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.

Wise Leaders Listen to Old Men

It seems like every time I get around leaders my age the conversation eventually meanders to the topic of multi-generational ministry and succession planning. Some already have a succession plan. Some are working on a succession plan. Others have no interest in succession plans because dying is not in their plan.

I’ve been thinking about my Manila succession plan for about thirty years. That does not prove that I am good or even marginally adequate at advanced strategic planning. I am not. Because I was only planning to stay in Manila a few months, I figured I better find some next generation leaders to equip and empower. In those days the next generation was two to five years younger than me. Now they are twenty to thirty years younger.

King Solomon got off to a great start because he understood multi-generational leadership and the importance of continuity. Consider his prayer in 2 Chronicles 1:9.

“O LORD God, let your word to David my father be now fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth.”

Unlike so many young insecure leaders today, Solomon was not looking for a “new word” from God. He believed that the old word that God gave his father was still valid for his generation.

Solomon prayed, not for his own mission/vision/word to replace the mission/vision/word of his father. Rather he saw himself as a continuation of God’s purpose. He did not need his own unique mission/vision/word. He embraced a multi-generational mission/vision/word.

Solomon’s multi-generational mission did not start with his father’s generation. In his prayer, Solomon recognizes that it started long before David. Being king over “people as numerous as the dust of the earth” harkens back to God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Unlike his father Solomon, Rehoboam “abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him” (2 Chronicles 10:8). Rejecting the wisdom of old people who represent previous generations is always a bad idea for a young leader.

Solomon recognized the importance of multi-generational continuity. He remembered the wisdom of his father David. He even acknowledged he was in some way building on the foundation of God’s promises to Abraham. Because he “listened to the old men” Solomon had a strong foundation to build on and a clear mission to accomplish.

Lesson for young leaders: Patiently listen to the “old men” who repeat the same stories over and over and over.

Lesson for old leaders: Never grow tired of reminding young leaders of God’s promises and purpose so they can build on ancient foundations rather than starting over and building on nothing.

Summary: “Listening to the old men” means we don’t have to start over from scratch and make it up as we go.

Leaders Lead

Leadership is not complicated. It is simple. I’m not saying it is easy. Just simple.

Want to be a leader? Then lead. See, it’s that simple. But difficult. And costly. And time-consuming. And painful. But you need to lead anyway.

Stop waiting around for someone to give you a title, a salary, a budget, a staff, an office, an invitation. Start leading. Now.

Who should I lead?

First lead yourself. Motivate yourself. Encourage yourself. Strengthen yourself. Build yourself up. Self control is foundational to leadership.

Then lead your kids, if you have some. Leadership starts at home. If I can’t lead those closest to me (and smaller than me), then no need attempting to lead others.

Then lead anyone who happens to see your example. At work. On campus. At church. In the gym. Leadership is by example, not by position. When people see a worthy example, they instinctively follow that example.

“That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly.” -Judges 5:2

Leader, are you willing to TAKE THE LEAD? As soon as you do, people will FOLLOW WILLINGLY.

Why We Need Big Brothers

NOTE: While doing research for the parenting book I am trying to write, I stumbled on an old blog from deep in the archives that needed to be re-posted. Enjoy.

“I’ll only go if James goes.”

Jonathan, my five-year old, absolutely refused to go to children’s church alone. We were in the States and I was the guest preacher who was expected to stand up and be anointed in about five minutes.In the meantime, all the children quietly vacated the auditorium and settled into their own service, complete with puppets and snacks. They were all doing as expected, except Jonathan. I understood his dilemma. This was not our church. We were guests and he didn’t know anyone in his class. It was a little intimidating for him. He had no idea what evil lurked beyond those sanctuary doors. Fear of the unknown paralyzed him. So, he refused to go, that is, unless James, his seven-year old brother, would go with him. Ah, what a difference big brother makes! James wanted to stay in the big service and hear me preach. But somehow, I was able to coerce him into going to children’s church. So, Jonathan scooted off into the vast unknown in the safety of big brother’s shadow. I don’t like to admit it. But, like my five-year old son, I’m often intimidated by unfamiliar situations. All too often, when God challenges me to take a new step of faith, my first reaction is to stay in my comfort zone. Why? Because I might get rejected out there. I don’t know anyone else going that direction. I might fail.

If not for leadership in my life, I would have never gotten a passport or a plane ticket to go on that original “one month” outreach to Manila’s University Belt in 1984. Like Jonathan, I silently said: “I’ll only go if Rice goes.” Well, Rice went. And so did I. The only difference is that he returned the States after that summer outreach. I stayed.

Thank God for big brothers who challenge us to take big steps of faith.

Daniel was one of those big brother type leaders who had the ability to get people to do things they would never have done if left to themselves. The Babylonians had captured Daniel and his three best friends. They were hauled off to a pagan land far away from all forms of godliness and out of the sight of parents, prophets and priests. New temptations and opportunities to compromise assaulted them. How did they handle the situation? Notice Daniel’s response: “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself. …(Dan. 1:8).  Daniel did not wait until the temptation moment to decide what to do. Way before he had the opportunity to compromise, Daniel already decided what he would do and what he would not do.

When explaining his stand to the Babylonian officials, Daniel said, “Please test your servants. …Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink” (v.12). We know that Daniel made a resolution not to defile himself. But who are these servants and who is this “us” that Daniel spoke of? It seems that Daniel dragged his three friends along with him. He took them where they probably would not have gone on their own. That’s what leadership is all about. Maybe Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said, “We’ll only go if Daniel goes.” Well, Daniel went. And so did they.

Next time the three amigos made a bold stand for righteousness, Daniel was nowhere to be found. When they faced crazy King Nebuchadnezzar at the door of the fiery furnace, they were on their own. This time, they were not following leadership. They were leading. Once again, God met them there in the scary unknown.

Meanwhile, back to the church service. My younger sons made it safely to children’s church. I preached my best mission sermon, challenging the church to get serious about reaching the world. Deborah and William, my oldest son, heard the same sermon for the 10th time. James and Jonathan enjoyed a Christian puppet show, met some new friends, and ate some snacks. And I saw a picture of how desperate we all are for leadership in our lives.

Thank God for those men and women of great faith who, when they get a vision from God, say, “We” and “Us” rather than I.

© 2012 Steve Murrell

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