SteveMurrell.com | Reluctant Leader

Browsing Category Blog

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.

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.”

 

 

Blog / Leadership

Leadership Is NOT… (Part 2)

February 27, 2017

Dwight Schrute

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

NASHVILLE—Last week, we opened up this short series on leadership with the crucial question: “What is leadership?”

If the teachings of Jesus (especially in Mark 10) can clarify for us what leadership is (hint: serving); then maybe Dwight Schrute can help us understand what leadership is not.

For those of you not familiar with the popular television show, “The Office,” one of the central characters is a very ambitious and relationally clueless employee named Dwight. His greatest ambition in life is to be a loyal employee of Dunder Mifflin, a small paper company, and to eventually replace his boss, Michael Scott, as the Regional Manager of Dunder Mifflin’s small Scranton office.

Since Michael enjoys Dwight’s loyalty and above-and-beyond service, he creates a title for Dwight: “Assistant to the Regional Manager.” However, all throughout the show, Dwight regularly drops the preposition “to” and simply refers to himself as the “Assistant Regional Manager.” This is usually when Michael is gone, and Dwight is trying to pull rank on his colleagues in the office. As one might expect, no one is ever persuaded to follow Dwight’s lead when he starts his sentences with “As assistant regional manager, I order you to…” In fact, Dwight’s power grabs are alway countered with sarcasm and never taken seriously by his co-workers at the office.

Why?

Because leadership is not position or title.

Some of the best leaders I have met over the years did not (at least at the time) have a leadership position or title in the organization that they were serving. But they acted like leaders anyway. It’s not that they were presumptuous or insubordinate. What made them leaders was that they took initiative to serve and solve problems, and others saw their example and decided to follow.

Do you want to be a leader?

Then take initiative and start serving. Lead by example and others will follow. It’s that simple. You will never become a leader if you wait for someone to give you a title, a salary, a budget, a staff, an office, and a website.

You can start leading wherever you are right now.

NOTE: This blog was adapted from my new book, The Multiplication Challenge. For more discussion on leadership and service, check out Chapter 2, entitled, “How to Act Like a Leader.”

Blog / Book / Leadership

Leadership Is… (Part 1)

February 20, 2017

Fill in the Blank

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

DUBAI—Complete this sentence: “Leadership is … ”

What word did you put in the blank?

Influence? Power? Responsibility? Authority? Position?

I imagine that unless we’re all reading the same leadership book at the same time, this fill-in-the-blank statement will yield a number of different responses—some helpful and others not so helpful; some accurate and others flawed.

When Jesus defined leadership to his disciples, he put it this way:

You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant (diakonos), and whoever would be first among you must be slave (doulos) of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:42-45)

In Jesus’ day, most people would have completed the sentence this way: “Leadership is authority.” That’s how the Romans did it. And that’s how many Jews in Jesus’ day thought about leadership (including his own disciples). To them, leadership was all about getting people to serve you.

Jesus claimed the exact opposite.

He argued that leadership is all about serving others. In fact, Jesus said that whoever wants to lead well needs to think and act like a servant.

This is what he told James and John when they asked him if they could sit at his right and left hand in heaven (Mark 10:35-37). They were looking for position and authority, and Jesus was trying to tell them that they had missed the point.

I think we often miss the point as well when we teach this story from the Bible. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard pastors (including myself) explain this text by saying, “You see here, Jesus doesn’t rebuke James and John for wanting to be great, but rather, He redefines greatness by saying that we must become servants.”

What’s wrong with that explanation? Well, nothing really. But here’s what’s often implied by the pastor and understood by the listener in this illustration: service is the pathway to leadership. If you serve, then you’ll become great. Serve today, so that one day, you’ll lead.

In other words, service is the means, and leadership is the end.

As good as that sounds, it’s not what Jesus was saying. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of what Jesus was trying to teach His disciples.

Jesus makes it clear that He came to serve. Serving and saving sinful humanity was an end in itself—not a means to leadership and greatness. For Jesus, leading was a means to serve. Not vice versa. When correcting the way the disciples thought about leadership, service, and greatness, Jesus suggested that their desire for greatness looked a lot like the desires of the oppressive Roman leaders of the day, wanting leadership for the sake of leadership. The disciples were thinking like people who grasp position and authority not to serve others, but to have others serve them.

What motivates you as a leader? Do you look more like Jesus, or James and John (in Mark 10)?

Over the next few weeks, we will explore what biblical leadership looks like, and think about how we can all lead more like Jesus.

[NOTE: This blog was adapted from my new book, The Multiplication Challenge. For further discussion on leadership and service, check out Chapter 1, entitled, “How to Think Like a Leader.”]

Blog / Missions

Why Every Nation Music?

February 15, 2017
Doxology

Worship leaders from Every Nation churches around the world participate in Every Nation Music’s live recording, “Doxology.”

SINGAPORE —As the president and cofounder of a global movement of churches, I think a lot about the future of our young movement.

Where will we be one hundred years from now? Will we stay faithful to the mission of establishing Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered, and socially responsible churches and campus ministries in every nation? Will the churches and campus ministries we are planting in 2017 still be around (and thriving) in 2117?

I am hopeful, but I am also aware that many movements and denominations that started well did not end well.

So how do we keep our focus, not only in our lifetime, but across multiple generations?

There are many helpful strategies—investing in theological education, building a healthy organizational structure, equipping and empowering emerging leaders, etc. But I want to focus on one strategy that is often overlooked: Writing songs that remind us of who God is, who we are, and what we are called to do.

Songs have the remarkable capability to speak across generations and centuries. Think about the hymn “Amazing Grace.” It was written by John Newton in 1779, and over two hundred years later, God is still using that song to communicate to people all over the world about the amazing depths of God’s grace. Songs like “Amazing Grace” put the core truths of Scripture into a form that is easy to remember and easy to pass on the next generation. Songs like these serve as both a check on theological drifts and fads and a reminder of historic Christian doctrines.

About one hundred years after Newton wrote “Amazing Grace,” many Christian denominations in America began questioning the doctrine of original sin and humanity’s need to be saved from God’s wrath. I wonder how many pastors during that time were reminded (and convicted) of the orthodox doctrine of salvation when singing these words:

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

In a similar way, my hope is that the music we produce in Every Nation Music will serve as a reminder to future generations of who God is and what He has called us to do.

My prayer is that if Every Nation churches in 2117 begin to lose their focus on the world and become churches that exist for themselves (rather than for mission), then this song would bring conviction and remind those singing it who we are called to be and what we are called to do:

Fill us up, pour us out
For a broken world that is far from you
Fill us up, pour us out
To be your hands and feet, O Lord.

Holy Spirit draw me near
Holy Spirit we are here
To seek your face and know your ways.

With your power, your presence,
We will go to the ends of the earth.
With your power, your presence,
They will know you’re the light of the world.

Blog / Church / Leadership

9 Tips for Young Preachers

February 6, 2017

pulpit-web-versionSAGADA, PHILIPPINES—The pastor of a large church recently asked me if I would be willing to provide sermon coaching to help his youth pastor. After a couple of phone conversations about ministry and preaching, I sent a stream-of-conscience email to the fledgling preacher that included nine somewhat random preaching tips.

1. INTRO. Concerning a sermon introduction, shorter is always better. Get to the text as fast as you can. Long introductions are rarely helpful, and often become a distraction. Move all non-essential stories, words, ideas from the intro, and if those stories, words, or ideas deserve to be in the sermon, you can always insert them after reading the text.

2. READ. While preaching, never speed-read your text, or shorten it by only reading a small portion. Read the whole text with passion, pauses, emotion, energy, and emphasis—with no comments until you finish reading the whole text. Let the text speak. Approach the reading of the text as the most important part of the sermon.

3. TEXT. After reading the text, preach the text. Stay in the text. Go deep in the text. Make sure everything you say is coming from the text. Remember that life-changing power is in His word, not in your words.

4. CONTEXT. Do not bore your audience with contextual trivia. While explaining the context is necessary, resist the temptation to say everything you now know about ancient Middle Eastern food, geography, and religion.  Delete every context comment that does not directly contribute to the your main point. Leave it on the editing floor, or save it for another message.

5. STOP. Prepare how you will stop your sermon, and plan to stop five minutes before your time limit. A rushed ending is not a good ending, so make sure you plan plenty of time to end properly.

6. HEART. It is more important for people to catch God’s heart about the text/topic than to remember your points. If they catch God’s heart, they will be transformed. If they remember your points, well, they actually won’t remember them, so focus on the heart.

7. LOVE. Effective preaching requires more than properly exegeting a text, it also demands a proper exegesis of the culture and community. In other words, good preaching requires loving the Bible and loving the people listening. Don’t preach until you are certain that you actually know, understand, love, and care for the people who will hear your sermon. Preaching is supposed to be a “speaking the truth in love” thing, therefore love is somewhat important.

8. ACTION. When we want to move people to action, especially evangelistic action, it is better to emphasize what Christ did for us rather than what we do for Him. My favorite seminary homiletics professor said it like this, “Preachers either guilt or gospel their people to action.” Since most church people already have more than enough guilt, preachers might want to pick the gospel option.

9. AUDIENCE. God is your ultimate audience. Preach to honor Him. Do not preach to please the senior pastor, the first-time visitor, the big tither, or the know-it-all critic. The best preaching is done to please the Lord, even if no one else is pleased.

 

Blog / Missions

Pro-Life & Pro-Refugee

January 31, 2017
March for Life 2017

Members of the pro-life movement attend the 2017 March for Life in Washington D.C.

HONOLULU, HAWAII—Today, I was planning on starting a multi-week blog series on leadership, but an interesting week in American and global politics changed my mind.

As most of you know, last week was President Trump’s first week in office as President of the United States. Some people praised Trump’s flurry of activity as he signed numerous executive orders, setting into motion many of his major campaign promises. Others criticized (and even demonized) the new president as he began do to many of the things they feared he would do.

My emotions were mixed on Trump’s first week.

Support for the Pro-Life Movement

On Monday, January 23, I was pleasantly surprised that one of his very first executive orders was the reinstatement of a pro-life policy, originally put in place by President Reagan, that bars US funding from global health NGOs that offer abortion services. Whether these actions came from sincere pro-life convictions or were a nod to his evangelical voters is unclear. But either way, I am hopeful that more policies like this will be signed into law under a Trump administration.

On Friday, January 27, we received more hopeful news from the White House. President Trump tweeted his support for the March for Life, a nod to thousands of pro-life advocates marching in Washington D.C. to advocate for the lives of the unborn.

The Immigration Ban

However, on the same day that Trump tweeted his support for the March for Life, he also signed an executive order on immigration that indefinitely banned Syrian refugees from coming to the United States and put a 120-day suspension on all refugee resettlement. In addition, the executive order put a 90-day suspension for any citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the United States.

Serving The Least of These

While I understand that most of immigration and travel bans are temporary, and while I appreciate the need for governments to properly vet incoming immigrants and refugees, I am deeply troubled by the unwillingness of many American voters (and politicians) to welcome refugees into their states and cities. Welcoming strangers and foreigners is always awkward and always risky. But this kind of hospitality is exactly what gives people on earth a glimpse of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.

In the coming years, if certain American or European governments decide that welcoming refugees is too big of a risk, I hope that Christians break from a nationalistic sentiment and advocate for the lives of refugees with the same passion they advocate for the lives of the unborn.

As Christians, our stance on the rights of the unborn and the cause of the refugee should not be shaped primarily by political or national priorities but rather on biblical and theological priorities.

Remember, when God calls us (the church) to serve the “least of these”—those who are forgotten, vulnerable, or who are victims of great injustice and oppression—it applies just as much to the Syrian refugee as it does to an unborn American baby.

Both are made in the image of God, and both need our help right now.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…”
(Matthew 25:34-35, ESV)

For more reading on the refugee situation, check out these blogs by Pastor Adam Mabry and by Ana Laffoon.

 

Blog / Leadership

What I Will Miss about President Obama

January 23, 2017

President Obama

ORLANDO—This weekend, America witnessed its forty-fourth peaceful transfer of presidential power. Over the last few weeks, the media has looked ahead at America’s future with Donald Trump as president, and they’ve looked back at Barack Obama’s legacy.

Since I am not a prophet, I will refrain from making any predictions about President Trump’s upcoming term in office. Instead, I will look back on President Obama’s time as America’s forty-fourth president.

While I disagreed with many of his policies, and while the Obama administration has championed certain “progressive” political and cultural developments that I find morally regressive and theologically problematic, I have also learned a great deal about leadership from President Obama.

Here are three leadership qualities modeled by President Obama that I wish all leaders would practice:

1. His ability to remain civil in the midst of bitter political battles. It is no secret that President Obama faced bitter opposition throughout his presidency. While every president will be criticized for their policies and decisions, many of President Obama’s critics went well-beyond the bounds of professional critique and engaged in ugly partisanship and even racist rhetoric. Despite the deafening criticism (some justified, some unjustified) he received as president, he almost always managed to remain civil and gracious toward those with whom he disagreed. He chose not to lash out at his many critics, but instead, he modeled brilliantly (at the highest stage of power!) how leaders should respond to criticism and opposition—with a soft heart and with thick skin.

2. His decision to prioritize family in the midst of the busiest job in the world. Despite the fact that he has the most demanding schedule on the planet, and despite the fact that he himself grew up without a father, President Obama prioritizes time with his children. Not only is he a devoted father, but he is also a faithful husband to his wife of twenty-five years. In an American political scene filled with scandal and extramarital affairs, it is refreshing to see a president who walks in integrity and resists the temptations that have ensnared so many men and women in elected office.

3. His efforts to ensure a smooth leadership transition to a political rival. Besides Hillary Clinton, no one in the world must be more disappointed by the recent election than Barack Obama. Not only did Donald Trump viciously criticize President Obama throughout his campaign, but he promised to reverse many of Obama’s landmark political achievements. And yet, over the last two months, Obama has made great efforts to ensure a smooth leadership transition. In a time when people in Barack Obama’s party are calling Trump’s presidency “illegitimate,” President Obama is doing to the unpopular thing and setting up his political enemy for success. This is not an easy thing to do. I’ve seen pastors undermine their successors (even ones they picked!) out of insecurity and incompetence. Passing the baton is always difficult; but passing the baton to a political rival is incredibly difficult. Established leaders would do well to watch and learn from President Obama’s example.

For these reasons I am thankful for President Obama’s leadership example, despite our political differences. I have been praying for him for the last eight years, and I will probably continue to pray for him as he transitions into new places of influence.

But now I have also begun praying for America’s newest president—that he will lead with integrity and wisdom, and that he (like the rest of us) will learn from President Obama’s example of civility, integrity, and gracious leadership.