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Whoever Strikes First

April 16, 2018

Deborah and I are in London this week for our annual Every Nation International Apostolic Team (IAT) meeting and Every Nation’s Build Conference for Europe. Every year, our regional team leaders from every region of the world gather together to fellowship, pray, and plan for what God has in store for our movement of churches and campus ministries.

Whenever I gather with this group of leaders, I am encouraged about the future, and I am reminded of our humble beginnings. Though we have a team full of world-class leaders, most of us would freely admit that we didn’t become leaders because we were the best and the brightest among our peers. Most of us have stories like Joab.

When David was capturing the stronghold of Zion, he needed someone to lead the charge, so he made this offer to his army: “‘Whoever strikes the Jebusites first shall be chief and commander.’ And Joab the son of Zeruiah went up first, so he became chief” (1 Chronicles 11:6). (Sounds a little like David’s own leadership story from 1 Samuel 17.)

David needed a leader—someone who would do something, someone who would take action. He didn’t need a thought leader, a vision architect, or a chief experience officer. He didn’t need a town hall meeting, a focus group, or an advisory board. He didn’t need a coach, a consultant, or a counselor.  He needed a leader.

Leaders lead. Leaders go first. Leaders take action.

Some people, especially founders, are in top leadership positions not because they are the smartest or the best or the most qualified, but simply because they did something when something needed to be done. They are leading teams now because they were the FIRST on the team—before there was a team. That’s my leadership story.

For over three decades, I have had the privilege of leading an amazing team that leads a great church in Manila. I am not the best preacher on that team. I am not the best strategic planner. I have never been the most spiritual, and I am not the most educated. I am not the best theologian. I am definitely not the best pastor.  I ended up in the “senior leader” seat because Deborah and I were crazy enough to leave, to go, to stay, and to not quit. And that’s why I got the leadership position and title.

It is good for leaders, especially founder leaders and senior leaders, to remind ourselves that we are not in our positions because we are the smartest, most spiritual, or best leaders, but because we got there first. The realization of this fact should make it easier to step aside and decrease so that next-generation leaders can take increasingly more significant leadership roles.

When I admit that I am not the best preacher or the best leader on the team, I am acknowledging that this organization is not being led by the best most skilled person. That means that it will probably survive being led by another leader and generation that is also not the best. But when I assume that I am the best leader, best preacher, best pastor, best theologian, best Christian, then I will have a more difficult time turning it over to someone whom I perceive as less than the best.

David didn’t ask for the most qualified leader. He just asked for a leader, a man of action. So he got Joab, a brilliant yet deeply flawed leader.

If you are in a leadership position, don’t mistakenly interpret that as meaning you are better or more spiritual than those you lead. Stay humble. Stay dependent on God. And, when it is time, let go of the position so another leader who will also probably not be the absolute best leader or most spiritual person can have an opportunity to make some of the same leadership mistakes you got to make.


Looking for Leaders vs Seeing Leaders

February 27, 2018

Identifying LeadersTAGAYTAY, PHILIPPINES—I am enjoying a few days in beautiful Tagaytay for our annual Every Nation Asian Leadership Team (ALT) meeting. The last time Deborah and I were here, it was for my son James’s wedding.

Whenever I gather with our leaders from Asia and hear the reports of what God is doing in their cities and nations, I am filled with hope about the future of our movement and the future of the church in Asia. I love the team of leaders we have in Asia. It is so encouraging to see the faithfulness and wisdom of our older generation of leaders and the growth and vision of our emerging crop leaders in the region.

Looking from the outside, you may think: “How lucky we are to have been blessed with such a great team!”

Yes and no.

Yes, I am grateful for the team. Our Asian Leadership Team is amazing.

But no, it is not luck. No good team happens by accident. One of our roles as leaders is to build teams.

Think about Jesus’s own life and ministry. One of the first things that He did was build a team:

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him (Mark 1:16-20).

Before Jesus had a following, before He had a title (rabbi), before He had influence, He built a team. He gathered Simon and his brother Andrew, James and his brother John, and He called them to follow Him.

But how did He build His team? What was His secret?

One of the most important words in this passage is the verb “saw.” Mark 1:16 says Jesus “saw Simon and Andrew.” Here’s the question: What did Jesus see when He saw Simon?

Did He see a young fisherman from Galilee (the Peter of Mark 1)? Or did He see a bold preacher and leader of the church (the Peter of Acts 2)?

What did Jesus see when he “saw” John? (Mark 1:19)

Did He see a young teenager tagging along with his older brother James (the John of Mark 1)? Or did He see an old man writing letters to the churches from the island of Patmos (the John of Revelation)?

Jesus saw in Peter and John not just what they were in that moment, but what they would become when they followed Him.

I so often hear established leaders tell me that they are looking for good leaders. I understand. When things are growing quickly and our growth is outpacing our leadership development, leaders are often in short supply.

However, I would encourage you to stop looking for leaders. Instead, start seeing the leaders who are right in front of you.

I am pretty sure that I would have missed Peter and John that day in Galilee. I am pretty sure I would have missed David, too (Samuel did). I am pretty sure most leaders didn’t see me either—but I am thankful for the few that did.

When we shift our focus from finding ready-made leaders to seeing future leaders, we will begin to lead like Jesus. We will begin to develop homegrown leaders and will no longer need to look elsewhere to solve our leadership shortages.

Blog / Leadership

Four Lessons From the Life of Billy Graham

February 22, 2018

Billy GrahamMANILA—Earlier today, Billy Graham, perhaps the most influential religious figure of the twentieth century, died in his home in North Carolina at the age of ninety-nine.

Right now, religious and political leaders all over the world are mourning his death and reflecting on his remarkable life. Much can be said about a man who, over six decades of ministry, preached the gospel in person to more than 100 million people in 185 nations.

Here are four things that for me summarize the legacy of Billy Graham:

1. INTEGRITY. In an era when TV preachers and traveling evangelists were synonymous with scandal, Billy Graham set a standard of integrity. That standard is one that leaders and pastors in my generation all attempt to follow. Wisely recognizing that sexual immorality, greed, and pride were the downfall of many of his fellow preachers, Graham and his staff developed the “Modesto Manifesto” to keep him and his staff above reproach. Young leaders, if you want to see what it looks like to live “above reproach,” study the life and habits of Billy Graham.

2. RECONCILIATION. Born in 1918 in the Jim Crow south, Billy Graham grew up in a world where white and black did not mix. They did not go to the same schools, did not live in the same neighborhoods, did not eat in the same restaurants, and did not worship in the same churches. And yet, early in his ministry in the 1940s and 50s, Graham refused to hold segregated revival meetings—even when preaching in the deep south. Once Graham literally took down a rope that marked off the white section from the black section in a tent meeting. Graham was criticized by white segregationist (Christians!) for being too radical and criticized by black civil rights activist for being too moderate. But it is clear that the message of reconciliation had taken deep root in the heart of this young (and soon-to-be-influential) preacher from North Carolina. In 1993, Graham wrote this about racism:

Racism is a sin precisely because it keeps us from obeying God’s command to love our neighbor, and because it has its roots in pride and arrogance. Christians who harbor racism in their attitudes or actions are not following their Lord at this point, for Christ came to bring reconciliation—reconciliation between us and God, and reconciliation between each other. He came to accept us as we are, whoever we are, “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

3. INSTITUTIONS. Though Graham is best known for his evangelistic preaching, in the annals of history, Graham’s greatest influence may be the institutions he left behind. Youth for Christ, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Christianity Today are all vital institutions that Graham helped found and will carry on his work well beyond his lifetime. He was also extremely influential in bringing together Christian leaders and organizations around the world to plan and strategize for the cause of world evangelism. Having participated in working groups organized by the Lausanne Movement (another Graham legacy), I am so thankful that Billy Graham established institutions like these to carry on the work of world mission and evangelism.

4. GOSPEL PROCLAMATION. Though I’ve been preaching for almost four decades, I am always amazed to see how God uses the preached word to accomplish His purposes. Billy Graham’s preaching has been heard by over 100 million people—over 2 billion if we include television and radio! I can only imagine the scene in heaven right now. How long will it take for Graham to meet all the millions of people who were saved through his preaching? I cannot imagine a greater reward than meeting all those people, seeing all those faces, and hearing all their stories.

Well, there is one thing greater. It is what Graham longed for all his life and pleaded with others to pursue. Today, Billy Graham is with Jesus. Today, he sees the face of the Man he called others to follow, and he hears the voice of the One who called him to preach—saying to him “well done, good and faithful servant.”



Loving to the End

November 6, 2017

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LONDON—I am now en route to Manila after a few days in the UK with Every Nation’s Europe regional director Wolfi Eckleben and our Every Nation London church. Last week in Madrid, I read a passage in John 13 that I have read over and over almost every day.

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end (John 13:1).

One part of this passage continues to stand out: “He loved them to the end.”

“Them.” Who is John referring to?

Judas—a disciple who had been with him for three years, and who, in a few minutes would leave dinner early to betray Jesus to the chief priests (John 13:21-27; 18:2-3).

Peter—One of Jesus’ closest friends, who in a few hours, would deny ever knowing Him (John 13:36-38; 18:15-18).

James and John—disciples who that same evening could not stay awake to pray with Jesus in the garden in the darkest moment of His life (Matthew 26:36-45).

Thomas—one of the twelve who was so skeptical of the reports that Jesus had risen from the dead, he demanded physical proof (John 20:24-29).

Andrew, Nathanael, Thaddeus, Matthew, Phillip, Simon the Zealot, and the other James—all of whom deserted Jesus out of fear when Judas and the chief priests came with a mob to arrest him in the garden (Matthew 26:56).

These are the people John was referring to: A betrayer. A denier. A doubter. Deserters.

And yet JESUS LOVED THEM TO THE END. Jesus loved them ANYWAY.

It’s easy for leaders to love faithful followers.

But only Christlike leaders choose to love betrayers, deniers, doubters, and deserters. Only Christlike leaders love these kinds of people till the end.

My prayer is that we as leaders and pastors would learn from Jesus’ example of leading with unconditional love till the end.

Blog / Leadership

Ministry is Partnership with God

October 26, 2017
Speaking at APEC in Pastor Timothy Loh's new building.

Speaking at APEC in Pastor Timothy Loh’s new building.

KUALA LUMPUR—Every October, Deborah and I board a plane for Asia right when Nashville is transitioning from hot, humid summer to cool, beautiful fall weather. Though we are sad to miss the leaves turning and the weather changing, we know we cannot miss Every Nation’s annual Asian Pastors Equipping Conference (APEC). It is always one of the highlights of my year.

This year, APEC is being hosted by Pastor Timothy Loh and our Every Nation churches in Malaysia. We are gathering this week for a time of fellowship, equipping, and prayer. I am always inspired when I hear reports from around Asia of what God is doing among Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and other unreached groups in the region. Some of those reports I can share from the pulpit (or write about in my blog), but for security reasons, most of these stories you will have to hear in heaven (or at APEC next year).

In the opening session of APEC, I spoke from Matthew 4:18-19 about the idea that “God Builds His Kingdom.”

As ministers and leaders, we often see ourselves as the chief builders. But we need to be reminded that we are not the chief builders. God is. Our role is to make disciples. God’s role is to build His kingdom. We labor, but ultimately, God builds (see Psalm 127).

We are not called to work for God; we are called to work with God.

In fact, ministry is partnership with God. We are not servants. We are not contract labor. We are sons and daughters working with our Father in His harvest field.

When we truly understand that ministry is partnership with God, three things will happen:

1. We will be free to dream big. When we buy the enemy’s lie that building our church or our ministry is entirely up to us, we will always end up dreaming small dreams. We will always end up setting manageable goals—things that we think we can accomplish on our own. But when we realize that ministry is partnership with God, then we will be free to embrace God-sized and God-given dreams. Dreams that scare us. Dreams that disrupt our lives. Dreams that we can’t afford on our current church budget. Dreams that require God to come through.

2. We will be free from pride and insecurity. When we buy the enemy’s lie that we are the primary (even the only) builders, then we will be inflated by our successes and deflated by our failures. We will begin to think that church and ministry and leadership is about our glory and not God’s. But when we recognize that God is the chief builder (and we are merely laboring with Him), then we will be delivered from the temptation to find glory in ministry success. “Success” in ministry (baptisms, growth, miracles) has always been and always will be about one thing: God’s glory.

3. We will be free to rest. When we buy the enemy’s lie that everything is up to us, we will never be able to rest. Even when we go through the motions of having a sabbath, we will be restless and anxious—worried about last week’s attendance (and offering), worried about next week’s sermon; and/or worried about failing as a church planter or campus minister. But when we recognize that God has been building His church since before we were born and will keep building until Jesus returns, then we are freed to rest from our labors. Not merely to take a day off once a week, but to find deep soul rest. To rejoice in what He has already done, and to look ahead to what He is going to do in and through our lives as we join in Him in His mission.

Whether we are an ordained senior pastor or a new small group leader, we need to be reminded that the call to discipleship in Matthew 4 is neither a call to supreme leadership (as a chief builder) or to supreme servitude (as a hired laborer)—it is a call to partnership with God as He builds His Kingdom.


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.