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Leadership Is… (Part 1)

February 20, 2017

Fill in the BlankDUBAI—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 / 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 / Book / Family / Leadership

To Empower or Not to Empower? That is the Leadership Question

April 20, 2016

Arrows in Quiver

MANILA, PHILIPPINES.  Because of my latest book, My First, Second & Third Attempts at Parenting, Deborah and I have been doing our “Heart of Parenting” seminars more than ever. During the Q&A portion of the seminars, we are often asked questions about adult children. Our answer is always the same. Using the language of Psalm 127 that refers to children as arrows, we encourage parents of adults to intentionally empty their quivers.

Arrows are made for the target, not for the quiver, therefore we tell parents of adults, “take your adult kids out of the safety of the quiver, take your hands off, let go, and let them fly toward their God-ordained target.”

The same idea applies to leadership development in your church and campus ministry. Just like parents with adult children permanently hiding in the quiver, many pastors have quivers full of potential leaders who rarely get an opportunity to actually lead. These keepers of the quiver boast of having a “deep bench,” but no one is actually in the game.

Like all strong leaders, Elisha the prophet attracted scores of potential leaders. They were called his spiritual sons. Like real sons and daughters, Elisha’s spiritual sons knew they were not destined to stay in the safety of the quiver forever, so they spoke up.

Now the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, ‘See, the place where we dwell under your charge is too small for us.’ (2 Kings 6:1)

Of course it was too small. They were called to lead, not to wait forever to be allowed to do something significant. Because real leaders want to lead, and because real leaders think big, it’s only matter of time before they tell their leader that the quiver “where we dwell under your charge is too small for us.”

At some point, everyone who equips leaders will hear this sentiment from next-generation leaders. What you do next will determine whether you multiply or collect leaders and whether you build a leadership multiplication culture or a one-man-show culture.

Notice Elisha’s response.

Go. (2 Kings 6:2)

I am sure Elisha could have responded with a list of character flaws and unfinished leadership tasks. But instead, he allowed them to get out of the quiver and let them fly through the air toward their bullseye.

Releasing leaders is risky for them and for us, but if we want a multiplying leadership culture, we must take our hands off and let them go.

If you are a leader today, at some point someone took their hands off and empowered you to fly toward your target. I am sure you were not totally ready, but you were released anyway.

Potential leaders will only become productive leaders if they are empowered, and it is up to us to empower them…and to let them GO!