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.)

 

 

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

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.

© 2012 Steve Murrell

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