Lucky or Blessed?

MACAU. For the past week I have been on a small island, that looks and feels like a large casino. Every Nation Macau Church hosted our annual Asia Leadership Team meeting and a day later our China Discipleship Convergence. I wish I could blog about the reports I heard from Every Nation leaders in China, Pakistan, Laos, Tibet, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia, but I can’t because of security concerns.

Here’s my Every Nation Asia summary, in the words of Apostle Paul, “The Gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.” (Colossians 1:6)

While the spread of the Gospel brings great joy to my heart, there is also a deep sadness as I watch thousands and thousands march into the casinos to throw away their money and their future. I have observed a strange mix of greed and hope in the eyes of those coming into the glittery casinos, and a zombie-like hopelessness in the eyes of those shuffling towards the exit doors.

Luck is the operative word around here. Some, a very few, have good luck. Most have very bad luck.

While watching this tragedy play out before me, I read an interesting story about blessing this morning. Many people see blessing as the religious version of luck, but the two concepts have nothing in common. Luck is something that randomly happens to one and not to another. Blessings are often the direct results of our decisions and actions.

It is common for religious people to have wrong ideas about the blessing of God. Consider Luke 11. Jesus just taught his disciples how to pray the “Our Father.” Next He heals a mute boy by casting out a demon. Then He teaches the crowd. Typical day in the life of Jesus.

Watch what happens next, and notice the response of a random woman in the crowd.

As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” Luke 11:27 ESV

Like many people today, most people in Jesus’ day wrongly believed that a person was blessed or not blessed solely based on who their parents were. A person’s family background determined ethnicity and nationality. That was true then, and now. But ethnicity and nationality do not determine divine blessing.

In His response to the woman in the crowd, Jesus redefined what it means to be blessed and corrected a false belief about the source of the blessing.

“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Luke 11:28 ESV

How then is one “blessed” according to Jesus? In this passage in Luke, Jesus clearly ties the blessing of God to hearing and living God’s Word.

Never allow your family background, your ethnicity, or your nationality determine your blessing. Hear, read, obey, and live God’s word and you will find the true source of the blessing of God.

10 Simple Discipleship Truths

Last month Deborah and I were in Indonesia, Singapore, and Taiwan teaching Asian pastors, church-planters, and missionaries about discipleship and leadership. Same ole boring strokes, again. After our Sunday night session a young Indonesian leader asked, “how do you define discipleship?” Good question. Here’s my answer, and more.

1. A disciple is a person who follows Jesus.

2. Every Christian should be a disciple.

3. Every disciple should make disciples.

4. Discipleship is the process of helping others follow Jesus.

5. Discipleship is a life-long journey not a six-week class.

6. Discipleship happens best in community (small groups).

7. Men disciple men; women disciple women.

8. Evangelism and discipleship should not be separated.

9. Discipleship is relationship.

10. Jesus wants all nations to be discipled.

Making disciples is the job of every Christian every day.

Cultivating a relational discipleship culture, creating discipleship systems, and over-communicating discipleship principles was the core of my job description for over two decades as the pastor of Victory Manila. And I recommend that all of the above should be in every pastor’s job description.

Discipleship is not supposed to be complicated or confusing. In fact, it is so simple that a fisherman explained it to uneducated fishermen in two words: “Follow me.”

Are you following Him? Are you helping others follow Him? In other words, are you a disciple and are you making disciples?

 

My top 5 recommended books on discipleship:

Making Disciples by Ralph Moore

The Master Plan of Discipleship by Coleman

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoffer

The Lego Principle by Joey Bonifacio

WikiChurch by Steve Murrell

 

Spiritual Warfare, Between the Ears

TAIPEI, TAIWAN. I am sitting in the Taipei airport waiting for my flight back to Manila after a quick weekend visiting Every Nation Taipei and 101 Church. As is often the case when visiting nations in Asia, a visit to Taiwan gives one a heightened sense of the reality of spiritual forces, even for the not-so-spiritual like me.

The idea of spiritual warfare can be fascinating, scary, biblical, bizarre, supernatural, spooky, and practical all at the same time. The Apostle Paul often used war and weaponry imagery to communicate spiritual truth. Here’s a classic Pauline spiritual warfare passage.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NIV
[3] For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. [4] The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. [5] We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

While modern spiritual warriors tend to be obsessed with mystical unseen demonic beings in heavenly realms, the primary battlefield of Paul’s spiritual war seemed to be located between the ears – in the mind. Notice the words Paul used to describe the spiritual battle.

We demolish ARGUMENTS and every PRETENSION that sets itself up against the KNOWLEDGE of God, and we take captive every THOUGHT to make it obedient to Christ.

Arguments, pretensions, knowledge, and thoughts all happen between the ears, not in a mystical heavenly realm.

I am not saying that demons, fallen angels, principalities, and other strange spiritual entities mentioned in Scripture are not real. They are very real.

What I am saying is that the primary spiritual battle we need to fight every minute of every day is in our minds. And if we win the battle for the mind, then the demons, fallen angels, principalities, and other scary beings will have little chance to torment us.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2) In other words, READ YOUR BIBLE every day.

The Danger of Outsourcing Discipleship to Youth Pastors

QUESTION. Are pastors equipping parents to disciple their children, or are they hiring youth pastors and kid’s ministers to do what parents should do? In other words, are we outsourcing discipleship to paid professionals, while inadvertently relegating parents to the bleachers as passive spectators?

DISCLAIMER. This blog was written with church attending families in mind. I realize that there are millions of youth and kids who do not attend church. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in youth pastors and kid’s ministers. I am the product of the youth ministry of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi. My family did not attend First Pres, but their youth pastor, Ron Musselman, appointed himself the chaplain of my high school football team, and rrelentlessly shared the Gospel with me for six months until I finally understood and responded in faith. I was sixteen years-old then, and I am forever grateful to Ron and First Pres. It is my hope that churches will see youth ministry the way Ron did, as an outreach to unchurched teens, not as a babysitting service for church insiders.

BIBLE. When it comes to discipling the next generation, the Bible is clear that the responsibility is primarily parental not pastoral, and it takes place primarily at home seven days a week, not at a church building Sunday morning. The following verses address parents, not pastors.

Teach them (God’s word) to your children and to their children after them. Deuteronomy 4:9

Teach them (God’s word) to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Deuteronomy 11:19

CONCLUSION. I fear that many churches, especially program-driven mega-churches, are snatching spiritual formation out of the home and moving it to once-a-week Sunday school or youth event in the church building, when we should be equipping parents to disciple their kids.

CLICK HERE for vintage blog about parental discipleship.

Why “Funnel Vision” is Essential for Church Health

If you want to lead a healthy church, you need to know that bowls, colanders, and funnels are not interchangeable tools. For those unfamiliar with kitchen utensils, here’s a primer:

Basically, a colander is a bowl with many holes, and a funnel is a bowl with one hole. A bowl is designed to contain stuff, a colander is designed to leak stuff, and a funnel is designed to channel or direct stuff.

I have a friend in the home repair business. He told me a funny story about a kid who was confused about the difference between a bowl and a colander. My friend was repairing a storm-damaged roof. The home-owner had put bowls under the leaks to preserve the carpet and furniture. When the repairman discovered another leak, he asked the kid who lived in the home to find one more bowl and place it under the last leak. The kid returned with a colander, which he placed under the leak – obviously an exercise in futility.

Many pastors are like that kid with the colander; they are leading churches that leak people. Other pastors have plugged the leaks and are building bowls, bigger bowls, and mega-bowls to hold more people than the church across town. The pastor with “bowl vision” feels important if he has a bigger Easter bowl than last year. The youth pastor with bowl vision feels successful if he has more teens in his youth bowl today than last semester. I suggest we stop obsessing with big bowls and full bowls. What really matters is not how many people we crowd into our bowls, but how many people are being discipled and how many are being equipped and empowered to make disciples.

I guess a bowl church is better than a colander church, but there is a better, more biblical way. It is time to toss the worthless colander vision, the carnal bowl vision, and embrace a biblical FUNNEL VISION. Bowl vision is about getting as many as possible to a church service. Funnel vision is about making disciples and getting those disciples out of the bowl and to the world.

Rather than accepting that we will always leak, or plugging the holes (“closing the backdoor”) so we can pack more people into our bowl, we need to become a funnel that channels people toward the discipleship journey.

Here’s what funnel vision looks like:

As the above drawing illustrates, with funnel vision, EVERYTHING we do as a church must help people move forward on the discipleship journey. If it does not serve as a catalyst for discipleship, don’t do it. If it only fills a bowl or plugs holes in our bowl, don’t do it.

Toss the bowls and colanders and embrace the funnel!

Jesus said He would build His church. He told us to make disciples. He is doing His part. Are we doing our part, or are we trying to help Him with His part?

 

 

The 6 W’s of Men’s Discipleship

NASHVILLE. After decades of building my weekly rhythms around small group discipleship in Manila, the past few years splitting time between Nashville, Manila, and Delta airlines have been quite frustrating regarding small group discipleship. With a fresh resolve, I’m starting again.

In a couple of hours I will meet with a small group of men at Starbucks for discipleship. This is my first meeting with this group. I hope someone shows up besides me and my neighborhood barista.

Here are the six essential W’s to discipling men:

1. WORD. Always start with the Bible, God’s Word. Since “all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16) all discipleship is simply about getting men into the Word and getting the Word into men. The Word does the lion’s share of the discipleship. It teaches, rebukes, corrects, and trains. If you are not a good teacher, let the Word teach. If you are too timid to rebuke, let the Word rebuke. If you do not know what to correct, let the Word correct.

2. WORSHIP. After we establish men in the Word, we must help disciple them in a lifestyle of worship. When I say worship, I am not talking about twenty minutes of singing on Sunday morning. That is part of it, but worship is much more than singing off-key while accompanied by smoke machines and a loud amateur band. Here’s how Paul described real worship. “In view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12:1) In discipleship we must teach men to engage corporate worship (singing at church on Sunday) as well as sacrificially giving all to God Monday through Saturday (true & proper worship).

3. WORK. Since men spend much more time at work than at church, discipleship must connect with the workplace. How does a man apply God’s Word in the office? Biblical discipleship should help a man be better at his work, rather than coasting at the office waiting for the weekend. Undiscipled men endure their jobs all week waiting for Friday and Saturday night partying. Undiscipled religious men endure work all week waiting for Sunday morning worship. Both are wrong. Real disciples see work as a calling and serve, honor, and worship God through their work.

4. WOMEN. It is impossible to disciple men without dealing with what the Bible says about sexual boundaries. Gifted men, from King David to Samson to modern preachers, have wrecked their lives by crossing biblical boundaries with women. Married men and single men are equally vulnerable, and guilty.  Just yesterday I heard a sad story of a businessman who got woman pregnant. She was not his wife. This guy was a regular church attender. But he was not involved in a discipleship group.

5. WEALTH. Like sexual boundaries, it is impossible to really disciple men without dealing with the root of all evil.  Referring to money, Jesus said we cannot serve two masters, but many men try anyway. Money is an emotional and personal issue because it is a heart issue. When it comes to discipling men about money, I suggest you let the Word do the teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training when it comes to money. And let your example of generosity, integrity, discipline, and faith shout AMEN to what the Word says about wealth and money.

6. GOD’S WILL. The final of the big 6, is to help a man discern God’s will for his life. The best way to know God’s will is to refer back to point #2 above. If you give your life as a living sacrifice on God’s altar, “then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” If a man is unwilling to live a life of sacrifice, he will never fully know God’s good, pleasing and perfect will for his life. So, if you want to disciple men, boldly call them to sacrifice.

© 2012 Steve Murrell

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