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Leadership

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.

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

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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

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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.