SteveMurrell.com | Reluctant Leader

Blog / Discipleship / Leadership

The 20-Hour Work Week: Is Hard Work Compatible with God’s Grace?

November 17, 2015

MANILA. A while back I posted  a blog that included a rant about hard work that was inspired by my observation that some ministers and businessmen seem to believe that hard work is not compatible with the Gospel.

Christians with a functioning work ethic today are becoming as rare as Bigfoot sightings.

The 20-hour work week is the new normal, but when we add 20 hours hanging around coffee shops, and another 20 doing social media, we call it a 60-hour work week. It is amazing how little is actually accomplish in the modern 60-hour work week.

Why are we so allergic to work?

Today’s Church has a whole generation of teachers who misunderstand and distort the grace of God, turning it into an excuse for laziness and licentiousness.

The fact that we are not saved by works does not mean we are not supposed to work. Work is a good thing, a blessing from God. Genesis 2:15 tells us, The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden TO WORK IT and take care of it. This was before the  fall so work was originally part of the blessing, not the curse.

Paul saw no conflict between grace and work, rather he saw them as working together in harmony. Consider the following:
Ephesians 2:8-10
Verse 8 – saved by grace…
Verse 9 – not by works…
Verse 10 – to do good works…

Is hard work compatible with God’s grace? Paul thought so. I agree with Paul.

1 Corinthians 15:10
But by the GRACE of God I am what I am, and his GRACE to me was not without effect. No, I WORKED HARDER than all of them—yet not I, but the GRACE  of God that was with me.

Blog / Discipleship / Family

The Myth of the Gifted Child

November 17, 2015

TUGUEGARAO, PHILIPPINES. Last Saturday I flew from Manila to Tuguegarao, then drove to Aparri to meet my friend, Ferdie Cabiling (aka The Running Pastor) at the finish line of his epic 2500 kilometer (1400 miles) run across the Philippines. Ferdie’s goal was to run from Sarangani to Aparri (from south to north) at least 50K per day and finish in less than 50 days in his 50th year all for the benefit of deserving Real Life Scholars.  Learn more about the Real Life Scholars and the Real Life Foundation here.

__________________

“Your sons are so gifted.”

I’ve heard it a thousand times…

— At William’s elementary school piano recitals: “Wow, he has a musical gift”  (No, he’s practiced every day, since he was five.)
— At James’ junior tennis tournaments:  “I wish my son could hit a forehand like that” (Try training seven days a week for a few of years.)
— At Jonathan’s art shows: “He obviously has a special gift for art” (You should have seen his “art” before we hired an art teacher to mentor him.)

Yeah, we have gifted kids — they were gifted with a mother who wouldn’t allow them to waste time doing nothing. And they were gifted with a father who was on a ten-year anti-TV, anti-video game kick during their formative years. That’s why they spent countless hours reading, listening to music, and developing killer kick-serves.

My sons were also gifted with mentors/coaches/teachers who helped them discover and develop a few of the skills and talents that God hid in them.

Gifts are free. Talents are costly. They must be discovered, developed, and funded.

But sadly, most talent is never discovered, never developed, and never funded. It is simply wasted while staring at a screen. Tragic.

What are you doing to develop your gifts and talents?
What are you doing to help develop your kid’s gifts and talents?

I’ll never forget the junior tennis tournament in Chattanooga, Tennessee when the father of a kid sixteen-year-old James had just destroyed turned to me and said: “I bet you paid a lot of money for his forehand.” That father understood that if gifts and talents are to be developed, they must be funded. He was right, I paid a lot of money for that killer forehand, and it was worth every dollar/peso.

Blog / Family

The Problem with Preacher’s Kids

November 17, 2015

MANILA, PHILIPPINES. Since this week is the official launch of my new book, My First, Second, and Third Attempts at Parenting, I will attempt to post some parenting blogs the next few weeks. Following is an updated and edited blog based on an article I originally wrote about thirteen years ago for Evangelical Today magazine.

“Why are you misbehaving in my class? You should not act like this since your father is a pastor.”

Comments like this, from the mouths of frustrated teachers, are quite common at Christian schools. But, why is it so common for pastor’s kids to misbehave? Could the attitude communicated in the above quote be part of the problem?

Years ago, before he was a Christian, one of our Victory pastors attended a conservative Christian college in the States. Even though he was not the son of a preacher, he hung out with a group of notoriously wild and worldly preacher’s kids. They accepted him in their group because he was constantly skipping chapel and violating the school’s curfew, dress code, and alcohol ban. He acted like a pastor’s kid, even though he was not.

Why do so many preacher’s kids rebel against the God of their fathers? Why do so many preacher’s kids resent the ministry? Why do so many discredit the ministry of their parents?

I don’t have all the answers, but I do have some questions, opinions, and observations that may shed some light on the problem with preacher’s kids.

1. Are we supposed to raise pastor’s kids or Christian kids? It is possible to be a good preacher’s kid and not be a Christian at all. There are many who learn to jump through religious hoops and spout off religiously correct statements, but who do not know Jesus from Buddha. My ultimate goal as a parent was not to keep my three sons from embarrassing their mother and me. Rather, my goal was to raise kids who know, love, and honor God. Deborah and I never told our kids to act a certain way because their dad was a pastor/missionary. We tried to teach our kids that obedience is not about who we are, but who they are. We always told them, “You should obey, not because we are in the ministry, but because you are Christians, not because we love Jesus, but because you love Him.” We wanted them to live right because of their relationship with God, not because they happen to be related to a pastor. We wanted our sons to be wholehearted followers of Jesus, not good preacher’s kids.

2. Does God have two standards of behavior? When church members expect superior behavior from the pastor’s kids, when school teachers hold pastor’s kids to a higher standard than other kids, when pastors have unbiblical expectations for their kids, the implication of all this is that God has two sets of behavioral standards, one for preacher’s kids and another for everyone else. God does not have a double standard! His rules are for everyone, whether their dad is a preacher or a plumber. I’m not saying we should tolerate rebellion or indifference from pastor’s kids. Exactly the opposite. If preacher’s kids or “regular” church kids are indifferent about their relationship with God, something is wrong. But we should expect all our kids, not just the preacher’s kids, to  passionately pursue God and His purpose.

3. Must preachers choose between family and ministry? Over the years, I have upset some people in my congregation, even run some off, by telling them that they are number four on my priority list. First is my relationship with God. Second is my relationship with my wife. Third is my relationship with my three sons. Fourth is my ministry (career), or my relationship with my congregation. My wife and my kids are the most important people in the congregation. They know it and everyone else in my church knows it. That’s the way it is. No apologies. If I do not take care of my own family, I am worse than an unbeliever and unqualified to be a pastor (1 Tim. 3:4,5). I refuse to sacrifice my family on the altars of modern ministry success. My family is the foundation and validation of my ministry. One reason we see so many problems with preacher’s kids is that preachers’ priorities are often out of order. Pastor Dad has time for everyone in the congregation, except his own wife and kids. The family gets leftover time. When pastors mistakenly think they must choose between ministry and family, the usually end up saving the world and losing their family.

No one will raise perfect kids. No one. Everyone will look back and wish they could do certain parts of parenting over. That’s just reality. Hopefully we will get most of the big things right. Look at Noah. He had some huge blunders as a father. But he got the main things right. His ministry (ark building) saved his family.

By faith Noah, when warned about the things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. (Hebrews 11:7)

By saving his family, Noah saved the world. Noah’s obedience to God’s call on his life brought salvation, not destruction to his family. This is the way it should be. If we obey God like Noah did, our obedience (aka our ministry) will save our family.

Blog / Discipleship / Worship

In Light of Grace, Does Obedience Matter?

October 19, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO. (I wrote this blog a couple of weeks while visiting ourEvery Nation church in NM.) Does the doctrine of grace nullify the law? Does God still expect us to at least attempt to obey His word? The way some people preach grace today makes it seem that obedience no longer matters. Maybe it doesn’t matter to some preachers. But it matters to God.

How common it is today to “relax” God’s moral, ethical, and relational standards. No matter what the culture says, sex outside of marriage is sin. Coveting, lying, and stealing are also sinful. Bitterness, unforgiveness, and hatred are common, but wrong.

Speaking about the Law, Jesus said we should not think that He came to “abolish the Law or the Prophets.” Rather, He came to “fulfill” the Law. He then said, “until heaven and earth will pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until it is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17,18)

Jesus was was the embodiment of grace, but He was not anti-Law. In fact, He gave a serious warning to those who would like to “relax” the demands of the law. “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teachers others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19) Often when I hear a radio or TV preacher, it seems they are teaching people to relax God’s commands. I guess that means our generation has produced some of the least in the kingdom.

The Gospel tells us that no matter how sinful and disobedient we are, God still loves and redeems us, by grace through faith. Our obedience does not increase God’s love for us, and our disobedience does not decrease His love for us. While we were sinners, He loved us enough to sacrifice His one and only Son for us.

If God loves us whether or not we obey, what then is the point of trying to obey His Law?

Our obedience does not increase His love for us, but it does increase our love for Him. The more we obey, the more our love for Him will grow. Jesus said it like this, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word.” (John 14:23) He did not say, If anyone keeps my word, the Father will love him. No, the Father loves us if we keep the word, and if we do not keep the word. Reading and obeying God’s word, increases our love for Him.

Summary: We cannot increase God’s love for us, but if we want our love for God to increase, we must read and obey His word.

More blogs on this topic: Grace or Truth?   Grace is Supposed to Change Us,    The Certainty of Forgiveness.

And finally, here’s a great worship song about the transformational power of grace: Grace Changes Everything.

Blog / Church / Leadership

5 Tips for Preachers

September 29, 2015

NASHVILLE. My home church, Victory Manila, has over 125 weekly worship services infifteen Metro Manila locations. Unlike many multi-site churches we never play video sermons. All of our services have live preachers, who preach the same text. This does not mean all the sermons are exactly the same. Some of our preachers are evangelists who end every sermon with an altar call, some are teachers who throw out random Greek and Hebrew words, and some are free-flowing prophets who throw out the clock. Some of our preachers are serious, some use humor. Some preach fifty minutes. Others preach twenty minutes. Some are demonstrative, others move less than the wax Morgan Freeman at Madame Tussauds.

No matter the preaching style or the preacher’s gifting, all Victory preachers preach the same text, title, and big idea every week. And no matter the preacher, we all attempt to apply Isaiah 40:1,2 as we preach.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

Here are five preaching tips from Isaiah 40 that are as relevant today as when they were written 2700 years ago.

1. Comfort my people. Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936) said that newspapers were supposed to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I think preachers should do the same. In most congregations, there are far more afflicted people than comfortable people, therefore, our preaching should bring comfort, not add more affliction.

2. Speak tenderly. Harsh words crush dreams and kill relationships. Tender words inspire dreams and restore relationships. Unfortunately there are not many places in society where tender words are being offered. Hopefully we can find them in our pulpits.

3. Warfare has ended Shoichi Yokoi was a Japanese sergeant in WWII. On January 24, 1972 he was discovered in the jungles of Guam. He had been living in a cave, hiding from the Americans for twenty-eight years, because no one told him the war had ended. Many believers are living in spiritual caves, afraid to engage the world. Preachers are supposed to tell them that Jesus already won the war.

4. Iniquity is pardoned. Paul never got tired of preaching the Gospel over and over and over and over. We should never tire of preaching and teaching what Jesus did for us, that because of his death and resurrection, our sins are forgiven. Preach it. Teach it. Sing it. Pray it. Then do it again next week.

5. Received from the Lord’s hand. And finally, our preaching should teach people how to receive from the Lord, not how to beg and manipulate, but how to receive what He freely offers.

If you are preaching this weekend or if you are leading a small discipleship group, I hope these ancient preaching principles will help you honor God and make disciples.

Blog / Church / Discipleship

Declaring War on Low Expectations

September 29, 2015

NASHVILLE. It is common in some modern ministry circles, to not only accept, but to actually celebrate low expectation and smallness. Big vision is considered arrogant and status quo is confused with humility. While some visionaries are certainly arrogant and some small-thinkers are truly humble, this does not mean that biblical humility and big vision cannot peacefully coexist. From Moses to Paul to Medieval martyrs to modern Bible translators, church history is filled with humble visionaries who dreamed big and actually accomplished much.

Consider the familiar words of Jesus in John 15. While exhorting his disciples to “abide in the vine” and to “remain in Him” Jesus listed five levels of fruitfulness that seemed designed to help his followers think bigger and expect more.

1. No fruit. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away. (John 15:2) Other translations say he cuts off fruitless branches. This text is more an exhortation to fruitfulness than an explanation of the doctrine of perseverance of the saints. Bottom line: fruitlessness is not an acceptable option. So, if your church or campus ministry is doing activities that are not bearing fruit, they probably need to be cut off or taken away. Unless of course, busyness is our ultimate goal.

2. Fruit. Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes. (John 15:2) Fruitfulness is the goal. Fruitless branches get cut off, and fruitful branches get pruned. Either way we get cut, so we might as well get cut for fruitfulness rather than for fruitlessness.

3. More fruit. He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:2) The divine purpose in pruning (cutting things off) is so that we bear more fruit. If you have been fruitful in church planting or campus ministry, the next step is more fruit.

4. Much Fruit. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:8) We have all been repelled by insecure leaders who think ministry growth and size is all about them. Fortunately, they are the exception not the rule. If your ministry has born fruit and then more fruit, I suggest you brace yourself for more pruning. And after the pain of pruning, it might be a good idea to start planning, preparing, and staffing for much fruit.

5. Lasting Fruit. I appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide. (John 15:16) Alternate translations use the words remain or last. Jesus wants our fruit to abide, remain, and last. Unfortunately it is common for churches and campus ministries to experience much fruit that vanishes as soon as we tweet about it. Jesus is not interested in giving us temporary fruit. His fruitfulness progression goes from no fruit to fruit to more fruit to much fruit to lasting fruit.

Are you praying for, planning for, preparing for much fruit? Or have you made peace with no fruit or with little fruit?

The fields are ripe for harvest. That means we declare war on fruitlessness and low expectations, and begin to think and dream big as if God really wants to give us fruit, more fruit, much fruit, and lasting fruit.

Discipleship / Quote

Discipleship

September 28, 2015

Every person who is a follower of Jesus – no matter how old, no matter how long they have been saved, no matter where they work – is responsible for making disciples.

Blog / Discipleship / Leadership

Grace or Truth?

August 25, 2015

NASHVILLE. In one of my all-time favorite movie scenes, Cuba Gooding Jr plays a mentally challenged young man nicknamed “Radio” who is being mentored by a high school football coach played by Ed Harris.

Coach and Radio are eating in a diner. When they finish their meal, the waitress politely and slowly addresses Radio, “Do you want strawberry pie or apple pie?”

Radio answers, “I wan’ boff.”

Radio was not the smartest movie character ever, but he understood that he could choose both.

Unfortunately, many of today’s church leaders have a difficult time embracing the concept of both. In our confused and polarized Western church world, we think have to choose between grace and truth, as if the two concepts are mutually exclusive.

Jesus choose both. We should choose both.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (‭John‬ ‭1‬:‭14‬)

According to this passage, Jesus was “full of grace AND truth.” The idea of grace and truth is not a multiple choice question. It is not an either/or decision. This is one of those both/and situations.

But we prefer to pick one or the other. Then we build a camp. In time, our camp becomes our identity. Then we start a blog. And a twitter account. Eventually we vilify people in other camps. I’m not sure why we do this, but we do.

Preachers in the “grace camp” are accused of ignoring certain Bible texts that seem to condemn politically correct lifestyles and culturally protected sins. On the other hand, preachers in the “truth camp” overemphasize a few sins and are stereotyped as hateful religious bigots and religious Pharisees.

Why can’t we just be like Jesus and embrace grace and truth?

My guess is that everyone reading this wants to be filled with grace and truth, but how? In today’s crazy out-of-balance ministry world, when we want grace we listen to a Joseph Prince podcast or watch a Joel Osteen broadcast. When we want truth we read a John MacArthur book or a John Piper tweet.

Question: What if we want to be filled with both grace and truth?

Answer: If we want both grace and truth, we have to go to Jesus.

The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)

Blog / Church / Discipleship / Leadership

Healthy Church Growth: Measuring What Matters

August 21, 2015

TOKYO. Earlier this week I was in Kuala Lumpur speaking to Asian mega-church pastors at the 2015 Asia Leaders Summit. With all due respect to my mega-church pastor friends, I would much rather spend three days with regular church pastors. Three days with mega-church leaders reciting huge numbers reminded me that some numbers matter more than others.

Every time I am asked to teach discipleship, at some point I have to talk about numbers. I always do so with some reluctance, but not because it is necessarily wrong to count and track numbers. My reluctance is due to people’s common tendency of attributing all kinds of virtue, worth, and wisdom to individuals and churches based on how many people show up at their meetings. By those same calculations, there is a tendency to diminish the efforts of other leaders and churches because their attendance numbers don’t have as many digits.

This is simply not fair. Growing a church to 100 in Tokyo or Teheran takes more work and is a greater accomplishment than growing a church to 1000 in Singapore or Manila. Some cities are ripe for harvest. Some are not. We cannot judge the quality of a church or a pastor’s ministry simply by how many people attend the weekend worship service because raw numbers do not account for soil conditions.

Judging pastors and churches by attendance numbers completely misses the main point of ministry. Weekend worship attendance numbers without context are totally unreliable indicators of church health.

Jesus did not call us to gather crowds. He called us to make disciples. In Matthew 16, Jesus said He would build His church. A few chapters later in Matthew 28, He told His followers to make disciples. His job is to build His church. Our job is to make disciples. When we make disciples, He takes those disciples and builds them into a church that the gates of hell cannot overcome.

Last week I received the Victory-Manila 2015 second quarter report. As you might expect, the report contained numbers, graphs, and charts. My eyes quickly sought the two numbers that matter more than all other numbers, the two numbers that give context to all the other numbers.

Those numbers were 3039 and 7166.

The first number is the number of new believers who were baptized in Manila in the first two quarters of 2015. (Plus, we baptized another 5248 in the provinces for a total of 8287 nationwide.) The second number is the number of active Victory discipleship groups that meet weekly in Metro Manila.

Why do these numbers matter more than all others, including the attendance number and the offering amount?

The first number (baptisms) matters because lost people matter to God.

The Parable of the Ninety-nine and the One (Luke 15) presents a radically different way of looking at numbers. Many pastors today focus all their attention on the ninety-nine. Pastors feed the sheep in their flock; pastors serve the sheep in their flock; pastors occasionally recruit sheep from other flocks. We celebrate the ninety-nine and ignore the lost one. No matter how great we are at caring for the flock, Jesus calls us to pursue the lost.

The second number (Victory discipleship groups) matters because lost people matter to us.

The more Victory discipleship group leaders we equip and empower, the more opportunities we will have to engage the lost in every area of culture and community. Since lost people matter to God, they should matter to us.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to help lead a small Every Nation church in the Nashville area. When I received the first year-end report, my eyes immediately went to the two numbers that matter most: 12 and 27. Twelve new believers baptized and twenty-seven discipleship group leaders equipped and empowered in the first year. Like in Manila, those two numbers mattered more than total attendance and offering amount. Those numbers were worth celebrating because evangelism and discipleship matter to God and to us.

What numbers do you celebrate?

Blog / Leadership / Missions

Asia Leaders Summit: Asians Reaching Asia

August 18, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA. I was surprised and honored to be invited to speak at the 2015 Asia Pastors Summit. Unfortunately, I was given the dreaded post-lunch 1:30 PM slot. For afternoon speakers, the standard for success is pretty low. I figure that if at least half of the conference people actually attend to the post-lunch afternoon session, it is a success, whether they pay attention or fall asleep. My talk ended four hours ago, and I am calling it a success.

The Asia Leaders Summit is an invitation-only conference for Asian mega-church pastors. The motto is “Asians Reaching Asia.” Apparently no one on the organizing committee googled my photo to discover that I’m an American reaching Asia. So, I am the only white dude in the room. And I feel at home.

The other people in the room are the pastors of some of the largest churches in the world. And, oddly enough, some of these pastors are the most humble leaders I have ever met. Could it be that  humility and church growth are somehow connected?

I have been particularly impressed with the humility of the organizer of the summit, Dr Younghoon Lee, who is also the senior pastor of the largest church in the world, Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul. He and his team humbly and graciously serve in a way that honors God.

I end this blog with a few random quotes from today’s seven sessions.

“We need missions with humility, not missions with imperialism.”

“We need to replace racism with grace-ism.”

“We should be grace-ists not racists.”

“So many are called to the UK, USA, and Australia. Why does no one feel called to Pakistan and Afghanistan?”

“We have too many churches that are led by CEOs. We need more senior pastors who know how to defeat and behead Goliath.”

“A well-managed church is not the same as a well-led church.”