How a Comma Brought About a Discipleship Coma

51l-g0rv2tl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Punctuation is important!  But a ‘coma?’

Look at the difference between these verses, one from the King James Version and another from the English Standard Version. First, the King James:

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

Now the ESV (and most every other modern translation):

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

Look at verse 12.  God gave leaders in the church:

  • For the perfecting of the saints
  • for the work of the ministry
  • For the edifying of the body of Christ.

That comma between “perfecting/equipping the saints” and “for the work of the ministry” is something that Robby Gallaty cleverly describes as “the comma that may have kept the church in a coma.”

The aim of your leaders in your church is not to do the work of the ministry exclusively, like a contractor hired by an organization to accomplish an assigned task, but as a shepherd showing the sheep how to be a flock.

He brings out another difference, this time in the Great Commission.  First, in the KJV:

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Now the ESV (and all other modern translations):

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

It’s “teach” vs “make disciples.” There is a difference. Here’s Gallaty on the difference between the two.

They take this to mean that they share the gospel and then encourage people to “ask Jesus into their hearts.” They communicate information. But while communicating information is important, discipleship doesn’t end there. As we learned in our study of the Hebraic roots of discipleship, more is required to make a disciple than knowing facts about Jesus. Making disciples requires equipping and investing in a lengthy training process, particularly for new believers.  … A disciple is one who “is intentionally equipped with the Word of God through accountable relationships that are empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to produce Christ-likeness.” At the core, a disciple is not one who is in a static state of being, but one who continually grows and develops (Robby Gallaty, Rediscovering Discipleship, pp. 122-123).

For many, this is a paradigm shift of the first order, but it’s a necessary one.

  1. It’s not just up to the leaders to do all of the work, but to model by doing it as well as equipping.
  2. It’s not just about information dump, but a transformation of the heart and mind through teaching, investing, and equipping.

I cannot recommend Robby Gallaty’s Rediscovering Discipleship: Making Jesus’ Final Words our First Work enough!





Acceptable Mediocrity Among Preachers is Unacceptable

Paul Tripp posted this at The Gospel Coalition blog:

He was rushing out of the luncheon meeting with the staff of his church. Often at the end of a weekend conference, I will meet with the paid and volunteer leadership of the church, make a presentation, and answer their questions. It was about 2:30 p.m., and he was in a rush to get going because his sermon for the next day was hanging over his head. He had some errands to do, dinner with his family, and then sometime in the evening he would lock himself in his home office and try to put together his message for the next day. No matter what happened the rest of that day, no matter how much time he was actually able to devote to his sermons, and no matter how well his preparation went, and no matter how prepared he felt to deal with the text before him, he would get up and say something.

I wondered how many pastors were in the same place and had developed the same ministry habits. I wondered how many of them were throwing something together at the last minute; how many sermons were not given the time necessary for them to communicate what needed to be communicated. I wondered how many congregations around the world are plainly and simply being poorly fed by unprepared pastors. I wondered how many sermons end up being boring restatements of favorite commentaries or little more than impersonal, poorly delivered theological lectures.

I don’t need to wonder anymore. Having spoken at hundreds of churches around the world, I have experienced this Saturday afternoon sermon scenario over and over again. It has left me both sad and angry. No wonder people lack excitement with the gospel. No wonder they don’t approach Sunday morning with excitement and anticipation. No wonder they quit believing that the Bible speaks to the drama of their everyday struggle. No wonder they quit thinking their pastor can relate to what their life is like or answer the questions that tend to haunt them. No wonder so many people in so many pews sit there with minds wandering and hearts disengaged. No wonder it’s hard for them to push the last week’s problems or the next day’s duties out of their minds as they sit there on Sunday morning.

I am very concerned about acceptable Sunday morning mediocrity, and I am persuaded that it is not primary a schedule or laziness problem. I am convinced it is a theological problem. The standards you set for yourself and your ministry are directly related to your view of God. If you are feeding your soul every day on the grace and glory of God, if you are in worshipful awe of his wisdom and power, if you are spiritually stunned by his faithfulness and love, and if you are daily motivated by his presence and promises, then you want to do everything you can to capture and display that glory to the people God has placed in your care. It is your job as a pastor to pass this glory down to another generation, and it is impossible for you to do that if you are not being awe-stricken by God’s glory yourself.

Read the rest here (“Ambassadors of Glory for a Beaten-Down Church

Even the Acceptable Sins Will Kill You

6760271Many evangelical churches speak out against certain sins such as abortion, same-sex marriage, drinking, smoking, gambling, etc. Granted, some of these are specifically spoken of in Scripture, while some are more cultural and can be (can be) implied from Scripture.

I read through Romans 1:18-32 on Sunday morning during our Reading of the Word portion at the beginning of the service.  It’s dealing with how, even though creation screams out God’s eternal power and divine attributes that leave the world without excuse as to whether God exists or not, the lack of honoring Him or giving thanks to Him sets us on a downward trajectory.  They exchanged God’s glory for that which is created.  Therefore, God gave them up to their passions (Romans 1:24-32).  But look at the last paragraph:

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Paul begins to speak of ‘acceptable sins’–sins that we tolerate in our own lives and among the believers in a church.  Sins such as:

  • Gossipping
  • Slander
  • Disobedience to parents
  • The malicious person who disrupts

And many times, we put this caveat in:  “Oh, that’s just the way they are!”

And that’s the problem!  If that’s the way they are, and yet they refuse to (1) have an awareness of this fact, and (2) do not see a need nor have a desire to repent of it, then what will happen.

“Those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them, but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).  Acceptable sins!  And even acceptable sins can kill you–and you can be an accomplice to the death of others by our acceptance of these matters.

In our churches, we need to spend just as much time on these acceptable sins as we do on those sins we find (and God finds) unacceptable as well.

Otherwise, blood will be on our hands!

Help for Established Churches via Podcasts

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and of those podcasts, I listen to ones dedicated to the established church.  We are not a church plant, we are not a replant, we are not a parachurch organization nor a philanthropic organization (exclusively). My church was planted in Colorado in 1960, an old church in Colorado terms.

Here are some podcasts I listen to that help me as a lead pastor in an established church to navigate all the issues that arise:

Church for the Rest of Us–Jimmy Scroggins

A place to find principles, strategies, and ideas that you can implement right now with the resources you have.

EST.– for the Established Church–Sam Rainer, Micah Fries, & Josh King

A weekly discussion for the established church.  Micah Fries (Brainerd Baptist Church, Chattanooga, TV), Sam Rainer (West Bradenton Baptist Church, Bradenton, FL), and Josh King (Sachse’s Church, Sachse, TX).

Rainer on Leadership — Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe

This podcast interacts with various areas of leadership in established churches.

Revitalize & Replant –Thom Rainer and Mark Clifton

Revitalize & Replant is a weekly discussion on church revitalization and replanting featuring Thom Rainer, Jonathan Howe, and Mark Clifton. Revitalize & Replant with Thom Rainer is presented by the North American Mission Board.

Practical Shepherding — Brian Croft

Many pastors lack the necessary training to perform even the most basic of pastoral duties.  In fact, even pastors who have had some kind of formal theological training still lack the practical training that every pastor will inevitably need to face the daily grind of pastoral ministry.   There are very few outlets and resources for this training, and this reality grows even dimmer once outside the United States.  Most of the pastors we help cannot financially support our ministry.

White Horse Inn — Michael Horton and crew

Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast

“Ever wish you could have a conversation with some of the top leaders in ministry today? Well, that’s what my new leadership podcast is designed to bring you.”

Five Minutes in Church History — Stephen Nichols

Each podcast offers an easily digestible glimpse of how the eternal, unchangeable God has worked in the church over prior generations, and how this can encourage us today. This is our story—our family history.


What are some other podcasts that have helped you?

Form vs Function: Our Programs are to Serve, Not Be Served


Scott, you are an artist par excellence.

At times, churches are so connected to certain ministries and programs that they remain long after their effectiveness is gone. Part of it is a leadership issues, but part of it is a resuscitation or even a resurrection issue–that is, it either needs new life breathed into it, or it needs to die and be brought back in another form all the while keeping the function.

This is nothing new.  In Mark 2:27, Jesus told the religious leaders, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The religious leaders had developed so many rules as to what you could or could not do on the Sabbath that it failed to extend grace, even to the point of where they struggled in seeing Jesus heal someone on the Sabbath. The form (the Sabbath) was to feed the ultimate issue, which is the function (rest and recharging by remembering God’s good grace). The religious leaders, however, set this on its head: people were serving their rules of the Sabbath, thus oppressing rather than releasing them to enjoy their life in God.

In churches today, we see this happening, say, with music. Though styles have changed over the years, we see some gravitating to a preferred style.  That preference, if one isn’t careful, turns into a test of faith for others. As a result, those who prefer hymns or choruses in a specific way impose that preference on others. The church suffered much through worship wars, rather than seeing that there were both good hymns and bad hymns as there were good modern songs and bad ones. Take the best of both: those that honor Christ, encourage the church, and are singable.

In our Southern Baptist culture, missions in another. I grew up with various missions programs that mean a lot to me during the years. But I also came across other missions programs (forms) that were just as impactful in getting the Great Commission in our children’s heads (function).  Let me give you a more pointed case that’s happening now at our church.

My associate pastor, Scott Morter, has long sensed a call to missions in Ireland. Our normal lane of sending is through the International Mission Board (IMB). Our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions goes to help the IMB put missionaries in place all over the world–sort of.

You see, the IMB is focusing on the 10-40 window (10 degrees north latitude to forty degrees south latitude), which is mainly North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.  You don’t have to be a geography scholar to realize that Ireland is not in that window.  Yet, where Scott and his family will go is the least evangelized area in the English speaking world (0.2% evangelical).

Our form (IMB) did not provide a lane, but another group, WorldVenture, did.  Remember, the function is to get the gospel out to areas where the gospel ain’t. If we were married to the form, we would say, “Scott, we will only support you go via the IMB.”  As Jesus taught the religious leaders, that would be legalistic and, yes, sinful. But, we say, “Scott, the goal is for you to get on the field to get the gospel where the gospel ain’t, so we will pray and support and help all we can.”  Yes, he will have to do his own partner development (i.e., fundraising), as opposed to the IMB which provides what’s needed through our giving to the Lottie Moon Offering and the Cooperative Program.

Even so–it’s an example that when our programs reach a tipping point to where we are serving them, even if it’s not accomplishing what they set out to accomplish, rather than the programs serving the Great Commandment/Great Commission function, it’s time to evaluate. Perform CPR, and if that doesn’t work, there’s no sin in letting a program (form) ride off into the sunset so another form can come in to perform the Great Commandment/Great Commission function needed.


What the Ancient Celtic Christians Teach Us About Christian Living

A friend of mine recommended a book by George Hunter called The Celtic Way of Evangelism. This not only went over the ministry of St. Patrick centuries ago, but also in their work and success in reaching varying cultures for the gospel. Below is an excerpt of ten lessons we could learn even now.

  1. Celtic Christian leaders would counsel today’s church leaders to relinquish the full responsibility for making Christians into better Christians. Church leaders cannot do it for people—through preaching harder, scheduling more prayer meetings and retreats, or making all other attempts to do it for people through more and better programming. As we have already learned in the field of adult education, delegate to the people the responsibility for their own development. There are limits to what any leaders or programs can achieve in the learning and lives of passive attendees; there are no known limits to what people can become through their own disciplines and (even more important) through nurturing one another’s development.
  2. They would counsel us to relinquish the illusion that Gutenberg’s printing press produced a panacea. From the first printing of Bibles, in the 1450s, Protestant leaders seem to have assumed that if every church member had his or her own copy of the canon we would produce a biblically literate, rooted, informed church. It has never happened in more than five centuries. There is no reason to be confident that it will happen tomorrow—no matter how many translations and paraphrases are published, marketed, and promoted. Celtic Christian leaders would remind us that, before Gutenberg, Christians memorized much of the Bible. In the monastic communities, they came to know all 150 psalms, and much of the rest of the Bible, more or less by heart. The Scripture that is in us informs much more of our ongoing internal conversation than Scripture that we merely read.
  3. They would counsel us to relinquish the illusion that a brief daily devotional each morning, in which (say) people read a snippet of Scripture, a brief reflection, and a short prayer—all on one page of The Upper Room devotional guide—will shape great souls. The people of Alcoholics Anonymous have learned to begin and end each day in devotional focus. The ancient Celtic practice scheduled three times per day, as modeled in Ray Simpson’s A Holy Island Prayer Book: Morning, Midday, and Evening Prayer and in the Northumbria Community’s Celtic Daily Prayer.
  4. Not even three scheduled times for prayer each day make for powerful Christian spirituality. The most important practice, as the Celts recalled Paul’s words, is to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). That is, you pray into each of the day’s situations, events, responsibilities, and tasks, and you include the Holy Spirit in your ongoing internal conversation.
  5. Feel free, often, to pray with your eyes wide open. Often, you have to keep your eyes open when you pray while driving, speaking, attending a meeting, or conversing with someone. But praying with one’s eyes open is not a regretful necessity or a second-class approach. Closed is not necessarily better than open. The Celtic Christian saints often prayed with their eyes open, using something in the creation around them to fix on as a sign of God’s presence.
  6. Harness your imagination in your life of devotion to God. The saints imagined the Lord before them, behind them, above them, within them, or meeting them through a creature of the forest or a person in need. Imagination focuses and catalyzes prayer. (See Esther de Waal’s The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination.)
  7. They would recommend that every Christian have an anam cara—that is, a “soul friend.” One’s soul friend, as I understand it, is not a superior or even one’s spiritual director, but a peer with whom one can be open and vulnerable. (John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom takes the place of the single source that we never had before!)
  8. Meet weekly or biweekly in a small group in which you are in ministry with one another, rejoicing and weeping with one another, pulling for one another, interceding for one another, holding one another accountable, bringing out the best in one another, identifying one another’s gifts of the Spirit, and in which you learn to engage in ministry and to converse about the faith.
  9. In your spiritual life, do not engage in endless ongoing self-assessment and spiritual navel-gazing. Canon Bryan Green, a great Anglican evangelist in the Celtic tradition, once said that too many Christians remind him of the fellow who planted a small bush in a pot and watered it every day—and pulled it out of the soil every day to see if the roots were growing! (Of course, they were not.) The purpose of the spiritual life, after all, is not to reinforce the pride, self-preoccupation, and narcissism that are our original sin, but to become open enough to the Spirit to be pulled out of that selfcenteredness; to be reconciled to God, others, and creation; and to have the marvelous freedom of largely forgetting oneself for stretches of time—before regrouping in scheduled times of discipline.
  10. The main purpose in the life of Christian devotion is not so much to get blessed, get our needs met, become happier, or accomplish any of the other early goals that people usually have in mind when they begin praying. The main purpose is to become like Christ. As C. S. Lewis reminded us, the Holy Spirit wants to make us “little Christs.” Thomas á Kempis was right; it is about “the imitation of Christ.” In life’s ultimate paradox, as we become more like Christ—living by the will of God, reflecting the love of God—we become more like the people we were born to be and have really always wanted to be.

The Primacy of the Word of God in Preaching


Paul’s last written charge to Timothy was culled down to these three words, “Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). What Word?  Just a few verses prior, he outlined the nature of the Bible:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[a] may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Theologians use the term plenary verbal inspiration: All Scripture is inspired, breathed out by God!  But it is also profitable, making the man of God both complete (mature) and equipped for every good work.  Think on this just for a moment.

All Scripture. At this time, ‘all Scripture’ meant the Old Testament.  In Luke 24:13-35, Jesus has just risen from the dead and comes up upon two of His disciples, Cleopas and another unnamed disciple on the road to the town of Emmaus.  They were trying to process the events of Christ’s arrest, trial, and crucifixion–and the fact that the women disciples reported that His body was missing. Here’s Jesus’ response:

25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

The Old Testament was sufficient in showing the person and work of Jesus–every portion, every page. Granted, the New Testament brought a clarity to the message of the Old Testament, reminding us of what Augustine said centuries ago: “The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.” Jesus tells us that everything that happened in the days prior was prophesied and verified in the Old Testament centuries before.

Later, the apostle Peter (and in all likelihood Paul) recognized that the New Testament writings (specifically, the writings of Paul) were included under the heading of Scripture:

15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures (2 Peter 3:15-16).

The implication is that Paul’s writings are (1) hard to understand, and (2) like the other Scriptures, ignorant and unstable people twist to their destruction.  Paul, an apostle, was given wisdom by the Holy Spirit to write to the church regarding matters that are considerable not just scriptural but Scripture itself.

Therefore, we as pastors preach all of the Bible, Old as well as New Testament, as Christian Scripture pointing to Christ.


Profitable for what?  He lists four items: teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. Let’s flesh this out:

  • Teaching: not the act of teaching, but the content taught–teaching the teaching that is right.
  • Reproof: showing what is not right in our doctrine and our actions.
  • Correction: showing us by the Spirit and the Word how to get it right.
  • Training in righteousness: showing us how to stay right.

When you talk about profitable, this is as profitable as it gets. Our goal in preaching is not simply ‘information dump.’ Rather, our goal is to learn the Word so that we can help our people know God’s will and way, and to see where we line up.  Preaching must serve to help others know Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life, and by the Holy Spirit be convicted and counseled in the way of truth.

Scripture equips for every good work.

“… that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).

The Scripture is sufficient to bring the pastor/elder into full maturity. And more so, out of the overflow of his life, is equipped by the teaching and by living out that teaching to accomplish ‘every good work’ God has for him. Martin Luther once said, “What is asserted without the Scriptures or proven revelation may be held as an opinion, but need not be believed.”

Illustrations have their place (that will come later), but the exposition of Scripture is where all else springboards for the preacher and pastor.

The Primacy of Prayer in Preaching


The apostle Peter mentioned prayer first, and for good reason. Preaching is a supernatural act!  We are not simply dumping information, we are praying for transformation through what God has said.  A.J. Gordon noted:

Our generation is rapidly losing its grip upon the supernatural; and as a consequence, the pulpit is rapidly dropping to the level of the platform. And this decline is due, more than anything else, to ignoring the Holy Spirit as the supreme inspirer of preaching. We would rather see a great orator in the pulpit, forgetting that the least expounder of the Word, when filled with the Spirit, is greater than he. (1)

While some look at the power of preaching coming from a certain type of personality, a certain twist of a phrase, being a stand-up comic that intersperses Scripture in from time to time, or other human-driven motives and methods, preaching is a supernatural act that needs bathing in prayer. D.L. Moody got it right:

I’d rather be able to pray than be a great preacher; Jesus never taught his disciples how to preach, but he did teach them how to pray.

How? Although each of these deserves a longer treatment, let’s quickly look at these four matters:

Through prayer, God invests in His people, especially His preachers.

Christ is the one who sends out His preachers to whom and where He sends.  In Matthew 10, Jesus sent out the twelve, “instructing them, ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand”’” (Matthew 10:5b-7).  Later, Jesus tells them to “Go, make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) and that “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  It was here that the Holy Spirit came upon the 120 meeting in the upper room in Jerusalem, where they were given the Word and the languages to make that Word understood (Acts 2:1-4). By the Holy Spirit, men are called to preach and lead God’s people.

Through prayer, God illumines the Word.

In 1 Corinthians 2:9:10, Paul tells the Corinthian church:

But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,

   nor the heart of man imagined,

what God has prepared for those who love him”—

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

In verse 13, Paul goes deeper: And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”

Through prayer, God opens up hearts to rescue His own.

Just a little later in 1 Corinthians 3, Paul explains the roles of preacher and Trinity:

5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).

The preacher plants and waters. “Oh, if we had a preacher who ___________, then many would come to Christ.”  How would we fill in that blank?  Was serious? Funny? Handsome? Young? Old?  These items are not mentioned as qualifications for the preacher, as if these items assisted God’s saving work.  The qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 suffice, and one who preaches “the gospel of grace” and one who does not “shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” and pays “careful attention to [themselves] and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:24, 27). By His strength, we stay faithful to what He has clearly called us to. By His Word, He opens up hearts to receive and grow in His Word.  

Jesus came to earth, “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), and how will this happen without a preacher sent (Romans 10:14-15)?  Preaching is a supernatural act in a natural world to bring the natural into the supernatural by Jesus.  Here my pastor, Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892):

To us, as ministers, the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential. Without Him our office is a mere name. . . . Unless we have the spirit of the prophets resting upon us, the mantle which we wear is nothing but a rough garment to deceive. We ought to be driven forth with abhorrence from the society of honest men for daring to speak in the name of the Lord if the Spirit of God rests not upon us. . . . If we have not the Spirit which Jesus promised, we cannot perform the commission which Jesus gave. (3)

(1) A.J. Gordon . Quoted in Greg Heisler, Spirit-Led Preaching (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2007), 7.

(2) Source unknown.

(3) C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1954), 186-87.