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Grace or Truth?

NASHVILLE. In one of my all-time favorite movie scenes, Cuba Gooding Jr plays a mentally challenged young man nicknamed “Radio” who is being mentored by a high school football coach played by Ed Harris.

Coach and Radio are eating in a diner. When they finish their meal, the waitress politely and slowly addresses Radio, “Do you want strawberry pie or apple pie?”

Radio answers, “I wan’ boff.”

Radio was not the smartest movie character ever, but he understood that he could choose both.

Unfortunately, many of today’s church leaders have a difficult time embracing the concept of both. In our confused and polarized Western church world, we think have to choose between grace and truth, as if the two concepts are mutually exclusive.

Jesus choose both. We should choose both.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (‭John‬ ‭1‬:‭14‬)

According to this passage, Jesus was “full of grace AND truth.” The idea of grace and truth is not a multiple choice question. It is not an either/or decision. This is one of those both/and situations.

But we prefer to pick one or the other. Then we build a camp. In time, our camp becomes our identity. Then we start a blog. And a twitter account. Eventually we vilify people in other camps. I’m not sure why we do this, but we do.

Preachers in the “grace camp” are accused of ignoring certain Bible texts that seem to condemn politically correct lifestyles and culturally protected sins. On the other hand, preachers in the “truth camp” overemphasize a few sins and are stereotyped as hateful religious bigots and religious Pharisees.

Why can’t we just be like Jesus and embrace grace and truth?

My guess is that everyone reading this wants to be filled with grace and truth, but how? In today’s crazy out-of-balance ministry world, when we want grace we listen to a Joseph Prince podcast or watch a Joel Osteen broadcast. When we want truth we read a John MacArthur book or a John Piper tweet.

Question: What if we want to be filled with both grace and truth?

Answer: If we want both grace and truth, we have to go to Jesus.

The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)

 

 

Healthy Church Growth: Measuring What Matters

TOKYO. Earlier this week I was in Kuala Lumpur speaking to Asian mega-church pastors at the 2015 Asia Leaders Summit. With all due respect to my mega-church pastor friends, I would much rather spend three days with regular church pastors. Three days with mega-church leaders reciting huge numbers reminded me that some numbers matter more than others.

Every time I am asked to teach discipleship, at some point I have to talk about numbers. I always do so with some reluctance, but not because it is necessarily wrong to count and track numbers. My reluctance is due to people’s common tendency of attributing all kinds of virtue, worth, and wisdom to individuals and churches based on how many people show up at their meetings. By those same calculations, there is a tendency to diminish the efforts of other leaders and churches because their attendance numbers don’t have as many digits.

This is simply not fair. Growing a church to 100 in Tokyo or Teheran takes more work and is a greater accomplishment than growing a church to 1000 in Singapore or Manila. Some cities are ripe for harvest. Some are not. We cannot judge the quality of a church or a pastor’s ministry simply by how many people attend the weekend worship service because raw numbers do not account for soil conditions.

Judging pastors and churches by attendance numbers completely misses the main point of ministry. Weekend worship attendance numbers without context are totally unreliable indicators of church health.

Jesus did not call us to gather crowds. He called us to make disciples. In Matthew 16, Jesus said He would build His church. A few chapters later in Matthew 28, He told His followers to make disciples. His job is to build His church. Our job is to make disciples. When we make disciples, He takes those disciples and builds them into a church that the gates of hell cannot overcome.

Last week I received the Victory-Manila 2015 second quarter report. As you might expect, the report contained numbers, graphs, and charts. My eyes quickly sought the two numbers that matter more than all other numbers, the two numbers that give context to all the other numbers.

Those numbers were 3039 and 7166.

The first number is the number of new believers who were baptized in Manila in the first two quarters of 2015. (Plus, we baptized another 5248 in the provinces for a total of 8287 nationwide.) The second number is the number of active Victory discipleship groups that meet weekly in Metro Manila.

Why do these numbers matter more than all others, including the attendance number and the offering amount?

The first number (baptisms) matters because lost people matter to God.

The Parable of the Ninety-nine and the One (Luke 15) presents a radically different way of looking at numbers. Many pastors today focus all their attention on the ninety-nine. Pastors feed the sheep in their flock; pastors serve the sheep in their flock; pastors occasionally recruit sheep from other flocks. We celebrate the ninety-nine and ignore the lost one. No matter how great we are at caring for the flock, Jesus calls us to pursue the lost.

The second number (Victory discipleship groups) matters because lost people matter to us.

The more Victory discipleship group leaders we equip and empower, the more opportunities we will have to engage the lost in every area of culture and community. Since lost people matter to God, they should matter to us.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to help lead a small Every Nation church in the Nashville area. When I received the first year-end report, my eyes immediately went to the two numbers that matter most: 12 and 27. Twelve new believers baptized and twenty-seven discipleship group leaders equipped and empowered in the first year. Like in Manila, those two numbers mattered more than total attendance and offering amount. Those numbers were worth celebrating because evangelism and discipleship matter to God and to us.

What numbers do you celebrate?

 

 

 

Asia Leaders Summit: Asians Reaching Asia

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA. I was surprised and honored to be invited to speak at the 2015 Asia Pastors Summit. Unfortunately, I was given the dreaded post-lunch 1:30 PM slot. For afternoon speakers, the standard for success is pretty low. I figure that if at least half of the conference people actually attend to the post-lunch afternoon session, it is a success, whether they pay attention or fall asleep. My talk ended four hours ago, and I am calling it a success.

The Asia Leaders Summit is an invitation-only conference for Asian mega-church pastors. The motto is “Asians Reaching Asia.” Apparently no one on the organizing committee googled my photo to discover that I’m an American reaching Asia. So, I am the only white dude in the room. And I feel at home.

The other people in the room are the pastors of some of the largest churches in the world. And, oddly enough, some of these pastors are the most humble leaders I have ever met. Could it be that  humility and church growth are somehow connected?

I have been particularly impressed with the humility of the organizer of the summit, Dr Younghoon Lee, who is also the senior pastor of the largest church in the world, Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul. He and his team humbly and graciously serve in a way that honors God.

I end this blog with a few random quotes from today’s seven sessions.

“We need missions with humility, not missions with imperialism.”

“We need to replace racism with grace-ism.”

“We should be grace-ists not racists.”

“So many are called to the UK, USA, and Australia. Why does no one feel called to Pakistan and Afghanistan?”

“We have too many churches that are led by CEOs. We need more senior pastors who know how to defeat and behead Goliath.”

“A well-managed church is not the same as a well-led church.”

 

 

 

Great Leaders Don’t Lead Alone

MANILA. The original disciples were called to walk and work together as a team. They were not called to be Lone Rangers for God.

And He called the twelve TOGETHER and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. (Luke 9:1,2)

People called to ministry usually like the idea of “power and authority” but they sometimes fail to notice that the “power and authority” follows the “together” part of Luke 9. If you are called, then you are called “together” with others of like calling, not to wander around trying to do God’s will alone.

Moses was a great leader, maybe the greatest leader in the Old Testament, but he knew better than to attempt to lead alone. He always had his brother and spokesman, Aaron, by his side. Team Moses also included a dude named Her, and a fearless young warrior named Joshua.

David was Israel’s greatest king ever, but he never led alone. He had his “mighty men” who could shoot an arrow and sling a stone with the right and left hand. These mighty men were led by an executive committee of three that was chaired by Jashobeam the Hachmonite. Read his name again, real slow. Jashobeam the Hachmonite. In one famous battle, “The Beam” killed 300 enemy warriors with his spear, all by himself. If I’m ever in a war, I think I want someone like Jashobeam the Hackmonite on my team.

Daniel’s team included his best friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (aka Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego).

Even Jesus refused to do ministry alone. He had his twelve, plus a larger team of seventy.

Leadership is supposed to be plural. If you are called to lead, then you are called to lead together. That’s a good thing, because we are always better together.

Greed

MANILA. What is repentance and does it still matter? Luke 3 records John the Baptist’s message to religious people who wanted to be baptized. As usual, John boldly and unapologetically demanded repentance.

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance… Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

As was often the case when John (and Jesus and Paul) preached, the crowds not only got answers, they also walked away with questions. Here’s the big question prompted by John’s blunt call to repentance.

What shall we do?   (Luke 3:10)

That’s always a good question to ask when one wants to repent.

As you read my summary paraphrase below, see if  you can spot the common theme in John’s answer to their question about repentance.

Verse 11 Whoever has extra clothes and food, give to those who have none.

Verse 13 Collect no more taxes (money) than authorized.

Verse 14 Do not extort money and be content with your salary.

No matter the audience (tax collectors, soldiers, random people), the answer to their what shall we do question was basically the same: reject greed and embrace generosity.

At some point, real repentance will confront our greed and demand generosity. This might not always be the first step in repentance, but it will be a step or two or two thousand on the lifelong journey of walking with God.

I love the way this passage ends: So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. (Luke 3:18)

This passage describes repentance as rejecting greed and embracing a lifestyle of generosity. When John preached about repentance and generosity Luke said he preached good news to the people!

The message of repentance and the call to generosity is good news!

 

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.

 

© 2012 Steve Murrell

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