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Leadership Is NOT… (Part 2)

February 27, 2017

Dwight Schrute

This blog is the second post in a five-part series on leadership called “Leadership Is…” To read more, check out the first and third posts.

NASHVILLE—Last week, we opened up this short series on leadership with the crucial question: “What is leadership?”

If the teachings of Jesus (especially in Mark 10) can clarify for us what leadership is (hint: serving); then maybe Dwight Schrute can help us understand what leadership is not.

For those of you not familiar with the popular television show, “The Office,” one of the central characters is a very ambitious and relationally clueless employee named Dwight. His greatest ambition in life is to be a loyal employee of Dunder Mifflin, a small paper company, and to eventually replace his boss, Michael Scott, as the Regional Manager of Dunder Mifflin’s small Scranton office.

Since Michael enjoys Dwight’s loyalty and above-and-beyond service, he creates a title for Dwight: “Assistant to the Regional Manager.” However, all throughout the show, Dwight regularly drops the preposition “to” and simply refers to himself as the “Assistant Regional Manager.” This is usually when Michael is gone, and Dwight is trying to pull rank on his colleagues in the office. As one might expect, no one is ever persuaded to follow Dwight’s lead when he starts his sentences with “As assistant regional manager, I order you to…” In fact, Dwight’s power grabs are alway countered with sarcasm and never taken seriously by his co-workers at the office.

Why?

Because leadership is not position or title.

Some of the best leaders I have met over the years did not (at least at the time) have a leadership position or title in the organization that they were serving. But they acted like leaders anyway. It’s not that they were presumptuous or insubordinate. What made them leaders was that they took initiative to serve and solve problems, and others saw their example and decided to follow.

Do you want to be a leader?

Then take initiative and start serving. Lead by example and others will follow. It’s that simple. You will never become a leader if you wait for someone to give you a title, a salary, a budget, a staff, an office, and a website.

You can start leading wherever you are right now.

NOTE: This blog was adapted from my new book, The Multiplication Challenge. For more discussion on leadership and service, check out Chapter 2, entitled, “How to Act Like a Leader.”

Blog / Book / Leadership

Leadership Is… (Part 1)

February 20, 2017

Fill in the Blank

This blog is the first post in a five-part series on leadership called “Leadership Is…” To read more, check out the second and third posts.

DUBAI—Complete this sentence: “Leadership is … ”

What word did you put in the blank?

Influence? Power? Responsibility? Authority? Position?

I imagine that unless we’re all reading the same leadership book at the same time, this fill-in-the-blank statement will yield a number of different responses—some helpful and others not so helpful; some accurate and others flawed.

When Jesus defined leadership to his disciples, he put it this way:

You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant (diakonos), and whoever would be first among you must be slave (doulos) of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:42-45)

In Jesus’ day, most people would have completed the sentence this way: “Leadership is authority.” That’s how the Romans did it. And that’s how many Jews in Jesus’ day thought about leadership (including his own disciples). To them, leadership was all about getting people to serve you.

Jesus claimed the exact opposite.

He argued that leadership is all about serving others. In fact, Jesus said that whoever wants to lead well needs to think and act like a servant.

This is what he told James and John when they asked him if they could sit at his right and left hand in heaven (Mark 10:35-37). They were looking for position and authority, and Jesus was trying to tell them that they had missed the point.

I think we often miss the point as well when we teach this story from the Bible. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard pastors (including myself) explain this text by saying, “You see here, Jesus doesn’t rebuke James and John for wanting to be great, but rather, He redefines greatness by saying that we must become servants.”

What’s wrong with that explanation? Well, nothing really. But here’s what’s often implied by the pastor and understood by the listener in this illustration: service is the pathway to leadership. If you serve, then you’ll become great. Serve today, so that one day, you’ll lead.

In other words, service is the means, and leadership is the end.

As good as that sounds, it’s not what Jesus was saying. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of what Jesus was trying to teach His disciples.

Jesus makes it clear that He came to serve. Serving and saving sinful humanity was an end in itself—not a means to leadership and greatness. For Jesus, leading was a means to serve. Not vice versa. When correcting the way the disciples thought about leadership, service, and greatness, Jesus suggested that their desire for greatness looked a lot like the desires of the oppressive Roman leaders of the day, wanting leadership for the sake of leadership. The disciples were thinking like people who grasp position and authority not to serve others, but to have others serve them.

What motivates you as a leader? Do you look more like Jesus, or James and John (in Mark 10)?

Over the next few weeks, we will explore what biblical leadership looks like, and think about how we can all lead more like Jesus.

[NOTE: This blog was adapted from my new book, The Multiplication Challenge. For further discussion on leadership and service, check out Chapter 1, entitled, “How to Think Like a Leader.”]

Blog / Church / Leadership

9 Tips for Young Preachers

February 6, 2017

pulpit-web-versionSAGADA, PHILIPPINES—The pastor of a large church recently asked me if I would be willing to provide sermon coaching to help his youth pastor. After a couple of phone conversations about ministry and preaching, I sent a stream-of-conscience email to the fledgling preacher that included nine somewhat random preaching tips.

1. INTRO. Concerning a sermon introduction, shorter is always better. Get to the text as fast as you can. Long introductions are rarely helpful, and often become a distraction. Move all non-essential stories, words, ideas from the intro, and if those stories, words, or ideas deserve to be in the sermon, you can always insert them after reading the text.

2. READ. While preaching, never speed-read your text, or shorten it by only reading a small portion. Read the whole text with passion, pauses, emotion, energy, and emphasis—with no comments until you finish reading the whole text. Let the text speak. Approach the reading of the text as the most important part of the sermon.

3. TEXT. After reading the text, preach the text. Stay in the text. Go deep in the text. Make sure everything you say is coming from the text. Remember that life-changing power is in His word, not in your words.

4. CONTEXT. Do not bore your audience with contextual trivia. While explaining the context is necessary, resist the temptation to say everything you now know about ancient Middle Eastern food, geography, and religion.  Delete every context comment that does not directly contribute to the your main point. Leave it on the editing floor, or save it for another message.

5. STOP. Prepare how you will stop your sermon, and plan to stop five minutes before your time limit. A rushed ending is not a good ending, so make sure you plan plenty of time to end properly.

6. HEART. It is more important for people to catch God’s heart about the text/topic than to remember your points. If they catch God’s heart, they will be transformed. If they remember your points, well, they actually won’t remember them, so focus on the heart.

7. LOVE. Effective preaching requires more than properly exegeting a text, it also demands a proper exegesis of the culture and community. In other words, good preaching requires loving the Bible and loving the people listening. Don’t preach until you are certain that you actually know, understand, love, and care for the people who will hear your sermon. Preaching is supposed to be a “speaking the truth in love” thing, therefore love is somewhat important.

8. ACTION. When we want to move people to action, especially evangelistic action, it is better to emphasize what Christ did for us rather than what we do for Him. My favorite seminary homiletics professor said it like this, “Preachers either guilt or gospel their people to action.” Since most church people already have more than enough guilt, preachers might want to pick the gospel option.

9. AUDIENCE. God is your ultimate audience. Preach to honor Him. Do not preach to please the senior pastor, the first-time visitor, the big tither, or the know-it-all critic. The best preaching is done to please the Lord, even if no one else is pleased.

 

Blog / Leadership

What I Will Miss about President Obama

January 23, 2017

President Obama

ORLANDO—This weekend, America witnessed its forty-fourth peaceful transfer of presidential power. Over the last few weeks, the media has looked ahead at America’s future with Donald Trump as president, and they’ve looked back at Barack Obama’s legacy.

Since I am not a prophet, I will refrain from making any predictions about President Trump’s upcoming term in office. Instead, I will look back on President Obama’s time as America’s forty-fourth president.

While I disagreed with many of his policies, and while the Obama administration has championed certain “progressive” political and cultural developments that I find morally regressive and theologically problematic, I have also learned a great deal about leadership from President Obama.

Here are three leadership qualities modeled by President Obama that I wish all leaders would practice:

1. His ability to remain civil in the midst of bitter political battles. It is no secret that President Obama faced bitter opposition throughout his presidency. While every president will be criticized for their policies and decisions, many of President Obama’s critics went well-beyond the bounds of professional critique and engaged in ugly partisanship and even racist rhetoric. Despite the deafening criticism (some justified, some unjustified) he received as president, he almost always managed to remain civil and gracious toward those with whom he disagreed. He chose not to lash out at his many critics, but instead, he modeled brilliantly (at the highest stage of power!) how leaders should respond to criticism and opposition—with a soft heart and with thick skin.

2. His decision to prioritize family in the midst of the busiest job in the world. Despite the fact that he has the most demanding schedule on the planet, and despite the fact that he himself grew up without a father, President Obama prioritizes time with his children. Not only is he a devoted father, but he is also a faithful husband to his wife of twenty-five years. In an American political scene filled with scandal and extramarital affairs, it is refreshing to see a president who walks in integrity and resists the temptations that have ensnared so many men and women in elected office.

3. His efforts to ensure a smooth leadership transition to a political rival. Besides Hillary Clinton, no one in the world must be more disappointed by the recent election than Barack Obama. Not only did Donald Trump viciously criticize President Obama throughout his campaign, but he promised to reverse many of Obama’s landmark political achievements. And yet, over the last two months, Obama has made great efforts to ensure a smooth leadership transition. In a time when people in Barack Obama’s party are calling Trump’s presidency “illegitimate,” President Obama is doing to the unpopular thing and setting up his political enemy for success. This is not an easy thing to do. I’ve seen pastors undermine their successors (even ones they picked!) out of insecurity and incompetence. Passing the baton is always difficult; but passing the baton to a political rival is incredibly difficult. Established leaders would do well to watch and learn from President Obama’s example.

For these reasons I am thankful for President Obama’s leadership example, despite our political differences. I have been praying for him for the last eight years, and I will probably continue to pray for him as he transitions into new places of influence.

But now I have also begun praying for America’s newest president—that he will lead with integrity and wisdom, and that he (like the rest of us) will learn from President Obama’s example of civility, integrity, and gracious leadership.

Blog / Church / Leadership

Planning for Every Nation Theological Seminary

November 14, 2016

School classroom with school desks and blackboard in Japanese high school

NASHVILLE – Just got back from Manila this weekend, and I am looking forward to a full week in our Every Nation office in Nashville. One of my first meetings this week was with missiologist and (recently appointed) Billy Graham Professor of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, Ed Stetzer. Ed has spoken at numerous Every Nation conferences and has consulted with us for many years. Today, we talked about theological education, and the future of Every Nation Theological Seminary. I loved hearing Ed’s wisdom on how to be successful at both theological education and leadership development.

Before heading into our meeting, I jotted down five words that have emerged in conversations with Every Nation leaders about what matters most for us in theological education and leadership development.

1. Missional: Our schools exist to inspire and equip people for mission. We are called to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), and our schools of ministry are designed to serve that goal. Theology and mission are inseparable. If we do theology without mission, then we engage in pointless academic exercises. If we do mission without theology, then we will drift away from the gospel as we engage the culture.

2. Global: As a global family of local churches whose goal is to reach every nation in our generation, we need to remember to be “global” in at least two ways. First, we need to teach our students how to contextualize the truths of the gospel for their target culture and language. Second, we need to remind our teachers that our students come from a wide variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and our classes need to be accessible and engaging to students from every nation.

3. Practical: Though I hope that some of our students will pursue further study and become vocational theologians (and future teachers at ENTS), most of our students will become church planters, campus missionaries, and cross-cultural missionaries. We never want to lose sight of the practical implications of theological education. We are primarily training practitioners; and ultimately, all the head knowledge in the world means nothing if we can’t translate that knowledge into effective ministry practices.

4. Transformational: As a movement that believes in the present work of the Holy Spirit to transform us on the inside and empower us to witness, we believe that theological education and leadership development must go beyond the mere transfer of information. To produce students who are better informed is not enough. We want each of our students to be transformed as they engage their minds and hearts to learn about more God, the Church, and the Word.

5. Doxological: “We exist to honor God…” Those are the first five words of Every Nation’s mission statement, and they are the most important. They always will be. We hope that all of our students come out of our schools with a greater love for theology and for mission. But above all, we want to cultivate in our students a greater love for God. Ultimately, theology and mission share the same end—the glory of God. So we train leaders and send them to ends of the earth because we, like John, are captivated by the vision of “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb… and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.’” (Revelation 7:9-10)

Blog / Discipleship / Leadership / Uncategorized

My Thoughts on the Election

November 8, 2016

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are tightening their grips on the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.

HO CHI MINH CITY – Tomorrow will end one of the most bizarre and polarizing election cycles in American history.

The candidates from the two leading parties are deeply unpopular (with good reason). And Evangelicals are deeply divided over how they should vote—or if they should vote at all.

Considering that the Bible has little to say about electoral politics (they didn’t have elections back then), here’s some wisdom from John Wesley:

I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them, 1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy; 2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against; and 3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side. (From The Journal of John Wesley, October 6, 1774)

Whether you will be voting tomorrow in the United States elections or voting in a highly contested election somewhere else in the world, here’s how we can take Wesley’s wise advice to heart.

1. Vote for whom you think is most worthy. A simple yet often forgotten point about voting. It’s your vote; so you decide. Don’t worry about the pundits. Don’t worry about pleasing your peers. Don’t worry about pleasing your pastor. Vote for whom you think is most worthy—whether they are a Republican, Democrat, Independent, or a write-in.

2. Speak no evil of the candidate you voted against. In an election season when most people feel that they are in fact choosing between the “lesser of two evils,” it can be tempting to justify your vote by simply describing how “evil” the other candidate is. But as Christians, we are called to a different standard. Our words, even when critiquing a candidate, need to be full of grace. And our attitude should be that of humility—recognizing that apart from God’s grace, we are no better or less sinful than even the most corrupt and morally-bankrupt candidate.

3. Do not sharpen your soul against people who voted differently than you. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say: “I don’t know how someone who calls themselves a Christian can vote for _______.” If you find yourself saying or thinking that, I would suggest that either your circle of friends is too small—or that you’ve spent too much time on the echo-chamber of social media, where you usually only see the newsfeeds of people who think just like you. I guarantee you that people in your local church are not all voting for the same person. Even if you’ve wrestled and prayed over your decision and feel that it is the best vote a committed Christian can make, know that other committed Christians, who have put in similar thought and prayer, will be voting for another candidate (Ed Stetzer has compiled a series of opposing viewpoints from prominent evangelicals that you can view here). Guard your heart from pride and don’t allow the vitriol and disunity of the culture to creep into the church.

As I have said to my church on many election days in the Philippines, we may have a new president; but Jesus is still King. So let’s live (and vote) like it.

Blog / Church / Leadership

My Top 4 Weaknesses as a Preacher

November 2, 2016

pulpit-web-versionMANILA – In an Asbury seminary course on preaching, I recently wrote a reflection paper where I talked about my strengths and weaknesses as a preacher. In the interest of time, I’ll just give the weaknesses. Besides, as Michael Scott famously said, “my weaknesses are actually … strengths.” Not really. But here goes.

1. Blurring the line between personal devotions and sermon preparation. Though I have maintained a consistent habit of daily Bible reading for many decades, I must confess that sometimes the line dividing my personal devotional reading and my sermon study has been blurred by the demands of an overstuffed schedule. Whenever my daily devotions turn into a frantic search for sermon material rather than a search for God, both my sermons and my soul suffer. Whenever I see this happening, I need to stop and (re)establish a wall of separation between my daily devotional reading and my sermon study. This requires that I set and stick with specific times for daily devotional reading, as well as weekly sermon study times. How do you maintain this distinction between personal devotions and sermon preparation?

2. Being overly reliant on the ideas of others. In Victory-Manila, I am privileged to work with an amazing team of preachers who prepare sermons together so that everyone can be on the same page as we preach the same text in Victory-Manila’s 133 weekend worship services. I am certain that I write and preach better sermons when I work with the team than when I write and preach alone. However, there is a real temptation to lean too much on the team rather than doing the hard work of in-depth study myself. It is also tempting and easy to listen to the team rather than listening to the text or to the Holy Spirit. Whether you prepare sermons with a team or simply borrow from existig sermon materials, make sure that you spend time wrestling with the text yourself.

3. Consulting commentaries and study guides too early. A related weakness that can creep into sermon preparation is the tendency to consult the commentaries too soon in the process. As a new preacher, I couldn’t afford a large library, so I was dependent on the Bible and the Holy Spirit. But now that I have access to shelves of great commentaries, it is so easy to skip the crucial process of inductive Bible study and jump straight to the expert opinions. Expert opinions are helpful–they provide valuable scholarly insights and ensure that our interpretations are on track. But no commentary can replace the role of a preacher in finding fresh and timely insight from the Word for his or her particular local church context. This requires time and a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.

4. Paraphrasing rather than reading the Biblical text. For too many years, I have intentionally read only a short portion of my Bible text and explained the rest of the text as my sermon unfolded. In my summer homiletics class, I was repeatedly reminded that the reading of the text is a vital part of the sermon—not a preliminary to the sermon—and that the text needs to be read with energy, emotion, and conviction. If the reading of Scripture was good enough for the early church (see 1 Timothy 4:13), then it is good enough for the modern church. By paraphrasing rather than reading long portions of scripture, I realized that I was depriving my hearers of experiencing the Scriptures as they were designed to be experienced. Never forget that the Bible is the Word of God–and our churches need to hear it.

No matter how long you’ve been preaching, there is always room for growth. If you preach on a regular basis, I encourage you to make a short list of your own weaknesses as a preacher, and see how you can turn your weaknesses into strengths.

Blog / Leadership / Missions

Top 10 Books for Church Planters

October 26, 2016

Book Covers

MANILA, PHILIPPINES. I recently received an email from a pastor and friend of mine who asked me to recommend some books on church-planting. Here’s the list I sent him, in no particular order.

1. Starting a New Church by Ralph Moore (2002). Church-planting wisdom from one of the most prolific church planters of my generation.

2. Breaking the Missional Code by Ed Stetzer & David Putnam (2006). Thoughts on how to apply the missionary mind-set to church planting.

3. The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman (1963). The classic work on making disciples.

4. WikiChurch by Steve Murrell (2011). The story of Victory Manila and the case for the four E’s of discipleship.

5. The Lego Principle by Joey Bonifacio (2012). A book on the importance of connecting to God and connecting to others.

6. Simple Church by Thom Rainer & Eric Geiger (2006). The best practical how-to book on doing church.

7. Natural Church Development by Christian Schwarz (1996). A helpful check-list of “eight essential qualities of healthy churches.”

8. The Trellis and the Vine by A.S. Payne & Colin Marshall (2009). A biblical way of thinking about structure and systems.

9. The Multiplication Challenge by Steve Murrell (2016). A strategy to solve your leadership shortage.

10. Movements that Change the World by Steve Anderson (2011). A book that will remind church planters to focus on the big picture.

Whether you’re a young pastor planting your first church or you’re an experienced church planter who has planted many churches, I can’t stress enough the importance of reading. You will never outgrow the need to learn more; and you will probably never make it through all the good books on the topic of church planting.

If you invest the time (and money) into books like these, you will see an exponential return in your life and in the life of your church.

Blog / Church / Discipleship / Leadership

Post-Conference Thoughts: Back to Work

October 18, 2016

Every Nation World Conference

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, USA.  Deborah and I just got back to Nashville from Cape Town, South Africa, where we attended the Every Nation World Conference with thousands of delegates from fifty-eight nations. For those of you who couldn’t make it, check out the recap video(s) and mark your calendars for the next world conference—coming in 2019.

I often find that when I return home from a conference, I’m re-energized to pursue God’s mission for my life and my church, but sometimes I don’t know where to start. There are so many new ideas running through my head and so many pages of notes to sift through. How can I begin to implement the global vision and mission in my local context? And how can I convey the big picture to staff and leaders in my local church who weren’t at the conference?

As leaders, sometimes it can be difficult to translate the momentum of a world conference into concrete action in your local church context.

My advice: keep things simple. Channel all of your energy and momentum into building strong and healthy local churches and campus ministries. Building a strong, healthy church and campus ministry is not complicated. Difficult—yes. Complicated—no. The starting point for a leader is to focus on the few things that really matter: discipleship, worship, and leadership.

Strong, healthy churches and campus ministries must be great in these three areas:

1. Discipleship. As I’ve said many times before, God calls us to make disciples. When we do that, He will build His church. To assess how you’re doing in this area, ask yourself these four questions: Are we actively engaging our culture and community? Are we consistently establishing biblical foundations—in both new believers and old-timers? Are we effectively equipping every member to be a minister of the Gospel? Are we empowering disciples to make disciples?

2. Worship. Though I haven’t written this book (yet), you might say that there are 4 S’s to worship—singing, sermons, service, and sacrament. To assess how your church is doing in this area, ask yourself these four questions: Do the songs we sing together as a church point us to Jesus and motivate us for mission? Are the sermons we preach theologically sound, culturally relevant, and Christ-centered? Does our “spiritual worship” (see Romans 12:1) include service outside the church walls? Does our worship prioritize and celebrate the sacraments of communion and baptism—or have they become empty rituals?

3. Leadership. As I’ve written recently, leadership development is crucial whether your church or campus ministry is small or large, growing or stagnant, new or old. To assess how your church or campus ministry is doing in this area, ask yourself these four questions: Are we actively identifying emerging leaders? Are we providing opportunities for instruction so that our emerging leaders can grow? Are we creating time for impartation so that we can pass on to future leaders the vision, values, and mission of our church? Are we making opportunities for internships so that emerging leaders can work alongside and learn from established leaders?

Allow these questions to help you focus your energy and post-conference momentum on the things that really matter.

Blog / Family / Leadership

Parenting Lessons from the World’s Busiest Father

September 26, 2016

President Barack Obama and his daughters, Malia, left, and Sasha, watch on television as First Lady Michelle Obama takes the stage to deliver her speech at the Democratic National Convention, in the Treaty Room of the White House, Tuesday night, Sept. 4, 2012.  (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

DETROIT, MICHIGAN, USA. This weekend I was in Detroit ministering with Bishop Marvin Winans  at Perfecting Church, a great church in a great city. I’ll probably write more about that in a future blog. My last blog was about parenting lessons from a funeral. This week’s blog offers tips for the ultra-busy parent.

One of the main reasons why it is often so difficult to engage our children is that intentional engagement takes time. There are no short cuts. There is no outsourcing. You can only engage your children if you spend time with them.

It’s so easy to make excuses and point to our busy schedules. You probably are busy—but probably not as busy as the President of the United States.

Here’s what he said in an essay on balancing work and family:

Even with our jam-packed days, Michelle and I work hard to carve out certain blocks of family time that are sacrosanct. For example, at 6:30 p.m., no matter how busy I am, I leave work to go upstairs and have dinner with my family. That’s inviolable. My staff knows that it pretty much takes a national emergency to keep me away from that dinner table…

So for an hour or so at dinner, my focus is not on my day, but on theirs… The highlight of my day is just listening to their thoughts about the world and seeing what smart, funny, kind young women they’ve become. That hour recharges me and gives me perspective…

And like many parents of high school juniors who are excitedly touring college campuses, I’m already dreading that empty seat at the table when Malia goes off to school next fall. I can feel myself lingering at the table a little longer, trying to stave off the passage of time. But for as long as possible, I’m going to enjoy every minute of finally having us all together under one roof.

These are the words of a father who is engaged in the lives of his two daughters.

Despite the fact that he has the busiest and most demanding schedule on the planet and despite the fact that he himself grew up without a father, President Obama has decided to prioritize time with children.

Do you?