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5 Tips for Preachers

September 29, 2015

NASHVILLE. My home church, Victory Manila, has over 125 weekly worship services infifteen Metro Manila locations. Unlike many multi-site churches we never play video sermons. All of our services have live preachers, who preach the same text. This does not mean all the sermons are exactly the same. Some of our preachers are evangelists who end every sermon with an altar call, some are teachers who throw out random Greek and Hebrew words, and some are free-flowing prophets who throw out the clock. Some of our preachers are serious, some use humor. Some preach fifty minutes. Others preach twenty minutes. Some are demonstrative, others move less than the wax Morgan Freeman at Madame Tussauds.

No matter the preaching style or the preacher’s gifting, all Victory preachers preach the same text, title, and big idea every week. And no matter the preacher, we all attempt to apply Isaiah 40:1,2 as we preach.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

Here are five preaching tips from Isaiah 40 that are as relevant today as when they were written 2700 years ago.

1. Comfort my people. Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936) said that newspapers were supposed to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I think preachers should do the same. In most congregations, there are far more afflicted people than comfortable people, therefore, our preaching should bring comfort, not add more affliction.

2. Speak tenderly. Harsh words crush dreams and kill relationships. Tender words inspire dreams and restore relationships. Unfortunately there are not many places in society where tender words are being offered. Hopefully we can find them in our pulpits.

3. Warfare has ended Shoichi Yokoi was a Japanese sergeant in WWII. On January 24, 1972 he was discovered in the jungles of Guam. He had been living in a cave, hiding from the Americans for twenty-eight years, because no one told him the war had ended. Many believers are living in spiritual caves, afraid to engage the world. Preachers are supposed to tell them that Jesus already won the war.

4. Iniquity is pardoned. Paul never got tired of preaching the Gospel over and over and over and over. We should never tire of preaching and teaching what Jesus did for us, that because of his death and resurrection, our sins are forgiven. Preach it. Teach it. Sing it. Pray it. Then do it again next week.

5. Received from the Lord’s hand. And finally, our preaching should teach people how to receive from the Lord, not how to beg and manipulate, but how to receive what He freely offers.

If you are preaching this weekend or if you are leading a small discipleship group, I hope these ancient preaching principles will help you honor God and make disciples.

Blog / Church / Discipleship

Declaring War on Low Expectations

September 29, 2015

NASHVILLE. It is common in some modern ministry circles, to not only accept, but to actually celebrate low expectation and smallness. Big vision is considered arrogant and status quo is confused with humility. While some visionaries are certainly arrogant and some small-thinkers are truly humble, this does not mean that biblical humility and big vision cannot peacefully coexist. From Moses to Paul to Medieval martyrs to modern Bible translators, church history is filled with humble visionaries who dreamed big and actually accomplished much.

Consider the familiar words of Jesus in John 15. While exhorting his disciples to “abide in the vine” and to “remain in Him” Jesus listed five levels of fruitfulness that seemed designed to help his followers think bigger and expect more.

1. No fruit. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away. (John 15:2) Other translations say he cuts off fruitless branches. This text is more an exhortation to fruitfulness than an explanation of the doctrine of perseverance of the saints. Bottom line: fruitlessness is not an acceptable option. So, if your church or campus ministry is doing activities that are not bearing fruit, they probably need to be cut off or taken away. Unless of course, busyness is our ultimate goal.

2. Fruit. Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes. (John 15:2) Fruitfulness is the goal. Fruitless branches get cut off, and fruitful branches get pruned. Either way we get cut, so we might as well get cut for fruitfulness rather than for fruitlessness.

3. More fruit. He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:2) The divine purpose in pruning (cutting things off) is so that we bear more fruit. If you have been fruitful in church planting or campus ministry, the next step is more fruit.

4. Much Fruit. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:8) We have all been repelled by insecure leaders who think ministry growth and size is all about them. Fortunately, they are the exception not the rule. If your ministry has born fruit and then more fruit, I suggest you brace yourself for more pruning. And after the pain of pruning, it might be a good idea to start planning, preparing, and staffing for much fruit.

5. Lasting Fruit. I appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide. (John 15:16) Alternate translations use the words remain or last. Jesus wants our fruit to abide, remain, and last. Unfortunately it is common for churches and campus ministries to experience much fruit that vanishes as soon as we tweet about it. Jesus is not interested in giving us temporary fruit. His fruitfulness progression goes from no fruit to fruit to more fruit to much fruit to lasting fruit.

Are you praying for, planning for, preparing for much fruit? Or have you made peace with no fruit or with little fruit?

The fields are ripe for harvest. That means we declare war on fruitlessness and low expectations, and begin to think and dream big as if God really wants to give us fruit, more fruit, much fruit, and lasting fruit.

Blog / Church / Discipleship / Leadership

Healthy Church Growth: Measuring What Matters

August 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those numbers were 3039 and 7166.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What numbers do you celebrate?

Blog / Church / Leadership

4 Church Growth Secrets from 2800 Years Ago

August 4, 2015

NASHVILLE. Most pastors, church planters, and campus missionaries are in the ministry because they want to obey God, serve people, and change the world. Sure, some have messed up motives, but most have pure hearts. And most want to grow in terms of ministering the Gospel to more and more people.

Despite honorable motives, the desire to grow and actual measurable growth are not the same. To borrow a word from the prophet Isaiah, many in ministry feel “barren.”

Notice what Isaiah said to the barren.

“Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 54:1)

After going to the conference, listening to the podcast, reading the book, attempting what the mega-church celebrity suggested, and not seeing results, we usually feel like quitting and complaining, not singing.

Besides singing, Isaiah had clear instruction for those who are being ignored by Outreach Magazine’s fastest growing church list.

“Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. (‭Isaiah‬ ‭54‬:‭2)

If you have not experienced the level of fruitfulness you desire, try singing and doing the rest of what Isaiah said:

1. ENLARGE YOUR VISION (“Enlarge the place of your tent”)
Think bigger. Dream bigger. Enlarge your place. Consider getting a bigger facility, or at least maximizing the one you have.

2. STRETCH YOUR FAITH (“let the curtains… be stretched”)
Isaiah did not tell them to replace the curtains. Their curtains were OK, they just need to be stretched a bit. Stretching is not comfortable, but is is essential for growth.

3. LENGTHEN YOUR REACH (“lengthen your cords”)
OK, you are reaching your campus, your city, your country, but what about the next campus, the next city, and the next nation? When and where is your next campus outreach? When and where is your next church plant? Who is your next campus missionary? Who is your next church planter?

4. STRENGTHEN YOUR FOUNDATION (“and strengthen your stakes”)
More growth requires more strength. Greater outreach demands greater depth. In a building, the deeper and stronger the foundation, the taller the building. Same in ministry. Deeper and stronger spiritual foundations support greater growth.

Q: Why do we need to enlarge, stretch, lengthen, and strengthen?

A: Because God plans for us to “spread abroad to the right and to the left” and for our next generation to “possess the nations.” (Isaiah 54:3)

If you desire growth, whether you feel barren or fruitful, I suggest you get busy enlarging, stretching, lengthening, and strengthening. God will do the rest.

Blog / Church / Discipleship / Family / Leadership

Don’t Quit

December 8, 2014

This is an odd blog title, since it seems like I quit blogging. There are many reasons for my blog delinquency, but only one is legit, the others are just lame excuses. Here’s my respectable reason for my invisible blogs of late:  most of my writing energy is being invested in a new book about parenting that should be completed in the next couple of months.

I have three working titles. Which one do you think is best?

          The Heart of Parenting

          Discipleship at Home

          My First, Second, and Third Attempts at Parenting

While researching for my new book, I stumbled on this blog that was originally posted six years ago. I thought it might be a good Christmas season post.


——————–

Ever want to quit – a relationship, job, church – but the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let you?

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 quite voice says to hang in there?

If you ever feel like that, 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. Yea, right. I’m out of here. He wasn’t bitter or vindictive. Just hurt. Confused. 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.

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

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

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

We all have.

Aren’t you glad you listened to Him, and refused to quit?

Blog / Church / Leadership

A Framework for Restoring the Fallen and Fixing Bad Theology

September 5, 2014

MIDLAND, TEXAS. You know the story. Peter denied Jesus three times and returned to his former life of fishing for fish. Then Jesus showed up. His one agenda: restoration. Like the rest of humanity, Peter was not exactly seeking Jesus, but that didn’t stop Jesus from seeking and finding him. Funny how Jesus shows up when we least expect or desire Him. “Even when we are faithless, he remains faithful.” (2 Timothy 2:13)

After giving some pretty bizarre fishing tips that proved to be successful, Jesus then enjoyed breakfast with Peter and his fisherman friends. The restoration process has started, whether Peter and his friends realized it or not. Over the years I have found that restoration mixes well with food. After starting with food, the next step in the restoration process is to ask a good question, and repeat it until the heart is pierced.

“Peter, do you love me?” (John 21:15,16,17)

Good questions are often pointed and painful. They are also often avoided, deflected, and left unanswered. That’s why they need to be repeated three times or more.

This story teaches us that when we have taken underperformance to a whole new level, when we have failed gloriously, and when we have totally disappointed God and others, Jesus’ first question to us is not about our performance, our disobedience, or our failure. His first question is about our relationship with Him.

“Do you love me?”

Notice that Jesus did not ask a theological question. He did not ask an organizational question. And He did not ask a missional question. He asked a relational question. This is not to suggest that theological conviction, organizational unity, and missional direction are unimportant. It is just that they are not primary when it comes to restoration.

 “Do you love me?”

If we get the relationship restored, then we can have serious and productive discussions about theological nuances, organizational structures, and missional strategies.

It is common to frame church splits and ministry conflicts as theological, organizational, or missional disagreements. Reality has taught me that the root issue is usually relational. Because we do not want to face the pain of relational honesty, we cop-out and hide behind theological smokescreens. Rather than working through relational offense, we split and blame it on the mission and vision.

At times I have been criticized for being too relational and not organizational enough. After trying my best to correct this, I was then criticized for being too organizational at the expense of being relational. If that is not confusing enough, I have also been criticized for being too theological and not missional enough. And for being too missional and not theological enough.

I concluded a long time ago that since I cannot please everyone, then I would only live to please One. I have also come to the conclusion that pleasing Him requires me to prioritize relationships. And if we get the relational part right, we will be able to fix whatever theological, organizational, and missional problems that arise.

 

Blog / Church

My Thoughts on the Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill, Acts 29 Scandal

August 25, 2014

HONOLULU. Pastor Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church, and Acts 29 have been all over the news lately. One headline read, “Mark Driscoll Charged with Abusive Behavior by 21 Former Mars Hill Pastors.” How could a church as young as Mars Hill have 21 former pastors? Did the 21 quit, or were they fired? Why?

A sinister voice within told me that since I am a leader, I need to know the dirt that these 21 ex-Mars Hill leaders have on their former boss. So, I clicked and started reading. But I didn’t get very far because the words at the top of the page and the conviction of the Holy Spirit stopped me in my tracks.

Here are those words: “CONFIDENTIAL: We don’t intend to make this communication public, and we ask that you not make it public either.”

Someone obviously ignored this request and made it very public. And that’s just plain wrong.

The letter was addressed to “Mars Hill Church Full Council of Elders.” It was from “Mike Wilkerson and former Elders of Mars Hill Church.” A confidential letter from former elders to current elders should not be available to random strangers on facebook.

The letter was clearly marked CONFIDENTIAL, and since I am neither a former nor a current Mars Hill Church elder, I had no right to read it.

So, I closed my iPad and read no more.

Even though I did not read the “charges of abusive behavior” against Mark Driscoll by the 21 former elders, I still have a thought on Mark Driscoll and the whole scandal. Here it is: since I am not a Mars Hill member or elder, and I have never visited Mars Hill, and I have never given money to Mars Hill, and I have never met Pastor Mark, therefore, the whole Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill, 21 elder, and Acts 29 scandal is…

NONE OF MY BUSINESS!

And that’s all I have to say about that.

 

Blog / Church / Discipleship / Missions

30 Years in 30 Words

August 15, 2014

TOKYO. Eight-hour layover. Thinking about the 30th anniversary celebration of Victory.  Here’s my description of how and why it all started 30 years ago, in just 30 words.

——–

1984.

MISSISSIPPI. Rice. Mission. Money? Partners. Passport…

GO!

MANILA. Traffic. Poverty. Jeepneys. Floods. Smiles. Mango…

U-BELT. Crowds. Radicals. Riots. Teargas. Hopelessness. Gospel. Jesus. Worship. Discipleship. Faith. Hope.

STAY! Victory. Grateful.

 

——–

(Check out the official Victory at 30 timeline with vintage photos.)

 

 

Blog / Church / Missions

Thirty Years, Thirty Memories

July 31, 2014

MANILA. While on a recent Nashville to Manila flight, I couldn’t stop thinking about Victory‘s 30th anniversary. As memory after memory flooded my mind, my face reacted accordingly. A smile. A chuckle. A tear. So many memories. Some painful, but mostly good.

Here are thirty random memories from the first thirty years of Victory in the Philippines. Each memory could be a blog or a book by itself.

Smile. Laugh. Cry. Enjoy.

1. UNIVERSITY BELT. Where it all started. The harvest was plentiful, but the workers were few, so we stayed awhile.

2. ADMIRAL HOTEL. Our first “home” in Manila and Victory’s first baptismal tank (aka hotel swimming pool).

3. ROCK SEMINAR. “I won’t take no prisoners won’t spare no lives, nobody’s putting up a fight, I got my bell I’m gonna take you to hell, I’m gonna get ya Satan get ya… Hell’s bells…” Some of us decided to “put up a fight” for the souls of Filipino students.

4. TANDEM BASEMENT. The ugliest, stinkiest, and hottest church facility ever, but that did not stop hundreds of students from hearing the Gospel at our underground “Concrete Cathedral.”

5. MENDIOLA BRIDGE. Proof that Filipino students have been #RadicalSince1984. There is nothing quit like hearing gunfire and breathing teargas while preaching in the middle of a student riot. Good times. (Hey, that was before I had kids.)

6. BUKO JUICE. Along with mangoes and chicken adobo, this is the real reason we stayed.

7. PEOPLE POWER. Changed a nation and inspired the world.

8. MAKATI MED. Three of my best memories happened at a hospital in April 1986, July 1988, and February 1990.

9. FAMILY FIRST.Noah built an ark to save his family,” and in saving his family, he saved the world. This is how we roll at Victory.

10. RIZAL MEMORIAL. Deborah and I spent countless hours melting in the summer sun, watching our sons compete against the best tennis players from all over the Philippines. Great memories, but we are glad we no longer have to endure the traffic and the heat.

11. ANSON ARCADE. This was our first attempt at being a multi-site church way back in 1986. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing and we have no idea why all those people kept showing up. The building no longer exists, but the memories and friendships will last forever. So many lives were transformed by the Gospel, and we met many of our closest friends at Anson Arcade.

12. ASIAN INVASION. Filipino cross-cultural missionaries are literally all over the world today because of these conferences.

13. VICTORY FIRE. When blogs and church websites were made of paper.

14. SAMBANG GABI. Victory’s twist on a Filipino Christmas tradition. I hate waking up before the sun, but for the sake of puto bumbong and bibingka, I did it anyway, but only once a year.

15. STAR COMPLEX. Standing room only crowds of Christian transfers and church hoppers forced us to get serious about reaching the lost through small group discipleship.

16. VALLE VERDE. Where our sons grew up and where we had the best neighbors on the planet, including a “crackedhead.”

17. TALENTS INC. Amazing things happen when artist realize their talents come from God and exist for His honor.

18. THE ROCK. This is where we got really serious about equipping leaders for church planting and world mission.

19. EDSA TRAFFIC. Purgatory on wheels.

20. BROWN OUTS. Bad memories. No comment.

21. CAMPUS MINISTRY. Preparing students for life, and preparing students to lead.

22. PURPLE BOOK. Almost one million in print in twenty-five languages. Who would have guessed?

23. FORT BONIFACIO. Home sweet home. When we moved to Ft B, there were five buildings. Twelve years later, well, let’s just say progress happened.

24. REAL LIFE. Honoring God by serving the poor and empowering their dreams through educational assistance, character development, and community service.

25. LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT. Identification. Instruction. Impartation. Internship.

26. NATURAL DISASTERS. I am proud of the way Victory people respond every time a typhoon or flood pounds a city.

27. RADICAL LOVE. God’s radical love demonstrated on the cross demands a radical response. (Radical Love album release soon!)

28. HONOR GOD. The ultimate motive for all we do.

29. MAKE DISCIPLES. This is what Victory is all about. Engaging culture and community. Establishing biblical foundations. Equipping believers to minister. Empowering disciples to make disciples.

30. EVERY NATION. This is where we are called to honor God and make disciples.

If some of these phrases mean nothing to you, simply ask a Victory old-timer and you’ll hear great stories.

Blog / Church / Leadership

4 Leadership Lessons for Times of Crisis and Change

July 28, 2014

NASHVILLE. Kevin York, Justin Gray, and I had the unenviable task of informing hundreds of good people that their church community, Bethel Franklin, is closing and merging with Bethel Brentwood. Hard to remember a tougher two weeks of ministry.

The reasons for the church closure/merger are many and they are complicated. That is not what this blog is about.

As we talked to the people, their reactions ranged from anger to indifference. Some were shocked; others saw it coming. Some wanted to fix the financial and facility problems; others only wanted to fix blame. There were lots of tears. Tears of disappointment and tears of thankfulness.

Some of the Bethel Franklin people will transfer to Bethel Brentwood, others to Bethel Murfreesboro. Some will find non-Bethel churches. Some are not sure what to do. I am praying God will help everyone find a life-giving church community.

Every Thursday morning before office hours, I meet with a small group of young leaders who are considering a careers in church planting. We talk about leadership and we pray for each other. Last week I asked them what leadership lessons they learned as we led Bethel Franklin through the crisis of closing/merging. Here’s a summary of our discussion.

1. COMMUNICATION. When leading during change and crisis, leaders must over communicate. For us that meant countless early morning and late night face-to-face meetings with church members. We wanted everyone to already know what was happening before we made a public announcement from the stage Sunday morning. This required us to clear our schedules and be available to tell the same story and answer the same questions over and over and over and over. This type of over communicating is time consuming and emotionally draining, but it is the only way to lead during change.

2. HONESTY. Transparency and painful honesty about leadership mistakes and miscalculations will do more to restore leadership credibility than self-defense, spin, and hype. There is a time for a leader to cast vision and a time to admit mistakes. Everyone occasionally makes decisions that are well-meaning but misguided. Since leaders make more decisions than others, they make more mistakes than people who make no decisions. When a leader humbly and candidly admits mistakes and miscalculations, people tend to be forgiving. When leaders make excuses and ignore reality, trust vanishes like a vapor. When leading through change and pain, honesty really is the best policy.

3. PERSPECTIVE. A big part of spiritual leadership is helping people embrace a providential perspective regarding change and especially regarding the pain that often accompanies change. All week I tried to get people to see that their local church community is an important part of life, but it is not the center of life. There is a big difference in church-centered lives and Christ-centered lives. We want the latter. I tried to get people to see that even though the church services are ending, they are still married to the same person, and still have the same amazing kids. They still have a good job and good friends. But starting in a few weeks, they will simply worship at a different address with a larger group of people. God’s calling has not changed. It is the job of the leaders to paint a providential perspective during times of change.

4. PATIENCE. I expected some people to react in instant anger when I told them Bethel Franklin was over. Some did. Some did not. I also suspected that many of those same people would calm down and be more rational and understanding in a few days. Most did. A few did not. Leaders must exercise patience and allow the Holy Spirit to do whatever He wants in the hearts of His people.

I hope you never have to be the bearer of bad news to good people, but if you do, I hope you remember these four crisis leadership lessons.