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Blog / Discipleship / Leadership

How and Why to Decrease as a Leader

May 25, 2017

LIFT

NASHVILLE — Though I believe strongly that all leaders should grow and that they should continually increase in their character and leadership skills, there is one sense in which all leaders should decrease.

When Jesus first began his ministry in Galilee, some of John the Baptist’s followers were concerned that this new teacher might gain a large following than John. Even some of John’s key disciples (like Andrew) had started following Jesus. When John’s disciples brought this concern to his attention, John’s response was completely counterintuitive from a leadership perspective: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

John’s decrease message raises two important questions—one discipleship question and one leadership question.

The Discipleship Question. Everyone who is attempting to be a disciple and attempting to make disciples should ask themselves: How can I decrease so that Jesus can increase? Like most discipleship questions, this is a Lordship question. Every disciple of Jesus should continually ask this question, whether you’re a new believer or a spiritual giant, like John the Baptist.

The Leadership Question. Once discipleship and the Lordship of Christ are established as the foundation, we can move on to the leadership question: How can I decrease so that emerging leaders around me can increase? From a discipleship perspective, Jesus was the rabbi and John was His follower. But from a leadership perspective (in John 3), John was an established leader and Jesus was an emerging leader. So when John said that he needed to decrease and Jesus needed to increase, he was also making a statement about how biblical leadership is supposed to work.

Established leaders who want emerging leaders to grow, will have to continually find ways to decrease. For John, this meant empowering and releasing some of his own disciples to Jesus. This also meant smaller crowds and fewer baptisms. John willingly relinquished platforms and influence so that Jesus’ new ministry could grow.

When pondering this text a few days ago, I asked myself what leadership decrease means in my context. I quickly jotted down four words: Listen, Include, Finance, Trust.

1. Listen: One way that I can decrease so emerging leaders can increase is simply by talking less and listening more. Whether it’s in a staff meeting or in a private conversation, whenever I give next-generation leaders a voice, they increase and the whole team benefits.

2. Include: Another way I can decrease so that emerging leaders can increase is by including them, whether it’s in a conference speaker slot or in a lunch meeting with other senior leaders. The more we can make space at the table for young leaders, the better—even if that sometimes means giving up our seat or a session.

3. Finance: Here’s where things get practical, and expensive. In my context, if I am really serious about empowering emerging leaders, it is going to cost money. Whether than means paying for a lunch or a plane ticket, or even a seminary degree, if we are serious about elevating emerging leaders in our churches and organizations, we have to be willing to finance those leaders and their growth.

4. Trust: Trusting emerging leader sounds great, until we realize that it involves letting go of control and cleaning up the inevitable messes that occur when young leaders are empowered. But if we are serious about the growth of emerging leaders, we must continually decrease our control and trust them. They will make mistakes; but consider their mistakes as moments for growth. And continue to trust and empower.

I originally wrote these four words and brief thoughts in my Moleskine in my usual stream-of-conscience devotional writing style (that would be unreadable to anyone but me). Then I took a step back and realized that the four words (accidentally) created an acronym: LIFT! Unlike most of my devotional scribblings, I decided to blog these thoughts.

So here’s the question: What does LIFT look like for you as a leader? How can you decrease, so that emerging leaders around you can increase?

Church / Discipleship / Missions

Racial Hypocrisy, Lunch, and the Gospel

May 16, 2017
Depiction of Paul writing his letters.

Depiction of Paul writing his letters.

NASHVILLE—This blog is the final installment of an impromptu series on ethnic diversity and racial reconciliation in the Church. The first blog was inspired by a trip to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa; the second blog was inspired by a Sunday worship service at Bethel in Nashville; and this final blog is inspired by an argument between Paul and Peter in first-century Antioch. That apostolic argument led to a very public apostolic rebuke.

The Story
We read about this confrontation and rebuke in Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, a city in modern-day Turkey. But first, a little background to help us understand why the rebuke was necessary.

In the first chapter of Galatians, Paul pleads with the church to hold on to the gospel. Before describing the real gospel, he mentions four false versions of the gospel that had infiltrated the church: a different gospel (verse 6), a distorted gospel (verses  7), a contrary gospel (verses 8, 9), and man’s gospel (verse 11). Unfortunately all four of these “gospels” are still being preached in the church today.

After exposing these four false gospels, Paul turned his attention to the true gospel and its implications on race relations in the church.

Despite the teaching of some legalistic Jewish believers, Paul wanted to make it clear that Gentile believers did not have to become Jews (i.e. be circumcised and follow Jewish dietary laws) in order to follow Jesus. In short, Gentiles and Jews are saved by grace alone, not by following religious traditions.

After a long discussion about the gospel and its implications for Gentile believers, Paul recounts his confrontation with Peter:

But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-13).

Paul’s Response
Here’s my summary of the situation. When Peter visited the church in Antioch—the first church in the New Testament that had a significant number of non-Jews—he hung out with Gentiles and even ate with them, something a good Jew would never do. But when Peter’s Jewish friends from Jerusalem came to visit, he suddenly stopped eating with the Gentile believers and reverted to the old mode of segregation.

Paul was deeply troubled by this behavior, twice calling it hypocrisy (Galatians 2:13).

First, Paul did not remain silent. And he did not talk about Peter behind his back. He “opposed him to his face” (Galatians 2:11). Much more could be said here, but the fact is, there are some issues that demand confrontation. This is one of them.

Second, Paul treated racial reconciliation as a gospel issue. “But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas…” (Galatians 2:14). Paul did not treat the ethnic and cultural divisions in the church at Antioch as a minor issue. He did not treat it as a side issue. He did not treat is as a political, cultural, social, or economic issue, even though he could have. He treated it as a gospel issue. And gospel issues are always big issues.

Even though there was a history of political, cultural, social, and economic alienation that fed into and reinforced ethnic divisions between Jews and Gentiles, Paul chose to go straight to the heart of the issue—the gospel.

The Point
For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26).
For Paul, it was simple. Though there was a long history of division between Jews and Gentiles, the gospel had changed everything. In Christ, we have all been adopted into the family of God—and family members eat together.

Blog / Church / Miscellaneous

Ethnic Diversity & Sunday Worship

May 10, 2017

Bethel diversity

NASHVILLE—After a long flight from Johannesburg, Deborah and I arrived back in Nashville early Saturday morning. The next day, as we walked into Bethel World Outreach Church, I was struck once again by the logo of praying hands (one black, one white) that appear on everything Bethel produces.

Many people don’t realize this, but Bethel borrowed that logo from our churches in South Africa many years ago. For them, it was a symbol of what the church should look like as South African society tried to heal after decades of Apartheid. Similarly for Rice Broocks and the Bethel leadership, the black and white praying hands represented what church in the American South ought to look like after its own painful legacy of racial segregation.

The praying hands are symbolic. They point to something. They remind leaders and members of the churches in both Cape Town and Nashville that God has called us to into a new community. One where ethnic, social, cultural, and political differences are subordinated to the central reality of the gospel: that in Christ, we have all been adopted into the family of God.

Paul, in his letter to the church in Colossae, put it this way: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

This verse, like the praying hands logo, reminds us of what the church ought to look like, who the church ought to be: a diverse people, united by the gospel.

And yet, so often our experience falls short.

Some churches simply aren’t diverse. And other churches, if they’ve achieved a level of diversity, struggle to find unity.

How can we pursue diversity and keep unity in the church?

In Colossians 3, Paul gives us the answer. After showing the church in Colossae what they ought to look like in verse 11, he then tells them how to do it. In verses 12-15, Paul lists the virtues that Christians need to cultivate in order to live in diversity and unity: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, love, peace, and thankfulness.

And in verse 16, Paul describes two central activities that diverse church communities need to do in order to stay unified: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

For Paul, the answer to the diversity and unity problem in the church was simple: word and worship.

In order to be the church that God has called us to be, we need to be a people who read, study, and meditate on the Word together. And we need to be a people who worship together.

Why does Paul emphasize the Word and worship?

Because the Holy Spirit does something unique in His people when they gather around the Word and when they join together in songs of worship to God.

Like a tuning fork, the Word gives God’s people the right pitch to which they must all tune their hearts and minds. Without the Word, we have no unity. Without the Word, we are like a band trying to tune their instruments to one another rather than the tuning fork. (In case you’ve never tried. It doesn’t work.)

Similarly, when we sing together, we are once again allowing the Holy Spirit to do a work of divine tuning. But this activity not only engages our hearts and minds, but our bodies as well. When we sing, clap, and dance, God engages our vocal chords, our hands, our feet. And when we do this together, we are reminded of what—actually who—matters most.

We are reminded that only redeemed people can sing like this.

Though we are from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, one day we will all stand before the throne of God and cry out with a one voice: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)

 

Blog / Church / Miscellaneous

Racism, Segregation, and Bad Theology

May 2, 2017

white-areaJOHANNESBURG—After a week of ministry in Australia and New Zealand, Deborah and I flew across the Indian Ocean to Johannesburg, South Africa, to preach at our Every Nation Word and Spirit Conference.

Before our meetings started, we visited the Apartheid Museum, a moving and powerful reminder of the ugliness of racism and the beauty of reconciliation. It was a humbling reminder that Christians in every age have blind spots that can only be identified and fixed when we intentionally walk in multiethnic and multigenerational Christian community.

Like the Jim Crow era segregation in the American South, Apartheid in South Africa was propagated, supported, and defended by Christians. Often our knee-jerk reaction to these painful realities of church history is to assume that the “Christian” defenders of Apartheid or Jim Crow were not real Christians. Maybe they were just cultural Christians; or maybe they were theologically liberal Christians who didn’t actually believe the Bible.

Unfortunately, history won’t let us off the hook that easily.

I am sure that some defenders of segregation in both South Africa and America were only nominal Christians and others may have been a part of churches that stopped believing the Bible. But many defenders of segregation on both sides of the Atlantic were members of churches that we might have attended had we been around in those days. To put it bluntly, many of them were Bible-believing Christians.

Not only did they defend racial segregation on national and cultural grounds, they defended it on biblical and theological grounds. They were wrong. They were sinning. And they didn’t see it.

It was a blind spot.

There were certainly many white South African Christians under Apartheid who were kind and loving to people of other races and did not personally discriminate against those from whom they were legally segregated. And yet, many of those same people saw nothing wrong with the Apartheid system they were living under. It was a blind spot.

The same could be said for my upbringing in Mississippi. I grew up in a white neighborhood, played golf at a white country club, played baseball on a white Little League team, and attended a private white prep school. In my world, segregation was normal, until I got involved in a multiethnic campus ministry and traded my white world for a world with color. As I developed friendships with people who did not look like me, I could see in their faces the pain of discrimination and the folly of segregation.

The sinful tendency to segregate on racial, ethnic, and cultural lines is not new.

In the first-century church, Jewish disciples often excluded Gentile believers from fellowship because they held to a cultural notion that Gentiles were unclean. This meant, among other things, that many Jewish believers refused to eat with Gentile believers. And this was not just a practice of a fringe group of Jewish legalists in the early church.

Peter and others among the original twelve participated in the segregation of Jewish and Gentile believers. For Peter to repent and change, he needed a powerful encounter with God, an unlikely friendship with a Roman soldier named Cornelius (see Acts 10-11), and a very public rebuke from Paul (see Galatians 2:11-16).

In every time and place, the local church has blind spots—areas of both personal and public sin that to them look less like sin and more like the status quo, that look less like oppression and more like law and order. Things that should break our hearts but don’t even catch our eye. Things that should be shocking but seem mundane. Things that will make future generations of Christians wonder: How could they call themselves Christians and not see that?

This sobering reminder from church history should remind us that planting multiethnic and multigenerational churches is not just an option for the ambitious church planter. Diversity is not an option. It’s a necessity. If we only build with people who look just like us, we will exclude the very people whom God has ordained to help us see our blind spots.

In the words of C.H. Mason, a Pentecostal saint of old: “The church is like the eye. It has a little black in it and a little white in it, and without both, we cannot see.”

Blog / Church / Discipleship

How Worship Works

April 25, 2017

Communion Table

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Last weekend, Deborah and I were in Auckland, New Zealand, for our Every Nation Oceania conference. This week, we are in Sydney for our annual Asia & Oceania Regional Leadership Team meeting.

Traveling around the Every Nation world, I have the privilege to participate in Sunday worship services in many different cultures and languages. I have worshiped with our brothers and sisters in Chinese house churches; I have worshiped in a converted cockfighting pit in Colombia; I have worshiped at medieval cathedrals in Europe; I have worshiped in contemporary megachurches in the Philippines. Just last weekend, I worshiped in a small Pentecostal church in rural Georgia. The cultural contexts of these worship services vary wildly—and this affects things like worship language, worship style, worship environment, meeting size, and service flow.

However, whether we are in Shanghai or Fusagasuga, Oxford or Nashville, certain core elements of Christian liturgy transcend cultural variation. Through singing, preaching, communion, giving, and fellowship, churches around the world and across the centuries have been participating in the same liturgical practices that emerged in the earliest days of the New Testament church in Syria-Palestine.

Why or how have these elements of Christian worship persisted across time and space for over 2,000 years?

First, we find these liturgical elements practiced in the Bible (especially in Acts). Second, Christian leaders recognize that worship is not ultimately about expression; it’s about formation.

If unique cultural expression was the primary goal in worship, then it wouldn’t matter if churches in twenty-first century Lagos continued with ancient liturgical practices developed in first-century Jerusalem. They could find their own ways to express their love for God, which may or may not include singing, preaching, and communion. But for some reason we continue to worship in the same ways that Christians throughout the ages have done.

Why?

As beautiful as it is hear God’s praises sung in hushed Chinese in a house church and as powerful as it is to hear the word of God preached by our young Colombian leaders in a cockfighting pit (formerly owned by Pablo Escobar!), diverse cultural expression is a secondary goal in worship. The primary goal is spiritual formation, or discipleship.

In other words, the most important actor in worship is not us (as humans) but God.

While we often think that Sunday worship is primarily about expression (what we do to/for God), it is actually more about formation (what God does to/in us). Why? Because when we gather together as a church to worship God, He comes by His Spirit in our midst and changes us. He doesn’t just transform us in a nebulous way, but rather, he comes and transforms us through the repeated “rituals” of Christian worship. Singing, fellowship, preaching, communion, giving—these powerful liturgical practices are God’s way of revealing Himself to us and transforming us by His Spirit.

In communion, God engages our eyes, our hands, our mouths, and our stomach, and reminds us in very tangible ways of his incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.

In preaching, God engages our ears and our minds—and through His spirit, He convicts us of sin and calls us to repentance and faith.

In singing, God engages our vocal chords and our emotions—and trains us to love Him with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength.

In giving, God engages our material possessions, the bills and cards and accounts in your back pocket—and trains us to trust Him and His provision and to denounce the idol of Mammon.

In fellowship, God engages our social lives—and reminds us that our primary group identity is not our nation or our ethno-linguistic group or even our natural family. But rather, it is the people redeemed by Christ’s blood from every tribe, language, people, and nation.

This is how worship works. And whether we realize it or not, this is what God is up to on Sunday morning.

Blog / Church / Family / Miscellaneous

An Easter Funeral

April 18, 2017
 Tuckers Grove United Congregational Holiness Church

 NASHVILLE—Late last night, we arrived home from the funeral of Deborah’s grandmother, Sara Nell McAfee, known to her grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren as Mama Mac. In sermons and at parenting conferences, I have often talked about Mama Mac and the godly heritage she left behind for her four children, nine grandchildren, sixteen great grandchildren, and two great great grandchildren (Jo and Liam).

The funeral service was held at Tucker’s Grove United Congregational Holiness Church (see picture above)—the Pentecostal church where Deborah’s great grandfather was the pastor for fifty years and where Deborah’s grandmother attended all her life. As a pastor, I normally speak at the funerals I attend, but at this one, I sat in the pew with my wife, adult sons, daughter-in-law, and my granddaughter, Josephine.

The funeral service was led by the new pastor of Tucker’s Grove, a young preacher who had only been in this church for five years. He was brief, but he said a few words that I’ll never forget. Standing in this rural Pentecostal church that was founded in 1923, the pastor said of Mama Mac and her generation: “Today, people go to the house of God. But in the past, people had an encounter with the God of the house. Lord, we need an encounter with the GOD OF THE HOUSE!!!”

As he said this, I began to think about all that Mama Mac had seen and experienced in this small brick church building during her ninety-four years on this earth. Weddings. Baptisms. Funerals. Communion. Prayer. Foot washings. Baby dedications. Healings. Signs and wonders. Church plants. Church splits. Church growth. Church decline. Church renewal.Since 1923, each generation of believers has had to have their own encounter with the God of the house. I thought about this as I looked at Deborah and reflected on the profound spiritual influence that Mama Mac had on her life. I thought about this as I looked at my adult sons, whose own spiritual lives owe much to their mother’s example of fervent prayer and unwavering faith. And I thought about this as I looked at my granddaughter, Josephine, who at three is now beginning to ask questions about Jesus (she even recognized him somehow on the stained glass windows at Tucker’s Grove).

As I thought about my own family, I also thought about my Every Nation church family around the world. My prayer is that after our founder generation is gone, subsequent generations will have their own encounters with God in some of the very churches we are planting and in the buildings we are building. My prayer is that my generation will not make it hard for future generations to meet Jesus and join His mission. My prayer is that, like Deborah’s grandmother, we will model a vibrant faith and love for God’s word and mission that inspires future generations to take the gospel to every nation in their generation.

Blog / Church / Leadership

Worship, Discipleship, & Church History

April 10, 2017
Photo: Ryan Daly

Photo: Ryan Daly

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN—Every year, our International Apostolic Team (IAT), which includes regional leaders from all over the Every Nation world, gathers together to fellowship, pray, and plan for the coming years (and even decades). Every Nation Church Yokohama hosted our 2017 IAT meeting.

One of our conversation topics last week was liturgy and how we can equip our pastors to think critically (and even creatively) about the relationship between worship and discipleship. Working as we do in so many different cultural contexts, we recognized the need to better equip our missionaries and church planters to think through how worship works in general and how it works in their particular context.

One of our starting points was a discussion about the role of different liturgical practices in church history.

When we look back through history, we find that though the core elements of Christian worship have remained consistent (fellowship, singing, preaching, communion, offering), different elements are emphasized at different times.

For example, in medieval Europe, the climax of the liturgy was communion. Services still featured singing, fellowship, preaching, and offering, but the greater emphasis was on the celebration of the Lord’s table. In Reformation Germany, the emphasis shifted back toward the preached word. Again, the other elements of Christian worship were still present, but the shape of Protestant liturgy emphasized the importance of the preaching. Fast forward another 500 years to the Charismatic movement of the 1960s and 70s. Though Charismatic churches valued the preached word and the celebration of communion, their worship services emphasized singing and experiencing God’s presence during longer worship.

Today, if you were to attend churches with roots in these three traditions, you would still notice the different points of emphasis in the worship. Though some people would argue that one worship tradition or style is better than another, it’s more helpful to realize that in every time and place, pastors and leaders have adjusted or emphasized elements of the liturgy in response to three impulses: missiological context, theological tradition, and practical necessity. Let’s look at those reasons.

1. Missiological Context. Medieval catholicism, for all its faults, emphasized certain very visual liturgical practices (like communion) because church leaders were communicating the gospel to highly illiterate European populations—many of whom (at least initially) did not speak the same language as their priests. Hence, the emphasis on communion, a highly visual liturgical practice that powerfully represents the core truths of the gospel to people who can’t read (or maybe can’t even understand the sermon).

2. Theological Tradition. Protestant churches during the Reformation, because of their theological emphasis on Sola Scriptura, felt that the preaching of the Word needed to be the main focus of corporate worship. Though they appreciated the ways that other liturgical practices, like communion, gave worshippers a visual representation of the gospel, they felt that the Word of God had too often been absent from medieval worship practices, resulting in disciples whose knowledge of the gospel was real but underdeveloped.

3. Practical Necessity. During the Charismatic movement, many pastors and leaders (who were part of mainline cessationist denominations) were kicked out of their churches for their insistence on the continuing work of the Holy Spirit. Thus, out of both practical necessity and a theological conviction about the continued work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church, Charismatic churches—and their particular liturgy—were birthed. While valuing the preached word, this tradition places a great emphasis on sung worship, with the expectation that people will encounter the living God in profound and unique ways as we come into His presence with singing.

As you think about liturgy and your own missiological context, remember that worship is not primarily about what we can do for God; it is about what God does in us by the Holy Spirit as we gather in His presence.

Leadership / Uncategorized

Leadership is… Multiplying (Part 5)

March 31, 2017

The Multiplication Challenge

MANILA—How are leaders made?

Are they formed organically through a combination of life experiences, or are they developed intentionally at the hands of other leaders?

Though life experiences (and even more importantly God’s providence) do play into any given leader’s leadership development, I would still argue that leadership development must be intentional.

Leaders don’t just happen organically.

If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of an intentional leadership-development strategy, you might want to ask yourself why. It sounds very spiritual to say that we’ll just make disciples and leadership development will take care of itself organically. The problem is that “organic leaders,” like unicorns and Santa Claus, only exist in an imaginary world.

Discipleship is the obvious starting point of spiritual leadership. Disciples are the raw materials out of which we can shape leaders. Our primary objective is to make disciples—to help people follow Jesus, fish for people, and enjoy fellowship with other believers. But if we stop there—if we intentionally make disciples and don’t intentionally train leaders—our growth will either plateau, or it will crush our current leaders. Healthy discipleship growth will always threaten to overwhelm current leaders and leadership structures. The only way to solve this problem is to either stop growing or train and empower new leaders.

The Apostle Paul showed a serious commitment to training and empowering future leaders in both his writings and his lifestyle, always bringing young leaders along with him on his missionary journeys. Perhaps Paul’s most well-known disciple was Timothy, a young man from Lystra who traveled with him extensively and eventually become the leader of the church in Ephesus.

Part of Timothy’s leadership development happened as he accompanied Paul on missionary trips. When we first meet Timothy in Lystra (Acts 16), he is described as “a disciple” with a Jewish mother and a Greek father. At that point, he was not a leader; he was simply a disciple. That’s the starting point of all biblical leadership.

The next thing we know, young Timothy is traveling with Paul all over the world on church-planting mission trips. I’m sure Paul appreciated Timothy’s company, but I think that main point was to upgrade Timothy’s leadership through a mobile frontline internship.

While we don’t know all the details of Timothy’s leadership training under Paul, we do get some sense of the things that Paul was trying to impress upon Timothy as a young leader when we read Paul’s letters to Timothy (1 & 2 Timothy). In these fascinating letters, Paul gives Timothy some advice about pastoring the church in Ephesus, and reminds him of some of the things he had taught him in the past.

In both letters, we see a recurring phrase that illustrates Paul’s intentionality in Timothy’s leadership development: “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you”(2 Timothy 1:14; see also 1 Timothy 6:20).

Those “good deposits” that Paul speaks of don’t come to people naturally. They don’t come from random life experiences, or even reading leadership books or blogs. They only come when someone entrusts them to us; when someone takes the time to develop us as leaders.
Note: This blog was adapted from my new book, The Multiplication Challenge. For more discussion on leadership and multiplication, check out chapter 5, entitled, “How to Multiply Like a Leader.”

Leadership

Leadership Is…Communication (Part 4)

March 13, 2017

Pulpit-web-version-1024x682AUGUSTA, GA—Had a great time speaking this weekend at In Focus Church, our Every Nation church in Augusta, Georgia.
 
I’ll never forget my first public speech.

It was the summer of 1971. I was twelve years old. The Little League Baseball season was over, and it was time for the awards banquet. The morning of our team banquet, my dad (who was also our team coach) asked me to give a brief after-dinner speech on behalf of the team. I was so terrified, I hardly ate that night.

My speech contained exactly eight words and lasted less than five seconds. I had planned to say more than eight words, but I froze.

Here’s what I said: “I just want to thank the coaches, and…”

As soon as I uttered the word “and,” my brain quit functioning. I could not remember what I was supposed to say next, so I stood there and said nothing. As this long awkward silence engulfed the room and the whole Little League season, I wanted to disappear. But that didn’t happen, so I eventually sat down, and made an inward vow to never speak in public again.

But God’s leadership call on my life required that I break my childhood vow of silence.

Leaders, no matter where they are on the leadership journey, must continually grow. They need to grow in their understanding of their calling. They need to grow in their compassion for others. And they need to grow in their communication skills.

If you have a heart to lead (meaning calling and compassion), then you must be committed to continually upgrading your communication. This includes teaching, preaching, writing, blogging, and even tweeting.

Why?

Because leaders cannot lead by example only. They must communicate vision and mission to their team and those who are following them. No matter who or where you’re called to lead, your leadership calling will require that your communication skills constantly grow. The communication skills required to lead a new church plant are not the same as those required to lead a large multi-site church. And the communication skills required to lead a small department are not the same as those required to lead a large organization.

It’s obvious from the embarrassing story above that I possess no natural public-speaking talent. I’m more of a natural-born listener and observer. For me, learning to speak in public required a lot of hard work and a lot of practice. I knew this area of my life needed to develop if I was to be the leader God called me to be, so I did everything in my ability to grow and become a better communicator. After thirty-five years as a pastor, teacher, and writer, I’m still learning and changing, and hopefully getting better.

Whether you’re a seasoned preacher and teacher, or an emerging leader who has a secret vow of silence, never stop growing in this area. Never stop stretching. Leadership requires good communication, so we, as leaders, need to grow as communicators.

NOTE: This blog was adapted from my new book, The Multiplication Challenge. For more discussion on leadership and service, check out Chapter 4, entitled, “How to Grow Like a Leader.”

Blog / Leadership

Leadership Is…Listening (Part 3)

March 6, 2017

Abraham Lincoln

This blog is the third post in a five-part series on leadership called “Leadership Is…” To read more, check out the first and second posts.

NASHVILLE — During his presidency (1861-65), Abraham Lincoln frequently opened the White House to anyone who wanted to present an idea or express an opinion. While Lincoln certainly did not agree with every opinion offered, he listened, always trying to learn something new. Lincoln credited what he called his “public-opinion baths” with helping him to stay in touch with the people he was elected to lead. He constantly asked for the opinions and ideas of random people whom he met along the way, resulting in a flood of letters from average citizens to the White House. Lincoln was a great leader, in part, because he was a great listener.

Scripture is clear that leaders must be listeners (see Proverbs 12:15 for example), but with so many voices shouting so many different messages, it’s important to establish which voices matter the most. I’ve found it helpful to intentionally listen to various voices, especially when they don’t agree with me. Here are five voices that every wise leader should listen to:

1. Leaders. When we are young and new to ministry, it’s easy to find leaders and mentors, and it’s easy to listen to them. The longer we’re in ministry, and the higher we climb the leadership ladder, the more intentional we must be about seeking leaders and mentors to speak into our lives. Bottom line: leaders need to listen to leaders.

2. Peers. I have often asked my lifelong friends to correct, adjust, and balance me any time they feel I’m even slightly off. If not for honest friends, there’s no telling how many bad decisions I would have made. Also, without faithful friends, I would have gone through much of my life with a bad attitude. All leaders need a group of friends who know and love them enough to speak the truth without worrying about offense.

3. Followers. If we want to lead people, we must be willing to listen to them. And if we want to equip and empower emerging leaders, we must be willing to give them a seat at the table. Do you create the kind of culture where your followers and emerging leaders can put their ideas on the table? Do you take their ideas seriously? Victories are waiting for the humble leader who will dare to listen to wisdom from unexpected places.

4. Critics. This is perhaps the most difficult voice to hear, especially when your critics are exaggerating or making personal attacks. I don’t hate my critics, but I usually hate listening to them. When critics speak, blog, or tweet, I remind myself to ask God to help me hear the truth, even if it is not spoken in love. When faced with criticism, secure leaders listen and respond with wisdom.

5. The Holy Spirit. Though the voice of God is the most important, it is often the most difficult voice to hear. Many times I wish God would speak louder. But since He rarely yells, I realize that I need to create a quiet environment if I really want to hear him. Also, I need to remember that he often speaks through the voices of leaders, peers, followers, and even critics.

In the end, listening is all about pursuing wisdom. Listening leaders recognize that they don’t have all the answers and that they need wisdom from those around them. It is often this single factor that makes the difference between wise and foolish leaders—between success and failure as a leader.

As the writer of Proverbs 12:15 makes clear, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”

NOTE: This blog was adapted from my new book, The Multiplication Challenge. For more discussion on leadership and service, check out chapter 3, entitled, “How to Listen Like a Leader.”