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Posts by Steve Murrell

Discipleship

Prayer and Fasting… and Perseverance

January 17, 2017

Praying HandsORLANDO, FLORIDAThis week, I’m in Orlando with Every Nation pastors from all over North America (USA & Canada) for the North American Strategic Team (NAST) meeting. Over the week, we will be praying together and strategizing how we can strengthen our existing churches and campus ministries and plant more in 2017.

If you fasted and prayed with us last week, here’s a post-fast thought about prayer, faith, and perseverance.

Whenever I get to the end of a week of prayer and fasting, I am always full of faith for what God is going to do in the coming year. Sometimes, I see immediate breakthrough and answers to prayer during the actual week of prayer and fasting. But more often than not, I see God answering those January prayers in March or June or November. And sometimes, I see God answering my 2017 prayers much later—in 2018 or 2028 or 2058!

Perseverance is one key component of faith that we often neglect when we talk about prayer. As much as we need faith in God’s power when we pray, we also need faith in His timing.

Too often, we think that because God didn’t answer our prayers according to our timeframe, then God didn’t “answer” our prayer. At this point, many give up praying, assuming that they must have misunderstood God’s will. Instead of giving up, we need to realize that this is exactly the point where true persevering faith begins.

If faith in God’s power produces boldness in prayer, then faith in God’s timing produces perseverance in prayer.

In Hebrews 11, the most famous passage in the Bible on faith, the author talks about ancient heroes of the faith like Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, and he makes an interesting comment about their faith journeys: These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. (Hebrews 11:13 NKJV)

These all DIED in faith, not having received the promises.

Look at Abraham. God promised him that he would become a great nation, but when he died, he had only one descendent. He died before he fully received the promise. God’s promises to Abraham did eventually come to pass, but they came to pass in future generations. Yet Abraham did not waiver in unbelief, or assume that God had forgotten him. As it says in Hebrews 11, Abraham saw the fulfillment “afar off” and was “assured” of it.

So here’s the post-fast question: In 2017, are we going to persevere in faith whether or not God answers all of our prayers according to our expectations and timeline?

Let’s not get discouraged or give up—Let’s pray boldly and persistently, trusting both God’s power and His timing for our lives in 2017 and beyond.

Discipleship

How Not to Fast

January 9, 2017

Chilli Cheese Dog

NASHVILLE — This week, churches all over the Every Nation world are beginning 2017 with a week of prayer, fasting, and consecration. I have been participating in fasts like this since I was a college student.

I’ll never forget my first fast.

For some crazy reason, Rice Broocks and I, and several of our brilliant friends, decided that it would be a good idea to break our fast at midnight at Sonic Drive-In with a footlong chili cheese dog. It seems like most of the fast, we found ourselves in a trance-like state, dreaming about chilli cheese dogs and longing for midnight.

I definitely learned my lesson on how not to fast (and how not to break a fast).

Here are a few more tips on how not to fast that I have learned over the past few decades:

1. A fast is NOT a Christianized diet. When we diet, the ultimate goal is body transformation. When we fast, the ultimate goal is soul transformation. When we diet, we are relying on our personal discipline to change ourselves. When we fast, we are relying on the Spirit of God to change us. When we diet, success is measured quantitatively (in pounds or kilos). When we fast, success is measured qualitatively (in relationship).

2. A fast is NOT a hunger strike. A hunger strike is all about defying an authority figure and getting him to comply with our demands. A fast is all about humbling ourselves before the ultimate authority and submitting to His will. In a hunger strike, the person fasting is the heroic actor who brings about change. In a fast, God is the heroic actor who brings about change.

3. A fast is NOT a spiritual performance. Fasting is not a demonstration of spiritual strength. Rather, it’s a declaration of spiritual weakness. Fasting is not about proving to God (or to ourselves) that we are committed disciples; it’s about denying ourselves, picking up our crosses, and following Him. Fasting is not about demonstrating devotion; it’s about cultivating desire for God and His Kingdom.

As I have said many times before, I have a love/hate relationship with fasting. I hate having an empty stomach for a week, but I love how God changes me as I am emptied of self and filled with His Spirit.

So as we fast this week, remember that fasting is NOT about losing weight, or getting what we want, or proving how spiritual we are. It’s about God working in us and creating an even deeper desire for Himself and His Kingdom.

Blog / Book / Miscellaneous

Top 10 Books I Read in 2016

January 4, 2017

Last night one of my sons asked me for book recommendations for the new year. That discussion inspired this blog.

I used to write a “Top 10 Books of the Year” blog at the end of each year. While I did not stop reading, for some reason, I stopped blogging that list. Here are some of my previous lists: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2008. Books on my Top 10 lists are not necessarily the best books, the most popular books, or the most important books. They are simply the ten books that impacted me the most in the past twelve months.

Now (after no one noticing that my list disappeared), I am reviving it. Here’s the 2016 list, in random order.

Thomas Long1.  The Witness of Preaching by Thomas G. Long. If you are called to preach, do your congregation a favor and study this book. If you are a church member, buy a copy for your pastor. If you don’t want him to know it’s from you, just quietly slip it in his briefcase or office. I have read a lot of preaching books in my lifetime, and this is one of the best.

 

Eugene Peterson2. Eat this Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene Peterson. If you love reading or studying the Bible, you will love this book. If you have a difficult time reading, studying, understanding, or interpreting the Bible, this book might just change your life. Eugene Peterson is the best in the business at making spiritual and scholarly concepts accessible to semi-spiritual, non-scholarly readers.

 

Gothic Enterprise3. The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral by Robert A. Scott. Last year, I preached a sermon and posted a blog inspired by this book. If you liked the sermon or blog, you might enjoy this book. Here’s the blog. While not a “Christian book,” it positively impacted my view of worship as much as any book I have ever read.

 

Lee Kuan Yew4. One Man’s View of the World by Lee Kuan Yew. While I do not always agree with his view of the world, I have always been inspired by Lee Kuan Yew’s vision, clarity, and commitment to excellence. This book presents Singapore’s long-time Prime Minister’s no-holds-barred opinions about America, Japan, China, Asia, Europe, and the Arab Spring. It not only addresses the past and present, but it also gives a glimpse into the possible future.

 

John Lennox5. Seven Days that Divide the World by John C. Lennox. Written by everyone’s favorite Northern Irish philosopher, apologist, and professor of mathematics, this book is a must-read for campus missionaries and university students. I appreciate it when really really really smart people write in a way that makes complicated ideas simple to grasp.

 

Henri Nouwen6. Spiritual Formation by Henri Nouwen. If you are not familiar with the concept of “Spiritual Formation,” or if you have never read a book by Henri Nouwen, this book is a great place to start. The Dutch priest, pastor, philosopher, psychologist, author, and professor (Yale, Harvard, Notre Dame) wrote over 40 books on Christian spirituality that have been published in over twenty-two languages.

 

Marshall Goldsmith7. Succession: Are You Ready by Marshall Goldsmith. I thought I was ready, or at least getting close to being ready. But after a couple chapters of this book, it became painfully obvious that I am not ready and the organizations I lead are not even almost ready. I have much work to do to prepare the next leaders to lead Every Nation and Victory and to prepare Every Nation and Victory for its next leaders. If you lead a church, ministry, or business, please read and reread this book. After you finish Succession, I suggest you also read, Next: Pastoral Succession that Works by Warren Bird.

 

Joe Onosai8. The Power Destiny by Joe Onosai. The much-anticipated autobiography by my friend, Pastor Joe Onosai is filled with brutally honest stories of sin, redemption, violence, love, pain, and healing. Most of all, it is a book about how God uses life-giving relationships to shape his leaders. I can’t wait to read the sequel!

 


Rice Broocks9. Man Myth Messiah: Answering History’s Greatest Question by Rice Broocks.
This follow-up to the book God’s Not Dead presents and examines the evidence for the historical Jesus with an emphasis on the historicity of the resurrection. An important and informative book in an age of ignorance and skepticism.

 

Roger Pearce10. Better Together by Roger Pearce. Powerful stories of grace, forgiveness, and racial reconciliation in the shadow of South Africa’s ugly history of ethnic division. This book offers hope and a way forward for campuses, cities, and nations anywhere in the world that are experiencing racial tension. I hope to see European, Middle Eastern, Asian, and North American versions of this book. Well done, Roger!

 

Honorable mention (aka snubs) that I’m glad I read, but did not quite make my Top 10: The Source of Life by Jurgen Moltmann, On Christian Doctrine by Saint Augustine, Overhearing the Gospel by Fred B. Craddock, Preaching the Story by Jeffrey Frymire, More Power in the Pulpit by Cleophus LaRue, Almost Christian by Kenda Creasy Dean, and Marius’ Mules Book VII: The Great Revolt by S.J.A. Turney.

Blog / Discipleship

A Christmas Message: Don’t Quit

December 19, 2016

9509907779_18c35c33af_zEver want to quit – relationship, job, church – but deep down, you knew you shouldn’t?

Even though it would be easier to walk.
Even though you were wronged.
Even though it hurts to stay.

Maybe the marriage is not all you dreamed it would be.
Maybe the job is not what it was promised to be.
Maybe the church really is filled with hypocrites.

But for some reason, God will not let you quit.

So what do you do? Stay, or walk? Go for it on 4th and 20, or punt? Fight on, or tapout? All in, or fold?

What do you do when everything in you says to quit, but some faint, barely discernible still-quiet voice says to hang in there? (Don’t you wish God would speak louder or write His will on a wall or communicate in a way that is easier to hear understand than a still quiet whisper or an inner witness or a sub-conscience conviction?)

If you ever feel like you want to quit, but you know God wants you to not quit, I suggest you read the Christmas story.

The one in Matthew 1:18–25.

Summary. A man discovers his fiancé is pregnant. The baby is not his. She claims it is God’s. Yeah right. I’m out of here. He wasn’t bitter or vindictive. Just hurt. Confused. Done. And moving on with his life. But while he was sleeping, God sent an angel to tell him that the baby really was from God, and he better not quit.

An angel, really? How about sending me one of those every now and then?

I’m sure this guy still had questions. And doubts. And pain. And confusion. But he stayed engaged. He went for it. All in.

“When he woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded.” (v. 24)

Sometimes we just want to stay in bed and sleep it off, when we know we need to wake up and obey God.

Same question as before: ever wanna quit – relationship, job, church – but the Holy Spirit says not to?

We all have.

It will probably be a good idea to obey God. Every time I do, eventually, I’m glad I did.

Merry Christmas.

Blog / Discipleship

A Short History of Campus Ministry

December 12, 2016

NASHVILLE – Several months ago, I was invited to speak at our Every Nation Campus Staff Summit. I was supposed to inspire our 130 campus missionaries in attendance to embrace a vision to reach the world, not just their campuses. I am not a last-minute “wing-it” preacher. I plan ahead. But a few hours before my talk, I mentioned to my son William what I had planned to say. He responded by suggesting that I add some info about the Oxford Holy Clubs, the Student Volunteer Movement, and other significant student movements throughout history. William is a PhD candidate who lectures on Islamic History at Vanderbilt University and has taught church history in our schools of ministry in Nashville and Manila. For a brief moment, I attempted to add his history insights to my message before finally saying, “What are you doing tonight? Maybe you should just be the speaker, and I’ll introduce you.” After running that idea by our Every Nation Campus team, they all agreed that William should speak, and I should listen and take notes. Because so many campus missionaries asked for William’s notes, I prevailed upon him to post them here. 

_________
About a year ago, I (William) was asked to develop a church history course that would be taught in our schools of ministry around the world. Aware that a large portion of our School of Ministry students would eventually be campus missionaries, I thought that it was important to prepare a session that gave a short history of campus ministry.

After a few months of research, I was struck by one overwhelming fact: historically, campus ministry and world missions have been inextricably linked.

Here are just three examples.

1. The Oxford Holy Clubs: In 1729, Oxford students John and Charles Wesley founded a small group with other Oxford students that focused on Bible study, prayer, fasting, and the pursuit of holiness (hence the nickname “Holy Clubs”). In addition to their “acts of piety,” the small group of Oxford students also regularly engaged in “acts of mercy,” spending significant time ministering to people in the local prison. Though the group never grew beyond twenty-five members, the disciples who came out of that small campus ministry would have a massive impact in England and beyond. Perhaps the most famous member of the Holy Clubs was George Whitefield. After being converted and discipled as an undergraduate at Oxford, Whitefield traveled with the Wesleys as a missionary to the British colonies in North America. Whitefield spent many fruitful years preaching in the colonies and was a key leader in a revival that would later be known as the “First Great Awakening,” This revival transformed the colonies on the eve of the American Revolution and set the historical trajectory of American Evangelicalism for many centuries to come.

The 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland.

2. The Student Volunteer Movement: In 1886, evangelist D.L Moody led a summer conference for Christian college students in Mount Hermon, Massachusetts. Though world missions was only a small part of the conference agenda, the call to world missions captured the hearts of the students attending the conference, so much so that 100 (of the 251 in attendance) committed their lives to serve in foreign missions. One of those who responded was a Cornell student named John R. Mott. After graduating, he was part of the founding of the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions (SVM), a group whose purpose was to mobilize college students to give their lives to world missions. Though the SVM was closely affiliated with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), they linked arms with a wide variety of campus ministries and churches all across the United States and Europe, as they traveled from campus to campus recruiting for foreign missions. Their battle cry, which later became the title of Mott’s first book and the slogan of the famous Edinburgh World Missionary Conference in 1910, was “the evangelization of the world in this generation.” Between 1888 and 1946, over 20,000 college students committed their lives to foreign missions through the work of SVM. This was and is still one of the greatest movements for mobilizing missionaries in the history of Christianity.

3. CRU (aka Campus Crusade): In 1951, Bill and Vonette Bright founded Campus Crusade on the UCLA campus. Their aim from the beginning was to reach the world by reaching college students. With a strong focus on campus evangelism and small-group discipleship, the campus ministry started at UCLA and quickly spread to other campuses around the United States, and eventually, around the world. One of Bright’s most effective tools for campus evangelism was the “Four Spiritual Laws” booklet, which has been translated into over 200 languages with over 2.5 billion copies in print. Another tool developed by Bright and his team is the Jesus Film (1979), which has been dubbed in over 974 languages and viewed by over 5.5 billion people! Just 65 years after their modest beginnings in Los Angeles, CRU has a presence in 190 countries around the world.

This short history of campus ministry should remind us that what we are trying to accomplish at Every Nation Campus (ENC) is not new. We are committed to rigorous small-group discipleship on campuses—so were the Holy Clubs in the eighteenth century. We are committed to engaging students in world mission—so was the SVM in the nineteenth century. We are committed campus evangelism—so was CRU in the twentieth century (and still in the twenty-first century).

The real question is this: will we keep our focus?

After sixty-five years, CRU is still going strong. And though the Oxford Holy Clubs do not exist in the same form, the larger fruit of that ministry was the Methodist and Weslyan church movement, which is still active today almost three centuries after its founding.

The one group that is no longer active is the Student Volunteer Movement. There are complex historical reasons for why an amazing movement like the SVM unraveled. But one moment in the story is particularly telling. In the 1920s, the SVM abandoned the slogan “the evangelization of the world in this generation.” Some thought the mission was unrealistic. Others thought that instead of evangelism, they should focus on social issues. Though the movement had momentum for a few more years, by the 1930s, the SVM was little more than a memory.

What happened?

They forgot that campus ministry and world mission are inextricable. Once they lost sight of the mission, they lost their reason to exist.

These examples should serve to inspire and caution a young movement like Every Nation. We want to reach every nation and every campus, but in order to accomplish our goal and pass the mission on to the next generation, we need to learn one thing from those who have come before us…

College students are not only our mission field, they are our mission force.

Blog / Family

Christmas Trees, Tangled Lights, and Great Joy

November 29, 2016

josephine-christmas-2
NASHVILLE –
Last night, I begrudgingly embarked on the annual tradition of setting up our family Christmas tree.

I say begrudgingly because our massive pre-lit tree never seems to work how it’s supposed to. After wrestling the branches into place and hooking up all of the pre-wired strings of lights, it always seems like at least one section of lights doesn’t work. Over the years, instead of figuring out why certain sections don’t light up, I have resorted to buying additional strands of lights and stringing them on top of the dead sections.

Once the tree is decorated, no one can tell the difference. But my quick-fixes sure make set-up and tear-down a nightmare, as I attempt to untangle the added light strands from the original ones.

Last night, my irritation was contrasted with the overwhelming excitement of my three-year-old granddaughter, Josephine. Though this was her third Christmas, it was her first time to help us decorate the tree. The same plastic tree—that for me was an object of frustration and futility—was for Josephine an object of joy and wonder.

Whether she was carefully hanging a shiny glass ball, or telling her uncle where exactly to lay a strand of silver beads, Josephine acted as though this Christmas tree was her masterpiece. Our annual decorating time was punctuated by the soundtrack of Josephine’s gasps and outbursts of “Beautiful!” and “This is so amazing!”

What best characterizes your approach to the Christmas season?

Are you filled with joy and excitement, like Josephine—or are you (like me) filled with irritation and dread at the increased traffic, the proliferation of parties and events, and the tangle of Christmas lights?

While you might say that our different perspectives merely reflect a difference in age (3 vs 57) or maturity, I would argue that Josephine’s approach to the Christmas season is closer to the Kingdom than you might realize.

When the angels appeared to the shepherds near Bethlehem they said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” What was the “good news of great joy”? “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11).

How did the shepherds respond to this news?

Kind of like Josephine.

It was right for them to be filled with joy and excitement. Not only were they told that the Messiah had come, but they were told where they could find Him. And when they found the baby and His parents, they were filled with a joy and wonder that they could not keep to themselves.

So as we enter another Christmas season, whether it’s your 3rd or your 30th or your 93rd, remember that this is a time check our hearts to see if we are responding rightly to the “good news of great joy.” If you are anything other than overjoyed at the thought of God’s salvation in Christ, then maybe you are focusing too much on the traffic and the tangled lights and not enough on the baby in the manger.

If you have young children (or grandchildren), allow their joy and excitement this season to convict you and hopefully, to rub off on you. Remember it was Jesus who said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

Blog / Church / Leadership

Planning for Every Nation Theological Seminary

November 14, 2016

School classroom with school desks and blackboard in Japanese high school

NASHVILLE – Just got back from Manila this weekend, and I am looking forward to a full week in our Every Nation office in Nashville. One of my first meetings this week was with missiologist and (recently appointed) Billy Graham Professor of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, Ed Stetzer. Ed has spoken at numerous Every Nation conferences and has consulted with us for many years. Today, we talked about theological education, and the future of Every Nation Theological Seminary. I loved hearing Ed’s wisdom on how to be successful at both theological education and leadership development.

Before heading into our meeting, I jotted down five words that have emerged in conversations with Every Nation leaders about what matters most for us in theological education and leadership development.

1. Missional: Our schools exist to inspire and equip people for mission. We are called to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), and our schools of ministry are designed to serve that goal. Theology and mission are inseparable. If we do theology without mission, then we engage in pointless academic exercises. If we do mission without theology, then we will drift away from the gospel as we engage the culture.

2. Global: As a global family of local churches whose goal is to reach every nation in our generation, we need to remember to be “global” in at least two ways. First, we need to teach our students how to contextualize the truths of the gospel for their target culture and language. Second, we need to remind our teachers that our students come from a wide variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and our classes need to be accessible and engaging to students from every nation.

3. Practical: Though I hope that some of our students will pursue further study and become vocational theologians (and future teachers at ENTS), most of our students will become church planters, campus missionaries, and cross-cultural missionaries. We never want to lose sight of the practical implications of theological education. We are primarily training practitioners; and ultimately, all the head knowledge in the world means nothing if we can’t translate that knowledge into effective ministry practices.

4. Transformational: As a movement that believes in the present work of the Holy Spirit to transform us on the inside and empower us to witness, we believe that theological education and leadership development must go beyond the mere transfer of information. To produce students who are better informed is not enough. We want each of our students to be transformed as they engage their minds and hearts to learn about more God, the Church, and the Word.

5. Doxological: “We exist to honor God…” Those are the first five words of Every Nation’s mission statement, and they are the most important. They always will be. We hope that all of our students come out of our schools with a greater love for theology and for mission. But above all, we want to cultivate in our students a greater love for God. Ultimately, theology and mission share the same end—the glory of God. So we train leaders and send them to ends of the earth because we, like John, are captivated by the vision of “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb… and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.’” (Revelation 7:9-10)

Blog / Discipleship / Leadership / Uncategorized

My Thoughts on the Election

November 8, 2016

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are tightening their grips on the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.

HO CHI MINH CITY – Tomorrow will end one of the most bizarre and polarizing election cycles in American history.

The candidates from the two leading parties are deeply unpopular (with good reason). And Evangelicals are deeply divided over how they should vote—or if they should vote at all.

Considering that the Bible has little to say about electoral politics (they didn’t have elections back then), here’s some wisdom from John Wesley:

I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them, 1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy; 2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against; and 3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side. (From The Journal of John Wesley, October 6, 1774)

Whether you will be voting tomorrow in the United States elections or voting in a highly contested election somewhere else in the world, here’s how we can take Wesley’s wise advice to heart.

1. Vote for whom you think is most worthy. A simple yet often forgotten point about voting. It’s your vote; so you decide. Don’t worry about the pundits. Don’t worry about pleasing your peers. Don’t worry about pleasing your pastor. Vote for whom you think is most worthy—whether they are a Republican, Democrat, Independent, or a write-in.

2. Speak no evil of the candidate you voted against. In an election season when most people feel that they are in fact choosing between the “lesser of two evils,” it can be tempting to justify your vote by simply describing how “evil” the other candidate is. But as Christians, we are called to a different standard. Our words, even when critiquing a candidate, need to be full of grace. And our attitude should be that of humility—recognizing that apart from God’s grace, we are no better or less sinful than even the most corrupt and morally-bankrupt candidate.

3. Do not sharpen your soul against people who voted differently than you. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say: “I don’t know how someone who calls themselves a Christian can vote for _______.” If you find yourself saying or thinking that, I would suggest that either your circle of friends is too small—or that you’ve spent too much time on the echo-chamber of social media, where you usually only see the newsfeeds of people who think just like you. I guarantee you that people in your local church are not all voting for the same person. Even if you’ve wrestled and prayed over your decision and feel that it is the best vote a committed Christian can make, know that other committed Christians, who have put in similar thought and prayer, will be voting for another candidate (Ed Stetzer has compiled a series of opposing viewpoints from prominent evangelicals that you can view here). Guard your heart from pride and don’t allow the vitriol and disunity of the culture to creep into the church.

As I have said to my church on many election days in the Philippines, we may have a new president; but Jesus is still King. So let’s live (and vote) like it.

Blog / Church / Leadership

My Top 4 Weaknesses as a Preacher

November 2, 2016

pulpit-web-versionMANILA – In an Asbury seminary course on preaching, I recently wrote a reflection paper where I talked about my strengths and weaknesses as a preacher. In the interest of time, I’ll just give the weaknesses. Besides, as Michael Scott famously said, “my weaknesses are actually … strengths.” Not really. But here goes.

1. Blurring the line between personal devotions and sermon preparation. Though I have maintained a consistent habit of daily Bible reading for many decades, I must confess that sometimes the line dividing my personal devotional reading and my sermon study has been blurred by the demands of an overstuffed schedule. Whenever my daily devotions turn into a frantic search for sermon material rather than a search for God, both my sermons and my soul suffer. Whenever I see this happening, I need to stop and (re)establish a wall of separation between my daily devotional reading and my sermon study. This requires that I set and stick with specific times for daily devotional reading, as well as weekly sermon study times. How do you maintain this distinction between personal devotions and sermon preparation?

2. Being overly reliant on the ideas of others. In Victory-Manila, I am privileged to work with an amazing team of preachers who prepare sermons together so that everyone can be on the same page as we preach the same text in Victory-Manila’s 133 weekend worship services. I am certain that I write and preach better sermons when I work with the team than when I write and preach alone. However, there is a real temptation to lean too much on the team rather than doing the hard work of in-depth study myself. It is also tempting and easy to listen to the team rather than listening to the text or to the Holy Spirit. Whether you prepare sermons with a team or simply borrow from existig sermon materials, make sure that you spend time wrestling with the text yourself.

3. Consulting commentaries and study guides too early. A related weakness that can creep into sermon preparation is the tendency to consult the commentaries too soon in the process. As a new preacher, I couldn’t afford a large library, so I was dependent on the Bible and the Holy Spirit. But now that I have access to shelves of great commentaries, it is so easy to skip the crucial process of inductive Bible study and jump straight to the expert opinions. Expert opinions are helpful–they provide valuable scholarly insights and ensure that our interpretations are on track. But no commentary can replace the role of a preacher in finding fresh and timely insight from the Word for his or her particular local church context. This requires time and a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.

4. Paraphrasing rather than reading the Biblical text. For too many years, I have intentionally read only a short portion of my Bible text and explained the rest of the text as my sermon unfolded. In my summer homiletics class, I was repeatedly reminded that the reading of the text is a vital part of the sermon—not a preliminary to the sermon—and that the text needs to be read with energy, emotion, and conviction. If the reading of Scripture was good enough for the early church (see 1 Timothy 4:13), then it is good enough for the modern church. By paraphrasing rather than reading long portions of scripture, I realized that I was depriving my hearers of experiencing the Scriptures as they were designed to be experienced. Never forget that the Bible is the Word of God–and our churches need to hear it.

No matter how long you’ve been preaching, there is always room for growth. If you preach on a regular basis, I encourage you to make a short list of your own weaknesses as a preacher, and see how you can turn your weaknesses into strengths.

Blog / Leadership / Missions

Top 10 Books for Church Planters

October 26, 2016

Book Covers

MANILA, PHILIPPINES. I recently received an email from a pastor and friend of mine who asked me to recommend some books on church-planting. Here’s the list I sent him, in no particular order.

1. Starting a New Church by Ralph Moore (2002). Church-planting wisdom from one of the most prolific church planters of my generation.

2. Breaking the Missional Code by Ed Stetzer & David Putnam (2006). Thoughts on how to apply the missionary mind-set to church planting.

3. The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman (1963). The classic work on making disciples.

4. WikiChurch by Steve Murrell (2011). The story of Victory Manila and the case for the four E’s of discipleship.

5. The Lego Principle by Joey Bonifacio (2012). A book on the importance of connecting to God and connecting to others.

6. Simple Church by Thom Rainer & Eric Geiger (2006). The best practical how-to book on doing church.

7. Natural Church Development by Christian Schwarz (1996). A helpful check-list of “eight essential qualities of healthy churches.”

8. The Trellis and the Vine by A.S. Payne & Colin Marshall (2009). A biblical way of thinking about structure and systems.

9. The Multiplication Challenge by Steve Murrell (2016). A strategy to solve your leadership shortage.

10. Movements that Change the World by Steve Anderson (2011). A book that will remind church planters to focus on the big picture.

Whether you’re a young pastor planting your first church or you’re an experienced church planter who has planted many churches, I can’t stress enough the importance of reading. You will never outgrow the need to learn more; and you will probably never make it through all the good books on the topic of church planting.

If you invest the time (and money) into books like these, you will see an exponential return in your life and in the life of your church.