A Framework for Restoring the Fallen and Fixing Bad Theology

MIDLAND, TEXAS. You know the story. Peter denied Jesus three times and returned to his former life of fishing for fish. Then Jesus showed up. His one agenda: restoration. Like the rest of humanity, Peter was not exactly seeking Jesus, but that didn’t stop Jesus from seeking and finding him. Funny how Jesus shows up when we least expect or desire Him. “Even when we are faithless, he remains faithful.” (2 Timothy 2:13)

After giving some pretty bizarre fishing tips that proved to be successful, Jesus then enjoyed breakfast with Peter and his fisherman friends. The restoration process has started, whether Peter and his friends realized it or not. Over the years I have found that restoration mixes well with food. After starting with food, the next step in the restoration process is to ask a good question, and repeat it until the heart is pierced.

“Peter, do you love me?” (John 21:15,16,17)

Good questions are often pointed and painful. They are also often avoided, deflected, and left unanswered. That’s why they need to be repeated three times or more.

This story teaches us that when we have taken underperformance to a whole new level, when we have failed gloriously, and when we have totally disappointed God and others, Jesus’ first question to us is not about our performance, our disobedience, or our failure. His first question is about our relationship with Him.

“Do you love me?”

Notice that Jesus did not ask a theological question. He did not ask an organizational question. And He did not ask a missional question. He asked a relational question. This is not to suggest that theological conviction, organizational unity, and missional direction are unimportant. It is just that they are not primary when it comes to restoration.

 ”Do you love me?”

If we get the relationship restored, then we can have serious and productive discussions about theological nuances, organizational structures, and missional strategies.

It is common to frame church splits and ministry conflicts as theological, organizational, or missional disagreements. Reality has taught me that the root issue is usually relational. Because we do not want to face the pain of relational honesty, we cop-out and hide behind theological smokescreens. Rather than working through relational offense, we split and blame it on the mission and vision.

At times I have been criticized for being too relational and not organizational enough. After trying my best to correct this, I was then criticized for being too organizational at the expense of being relational. If that is not confusing enough, I have also been criticized for being too theological and not missional enough. And for being too missional and not theological enough.

I concluded a long time ago that since I cannot please everyone, then I would only live to please One. I have also come to the conclusion that pleasing Him requires me to prioritize relationships. And if we get the relational part right, we will be able to fix whatever theological, organizational, and missional problems that arise.

 

My Thoughts on the Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill, Acts 29 Scandal

HONOLULU. Pastor Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church, and Acts 29 have been all over the news lately. One headline read, “Mark Driscoll Charged with Abusive Behavior by 21 Former Mars Hill Pastors.” How could a church as young as Mars Hill have 21 former pastors? Did the 21 quit, or were they fired? Why?

A sinister voice within told me that since I am a leader, I need to know the dirt that these 21 ex-Mars Hill leaders have on their former boss. So, I clicked and started reading. But I didn’t get very far because the words at the top of the page and the conviction of the Holy Spirit stopped me in my tracks.

Here are those words: “CONFIDENTIAL: We don’t intend to make this communication public, and we ask that you not make it public either.”

Someone obviously ignored this request and made it very public. And that’s just plain wrong.

The letter was addressed to “Mars Hill Church Full Council of Elders.” It was from “Mike Wilkerson and former Elders of Mars Hill Church.” A confidential letter from former elders to current elders should not be available to random strangers on facebook.

The letter was clearly marked CONFIDENTIAL, and since I am neither a former nor a current Mars Hill Church elder, I had no right to read it.

So, I closed my iPad and read no more.

Even though I did not read the “charges of abusive behavior” against Mark Driscoll by the 21 former elders, I still have a thought on Mark Driscoll and the whole scandal. Here it is: since I am not a Mars Hill member or elder, and I have never visited Mars Hill, and I have never given money to Mars Hill, and I have never met Pastor Mark, therefore, the whole Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill, 21 elder, and Acts 29 scandal is…

NONE OF MY BUSINESS!

And that’s all I have to say about that.

 

30 Years in 30 Words

TOKYO. Eight-hour layover. Thinking about the 30th anniversary celebration of Victory.  Here’s my description of how and why it all started 30 years ago, in just 30 words.

——–

1984.

MISSISSIPPI. Rice. Mission. Money? Partners. Passport…

GO!

MANILA. Traffic. Poverty. Jeepneys. Floods. Smiles. Mango…

U-BELT. Crowds. Radicals. Riots. Teargas. Hopelessness. Gospel. Jesus. Worship. Discipleship. Faith. Hope.

STAY! Victory. Grateful.

 

——–

(Check out the official Victory at 30 timeline with vintage photos.)

 

 

Thirty Years, Thirty Memories

MANILA. While on a recent Nashville to Manila flight, I couldn’t stop thinking about Victory‘s 30th anniversary. As memory after memory flooded my mind, my face reacted accordingly. A smile. A chuckle. A tear. So many memories. Some painful, but mostly good.

Here are thirty random memories from the first thirty years of Victory in the Philippines. Each memory could be a blog or a book by itself.

Smile. Laugh. Cry. Enjoy.

1. UNIVERSITY BELT. Where it all started. The harvest was plentiful, but the workers were few, so we stayed awhile.

2. ADMIRAL HOTEL. Our first “home” in Manila and Victory’s first baptismal tank (aka hotel swimming pool).

3. ROCK SEMINAR. “I won’t take no prisoners won’t spare no lives, nobody’s putting up a fight, I got my bell I’m gonna take you to hell, I’m gonna get ya Satan get ya… Hell’s bells…” Some of us decided to “put up a fight” for the souls of Filipino students.

4. TANDEM BASEMENT. The ugliest, stinkiest, and hottest church facility ever, but that did not stop hundreds of students from hearing the Gospel at our underground “Concrete Cathedral.”

5. MENDIOLA BRIDGE. Proof that Filipino students have been #RadicalSince1984. There is nothing quit like hearing gunfire and breathing teargas while preaching in the middle of a student riot. Good times. (Hey, that was before I had kids.)

6. BUKO JUICE. Along with mangoes and chicken adobo, this is the real reason we stayed.

7. PEOPLE POWER. Changed a nation and inspired the world.

8. MAKATI MED. Three of my best memories happened at a hospital in April 1986, July 1988, and February 1990.

9. FAMILY FIRST.Noah built an ark to save his family,” and in saving his family, he saved the world. This is how we roll at Victory.

10. RIZAL MEMORIAL. Deborah and I spent countless hours melting in the summer sun, watching our sons compete against the best tennis players from all over the Philippines. Great memories, but we are glad we no longer have to endure the traffic and the heat.

11. ANSON ARCADE. This was our first attempt at being a multi-site church way back in 1986. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing and we have no idea why all those people kept showing up. The building no longer exists, but the memories and friendships will last forever. So many lives were transformed by the Gospel, and we met many of our closest friends at Anson Arcade.

12. ASIAN INVASION. Filipino cross-cultural missionaries are literally all over the world today because of these conferences.

13. VICTORY FIRE. When blogs and church websites were made of paper.

14. SAMBANG GABI. Victory’s twist on a Filipino Christmas tradition. I hate waking up before the sun, but for the sake of puto bumbong and bibingka, I did it anyway, but only once a year.

15. STAR COMPLEX. Standing room only crowds of Christian transfers and church hoppers forced us to get serious about reaching the lost through small group discipleship.

16. VALLE VERDE. Where our sons grew up and where we had the best neighbors on the planet, including a “crackedhead.”

17. TALENTS INC. Amazing things happen when artist realize their talents come from God and exist for His honor.

18. THE ROCK. This is where we got really serious about equipping leaders for church planting and world mission.

19. EDSA TRAFFIC. Purgatory on wheels.

20. BROWN OUTS. Bad memories. No comment.

21. CAMPUS MINISTRY. Preparing students for life, and preparing students to lead.

22. PURPLE BOOK. Almost one million in print in twenty-five languages. Who would have guessed?

23. FORT BONIFACIO. Home sweet home. When we moved to Ft B, there were five buildings. Twelve years later, well, let’s just say progress happened.

24. REAL LIFE. Honoring God by serving the poor and empowering their dreams through educational assistance, character development, and community service.

25. LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT. Identification. Instruction. Impartation. Internship.

26. NATURAL DISASTERS. I am proud of the way Victory people respond every time a typhoon or flood pounds a city.

27. RADICAL LOVE. God’s radical love demonstrated on the cross demands a radical response. (Radical Love album release soon!)

28. HONOR GOD. The ultimate motive for all we do.

29. MAKE DISCIPLES. This is what Victory is all about. Engaging culture and community. Establishing biblical foundations. Equipping believers to minister. Empowering disciples to make disciples.

30. EVERY NATION. This is where we are called to honor God and make disciples.

If some of these phrases mean nothing to you, simply ask a Victory old-timer and you’ll hear great stories.

4 Leadership Lessons for Times of Crisis and Change

NASHVILLE. Kevin York, Justin Gray, and I had the unenviable task of informing hundreds of good people that their church community, Bethel Franklin, is closing and merging with Bethel Brentwood. Hard to remember a tougher two weeks of ministry.

The reasons for the church closure/merger are many and they are complicated. That is not what this blog is about.

As we talked to the people, their reactions ranged from anger to indifference. Some were shocked; others saw it coming. Some wanted to fix the financial and facility problems; others only wanted to fix blame. There were lots of tears. Tears of disappointment and tears of thankfulness.

Some of the Bethel Franklin people will transfer to Bethel Brentwood, others to Bethel Murfreesboro. Some will find non-Bethel churches. Some are not sure what to do. I am praying God will help everyone find a life-giving church community.

Every Thursday morning before office hours, I meet with a small group of young leaders who are considering a careers in church planting. We talk about leadership and we pray for each other. Last week I asked them what leadership lessons they learned as we led Bethel Franklin through the crisis of closing/merging. Here’s a summary of our discussion.

1. COMMUNICATION. When leading during change and crisis, leaders must over communicate. For us that meant countless early morning and late night face-to-face meetings with church members. We wanted everyone to already know what was happening before we made a public announcement from the stage Sunday morning. This required us to clear our schedules and be available to tell the same story and answer the same questions over and over and over and over. This type of over communicating is time consuming and emotionally draining, but it is the only way to lead during change.

2. HONESTY. Transparency and painful honesty about leadership mistakes and miscalculations will do more to restore leadership credibility than self-defense, spin, and hype. There is a time for a leader to cast vision and a time to admit mistakes. Everyone occasionally makes decisions that are well-meaning but misguided. Since leaders make more decisions than others, they make more mistakes than people who make no decisions. When a leader humbly and candidly admits mistakes and miscalculations, people tend to be forgiving. When leaders make excuses and ignore reality, trust vanishes like a vapor. When leading through change and pain, honesty really is the best policy.

3. PERSPECTIVE. A big part of spiritual leadership is helping people embrace a providential perspective regarding change and especially regarding the pain that often accompanies change. All week I tried to get people to see that their local church community is an important part of life, but it is not the center of life. There is a big difference in church-centered lives and Christ-centered lives. We want the latter. I tried to get people to see that even though the church services are ending, they are still married to the same person, and still have the same amazing kids. They still have a good job and good friends. But starting in a few weeks, they will simply worship at a different address with a larger group of people. God’s calling has not changed. It is the job of the leaders to paint a providential perspective during times of change.

4. PATIENCE. I expected some people to react in instant anger when I told them Bethel Franklin was over. Some did. Some did not. I also suspected that many of those same people would calm down and be more rational and understanding in a few days. Most did. A few did not. Leaders must exercise patience and allow the Holy Spirit to do whatever He wants in the hearts of His people.

I hope you never have to be the bearer of bad news to good people, but if you do, I hope you remember these four crisis leadership lessons.

 

3 Hard Questions for Preachers

TOKYO AIRPORT. Preaching the Gospel is privilege. It is also a burden. And a calling. I have been a preacher since 1982. I love my job. I love to read, study, teach, and preach. Every day I am thankful that I get to do what I love. I am not a natural communicator. I have had to work hard to develop whatever teaching and preaching skills I have.

Over the years my preaching style has changed a few times. Originally I was a topical list preacher. I would find random verses about grace, faith, or whatever the topic, and preach away. After about ten years of that, I started exegetical teaching/preaching. I spent two years preaching my way through the Book of Mark on Sunday mornings. I spent a year on Acts, six months on 1 Corinthians. Then I taught my way through shorter books like Jonah, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, and James. For the past ten years I have done team prep and team preaching. Hopefully each change has been an upgrade. If you are a teacher or preacher I hope you are constantly upgrading your craft.

Before getting on my Manila to Tokyo to Minneapolis to Nashville flight, I met with some of our best Filipino preachers to discuss concerns and pitfalls of preachers and preaching. Here are some of the questions we asked ourselves.

1. ARE OUR PREACHERS MAKING DISCIPLES? Are preachers doing the work of the ministry? Are they ministering to people and making disciples in small groups? Or are they spending all week in their study with a pile of books? I am not suggesting that study is unimportant. Quite the contrary, but we must study people as well as the Bible. The more we connect with people and their pain, the better preachers we will become. The goal is to make disciples. Preaching is an important part of the disciple-making process, but it is only a part not the whole.

2. ARE OUR PREACHERS CARRYING THE BURDEN? Are preachers carrying the weight of the ministry? Are they shouldering the pressure of the budget, the vision, the values, the mission? Or are they simply communicating pre-packaged points? Last Sunday while preaching at Victory-Makati, I felt an overwhelming burden that I had 35 minutes to connect with those in the congregation. I had a heavy burden because the topic was so important. I was not just communicating information, I was preaching a sermon that had the potential to shape, redirect, and change lives. That is a heavy burden.

3. ARE OUR PREACHERS PREPARING THEIR OWN HEARTS? Preparing a sermon to preach is the easy part. Preparing our hearts to preach is difficult and often painful. I sometimes wonder if the time preachers spend working on slick Powerpoint and Keynote presentations, would be better spent on their faces before God. I also wonder if modern preachers spend too much time researching illustrations to make people laugh, rather than time searching the Scriptures for the original meaning of the text. Powerpoint pictures and funny stories do not change lives. God’s word brings change because it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

I get to work in Nashville, Manila, and around the world with some really great preachers. The reason they are so good, is because they constantly ask themselves the hard questions.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.  James 3:1 ESV

It pleased God through the folly of what we preached to save those who believe.  1 Corinthians 1:21

© 2012 Steve Murrell

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