My Top 10 Most Influential Books

NASHVILLE. It seems that everyone on the interweb is now required to either dump ice water buckets on their head, criticize Victoria Osteen, post narcissistic selfies, or make a top ten book list. Since I have no interest in the first three, I am choosing door number four.

I’m not sure about the rules of the top ten book list, so I am making up my own parameters. These are not my favorite ten books. They are not the best ten books. My list is simply the top ten books that I think had the greatest influence on my life. Here they are, in no particular order.

1. No Wonder They Call Him Savior by Max Lucado. I have lost count of how many times I have read this one. It taught me that complicated difficult-to-understand theological concepts can be communicated with a clarity and simplicity that even a child can comprehend.

2. C.T. Studd by Norman Grubb. First missionary bio I read as a new believer. The CT Studd story planted seeds of sacrifice and service deep in my soul as a teenager. Not sure I would have stayed in Manila had I not read this foundational book about absolute surrender to the Lordship of Christ and cross-cultural mission.

3. Knowing God by J.I. Packer. Helped me know God, and made me want to know Him better. Another book I read over and over and over. Today it is held together by duct tape.

4. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. Ignited a lifelong desire to pursue and please God wholeheartedly. Reignites that desire every time I read a page.

5. The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. Opened my eyes the first time I read it. Opened my heart the second time. Pierced my heart the third time. Healed my heart the fourth. Every time I read this book, I go deeper with God.

6. A History of Christianity: Volume I: Beginnings to 1500 by Kenneth Scott Latourette.  Everything Latourette wrote about history is worth reading, but his early church history is the best. His experience as a missionary to China and later as a professor of Ecclesiastical History at Yale gave him a unique perspective of the expansion of the church. The combination of missional passion and scholastic detail make these 700 pages feel read like an adventure novel.

7. Focus by Al Ries. I read a lot of leadership and business books. None have impacted the way I work or shaped the way I think more than this one. I think I need to read it again soon.

8. The Making of a Leader by Frank Damazio. More than any book that is not part of the Bible, this book has influenced how I think about leadership, how I lead, and how I equip and empower leaders.

9. Shepherding Your Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp. Whatever my sons have become as men, Deborah and I own a debt of gratitude to this book. Best parenting book, period.

10. The Old Man and the Boy by Robert Ruark. My dad’s all-time favorite book. I finally read it when I had my first son, and understood  Dad’s parenting philosophy like never before. “This book captures the endearing relationship between a man and his grandson as they fish and hunt the lakes and woods of North Carolina. All the while the Old Man acts as teacher and guide, passing on his wisdom and life experiences to the boy, who listens in rapt fascination.” (Amazon description.)

 

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.

 

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

4 Questions to Identify Potential Leaders

MANILA. A consultant once asked me what I mean when I say that certain positions can only be filled by a “leader.” Without thinking I said I expect a leader to do the following:

1. OWN IT. Good or bad, success or failure, if it happened on their watch, real leaders own it. Everyone gladly accepts the honor and rewards of success, but when things go south, non-leaders make excuses and pass the buck. Real leaders own the mistakes and failures of the whole team. No passing the buck. No blame shifting. In other words, leaders take RESPONSIBILITY.

2. DO IT. Leaders don’t wait to be told what to do and how to do it. They just get it done. I am ok with leaders doing something wrong. I am not ok with leaders doing nothing. Doing nothing is not leadership. In other words, leaders take INITIATIVE.

3. UPGRADE IT. Great leaders know when to call an audible. Non-leaders keep running the same play, even when it stopped working three years ago. Leaders figure out how to upgrade and make it better. In other words, leaders embrace INNOVATION.

4. DO IT NOW. The past is gone. The future is not yet. The only reality we have is to work with is the present. Non-leaders live in the past or the future, always talking about the good ole days or only talking about future vision. Real leaders act now. They don’t wait. In other words, leaders live with a sense of URGENCY.

Whether you have an impressive title or now, here are four questions that reveal if you are a leader:

When things go wrong, do you take responsibility or pass the blame?

When action is required, do you take initiative or wait for someone else to lead?

When standards are not met, do you embrace innovation or maintain the status quo?

When opportunity knocks, do you lead with urgency or passivity?

How to Create a Healthy Environment for Growth

I was recently talking to a pastor whose church was leaking people. As soon as a family joined the church, another family vanished. As we were trying discover the cause of the leak, I made up the following three points on the spot. I told my friend that as a leader, it is his responsibility to create and maintain a healthy environment for growth. Here’s the environment leaders must work for, pray for, and lead toward.

1. A sense of God’s PRESENCE must be experienced together. Spiritual leaders must value God’s presence as Moses did. “If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” (Exodus 33:15) As leaders we don’t create God’s presence, but we can plan and lead meetings that enable people to encounter God in a meaningful way. We can also plan and lead meetings in ways that obstruct meaningful encounters with God. Components of corporate worship that contribute to experiencing God’s presence include, but are not limited to the following: transformational preaching (vs. information transfer), empowered ministry time (vs. pastor doing all ministry), participatory worship (vs. concert-styled performance). If people do not experience God’s presence at our church, they will find another church.

2. A sense of MISSION must be accomplished together. People need to feel like their church is making the world a better place. Many churches are doing great things in regard to mission, but if their mission accomplishments are secrets, then the people will look elsewhere for their sense of mission. Healthy churches do local mission to the underprivileged and global mission to the unreached, they involve as many people as possible, then they over communicate so everyone can celebrate mission together.

3. A sense of COMMUNITY must be built together. All people need community. Some find it in church, many do not. Church community is best experienced through small group discipleship, corporate worship, and missional service. I recently blogged about the idea of mission creating community. 

All three components of a healthy church environment are essential. If two are strong and the other is weak, we will leak people in the weak area. How is your church or campus ministry doing in these three aspects of healthy environment? Where are you strong and where do you need an upgrade?

 

© 2012 Steve Murrell

Scroll to top