SteveMurrell.com | Reluctant Leader

Browsing Category Leadership

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?

Blog / Discipleship / Leadership

Why You Should Stop Searching for Authentic Community

September 12, 2016

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

TOKYO AIRPORT. A few weeks ago, my oldest son, William, preached a sermon at Bethel’s Wednesday night service on the importance of church community.

He opened with this quote from German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945):

Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. [from Life Together (1939)]

The main idea behind Bonhoeffer’s quote is that Christian community is not about warm feelings—it’s about active engagement. I often hear people say they don’t feel like their church is creating authentic community.

The truth is: it doesn’t really matter.

Because our job is not to create authentic community. Our job is to participate in it. If you see the creation of authentic Christian community as the church’s responsibility, you’ll constantly be disappointed in your pastor or your church or even yourself. But if we see Christian community as an eternal spiritual reality—created and sustained by God in Christ—then we will be freed to love and serve and forgive even when we don’t feel like it.

So how do we participate in Christian community?

The answer may be disappointingly obvious. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I regularly attend weekly worship gatherings—or do other weekend activities take priority?
  • Do I faithfully tithe to my local church—or do I hold back in giving because I have an issue with the new building program?
  • Do I actively participate in weekly small group discipleship—or do I complain that my church feels too big?
  • Do I willingly serve at my church—or do I come only to get fed?
  • Do I thank God for my local church family—or do I fantasize about finding a better, more “authentic” church community?

Like our natural families, spiritual family is real whether we feel it or not—and whether we like everyone or not. We don’t have to create it. God already did that.

All we have to do is engage.

Blog / Leadership

Habits that Destroy Ministry

September 7, 2016

rope-1081947_960_720

Last week, I blogged about three habits that sustain ministry: public worship, personal devotion, and private service. When we do these three things consistently, not only will we avoid burn out, but we will set ourselves up to finish well.

Whenever we do an “autopsy” of a pastor who burned out or dropped out of ministry, we usually find that not only did they neglect the good habits that sustain ministry, but they picked up a few bad habits that destroy ministry.

Here are three of the most common (yet lethal) ones:

1. Uncontrolled Busyness: This may seem like a strange way to start the list. Isn’t being a pastor or church planter all about hard work? Isn’t it a good thing if you can manage to teach an early morning foundations class, then preach multiple services, then teach a membership class, then grab a quick lunch with your family before you head across town to preach at your new evening service? Isn’t it a good thing if you can squeeze in online seminary courses and work on a book project and maintain a blog all while pastoring your church? It depends. Being a pastor requires hard work and holy ambition. It requires that we wear lots of different hats. But it also requires that we learn the art of saying no. It requires that we learn how to distinguish what activities are most important, and which ones can be delegated or dropped altogether. If we regularly fall prey to uncontrolled busyness, our church may look great, but something else will suffer—usually our families, our health, and our souls.

2. Unexamined Success: Like uncontrolled busyness, unexamined success is deadly because we can pick up the habit and have no idea that anything is wrong. Your church is growing rapidly. You’re receiving invitations to speak at conferences. Your church bank account is overflowing. As much as I love church growth, increased influence, and financial blessing, these are all terrible indicators of ministry success. Personally, I care more about about how many people are showing up for weekday discipleship groups than for weekend worship services. Big conferences can be great, but they’re not nearly as important to me as a weekly staff meetings with my core team. Financial surplus is a blessing, but the best indicator of ministry success is what we do with our surplus (hint: give it to missions). Success can be blinding, so make sure to examine it carefully. And make sure you don’t lose sight of what is most important.

3. Unconfessed Sin: This may seem obvious. Of course, habitual hidden sin can reap terrible consequences in the life of a pastor. But there is nothing easier for a pastor to do than to encourage everyone in their church to confess their sins to one-another and assume that somehow they are the exception. Sometimes pastors are trying to hide, but other times they simply feel like they don’t have a peer in the church with whom they can be vulnerable. It’s normal for pastors to feel this way, but it doesn’t excuse us from finding and cultivating these crucial relationships. Whether it’s a close friend from another city or a pastor in your own city from another church, it’s important to find people who you feel comfortable being vulnerable with. Confession is always awkward and always requires humility. If we try to deal with sin on our own, we will not win. We need the power of the Holy Spirit and the encouragement of others to walk in victory.

In reality, uncontrolled busyness, unexamined success, and unconfessed sin are most prevalent in leaders who isolate themselves and live an unaccountable life. These habits that destroy ministry are easy to slip into, and they are difficult to detect.

That’s why we can’t walk alone.

Blog / Leadership

3 Habits that Sustain Ministry

August 30, 2016

water

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, USA. Last month, I took a class at Asbury Theological Seminary called “Habits that Sustain Ministry.” It seems like the longer I’m in ministry, the more important I realize this is. The truth is that alongside the many privileges and joys of vocational ministry, there is also a weight of ministry that over time can become extremely heavy. While doing their best to do the work of  ministry and carry the weight of ministry, many good leaders burn out, foul out, or drop out.

Two weeks after my Asbury class I was in Manila talking to our core leaders about spiritual formation and we came up with three essential habits we wanted all Victory pastors to master.

1. PUBLIC WORSHIP: If you’re a pastor of a church, this may seem like an odd suggestion. As a pastor, it’s likely that no one spends more time in church (and preparing for church) than you. But here’s the question: do you actively participate in public worship? You may have picked the set list, but do you sing the songs with all your heart? You may have preached the sermon, but have you applied it to your own life? You may have distributed the communion elements, but have you examined your own soul as you take the bread and the wine? Do you participate in public worship, or do you give yourself excuses not to? I know that Sundays can be an exhausting work day for a pastor—especially if you run multiple services. But I would strongly encourage you to find ways to participate in the worship gathering that you and your staff have worked so hard to prepare for your church community. They need it, and so do you.

2. PERSONAL DEVOTION: One of the great ironies of preaching and teaching the Bible for a living is that we as pastors can sometimes lose sight of the how the Bible applies to our own lives. How often do we sit down for our devotional time and end up preparing our Sunday sermons instead? How often do we find our own prayer time interrupted by emails and phone calls and texts related to work and ministry? How often do we take a Sabbath—and end up working the whole day to solve a church “emergency?” Sermons must be prepared and crises must be managed, but we cannot allow the responsibilities of ministry to crowd out our own personal devotional time. If we are not reading and meditating on God’s word for ourselves, then we will not be able to preach with the conviction and power God’s word deserves. If we are not praying in private, we will not have the wisdom, peace, and clarity to deal with the day-to-day demands of ministry. And if we are not following God’s command to rest, then sooner or later, we will burn out.

3. PRIVATE SERVICE: “Service?” you may ask yourself. “My entire job is about serving other people!” But here’s the question: how often do you do works of service simply because you are a Christian (and not because you’re a pastor)? If you have a family, then much of your “off-duty” serving can (and should) happen at home. But ask yourself, when is the last time I served the poor—and didn’t tweet or blog about it? When is the last time I served my neighbor in a practical way—simply because Jesus calls us to love our neighbors? When is the last time I served my community by participating in the local parent teacher association or serving as a baseball or soccer coach? As pastors, it’s  important to find small opportunities to serve in secret. Why? Because most of our service—preaching, teaching, and leading—happens in public and it can be easy to become addicted to public praise. But as Jesus reminds us, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them… But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matt. 6:1, 3-4)

Whether you’re a rookie church-planter or you’re a veteran cross-cultural missionary, you will never outgrow these habits that sustain ministry. When we actively engage in public worship, when we consistently prioritize personal devotion, and when we secretly participate in private service, we’ll find, like the psalmist, that our “cup runs over” (Psalm 23:5)–and our ministry will simply be out of the overflow.

Blog / Book / Family / Leadership

To Empower or Not to Empower? That is the Leadership Question

April 20, 2016

Arrows in Quiver

MANILA, PHILIPPINES.  Because of my latest book, My First, Second & Third Attempts at Parenting, Deborah and I have been doing our “Heart of Parenting” seminars more than ever. During the Q&A portion of the seminars, we are often asked questions about adult children. Our answer is always the same. Using the language of Psalm 127 that refers to children as arrows, we encourage parents of adults to intentionally empty their quivers.

Arrows are made for the target, not for the quiver, therefore we tell parents of adults, “take your adult kids out of the safety of the quiver, take your hands off, let go, and let them fly toward their God-ordained target.”

The same idea applies to leadership development in your church and campus ministry. Just like parents with adult children permanently hiding in the quiver, many pastors have quivers full of potential leaders who rarely get an opportunity to actually lead. These keepers of the quiver boast of having a “deep bench,” but no one is actually in the game.

Like all strong leaders, Elisha the prophet attracted scores of potential leaders. They were called his spiritual sons. Like real sons and daughters, Elisha’s spiritual sons knew they were not destined to stay in the safety of the quiver forever, so they spoke up.

Now the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, ‘See, the place where we dwell under your charge is too small for us.’ (2 Kings 6:1)

Of course it was too small. They were called to lead, not to wait forever to be allowed to do something significant. Because real leaders want to lead, and because real leaders think big, it’s only matter of time before they tell their leader that the quiver “where we dwell under your charge is too small for us.”

At some point, everyone who equips leaders will hear this sentiment from next-generation leaders. What you do next will determine whether you multiply or collect leaders and whether you build a leadership multiplication culture or a one-man-show culture.

Notice Elisha’s response.

Go. (2 Kings 6:2)

I am sure Elisha could have responded with a list of character flaws and unfinished leadership tasks. But instead, he allowed them to get out of the quiver and let them fly through the air toward their bullseye.

Releasing leaders is risky for them and for us, but if we want a multiplying leadership culture, we must take our hands off and let them go.

If you are a leader today, at some point someone took their hands off and empowered you to fly toward your target. I am sure you were not totally ready, but you were released anyway.

Potential leaders will only become productive leaders if they are empowered, and it is up to us to empower them…and to let them GO!

Blog / Leadership

Theological Education or Leadership Development?

April 14, 2016

Pencil on Bible

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, USA. Being a global ministry working in unreached nations, many of our recently ordained Every Nation pastors were raised as Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, or atheists. As such, most had zero Bible knowledge before meeting our mission teams. Now, just a few years later, these relatively new Christians are serving as campus missionaries, church planters, and pastors.

It did not require vast wisdom to recognize the need to upgrade the theological foundations of Every Nation’s global pastors.

One year ago I was part of an international team that met in Istanbul to make decisions about minimum theological standards for an Every Nation Churches & Ministries pastor anywhere in the world. If someone is an ordained Every Nation pastor in Katmandu, Bangkok, or London, what are our minimal biblical and theological educational standards? That Istanbul discussion set into motion what is now called Leadership 215. (Inspired by 2 Timothy 2:15)

As part of the Leadership 215 development team, this week I have had a back-and-forth email discussion with Every Nation leaders in Asia, Europe, and North America about our need for pedagogical clarification.

As I read the email thread from brilliant and dedicated global teachers, I quickly realized that while I was not the smartest man in the conversation, nevertheless I had a unique perspective that made my ideas matter. So after looking up the definition of “pedagogical” and several other arcane words (commonly used by dead and mostly dead European theologians) I threw in my two cents worth, which addressed two points.

1. One Team vs. One Genius.  While I am grateful for the teachers who are doing most of the Leadership 215 heavy-lifting, obtaining the “pedagogical clarification” we desired, would require the input of teachers and non-teachers. The non-teachers include pushy apostles, mystical prophets, loud evangelists, practical pastors, and young zealous campus missionaries. Being a teacher, I find it much easier to work with a team of teachers. When I’m with teachers, we almost always agree. But when I add those other people to the conversation, we rarely agree and it often becomes messy.  But despite the messiness, when it comes to leadership development, we are much better together. One team of average minds working together is more productive than one genius working alone.

2. Leadership Development vs. Theological Education. Since the beginning of our Leadership 215 project, I have filed all related documents under “leadership development” not under “theological education.” To the untrained eye this might look like a minor issue, but I think it is an important distinction. My filing label reminds me that the purpose of the Leadership 215 project is not primarily theological education, but leadership development. Theological education is an important part of leadership development, but it is only a part. It is common to succeed in theological education and fail in leadership development, but it is impossible to succeed in leadership development and fail in theological education. In other words, there are many great theologians who can’t spell leadership. But there are no great spiritual leaders who can’t spell theology. We must upgrade our theological standards if we want the kind of leaders who will reach every nation and every campus with the Gospel of Christ. But we must remember that our endgame is a leader not a theologian.

QUESTION: Which is most important, leadership development or theological education?

ANSWER: Both!

 

Blog / Family / Leadership

Great Leaders Put Family First

January 3, 2016

CANTON, MISSISSIPPI. While visiting our Mississippi friends and relatives during the holidays, we stopped by the Murrell family farm/lake house. Has it really been four years since I was last here? Many of my best childhood memories are connected to that land and lake just north of where I grew up. While on the family farm, I took a moment to visit Dad and Mom’s grave sites (photo above). They both wanted to be buried between the cabin and the lake.

I am thankful that I was raised by parents who put family first.

Like most years, I plan to read through the whole Bible in 2016, so as usual, I started in Genesis where I always encounter old friends like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, plus many lesser known but equally fascinating men and women.

Thoughts of my parents and my childhood in Mississippi were flooding my mind as I read about Enoch in Genesis 5. I have always been intrigued by Enoch, the father of Methuselah. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Bible characters knows that Methuselah was the oldest man to ever live, dying at the ripe old age of 969. We know almost nothing about Enoch except that, “Enoch walked with God” and that “he fathered Methuselah and other sons and daughters.” (Genesis 5:22-14)

So basically we know two facts about Enoch, but those two facts are really all we need to know about anyone.

1. He was a spiritual man. “Enoch walked with God.”

2. He was a family man. “He fathered Methuselah and other sons and daughters.”

That’s about all I ever wanted to be, a spiritual man and a family man.

I am in the middle of writing a leadership book that will be released at the Every Nation World Conference in Cape Town, South Africa later this year, so I have leadership on the brain. Everything I see, hear, and read is filtered through my leadership grid as potential material for my book. So, here’s a leadership lesson from our two Enoch facts.

When I am looking for a potential leader or working with a current leader, I need to know about the person’s spiritual life and family life. If those are in order, then everything else tends to take care of itself. But if either of the big two are out of wack, then no matter what a leader has going for him or her, the potential for disaster is always looming.

I have added a number three to Enoch’s big two to frame how I want to live all of 2016. If at the end of this year I have done the following, it will have been a good year.

1. Walk with God

2. Be a good husband

3. Be a good father (and father-in-law and grandfather)

What do you want to accomplish in 2016?