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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

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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

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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 / Family

Thoughts on Thirty-four Years

August 22, 2016

unnamedNASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, USA. Yesterday, Deborah and I celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary.

A lot has happened since we were married on August 21st, 1982.

In 1982, Ferdinand Marcos was the longtime leader of the Philippines, Ronald Reagan was the new president of the United States, and Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” (featured in Rocky III) was the number one song on the radio.    
In 1982, I lived in Starkville, Mississippi, pastoring a small church near the campus of Mississippi State University, and I had no intention of leaving.

Fast forward thirty-four years, one accidental mission trip, three children, and two grandchildren later — nearly everything about my life has changed.

I am no longer in my 20’s; I’m in my 50’s. I no longer call Mississippi home; Manila and Nashville are now home. I no longer pastor a small campus church; I work with a global church-planting movement that didn’t exist in 1982.

Two things have not changed in the past thirty-four years: who I serve (God) and who I serve with (Deborah).

Deborah was there in 1984 when God called us on a one-month summer mission trip to the Philippines that never ended. She was there (obviously) when our three sons were born. She was there in 1994 when Every Nation was birthed in our living room in Manila. She was there in the early days when we didn’t have enough money for cab and jeepney fares. (We did a lot of walking in those days.) She was there when we finally bought our first home — in a high rise apartment building. She was there when my mom and dad died. She was there when our two grandchildren were born.

I thank God every day for my wife. She’s an amazing mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law. She’s been the perfect pastor’s wife, disciple-maker, and spiritual leader. I would not be half the man I am today without her, and I would not have accomplish half as much without her.

Those who know Deborah know she’s deeply spiritual — and normal. Some people are so “spiritual” they’re weird. Not her. She’s naturally spiritual.

Besides asking Jesus to forgive me, my second best ask ever was asking Deborah to marry me. I’m forever grateful to her and to God that she said yes.


PS: If you’re single and want to get married one day, I suggest you find someone smarter and and more spiritual than you. That formula has worked out wonderfully for me 

Blog / Discipleship / Missions

Multi-ethnic Ministry and Ministry Flexibility

August 16, 2016

hands Brown Smaller ResMANILA, PHILIPPINES. Last week, following a sermon I had recently preached on Luke 24:46-49, I asked the question: What does Spirit-empowered, multi-ethnic ministry look like in practice?

Looking at Peter’s first attempt at cross-cultural, multi-ethnic ministry (in Acts 10), we discovered that in order for Peter and the early apostles to reach every nation, they had to be willing to set aside their Jewish cultural (and culinary) preferences and eat every food. Peter’s willingness to accept Cornelius’ hospitality (and eat his non-Kosher food) was a crucial first step, but it was just the first step.

Peter didn’t stop there. He went on to preach the Gospel to Cornelius and his household. And that’s when things got really interesting…

Remember, Peter was preaching the Gospel to non-Jews for the first time. He had never seen a Gentile become a follower of Jesus, and he assumed that anyone who responded to the Gospel would probably need to convert to Judaism (and be circumcised) before they could follow the Jewish Messiah. In Peter’s mind, the discipleship process looked like this: repentance, circumcision, baptism in water, and eventually, baptism in the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit, it turns out, had other plans.

All those who heard Peter’s message were baptized in the Holy Spirit and immediately began speaking in tongues—before he even finished his sermon (see Acts 10:44-48)! The Jewish disciples who had traveled with Peter were shocked at what they saw. Not only had these brand new Gentile believers skipped the “crucial” step of circumcision, they had not even been baptized in water before they were baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Peter was also shocked. But he decided to abandon his own ministry expectations and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, saying, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47)

In short, if Spirit-empowered, multi-ethnic ministry requires us to be adventurous in our eating, it also requires us to be flexible in our ministry expectations.

Imagine if Peter had been unwilling to adjust his ministry expectations and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Imagine if he had silenced the new believers from speaking in tongues. Imagine if he had made everyone (well, all the males) be circumcised first, then baptized in water a few weeks later, and then baptized in the Holy Spirit only after they completed the process.

How would this story of cross-cultural, multi-ethnic ministry have played out differently if Peter had rigidly held to his own ministry expectations?

Perhaps it’s easy for us (Gentile) believers in the 21st century to see that Peter made the right decision when ministering to Cornelius and his family. But at the time, what Peter was doing was highly controversial and shocking to many Jewish believers.

Spirit-led, multi-ethnic ministry often requires that we be flexible with our ministry expectations in order to reach people who are very different from us.

Here are a few modern examples of this from around the Every Nation world:

Example 1: Friday worship services in the Middle East

  • Though most Christians throughout church history have gathered to worship on Sundays, most of our churches in the Middle East hold their weekly worship services on Friday. Why? Because Friday is the day of the week when most people in majority Muslim countries have off work. If our missionaries were rigid about worshipping on Sunday, then few people would be able to come since most people work and/or attend school on Sunday.

Example 2: Discipleship groups in the pub in Western Europe

  • Though many American evangelicals and Pentecostals choose to abstain from drinking alcohol (this includes me), our missionaries to Western Europe have found that one of the best settings to make disciples is in the pub. Why? Because pubs have a different function in European society than they do in American society. In the eyes of Western Europeans, pubs are less a space of drunkenness and partying than they are a space of conversation and community—kind of like a coffee shop. That’s why many of our Every Nation missionaries find pubs to be a perfect place for small group discipleship.

Example 3: One2One discipleship in Japan

  • Though the One2One discipleship material has been an effective tool for teaching new believers (and even pre-believers) the basics of the faith, our missionaries in Japan found that the material—originally intended for a Catholic Filipino audience—assumed too much background knowledge about the Bible and the life of Jesus. Our leaders decided that to make the tool more effective in their context, they needed to rewrite the One2One book with a Shinto/Buddhist/secularist Japanese audience in mind. Among other things, this involved adding a “Chapter 0” to lay the groundwork for Chapter 1 on Salvation.

These are just a few of many examples of how our cross-cultural missionaries have needed to be flexible with their ministry expectations in order to do effective Spirit-led, multi-ethnic ministry in every nation.

Remember, the truth of the Gospel does not change, but how we communicate and embody that message should change depending on our ministry context.

So let’s learn from Peter and remember to be flexible and, most importantly, to be led by the Holy Spirit as we go and make disciples of all nations.

 

Blog / Missions

Every Nation, Every Food

August 10, 2016

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NASHVILLE, TENNESSE. Last Sunday, I preached a sermon at Bethel World Outreach Church (in Brentwood, TN) that looked at Jesus’ answer to our current ethnic and cultural divides.

It’s the same answer whether you’re in 21st-century America or 1st-century Palestine.

Here’s the SparkNotes summary of the sermon (based on Luke 24:46-49):

  • The Gospel is a message that we can’t keep for ourselves and for our own ethnic group; it’s a message that must be preached to “all nations”—the Greek word for “nations” being ethnos (Luke 24:46).
  • This task of cross-cultural, multi-ethnic ministry is not for someone else. As Jesus said to his original disciples (and, in effect, to us), “You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48).
  • The only way we will succeed in this difficult task is if we are “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49)—a promise that was fulfilled a few weeks later at Pentecost.

So here’s the question:

What does Spirit-empowered, multi-ethnic ministry look like in practice?

In Luke 24, Jesus gives his disciples the mission to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, but it’s only in Acts when we see how they do it.

So how did twelve Jewish disciples of a Jewish rabbi take the message to non-Jews? What practical problems did they have to overcome in order to engage in cross-cultural, multi-ethnic ministry?

Believe it or not, one of the disciples’ biggest obstacles to reaching every nation (ethnos) was their initial unwillingness to eat every food.

Jewish law had strict dietary codes (no pork, no shrimp, etc.), and as a result, most Jews (including Jesus’ disciples) had never eaten in the home of a non-Jew. Though the disciples didn’t realize it at the time, this profound cultural barrier between Jews and Gentiles would make reaching every nation difficult—if not impossible.

Everything changed in Acts 10 when Peter had a dream.

In Peter’s dream, he saw a large sheet filled with “unclean” food—stuff Jews were not allowed to eat. God told him to take and eat, but Peter—like any good Jew—refused, saying, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” Then God responded by saying, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Luke 10:14-15, NIV)

The meaning of Peter’s dream became clear when men sent from a Roman soldier, named Cornelius, came to Peter’s house and requested that Peter come with them to speak to Cornelius and his family.

Peter knew that accepting this invitation to engage in cross-cultural, multi-ethnic ministry would mean two things. First, he would be staying in the home of a Gentile (probably for the first time ever). Second, he would be served food that was “unclean” according to Jewish dietary laws.

Going against his cultural and ethnic instincts and preferences, Peter decided to go to Cornelius’ home and preach to his family. Long story short, the entire household received the Gospel and they were all baptized in water and Holy Spirit. The book of Acts does not give us any detail about Peter’s first meal in a Gentile’s home, but I have no doubt that it was an uncomfortable, awkward, and maybe even troubling experience for Peter.

But if he had not chosen to set aside his own cultural preferences, if he had rejected Cornelius’ hospitality, and if he had held to his lifelong commitment to eating Kosher, Peter would have never reached Cornelius and his family.

What does this mean for us?

It means that doing cross-cultural, multi-ethnic ministry requires that we set aside our own cultural preferences. It requires that we accept the hospitality of those who are different from us. It requires us to open our hearts and our stomachs to other nations and cultures.

If we really want to reach every nation, we must we willing to eat every food.

Blog / Family

The Realities (and Truths) of Parenthood

August 1, 2016
My grandson and newest member of the Murrell family, William Stephen Murrell III.

My grandson and newest member of the Murrell family, William Stephen Murrell III.

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, USA. Last Saturday (July 23rd), we welcomed into the world the newest member of the Murrell family, William Stephen Murrell III—named after his dad, his grandfather (me), and William Wilberforce.

The presence of a new baby in the house reminds me of when our sons were that age, but the wonderful thing about being a grandparent is that you can enjoy all the benefits of a newborn without any of the responsibilities. Seeing my son, William, and his wife, Rachel, take care of little William has reminded me that alongside the new baby clothes, the cute Instagram photos, and the precious moments (often during naps), are dirty diapers, hospital bills, and sleepless nights.

Here’s the unavoidable reality about parenting: children are expensive, children are hard work, and children are unpredictable.

But if we go into parenthood with only these realities in mind, we will miss out on the bigger truths we find in Scripture—Kingdom truths that put these earthly realities in proper perspective.

In Psalm 127:3-4, we read: “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.”

In this passage, we see God’s perspective on parenting: children are a heritage, children are a reward, and children are like arrows.

  • HERITAGE: From the moment they are born to the time they move to college, you will spend more money than you can possibly imagine on your children. And yet, God tells us that children are a heritage—or inheritance. How can children be an inheritance (something of great value) when it seems like they cost us so much? Inheritances are gifts from parents to children. And they are valuable not only because of their intrinsic value but because of who they come from. In the same way, our children have great value not only because of their potential benefit to us—but because they are gifts from God.
  • REWARD: Whether you have an eighteen-month-old or an eighteen-year-old, children require a great deal of time, energy, and patience. It’s true that becoming a parent requires a lot of hard work and personal sacrifice. But if we learn to see children as God sees them—as rewards—then all of the expense, time, and lifestyle changes will pale in comparison to the rewards of parenthood.
  • ARROWS: As parents, there are many things about our children that are totally out of our control. When they are newborns, we have no idea what their personality will be like. We have no idea what hobbies they will gravitate towards as children. And we have no idea what they will study when they go to college. And yet Scripture tells us to see our children as arrows—young men and women who we are called to shape, equip, and send out from our homes filled with purpose and direction. We may not know what specific target God has prepared for our children, but we do know that it is our role as parents to prepare them to be launched out of our homes and into God’s purposes.

As a grandparent whose diaper days are behind me, it’s easy for me to put the realities of parenting in proper perspective (with the truths of scripture). But when you are a parent of young children (or even teenagers!), it can sometimes be difficult to see beyond the challenging realities of parenthood and believe that your children are truly a heritage and a reward.

My advice for all young parents is to memorize and meditate on Psalm 127. Preach it to yourself until you believe it. Return to this verse over the years and through the ups and downs of parenthood and allow the Holy Spirit to help you see your children as God sees them.

 

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 / 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!