my photo to discover that I’m an American reaching Asia. So, I am the only white dude in the room. And I feel at home.

The other people in the room are the pastors of some of the largest churches in the world. And, oddly enough, some of these pastors are the most humble leaders I have ever met. Could it be that  humility and church growth are somehow connected?

I have been particularly impressed with the humility of the organizer of the summit, Dr Younghoon Lee, who is also the senior pastor of the largest church in the world, Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul. He and his team humbly and graciously serve in a way that honors God.

I end this blog with a few random quotes from today’s seven sessions.

“We need missions with humility, not missions with imperialism.”

“We need to replace racism with grace-ism.”

“We should be grace-ists not racists.”

“So many are called to the UK, USA, and Australia. Why does no one feel called to Pakistan and Afghanistan?”

“We have too many churches that are led by CEOs. We need more senior pastors who know how to defeat and behead Goliath.”

“A well-managed church is not the same as a well-led church.”




Great Leaders Don’t Lead Alone

MANILA. The original disciples were called to walk and work together as a team. They were not called to be Lone Rangers for God.

And He called the twelve TOGETHER and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. (Luke 9:1,2)

People called to ministry usually like the idea of “power and authority” but they sometimes fail to notice that the “power and authority” follows the “together” part of Luke 9. If you are called, then you are called “together” with others of like calling, not to wander around trying to do God’s will alone.

Moses was a great leader, maybe the greatest leader in the Old Testament, but he knew better than to attempt to lead alone. He always had his brother and spokesman, Aaron, by his side. Team Moses also included a dude named Her, and a fearless young warrior named Joshua.

David was Israel’s greatest king ever, but he never led alone. He had his “mighty men” who could shoot an arrow and sling a stone with the right and left hand. These mighty men were led by an executive committee of three that was chaired by Jashobeam the Hachmonite. Read his name again, real slow. Jashobeam the Hachmonite. In one famous battle, “The Beam” killed 300 enemy warriors with his spear, all by himself. If I’m ever in a war, I think I want someone like Jashobeam the Hackmonite on my team.

Daniel’s team included his best friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (aka Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego).

Even Jesus refused to do ministry alone. He had his twelve, plus a larger team of seventy.

Leadership is supposed to be plural. If you are called to lead, then you are called to lead together. That’s a good thing, because we are always better together.

© 2012 Steve Murrell

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