Michael Murphy has experienced church growth in two pastorates and now coaches hundreds of church leaders with church growth strategies and discipleship ministry.

After almost 40 years of ministry and 10,000 hours face-to-face with lead pastors and their teams just in the last decade, this is my conclusion: pastors are heroes.

The tireless efforts and sometimes thankless hours of service, the unseen sacrifice and the daily and weekly “game face” of pastors never ceases to amaze and challenge me.

As a leader who has served as both an executive pastor and a lead pastor for all my ministry life, it’s impossible for me not to deeply feel some of the pains and frustrations of my pastor friends. In fact, this is the daily bread of my motivation and why the team I presently lead at Leaderscape works hard to help pastors every day.

Every time I see a pastor with a “stuck” season for one, two, or even three years, who then sees growth of perhaps 30, 40 or 100 percent, my emotions bounce between delight and exhilaration.

Jesus didn’t say: “Go and have great church services, thrilling events, or endless community outreaches (though all of these have their place).” He said: “Go and make disciples.”

Post-pandemic, half of all pastors with whom I speak are aspiring to be greater disciple-makers, and yet, much more is said than is effectively practiced.

No one would argue that our broken world needs an awakening, a revival of the Church to do what she was always designed to do. We pray, “Do it again, Lord! And again, and again…” Let’s not let this cry for revival become a mere spiritualized mantra without substance. Nor can we pray this prayer as we abdicate our primary responsibility—making Jesus’ last command our first priority.

As lead pastors, we understand the “why” of Christ’s mission, and even the “what” of disciple-making. But what about the “how”? I routinely ask lead pastors, “Where is discipleship happening in your church that is intentional and scalable?”

Though the answers vary, I often hear about one of their church members, let’s call him Reg, who “has a bunch of guys over to his home on a regular basis to study the Word. “That Reg, you know, is a great discipler“. When I hear a pastor say this, I too want to give Reg a huge shoutout! This is so admirable, but it is hardly intentional and definitely not scalable.

With all the daily and weekly demands of ministry (Sunday comes so quickly!), I understand the challenge of building a seamless disciple-making process—from captivating new guests, to planting people into groups, and then thoroughly training group leaders as discipleship weapons. Phew! It sounds exhausting, right? Or maybe not.

One of the underlying challenges, I believe, is the dangerous dichotomy that has developed in some quarters between the spiritual and the strategic. Obviously, our majestic God is sovereign, but the philosophy of “it’s ALL God” can only be called heresy.

The whole purpose of Jesus announcing the Holy Spirit is that He would be with us to be a witness and to make disciples.

God is eminently a God of patterns and processes. He gave Moses the intricate patterns for the tabernacle while Moses was engulfed on Mt Sinai in the presence of God. He gave David plans for the temple by the Spirit of God. His whole plan from creation to salvation is intricately ordered and patterned. He is the great designer.

If God can give the “how” to Moses and the same to David, then how much more can God give new covenant Church leaders the intentional plans and strategies to build His Kingdom and His Church today?

When I tell the heroic pastors with whom we have the privilege of partnering that it is God’s will for them to see intentional growth in their churches, I’m often confronted with varying degrees of disbelief.

Not only do I believe it is possible to be intentional about growth, I’m convicted that it is God’s specific plan for you. My own story, for which I am eternally grateful, starts with two broken people named Michael and Valery Murphy who had encounters with Jesus. For each of us, possibly like your own story, Jesus changed everything.

We met and married in six months, which may have been prophetic of the whirlwind adventure that we were about to enter. Brian Houston was preaching the day I came to Christ in Sydney, Australia, and I quickly “grabbed his coat tails” and hung on for the ride.

The early days (when Hillsong was still called Hills Christian Life Center) were raw, authentic, and filled with dreams. In the twelve years that I served as executive pastor, the church grew from seventy people to five thousand.

Coming off that “ski ramp,” I went to Shirelive, now called Horizon Church, with more than a healthy dose of ‘I’ve got this.” Truth be told, I didn’t.

God had to rebuild my character with the requisite humility needed before He could attend to the church. Big apologies and thanks for all of those who were patient with me during that time.

Though there is a lot I didn’t know, what I did know was how to preach the Gospel and see people come to Jesus. So, this “one-trick pony” of a young pastor did just exactly that.

In that first year, we probably saw a thousand people make a decision for Christ. And boy…did I celebrate that! That is, until early the next year, when I began to realize that hardly any of them had stuck.

I was getting hands raised and decisions made but making zero disciples. This started an earnest quest for God, for His purpose and a plan that would see this change.

Most nights when the kids were in bed, I would head out for two or three hours into the night to pray. I knew afresh how much I needed God. And He did not disappoint. He led us down a path where His prophetic presence became tangible in our lives and in our church, and also showed the plans and processes to get intentional about engaging guests, multiplying small groups, and making genuine disciples became part of the fabric of the church.

With a “rock star” wife by my side, we embarked upon a thrilling disciple-making journey together. She took on four inward-focused women’s groups and blew this up over thirty months to become one hundred and twenty-five thriving, disciple-making groups. We were bitten with, “Disciple or die!” The latter would be untimely but with the former, we could no longer do church any other way.

Our interactions with lead pastors over the last couple of decades have taught us that in our disciple-making quest, we were not alone.

As leaders, we are all products of our experience and are influenced by our role models. For most of the western Church in particular, the model has been well established: excellent weekend worship services, with some groups and teams on the side.

Although I would never argue against great services, the Sunday-centric model is a difficult one to shake. When leaders spend our best efforts and resources on our Sunday expression, we almost by definition expend less energy and resources on our disciple-making pathways.

In a book created out of my passion to help pastors, I argue for a shift in excellence. I’d love to send you a copy of the book, XLR8, a Prophetic and Practical Guide to Double Your Church.

Your time is valuable, so thank you for reading. And let me be transparent with you. It is my desire that this short article may become the early stages of a partnership together when I can help take you from production to process, from moments to movement, and from one-off encounters to ongoing discipleship engagement. That is my prayer for you, as well as my life’s purpose and passion.

Prayer meetings, small groups, women’s ministry, and outreach programs are all important parts of church growth, and are best done in conjunction with an overall proven strategy that leads to growing a church.

Click on this link to receive your copy of XLR8 by paying any amount.

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Connect with Michael at: https://www.facebook.com/MichaelLeaderscape

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