SteveMurrell.com | Reluctant Leader

Browsing Category Miscellaneous

Blog / Church / Miscellaneous

Ethnic Diversity & Sunday Worship

May 10, 2017

Bethel diversity

NASHVILLE—After a long flight from Johannesburg, Deborah and I arrived back in Nashville early Saturday morning. The next day, as we walked into Bethel World Outreach Church, I was struck once again by the logo of praying hands (one black, one white) that appear on everything Bethel produces.

Many people don’t realize this, but Bethel borrowed that logo from our churches in South Africa many years ago. For them, it was a symbol of what the church should look like as South African society tried to heal after decades of Apartheid. Similarly for Rice Broocks and the Bethel leadership, the black and white praying hands represented what church in the American South ought to look like after its own painful legacy of racial segregation.

The praying hands are symbolic. They point to something. They remind leaders and members of the churches in both Cape Town and Nashville that God has called us to into a new community. One where ethnic, social, cultural, and political differences are subordinated to the central reality of the gospel: that in Christ, we have all been adopted into the family of God.

Paul, in his letter to the church in Colossae, put it this way: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

This verse, like the praying hands logo, reminds us of what the church ought to look like, who the church ought to be: a diverse people, united by the gospel.

And yet, so often our experience falls short.

Some churches simply aren’t diverse. And other churches, if they’ve achieved a level of diversity, struggle to find unity.

How can we pursue diversity and keep unity in the church?

In Colossians 3, Paul gives us the answer. After showing the church in Colossae what they ought to look like in verse 11, he then tells them how to do it. In verses 12-15, Paul lists the virtues that Christians need to cultivate in order to live in diversity and unity: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, love, peace, and thankfulness.

And in verse 16, Paul describes two central activities that diverse church communities need to do in order to stay unified: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

For Paul, the answer to the diversity and unity problem in the church was simple: word and worship.

In order to be the church that God has called us to be, we need to be a people who read, study, and meditate on the Word together. And we need to be a people who worship together.

Why does Paul emphasize the Word and worship?

Because the Holy Spirit does something unique in His people when they gather around the Word and when they join together in songs of worship to God.

Like a tuning fork, the Word gives God’s people the right pitch to which they must all tune their hearts and minds. Without the Word, we have no unity. Without the Word, we are like a band trying to tune their instruments to one another rather than the tuning fork. (In case you’ve never tried. It doesn’t work.)

Similarly, when we sing together, we are once again allowing the Holy Spirit to do a work of divine tuning. But this activity not only engages our hearts and minds, but our bodies as well. When we sing, clap, and dance, God engages our vocal chords, our hands, our feet. And when we do this together, we are reminded of what—actually who—matters most.

We are reminded that only redeemed people can sing like this.

Though we are from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, one day we will all stand before the throne of God and cry out with a one voice: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)

 

Blog / Church / Miscellaneous

Racism, Segregation, and Bad Theology

May 2, 2017

white-areaJOHANNESBURG—After a week of ministry in Australia and New Zealand, Deborah and I flew across the Indian Ocean to Johannesburg, South Africa, to preach at our Every Nation Word and Spirit Conference.

Before our meetings started, we visited the Apartheid Museum, a moving and powerful reminder of the ugliness of racism and the beauty of reconciliation. It was a humbling reminder that Christians in every age have blind spots that can only be identified and fixed when we intentionally walk in multiethnic and multigenerational Christian community.

Like the Jim Crow era segregation in the American South, Apartheid in South Africa was propagated, supported, and defended by Christians. Often our knee-jerk reaction to these painful realities of church history is to assume that the “Christian” defenders of Apartheid or Jim Crow were not real Christians. Maybe they were just cultural Christians; or maybe they were theologically liberal Christians who didn’t actually believe the Bible.

Unfortunately, history won’t let us off the hook that easily.

I am sure that some defenders of segregation in both South Africa and America were only nominal Christians and others may have been a part of churches that stopped believing the Bible. But many defenders of segregation on both sides of the Atlantic were members of churches that we might have attended had we been around in those days. To put it bluntly, many of them were Bible-believing Christians.

Not only did they defend racial segregation on national and cultural grounds, they defended it on biblical and theological grounds. They were wrong. They were sinning. And they didn’t see it.

It was a blind spot.

There were certainly many white South African Christians under Apartheid who were kind and loving to people of other races and did not personally discriminate against those from whom they were legally segregated. And yet, many of those same people saw nothing wrong with the Apartheid system they were living under. It was a blind spot.

The same could be said for my upbringing in Mississippi. I grew up in a white neighborhood, played golf at a white country club, played baseball on a white Little League team, and attended a private white prep school. In my world, segregation was normal, until I got involved in a multiethnic campus ministry and traded my white world for a world with color. As I developed friendships with people who did not look like me, I could see in their faces the pain of discrimination and the folly of segregation.

The sinful tendency to segregate on racial, ethnic, and cultural lines is not new.

In the first-century church, Jewish disciples often excluded Gentile believers from fellowship because they held to a cultural notion that Gentiles were unclean. This meant, among other things, that many Jewish believers refused to eat with Gentile believers. And this was not just a practice of a fringe group of Jewish legalists in the early church.

Peter and others among the original twelve participated in the segregation of Jewish and Gentile believers. For Peter to repent and change, he needed a powerful encounter with God, an unlikely friendship with a Roman soldier named Cornelius (see Acts 10-11), and a very public rebuke from Paul (see Galatians 2:11-16).

In every time and place, the local church has blind spots—areas of both personal and public sin that to them look less like sin and more like the status quo, that look less like oppression and more like law and order. Things that should break our hearts but don’t even catch our eye. Things that should be shocking but seem mundane. Things that will make future generations of Christians wonder: How could they call themselves Christians and not see that?

This sobering reminder from church history should remind us that planting multiethnic and multigenerational churches is not just an option for the ambitious church planter. Diversity is not an option. It’s a necessity. If we only build with people who look just like us, we will exclude the very people whom God has ordained to help us see our blind spots.

In the words of C.H. Mason, a Pentecostal saint of old: “The church is like the eye. It has a little black in it and a little white in it, and without both, we cannot see.”

Blog / Church / Family / Miscellaneous

An Easter Funeral

April 18, 2017
 Tuckers Grove United Congregational Holiness Church

 NASHVILLE—Late last night, we arrived home from the funeral of Deborah’s grandmother, Sara Nell McAfee, known to her grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren as Mama Mac. In sermons and at parenting conferences, I have often talked about Mama Mac and the godly heritage she left behind for her four children, nine grandchildren, sixteen great grandchildren, and two great great grandchildren (Jo and Liam).

The funeral service was held at Tucker’s Grove United Congregational Holiness Church (see picture above)—the Pentecostal church where Deborah’s great grandfather was the pastor for fifty years and where Deborah’s grandmother attended all her life. As a pastor, I normally speak at the funerals I attend, but at this one, I sat in the pew with my wife, adult sons, daughter-in-law, and my granddaughter, Josephine.

The funeral service was led by the new pastor of Tucker’s Grove, a young preacher who had only been in this church for five years. He was brief, but he said a few words that I’ll never forget. Standing in this rural Pentecostal church that was founded in 1923, the pastor said of Mama Mac and her generation: “Today, people go to the house of God. But in the past, people had an encounter with the God of the house. Lord, we need an encounter with the GOD OF THE HOUSE!!!”

As he said this, I began to think about all that Mama Mac had seen and experienced in this small brick church building during her ninety-four years on this earth. Weddings. Baptisms. Funerals. Communion. Prayer. Foot washings. Baby dedications. Healings. Signs and wonders. Church plants. Church splits. Church growth. Church decline. Church renewal.Since 1923, each generation of believers has had to have their own encounter with the God of the house. I thought about this as I looked at Deborah and reflected on the profound spiritual influence that Mama Mac had on her life. I thought about this as I looked at my adult sons, whose own spiritual lives owe much to their mother’s example of fervent prayer and unwavering faith. And I thought about this as I looked at my granddaughter, Josephine, who at three is now beginning to ask questions about Jesus (she even recognized him somehow on the stained glass windows at Tucker’s Grove).

As I thought about my own family, I also thought about my Every Nation church family around the world. My prayer is that after our founder generation is gone, subsequent generations will have their own encounters with God in some of the very churches we are planting and in the buildings we are building. My prayer is that my generation will not make it hard for future generations to meet Jesus and join His mission. My prayer is that, like Deborah’s grandmother, we will model a vibrant faith and love for God’s word and mission that inspires future generations to take the gospel to every nation in their generation.

Blog / Book / Miscellaneous

Top 10 Books I Read in 2016

January 4, 2017

Last night one of my sons asked me for book recommendations for the new year. That discussion inspired this blog.

I used to write a “Top 10 Books of the Year” blog at the end of each year. While I did not stop reading, for some reason, I stopped blogging that list. Here are some of my previous lists: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2008. Books on my Top 10 lists are not necessarily the best books, the most popular books, or the most important books. They are simply the ten books that impacted me the most in the past twelve months.

Now (after no one noticing that my list disappeared), I am reviving it. Here’s the 2016 list, in random order.

Thomas Long1.  The Witness of Preaching by Thomas G. Long. If you are called to preach, do your congregation a favor and study this book. If you are a church member, buy a copy for your pastor. If you don’t want him to know it’s from you, just quietly slip it in his briefcase or office. I have read a lot of preaching books in my lifetime, and this is one of the best.

 

Eugene Peterson2. Eat this Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene Peterson. If you love reading or studying the Bible, you will love this book. If you have a difficult time reading, studying, understanding, or interpreting the Bible, this book might just change your life. Eugene Peterson is the best in the business at making spiritual and scholarly concepts accessible to semi-spiritual, non-scholarly readers.

 

Gothic Enterprise3. The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral by Robert A. Scott. Last year, I preached a sermon and posted a blog inspired by this book. If you liked the sermon or blog, you might enjoy this book. Here’s the blog. While not a “Christian book,” it positively impacted my view of worship as much as any book I have ever read.

 

Lee Kuan Yew4. One Man’s View of the World by Lee Kuan Yew. While I do not always agree with his view of the world, I have always been inspired by Lee Kuan Yew’s vision, clarity, and commitment to excellence. This book presents Singapore’s long-time Prime Minister’s no-holds-barred opinions about America, Japan, China, Asia, Europe, and the Arab Spring. It not only addresses the past and present, but it also gives a glimpse into the possible future.

 

John Lennox5. Seven Days that Divide the World by John C. Lennox. Written by everyone’s favorite Northern Irish philosopher, apologist, and professor of mathematics, this book is a must-read for campus missionaries and university students. I appreciate it when really really really smart people write in a way that makes complicated ideas simple to grasp.

 

Henri Nouwen6. Spiritual Formation by Henri Nouwen. If you are not familiar with the concept of “Spiritual Formation,” or if you have never read a book by Henri Nouwen, this book is a great place to start. The Dutch priest, pastor, philosopher, psychologist, author, and professor (Yale, Harvard, Notre Dame) wrote over 40 books on Christian spirituality that have been published in over twenty-two languages.

 

Marshall Goldsmith7. Succession: Are You Ready by Marshall Goldsmith. I thought I was ready, or at least getting close to being ready. But after a couple chapters of this book, it became painfully obvious that I am not ready and the organizations I lead are not even almost ready. I have much work to do to prepare the next leaders to lead Every Nation and Victory and to prepare Every Nation and Victory for its next leaders. If you lead a church, ministry, or business, please read and reread this book. After you finish Succession, I suggest you also read, Next: Pastoral Succession that Works by Warren Bird.

 

Joe Onosai8. The Power Destiny by Joe Onosai. The much-anticipated autobiography by my friend, Pastor Joe Onosai is filled with brutally honest stories of sin, redemption, violence, love, pain, and healing. Most of all, it is a book about how God uses life-giving relationships to shape his leaders. I can’t wait to read the sequel!

 


Rice Broocks9. Man Myth Messiah: Answering History’s Greatest Question by Rice Broocks.
This follow-up to the book God’s Not Dead presents and examines the evidence for the historical Jesus with an emphasis on the historicity of the resurrection. An important and informative book in an age of ignorance and skepticism.

 

Roger Pearce10. Better Together by Roger Pearce. Powerful stories of grace, forgiveness, and racial reconciliation in the shadow of South Africa’s ugly history of ethnic division. This book offers hope and a way forward for campuses, cities, and nations anywhere in the world that are experiencing racial tension. I hope to see European, Middle Eastern, Asian, and North American versions of this book. Well done, Roger!

 

Honorable mention (aka snubs) that I’m glad I read, but did not quite make my Top 10: The Source of Life by Jurgen Moltmann, On Christian Doctrine by Saint Augustine, Overhearing the Gospel by Fred B. Craddock, Preaching the Story by Jeffrey Frymire, More Power in the Pulpit by Cleophus LaRue, Almost Christian by Kenda Creasy Dean, and Marius’ Mules Book VII: The Great Revolt by S.J.A. Turney.

Blog / Miscellaneous

BACK TO SCHOOL

July 25, 2016

The Asbury 8 with Charles Wesley on the Asbury Seminary campus.

WILMORE, KENTUCKY. As I write, I am finishing up the first on-campus installment of a DMin (Doctor of Ministry) program at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky.

I am part of a group of Every Nation pastors and campus missionaries from all over the world who over the next three years will be furthering their theological education with the goal of becoming better ministers and better leaders.

It’s been a long time since I was in school, and I am happy to be back in the classroom. I have learned a lot since the program started. Here are a few initial impressions from my time here.

The Value of Education

Returning to school after so many years has reminded me that learning is hard work. Plowing through long reading lists, engaging with new ideas, articulating my thoughts in formal academic writing—this is all hard work. But it is worthwhile work. Though I’ve always been a reader and have been blogging and writing for many years, this DMin program has challenged me to flex new intellectual muscles. How so? Because I am being forced to read books that I would have never chosen on my own. And I am reading these new books and engaging these new ideas with other Every Nation (and non-Every Nation) pastors from around the world. Self-guided learning is good, but learning in community is even better.

The Power of Preaching

One of the central focuses of our DMin program is preaching. This seems appropriate since Asbury Theological Seminary was named after the great Methodist preacher Francis Asbury (1745-1816). Responding to John Wesley’s call to the American mission field, English-born Asbury spent most of his adult life as an itinerant preacher in the American colonies and even in the “Western” frontiers of Tennessee and Kentucky. Riding from state to state and town to town on horseback, Asbury preached over 16,500 sermons in his forty-five-year career. (That’s an average of one sermon every single day for forty-five years!) During that time (1771-1816), the Methodist movement in America grew from 600 to 200,000. Preaching the gospel is powerful—both then and now.

The Role of Institutions

As movements grow, leaders will always be faced with the question of continuity. How can we sustain movements for future generations? There are many ways to answer this question, but one often underrated solution to the problem of continuity is investing in institutions that will carry on the mission and vision of the founders long after they are gone. Look at Asbury Theological Seminary. In 2016, it is still promoting the central vision of men like Wesley and Asbury who first came to America as missionaries over 200 years ago. Though the Methodist movement started with revival, it was sustained by institutions (churches and seminaries) that were able to train future leaders of the movement.

It is my prayer that in the coming years we will be able to grow and expand our own educational institutions (Every Nation Schools of Ministry), so that we can continue to train up next-generation leaders who will carry on the mission to reach every nation and every campus—long after the founders are gone.

Blog / Family / Miscellaneous

Dick Dastardly, Turkey, and the Remedy for Entitlement

November 23, 2015

NASHVILLE. Yesterday at church my good friend, Rice Broocks preached a powerful sermon that included brilliant exegesis, solid theology, practical application, and a reference to two of the greatest cartoon characters ever – Dick Dastardly and his canine sidekick Muttley. Only Rice would attempt to connect the dots from the Apostle Paul to Timothy to Dick Dastardly and Muttley. (“Rashin frashin Rick Rastardly!”)

In his sermon, “Gratefulness is Our Greatest Weapon,” Rice talked about how gratefulness protects our minds, our relationships, and our hearts. He said that unexpressed gratefulness is actually ungratefulness. This sermon was both inspiring and convicting. And it also took me back in time.

When our now adult sons were young, Deborah and I decided that we would not tolerate an entitlement attitude in our home. Our remedy? Teach our kids to be thankful. I am not sure how successful we were, but we sure tried to raise grateful sons.

Yesterday Rice reminded me of the main point that we tried to teach our kids, that entitlement cannot coexist with gratitude.

Entitlement says that parents, businesses, siblings, government, church, life, God, and Santa owe me something. And since I am owed, there is no reason to say thanks.

Thankfulness is like kryptonite to entitlement. Kills it on contact.

And that brings us to that American holiday, Thanksgiving Day. After a hundred years of American cities and communities declaring their own thanksgiving celebrations, in 1789 President George Washington proclaimed November 26 “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of ALMIGHTY GOD.

Notice that the original official Thanksgiving Day was not about being generally thankful, but about specifically thanking ALMIGHTY GOD.

Recently Americans have become obsessed with removing all God references from the conversation lest we offend Bill Maher. With Thanksgiving we have taken that obsession to an absurd level, not only removing God but also removing the idea of thanks from Thanksgiving Day.

Increasingly Americans are calling the 4th Thursday of November, “Turkey Day” rather than Thanksgiving Day. Are we afraid that if we call it Thanksgiving, someone might accidentally thank God?

So now, rather than thanking God once a year for His gracious provision, we eat turkey and watch football.

Blog / Family / Miscellaneous

The Most Fortunate Man in the World, R.I.P.

March 12, 2014

ATLANTA. I recently attended the memorial service of an old friend, Brady Clark. He was my age. And he was way too young to die.

Almost three decades ago, Brady preached at Victory-Manila. After all these years I still remember the gist of his sermon: “It doesn’t matter if you’re in the ministry, as long as the ministry is in you.”

During the memorial service Brady’s sister, Trudy, reminded us of Brady’s famous voice mail message. Imagine the most genteel southern gentleman accent possible, then slow it down and exaggerate it:

You’ve reached the most fortunate man in the world. I’ve got great kids. I love my job. I have the best friends a man could ask for. If there is anything I can do to help you, just leave a message and I’ll call you back as soon as I can.

Brady’s sermon from thirty years ago and his voice mail message from last month sum up a good man’s life and legacy: faith, family, friends, and helping people.

Rest in peace, Brady Clark. You will me missed by many.

Blog / Miscellaneous / Missions

How You Can Help Typhoon Victims in the Philippines

November 13, 2013

TOKYO AIRPORT. It has been five days since the strongest storm to hit land in recorded history wreaked havoc in the central Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan, known in the Philippines as Typhoon Yolanda, produced wind speeds up to 315 km (195 mph) and storm surges (tsunami-like waves) up to 17 feet high.

Damage estimates change by the hour, but the latest say over 11 million people were affected by the storm, and as many as 10,000 are dead. Around 500,000 are now homeless. Ninety-five percent of the homes and buildings in Tacloban were destroyed or damaged.

I am now sitting in the Tokyo airport on my way to Nashville, but my heart is still in the Philippines where our Every Nation and Victory staff and volunteers are working around the clock receiving, processing, and delivering relief goods. So far, we have received, packaged, and sent 10 tons of relief goods from Victory centers in Metro Manila.

THANK YOU to all who have given, volunteered, and prayed. Much more is needed. Many friends from all over the world have asked how they can help. Here’s some info:

Info about how to give, volunteer, or donate relief goods is available on the Victory Philippines website.

Financial contributions can also be given through Every Nation North America.

Trustworthy organizations we work with in the Philippines include: Operation Blessing Philippines, Samaritan’s Purse and Habitat for Humanity Philippines.

If you live in the Philippines and want to help, we are still receiving and processing relief goods at Victory centers nationwide. Click here to find the Victory center nearest you. If you live anywhere else in the world, the best way you can help is to pray and give money. One hundred per cent of the money will be used in our relief and rebuilding operations.

I heard yesterday that over sixty Victory church members in our Roxas City church have lost everything – homes, clothes, vehicles, computers,…  I am certain many of our Victory members in Tacloban also lost everything, but I have not seen the list of names yet. Anything you send would be a huge help for these families.

Gotta board my plane now. Please continue to pray, volunteer, and give. Thanks.

Blog / Miscellaneous / Missions

CNN: “Worse than Hell in Philippines”

November 11, 2013

MANILA, PHILIPPINES.  I’m sitting in my Manila office, teary-eyed, heavyhearted, and feeling powerless. Downstairs Pastor Paolo, and our Every Nation Philippines staff are collecting and sorting relief goods to be delivered to victims. We are doing all we can, but it is not nearly enough. And it is a frustratingly slow process.

Most of the world is now aware that the Philippines was once again pounded by a super-typhoon. The CNN headline this morning read:  “Worse than Hell in Philippines.” Some news sources have reported that this one was the strongest storm to hit ground in recorded history. It was 3.5 times stronger than Katrina. The storm pummeled 36 Philippine provinces, left 340,000 homeless, and affected more than 4.3million Filipinos.

No one really knows the death toll at this time. The International Red Cross is estimating that as many as 10,000 people may have died during the storm. My friend, Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez was quoted in the CNN article: “I have not spoken to anyone who has not lost someone, a relative close to them. We are looking for as many as we can.”

Here are some of the descriptions of the devastation from various CNN articles:

– The stories coming out of the Philippines are unimaginable. Rushing water and wind tearing children away from their parents’ arms. Tacloban, a city of 200,000 in which no buildings appear to have survived intact.

– Super Typhoon Haiyan roared into the central islands of the Philippines last week, wiping out entire neighborhoods, ripping children off their parents’ arms and leaving a trail of devastation.

– An estimated 1,000 bodies were seen floating in Tacloban as reported by Red Cross teams.

– Entire houses leveled. Bodies scattered on streets. In the aftermath of Haiyan, Filipinos are grappling with unimaginable devastation.

The Victory  and Every Nation Churches websites have info for those who want to help.

Blog / Miscellaneous

Remembering the “Day of Valor”

April 8, 2013

BONIFACIO GLOBAL CITY, PHILIPPINES. Today is Araw ng Kagitingan, aka “Day of Valor” aka Bataan Day. Some of you have never heard of Bataan Day, others have heard of it only in the context of the 160 Bataan Death March Ultramarathon because you follow my friend, The Running Pastor on twitter.

I’ll never forget taking my young sons on a tour of Corregidor Island. We toured the caves and the Malinta Tunnel that served as General MacArthur’s headquarters. We climbed on the massive cannons, Battery Way, Battery Hearn, and Battery Geary. After that trip, we watched some classic WWII movies.

To understand why today is a non-working holiday in the Philippines we have to go back to Corregidor Island on April 9, 1942. Not many people ignored direct orders from General Douglas MacArthur, but that’s exactly what Major General Edward King did when he surrendered more than 76,000 Filipino, Chinese, and American soldiers to the Japanese.

That surrender was followed by the infamous 140 kilometer (90 mile) Bataan Death March to Camp O’Donnell in Capas, Tarlac. For days the road was littered with the bodies of the dead, as thousands of starving, dehydrated, wounded, disease-racked soldiers could not keep the pace and were left to die. Thousands more were brutally and randomly executed along the way.

Only 54,000 of the 76,000 who surrendered actually made it to Camp O’Donnell in Tarlac where conditions were deplorable. Some escaped along the way, but about 10,000 died on the Death March.

This, like many events in world history, confirms the doctrine of “total depravity” and makes one wonder what atrocities we would commit every day if not for the restraining power of “common grace.”

So, what will you do on Araw ng Kagitingan? If nothing else, why not thank a veteran for their sacrificial service?

If you are interested in a good MacArthur movie, check out Tommy Lee Jones as General Mac in Emperor.