Arrogance, Humility, and the Low Road to Greatness

MANILA, PHILIPPINES. Arrogance, self-importance, and self-promotion seem to be at an all-time high in our culture. For a quick sample take a look at Donald Trump’s campaign speeches, Planned Parenthood’s abuse of unborn babies, and ESPN’s celebration of gender confusion. Unfortunately, many Christian preachers, bloggers, and commentators are reacting to all of the above with the same arrogance, self-importance, and self-promotion.

In Matthew 18, the disciples boldly asked Jesus a timeless question. As was often the case when they asked Jesus a question, the answer was not what they wanted to hear.

Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? (Matthew 18:1)

That question is as valid today as two thousand years ago. The only difference is that today we rarely actually ask it out loud. That would stain our image. But we think about it all the time.

We compare ourselves and our accomplishments with others, and when our church is bigger, when our cause is more compassionate, when our coffee is more organic, when our Calvinism is more Reformed, and when our candidate is more righteous, then we are obviously greater than the poorly informed commoners around us.

I am guessing that the disciples expected Jesus to include them by name in his greatest in the kingdom top ten list. His answer was surprising, unforgettable, and it included exactly zero of their names.

Unless you become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)

In other words, “forget being the greatest in the kingdom, with your arrogance, you might not even get in the kingdom.”

Then Jesus explains what kingdom greatness really is. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest.(Matthew 18:4)

According to Jesus, greatness has nothing to do with fame, fortune, position, power, intellect, accomplishments, or being right. Greatness is connected to humility. This means anyone can be great. Even the poor, the servant, the ignored, the unknown, and the youth.

Kingdom greatness is all about humbling self, not promoting self.

I pray God will give us preachers and politicians who will reject self-promotion and will take the low road to greatness.

 

Pride

NASHVILLE. Good to be back in the office writing the final chapter of my parenting book, after ten productive days in South Africa and Nigeria. The wholehearted full volume African worship made my otherwise exuberant home churches (Victory Manila and Bethel Brentwood) feel rather Anglican in comparison.

While reading the tiny book of Obadiah this morning, I encountered a huge and terrifying truth.

The pride of your heart has deceived you.  (Obadiah 1:3 ESV)

Two simple points:

1. Pride is a heart issue. If we are proud it is not because of our accomplishments, culture, education, nationality, or family. It is because of our heart. The only way to deal with pride is to deal with the heart, not the external circumstances.

2. Pride is deceitful. It always makes us see self, others, situations, sin, anointing, and everything else in a distorted way. It tends to downplay our failures and exaggerate our accomplishments. It always tries to write self into the story and push self on center stage. But we rarely realize what pride is doing to us, because it is deceitful.

One simple (but difficult) solution: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God. (1 Peter 5:6 ESV)

 

 

4 Church Growth Secrets from 2800 Years Ago

NASHVILLE. Most pastors, church planters, and campus missionaries are in the ministry because they want to obey God, serve people, and change the world. Sure, some have messed up motives, but most have pure hearts. And most want to grow in terms of ministering the Gospel to more and more people.

Despite honorable motives, the desire to grow and actual measurable growth are not the same. To borrow a word from the prophet Isaiah, many in ministry feel “barren.”

Notice what Isaiah said to the barren.

“Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 54:1)

After going to the conference, listening to the podcast, reading the book, attempting what the mega-church celebrity suggested, and not seeing results, we usually feel like quitting and complaining, not singing.

Besides singing, Isaiah had clear instruction for those who are being ignored by Outreach Magazine’s fastest growing church list.

“Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. (‭Isaiah‬ ‭54‬:‭2)

If you have not experienced the level of fruitfulness you desire, try singing and doing the rest of what Isaiah said:

1. ENLARGE YOUR VISION (“Enlarge the place of your tent”)
Think bigger. Dream bigger. Enlarge your place. Consider getting a bigger facility, or at least maximizing the one you have.

2. STRETCH YOUR FAITH (“let the curtains… be stretched”)
Isaiah did not tell them to replace the curtains. Their curtains were OK, they just need to be stretched a bit. Stretching is not comfortable, but is is essential for growth.

3. LENGTHEN YOUR REACH (“lengthen your cords”)
OK, you are reaching your campus, your city, your country, but what about the next campus, the next city, and the next nation? When and where is your next campus outreach? When and where is your next church plant? Who is your next campus missionary? Who is your next church planter?

4. STRENGTHEN YOUR FOUNDATION (“and strengthen your stakes”)
More growth requires more strength. Greater outreach demands greater depth. In a building, the deeper and stronger the foundation, the taller the building. Same in ministry. Deeper and stronger spiritual foundations support greater growth.

Q: Why do we need to enlarge, stretch, lengthen, and strengthen?

A: Because God plans for us to “spread abroad to the right and to the left” and for our next generation to “possess the nations.” (Isaiah 54:3)

If you desire growth, whether you feel barren or fruitful, I suggest you get busy enlarging, stretching, lengthening, and strengthening. God will do the rest.

Empowering Discipleship Explained in 500 Words

“Our most important growth number is 10,144. That’s the number of people leading small discipleship groups each week in Metro Manila.”

TAMPA, FLORIDA. Tomorrow, I get speak to 5000 church planters and church plant advocates about discipleship at Exponential East in Tampa. Thank you Dave Ferguson for the invitation, and thank you for equipping and empowering church planters. As soon as my Tuesday afternoon session is over, I will drive directly to the airport to catch my flight to the Middle East where I will catch up with our Every Nation Asia Leadership Team who are doing a seven day Israel study tour.

Here’s a 500-word summary of what I say every time I get a chance to talk about church-based discipleship.

———-

Most Christians agree that discipleship is important, even essential for Christian maturity; few understand biblical principles and even fewer apply a biblical process when it comes to discipleship. Biblical discipleship principles are universal and timeless, and they enabled the church I helped start in 1984 in Manila, Philippines to experience thirty-one consecutive years of growth.

For those interested in numbers, our most important growth number is 10,411. That’s the number of people leading small discipleship groups each week in Metro Manila.

Discipleship isn’t complicated, but it is often difficult. The difficulty lies in applying four biblical principles to each specific context. Simply put, here’s how anyone and everyone can make disciples.

 1. Engage Culture and Community. When Jesus told His original twelve to go and make disciples, they did not interpret His command to mean, “Find people who are already following me and help them become better followers.” They interpreted his “great commission” to mean that they should go and find people who were not yet followers and help them know and follow Jesus. Evangelism and discipleship were not two separate departments in their church. Rather, evangelism was the beginning of the discipleship process. Today many people see discipleship as a program to help church members become better church members. As long as the evangelism department does the outreach and the discipleship department does the discipleship, both will be ineffective. The starting line of the disciple-making process must be evangelism that engages our community and culture.

2. Establish Spiritual Foundations. If we want our disciples to survive the storms of life, we must help them establish strong and deep biblical foundations. This essential groundwork includes repentance, faith, water baptism, the Holy Spirit, and church community.

3. Equip Believers to Minister. We hear the phrase all the time: Every member a minister. Yet often, because of our performance-driven culture, we have little tolerance for the messiness of the equipping process. We do church as if only professional preachers are qualified to do ministry. Yet the biblical job description for professional ministers is to equip the “non-pros” for ministry, then get out of their way.

4. Empower Disciples to Make Disciples. Jesus expected all of His original disciples to make disciples. He empowered them, knowing they would make mistakes. Too often we act like only full-time pastors or people who have been believers forever can make disciples. But we must not forget it is progress, not perfection, that qualifies one to disciple others. Because Jesus expects all His disciples to make disciples, we must not only equip them, we must also empower them.

Conclusion. Two thousand years ago, discipleship was so simple that a carpenter explained it to uneducated fishermen in one sentence: “Follow me and I will send you out to fish for people”. Those simple fishermen followed, fished and changed their world. If modern discipleship is confusing or complicated, it is because we have strayed from biblical principles and the simple biblical process that Jesus lived and taught His disciples.

Sometimes the Spirit Leads Us Where We Don’t Want to Go

NASHVILLE. For many of us who have been around the church world for a long time, the phrase “led by the Spirit” conjures up all kinds of strange and bizarre behavior, and maybe a lot of bad memories. That’s why we need to look at the Bible, rather than YouTube, to learn what led and empowered by the Spirit actually looks like.

Matthew says that after Jesus was baptized by John, he was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness” where He was tempted by the devil.  Mark’s account says, “the Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness.”

Being led usually implies the one leading is in front of us and we are following, maybe holding the hand of the leader. Being driven usually implies someone is behind us pushing and directing us.

Matthew says the Spirit led Jesus. Mark says the Spirit drove Jesus. Which is it? I think it is both. At times I have certainly sensed the Spirit in front of me leading me where I should go, and at the same time I have felt Him behind me driving and directing me from behind, and occasionally giving me a bit of a push.

Mark and Matthew both mention that Jesus ended up in the wilderness where He was tempted by the devil. This was not a fun and joyful experience for Jesus. Rather, it was quite stressful and painful.

Sometimes in the tough seasons of life, we wrongly conclude that we must have wandered out of God’s will. This mistaken idea is rooted in the faulty teaching that God’s ultimate will is for us to be happy. We reason, “the wilderness is not a happy place, so it must not be God’s will. We must have missed God or we would be in a place of perpetual happiness.”

Jesus was in the center of God’s will, He was led by the Spirit, He did not take a detour, yet he ended up in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. He ended up in an uncomfortable place.

Lest we wrongly conclude that tough places are signs that God is not pleased with us, take a look at the previous verse, just before Mark says, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” (Mark 1:12)

Jesus was baptized by John, then, “a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son;with you I am well pleased.’” (Mark 1:11)

A voice from heaven said, I AM PLEASED! Then the Spirit immediately leads him into the wilderness to get tempted by the devil. The fact that God is pleased with us does not mean that life will not take some difficult turns.

We should never look at our painful circumstances and conclude that God is not pleased. Instead, we should look at His word and His sacrifice on the cross and conclude that He is pleased.

——-

NOTE: Our Every Nation Nashville office is doing a sixteen week discipleship journey through the book of Mark. Every Tuesday in our weekly staff devotion, we will look at one discipleship lesson from each chapter in Mark.

Our discipleship lesson from Mark 1 is: Following Jesus means being led by the Spirit (even if He sometimes leads us where we don’t want to go.)

 

7 Questions about the Value of Modern Discipleship

MANILA, PHILIPPINES. I received the following seven questions from someone who is writing a paper for a class about whether discipleship “has value in today’s context.”

Here are my quick answers to his important questions:

Q1: What is a disciple?
A1: A disciple is someone who follows Jesus, “fishes” for people and does this in fellowship with other disciples, while carrying a cross. Discipleship is not complicated. Difficult, yes. Complicated, no. It is so simple that a carpenter described it to uneducated fishermen 2000 years ago in one sentence. (See Matthew 4:19 for that sentence.)

Q2: Do you have to be saved to be a disciple?
A2: Yes. But since evangelism is the starting point of making disciples, the discipleship journey starts long before one is saved.

Q3: Are all Christians disciples? If not, what are the differences?
A3: All should be, but unfortunately not all are following Jesus, fishing for people, or fellowshipping with others. And not all are carrying a cross and living a life of self-denial.

Q4: Does church membership make one a disciple?
A4: No. Most churches spend a lot of time, energy, and money developing a membership process, but no time developing a discipleship process. Therefore they are successful at making members, but failing miserably at making disciples.

Q5: What does a disciple’s life look like?
A5: Following Jesus (devotion). Fishing for people (evangelism). Fellowshipping with other believers (community). Carrying a cross (self-denial).

Q6: Is being a disciple important in today’s culture or to one’s life?
A6: If the Bible is important, then discipleship is important. Of course, if the Bible is no longer valid, then discipleship is an outdated concept and a waste of time – so we might as well do whatever it takes to attract a big crowd and call it a church.

Q7: Who is responsible for making disciples?
A7: Every person who is a follower of Jesus – no matter how old, no matter how long they have been saved, no matter where they work. Every believer should be a disciple and every believer should make disciples – EVERY believer.

Those are my quick, off-the-cuff answers. If I had time to edit, I might change some of these answers, but I’m out of time.

Are you a disciple of Christ? Are you making disciples?

© 2012 Steve Murrell

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