SteveMurrell.com | Reluctant Leader

Browsing Category Leadership

Leadership

How Will You Solve Your Leadership Shortage?

October 10, 2017

Diamond in the rough

NASHVILLEThe Multiplication Challenge begins with a story about a serious leadership shortage in our Every Nation church in the Philippines. We were growing rapidly, but our discipleship had outpaced our leadership development. When this happens in your context, don’t be fooled by good growth numbers.

Why? Because if we intentionally make disciples but don’t intentionally identify and train leaders, then we will have two big problems on our hands.

1. The Present Problem. If we don’t train leaders, our growth will either plateau, or it will crush our current leadership team. 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 to train and empower new leaders. Doing something to deliberately stop God-given growth is not an option. So really, there’s only one viable solution to this multiplication challenge: accelerate the equipping and empowering of new leaders.

2. The Future Problem. If we don’t constantly train new leaders, we won’t experience multi-generational growth. Being one-generation wonders is not an option. Throughout the Bible, God often identifies Himself in multi-generational terms. For example, He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God expects His people to grow, multiply, and labor multi-generationally. This can only happen when we intentionally train next-generation leaders.

If we don’t multiply leaders (especially in seasons of great growth), then our only other option is to hire from the outside.

Many church leaders opt for this solution. But I think there is a better way. We’ve had seasons in Manila with serious leadership shortages. But during those times, we never looked outside to solve our leadership gaps. We never put jobs ads on seminary bulletin boards or in Christian magazines.

Even during our most severe leadership droughts, we have always assumed that our future leaders were right in front of us—hiding in plain sight, waiting for us to identify and instruct them. A little impartation and an internship would also help, but we know they are already in our church, waiting for an opportunity to minister and lead. Like diamonds in the rough, many times our future leaders are buried in the dirt. Leadership shortages are a clarion call for us to get our hands dirty—to dig for leaders who will sparkle like diamonds as soon as we clean, cut, polish, and set them.

For more practical thoughts on how to multiply leaders, check out this new video in our Multiplication Challenge discussion series.

Leadership

The Leadership Skill No One Wants

September 25, 2017

Headphones
NASHVILLE
—I landed in Nashville late last night after spending the weekend in Portland, Oregon, teaching The Multiplication Challenge to leaders at City Bible Church. You can listen to my sermon from their Sunday services here.

Last week, I wrote about a recurring question that I receive from emerging leaders around the world: How do you lead when you aren’t fully in charge (a.k.a. leading from the middle). But what happens when you are fully in charge? What kinds of challenges come up when you are the established leader and the whole staff (big or small) reports to you?

One of the biggest challenges for senior leaders is listening.

I have blogged about this many times. I’ve written about pastors who listen well. I’ve written about what voices we should listen to. And I’ve written about why listening is good for our team and good for our souls.

But today, I want to look briefly at a problem that every senior leader will face…

What do you do when the (entire!) team disagrees with you about a particular decision or direction? What if you feel you’ve had a word from God, and no one else on the team thinks that your idea is a good idea (much less a God-idea)?

How do we balance our responsibility to lead our team and listen to our team? How can we as Christian leaders listen to God and listen to people—especially when we feel like those voices are saying different things?

My answer to this complex problem is simple.

If we think we’ve heard from God, but the entire team (including our spouse) disagrees, then there are really two option:

1. We haven’t really heard from God. Sometimes this happens. Sometimes we miss it. Be humble, listen to the team, and move on. And, thank God for a wise team that is willing to speak up.

2. Maybe we have heard from God, but the team is not ready. In this case, we need to be patient. Maybe it is a good idea to build that new building, start that new location, or plant that new church. But if our team is not on board, then we need be patient with them and trust that God is going to bring unity to the team in His timing.

Some of you may be thinking—wait, isn’t there a third option? What about the scenario where I am convinced that I am right (and the team is wrong), and I can’t wait for the team to come around? What do we do then?

I will say that in nearly four decades of ministry experience, that situation has only happened to me once, so it is (and should be) incredibly rare for any leader. But in that case, I would still recommend listening.

Rather than adopting a defensive posture, seek more advice, perhaps from other senior leaders who have been in your shoes. Spend more time in prayer, listening to the Holy Spirit. Trust that God will speak and give you clarity and wisdom on what to do.

When I do that, He usually tells me to listen.

Blog / Leadership / Videos

Leading Without a Title

September 20, 2017

 Leadership Lanes

NASHVILLE—I get to work with promising young leaders all over the world. Here are some of their most common leadership questions:

  • How do I lead without a title (or perhaps with a lesser title)?
  • How do I lead when I have some leadership responsibilities, but I am not fully in charge?
  • How do I respond when I feel like the senior leader is struggling to lead effectively?
  • How do I balance the tension between presumption and passivity?

My summary of all these questions: How do I lead from the middle? 

Leading from the middle means we are simultaneously leading people and following a leader. Most leaders lead from the middle. Some do it well; Others, not so much.

The presumptuous emerging leader takes responsibility for things that he or she shouldn’t, and he or she makes decisions or judgment calls that are not theirs to make. Depending on the context (and the temperament of the senior leader), this can cause some serious problems for the team.

On the other hand, the passive emerging leader only takes responsibility for the things that he or she has explicitly been given charge of—never responding to leadership needs in the moment and never instinctively taking responsibility in the absence of the senior leader. I have had both kinds of emerging leaders work for and with me. In many ways, we all gravitate towards one or the other ditch. Some of us underestimate our capacity (and responsibility), and others overestimate it.

Wise senior leaders know how to recognize these tendencies in their young leaders and provide helpful counter pressure to their natural tendencies. This means that for some emerging leaders, I constantly encourage them to take charge, even if it’s not exactly in their job description. Why? Because I want them to feel empowered. I want them to start thinking and acting like a leader before they ever get the big title.

With other leaders, I constantly encourage them to slow down and stay in their lane. I encourage them to listen to the entire room before they spout off their expert opinion from their many months of experience or from a recent podcast they consumed. I encourage them to be patient and humble.

It all depends on the leader.

But what do you do if you serve under a leader who is not very empowering, or at least not very organized? How do you know when to step up and take responsibility even when it’s not necessarily in your job description? Or how do you know when to fight your instincts to lead and allow the senior leader (and perhaps the entire team) to struggle or even fail?

As with most things in life, it all depends on the situation. There is no magic bullet. But here’s my advice: when in doubt, it’s always better to be active than to be passive.

Like I said, if you’re the over-zealous, over-confident type, a wise leader will let you know. Hopefully, the feedback will be constructive and gracious, but sometimes it won’t be. How we respond to moment like these will shape us as leaders.

If you want to hear more about “How to Act Like a Leader,” check out this new video from our Multiplication Challenge video series.

Blog / Leadership

New Video Series: The Multiplication Challenge

September 6, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-09-06 at 5.18.47 PM

Recently, I had the privilege of discussing my latest book, The Multiplication Challenge, with my son and coauthor William Murrell and young leaders in various positions across Every Nation. It was a great opportunity to hear from them and discuss some of the challenges of developing leaders.

This video is the first in a series of six videos that follows our discussion of the first few chapters of The Multiplication Challenge.

Whether you’re a church planter, pastor, campus missionary, or administrative professional, I pray and hope these videos inspire you to develop as a leader, multiply leaders, and solve your leadership shortage.

I would love to hear your leadership questions, so please share them with me on Twitter or Facebook.

 

Blog / Church / Leadership

How To Talk About Charlottesville

August 14, 2017

 

White nationalists holding a rally on the campus of UVA.

White nationalists holding a rally on the campus of UVA.

WILMORE, KENTUCKY—I have mostly been unplugged from the news and social media for over a week now during my summer residency at Asbury Theological Seminary. However, I thought that this weekend’s events needed comment.

Because of the global nature of my job and the fact that I don’t pastor a local church in North America, I typically avoid commenting on American cultural and political issues. It is important—in fact, vital—for American pastors to engage these topics with wisdom, but this blog is written for pastors and leaders from every nation. I only engage American issues when they have global implications or unique global parallels.

There is much that could be said about the tragic events in Charlottesville this past weekend. We could talk about racism in America (and in the American church); we could talk about the need for multiethnic churches; or we could talk about the centrality of the gospel in racial reconciliation. Back in May, I wrote a series of blogs that addressed these very issues, which are linked in the previous sentence.

So instead of covering that ground again, I want to focus on communication: How we as church leaders should talk, preach, and even tweet about ethnic tension and racial reconciliation in our local contexts—whether we are addressing white nationalism in America, racial tension in southern Africa, or anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe.

I am deeply troubled by both the events in Charlottesville and the ugly public discourse surrounding these events. I don’t expect CNN, NPR, or non-Christian bloggers and Instagrammers to get this right, but I do expect more from church leaders.

If we want to honor God, build up the church, and work for the common good, here’s how I think we should communicate (and encourage our emerging leaders to communicate):

1. Be clear about the issue. Now is not the time to be vague. Now is not the time to negotiate your parishioners’ political inclinations. We do not represent a news organization. We do not represent a political party that needs to worry about reelection. So please do not make a vacuous condemnation of “all hate, violence, and bigotry.” Be clear about what is really at stake. Paul was clear in his very public rebuke of Peter that his actions toward the Gentile believers were “not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14). We should make it abundantly clear that all race-based nationalism, in this case white nationalism, is not only culturally problematic, but antithetical to the gospel.

2. Be clear about the audience. Audience matters. How we address these issues from the pulpit should be different than how we address these issues on social media. Different audiences call for different strategies. Before we say or post anything, we should think about how different groups of people might receive the words we are trying to communicate. While this point is certainly in tension with the point above (about clarity), these ideals are not mutually exclusive. As leaders who are called to speak the truth in love, we should know that there will always be people in our audience who will find the truth offensive. But if we are thoughtful about audience, we will lower the risk of unnecessary friendly fire and potential miscommunication.

3. Be clear about the real enemy. Though it is easy to imagine those five hundred torch-toting white supremacists as the enemy, they aren’t the real enemy. Neither is David Duke, the Ku Klux Klan, Donald Trump, or the alt-right. If we ourselves are not clear on the real enemy, we will inevitably demonize (and dehumanize) people and once again deny the power of the gospel. As Russell Moore so eloquently argues, we need to spend our energy “opposing demons, not demonizing opponents.” For our struggle is not against “flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). This does not mean that we don’t hold people (especially leaders) to account for their sin. But it does mean is that we should see every human opponent not as an enemy to be defeated but as people to be won over.

Remember that we too were once enemies of God, without hope. But instead of coming to defeat us, Jesus came into the world to redeem us and entrust to us that same ministry of reconciliation. For two great examples of what this looks like in practice, check out this blog from Pastor Adam Mabry of Aletheia Boston and this video from Pastor Brett Fuller of Grace Covenant Church in Virginia.

 

 

Blog / Leadership / Miscellaneous / Missions

Before You Attempt to Do Ministry…

July 10, 2017

Preparation

NASHVILLE—Last week, I had the honor of speaking to a group of Every Nation North America Life Year missionaries who are being sent to Ukraine, Scotland, Spain, and New Zealand. Here’s what I told them to do in order to be successful and faithful missionaries.

1. LEARN. Teaching is part of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), but we must learn before we teach. Don’t be that guy with all the answers, especially if you are in a foreign country or an unfamiliar culture. Be a learner first. If we want to learn, we must first study. Successful cross-cultural missionaries study the culture, context, and communications styles of their new world. Then they teach.

2. LEAD. But, what is leadership and and what is the best way to lead in my new context? Too many missionaries (and pastors, church planters, and volunteer ministry leaders) think that serving is a stepping stone to a leadership—that we are supposed to serve so that one day we can lead. That’s exactly the opposite of what Jesus taught. When James and John asked to sit on the right and left of Jesus, they were asking for leadership position and authority. Jesus said they were thinking about leadership like Gentiles (aka people far from God). He then described his view of leadership with two words that James and John would never use to describe leadership: servant and slave. Many are wrongly taught that service is the biblical pathway to leadership. Jesus taught the exact opposite. He taught that leadership is a platform for serving (Mark 10:35-45).  The best missionaries think and act like servants.

3. LOVE. It is common for good people to gradually get to the point where they love the fruit, adventure, and rewards of ministry more than they love God. It never starts that way, but it happens. Some find their way back to their first love, others spend their lives working for God or running from God. Peter denied Jesus three times, then went back to fishing for fish rather than fishing for men. Jesus restored Peter. But notice that Peter’s relationship with Jesus was restored before his ministry was restored. Jesus asked Peter relational questions, then restored his ministry. “Do you love me?… Do you love me?… Do you love me?” Three denials and three chances to express his love. If Peter had denied four times, I think Jesus would have given him four chances to affirm his love. Once the relationship was restored, only then did Jesus recommission Peter to ministry. “Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep… Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-19). All ministry should flow out of relationship. Here’s the order: love Jesus, do ministry.

I can’t wait to hear from these missionaries once they are on the field. I know God will do great things for them, in them, and through them. Probably in that order.

Blog / Church / Discipleship / Leadership

Attracting Crowds or Making Disciples?

July 3, 2017

TOKYO AIRPORT — Observing the life of Jesus in the gospels is often an abrupt and painful reality check, especially in our social media saturated do-anything-for-fame ministry culture. I can’t imagine Jesus being obsessed with how many people “liked” his latest pithy post or how many people “friended” or “shared” his content.

His only obsession was to please the Father. We should be likewise obsessed.

Matthew reported that Jesus preached the gospel and healed the sick all over Galilee. (4:23) Because of his preaching and healing “His fame spread” which resulted in even more preaching and healing. (4:24) The predictable result of all this preaching and healing was that “great crowds followed him.” (4:25)

So, Jesus now has fame and crowds. The only thing missing (for modern success) is the fortune. But great fame, a massive following, and financial fortune did not matter to Jesus. And it should not matter to us. But it often does. Even in ministry.

What did Jesus do with his new found fame and huge following? How did he “leverage his platforms” in order to increase his following? How did he alter his “content” to increase his followers? How did he monetize his influence? That’s what we would do, right?

Notice carefully what Jesus did. “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.” (Matthew 5:1 ESV)

Two important words: crowds and disciples.

1. “Seeing the CROWDS, he went up to the mountain.” Today when we see crowds in our Sunday service, in our campus ministry, or on social media we think we have succeeded. We must be doing something right and God is must be blessing our efforts. In order to be good stewards of our success, we do everything imaginable to maintain and grow our audience. Our first move is to leverage our platform for growth and influence. Jesus did the opposite. His first move was to walk away from the crowd.

2. “And when he sat down, his DISCIPLES came to him.” Unimpressed with his ever-increasing popularity, Jesus ignored the crowd and ascended the mountain. He traded a massive crowd of adorning followers for a small group of committed disciples. A careful reading of the gospels will reveal that the more crowds followed Jesus, the more he retreated to be alone with the Father and with his disciples.

Every leader of a growing ministry will be faced with an important decision: attract crowds or make disciples. Will we leave the crowds in order to make disciples, or will we allow the demands of the crowd to pull us away from small group discipleship?

Too many pastors and ministry leaders choose the crowds.

The irony of the situation is that very often, the leaders who choose making disciples over attracting crowds actually end up with massive crowds, but not crowds of fawning fickle miracle-seekers, crowds of disciples.

When your ministry starts to grow, choose wisely, my friends.

Blog / Leadership

When Disagreement Is Okay

June 22, 2017

Respectful conversation

MANILA—Last week, I had the privilege of speaking at the Every Nation Campus (ENC) national leadership team meeting. After a productive meeting and discussion, I sent out this cryptic tweet:

“LEADERSHIP. Disagreement is ok. Disrespect, dishonor, and disunity is not. #bettertogether #rigorousdebate”

Here’s the story.

One of the conversation topics with our core ENC national leaders was sexual purity and how we should address this crucial cultural (and discipleship) issue on the university campus in the Philippines.

We all agreed that the biblical standards for sexual purity are clear: sex is a gift from God meant to be enjoyed within the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman. If we had found ourselves in disagreement on this fundamental issue, it would not have been good. Unfortunately, some denominations and even campus ministries have had to deal with the fallout of disunity over such fundamental issues. Thankfully, our ENC leaders in the Philippines (and worldwide) are in unity here.

The disagreement came not in our theology of marriage and sexuality, but rather in our practical teaching on dating and relationships.

Some campus leaders and local churches strongly advocated rather strict courtship guidelines, while other leaders proposed a more relaxed approach to dating and relationships—one that encouraged purity but imposed few rules on the dating game.

Some campus leaders argued that a top-down implementation of dating practices for students almost always results in legalism (and weirdness). On the other hand, others argued that with a more relaxed dating model, too many well-meaning young people fall into sexual sin because they do not have the wisdom to put boundaries on their relationships.

The argument over dating practices was long, heated, and ultimately unresolved.

And that’s okay.

Disagreement over core theological issues is a problem within a campus ministry or church-planting movement. But disagreement over the practical implications of theology is natural and even productive—as long as we approach these disagreements with respect and grace towards one another.

Would I prefer that all of our churches and campus ministries in the Philippines approached dating and relationships the same way? Maybe. But on the other hand, there are complex cultural variables on the ground (even within Metro Manila) that cause me to defer to local leaders who understand their context and their people better than I do.

Ultimately, in order for us to disagree and still remain in unity, we must not only be respectful of one another but we must learn to trust each other.

As emerging leaders, we must trust that established leaders are doing their best to lead with wisdom (and may actually be right), even when we strongly disagree with them.

As established leaders, we must trust that the emerging leaders we have empowered are being led by the Holy Spirit (and may actually be right), even if we might do things differently.

In the end, unity is often more about relational trust than intellectual consensus.

Blog / Leadership

The Tragedy of Rockstar Ministry Leaders

June 5, 2017

Servant Leadership

MANILA, PHILIPPINES—While trying to read the first chapter of Philippians this morning, I got stuck on verse one, and I was gobsmacked with a leadership lesson that I hope I never forget. I didn’t get to the end of the chapter. In fact, I never got to verse two. I spent my entire devotional time in verse one.

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.

Two words arrested my mind: servants and saints.

These two words caused me to repent and to pray for God’s help.

“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus.” Imagine, if you can, Paul and Timothy in our modern ministry world leveraging their position, platform, and popularity into lucrative book deals and prime slots on the conference speaking circuit. Imagine them hiring a marketing company to ensure that each book achieve “best seller” status. Imagine them contracting communications consultants so that their social media platform numbers crushed the industry average. Imagine them with an adoring entourage and security team. It is difficult, if not impossible, for us to imagine Paul and Timothy acting like modern celebrity rockstar preachers.

But we have no problem imagining contemporary pastors and ministry leaders acting like rockstars because we’ve witnessed it. There is a one-word reason we can’t imagine Paul and Timothy acting like religious rockstars. That word is “servant.” Paul and Timothy saw themselves as servants, not stars. No parent in their day told their kids, “We are working hard so that one day you will have an opportunity to be a servant.” Servanthood was the last position in life that a parent would want for their kids. Yet that is the position Paul and Timothy used to describe their leadership. They learned this from Jesus and his original disciples.

I have a hunch that Jesus has not changed his view of leadership to accommodate our modern ideas. He still expects his leaders to be have servant attitudes.

“To all the saints in Christ Jesus.”  The way Paul and Timothy led was not only shaped by how they self-identified (as servants), it was also shaped by how they identified those they were called to lead. They did not see those they were called to lead as servants, subjects, or sinners. They saw them as saints. When leaders see the people they lead as their servants, they expect service from the very people that they are supposed to serve. This entitled leadership mentality is completely opposite of the servant-leadership mentality that Jesus modeled and taught.

Jesus trained his disciples that to think and act like a leader is to think and act like a “slave” and a “servant” (Mark 10:43-45). When leaders see those they lead as subjects, they tend to act like a lord. Jesus said those far from God “lord it over” those they lead (Mark 10:42). When leaders see those they lead as sinners, they tend to expect little or nothing from them. How does this all change when leaders see and treat those they lead as saints? First of all, a saint has been transformed by the power of the gospel, so a leader should expect the best, not the worst. Secondly, a saint is filled with the Holy Spirit so a leader should trust the Holy Spirit within the person. Finally, seeing people as saints is a reminder of the price God paid to redeem them—therefore, a leader should treat them as people with great value.

No matter if you are leading thousands, hundreds, dozens, or one, try to see yourself as a servant and those you lead as saints. I know it is counterintuitive, but the more you learn to do this, the better you will lead.

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 larger 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?