A Comma That Has Kept The Church In A Coma
By: The John Ankerberg Show
Learn how to get started with the Growing Up Challenge by watching my sermon from Sunday.
Punctuation marks are important. Moreover, correct punctuation is essential. In the wrong place, such simple marks can be devastating.
Take these two sentences for example:
“Let’s eat Grandpa!” and “let’s eat, Grandpa!” The comma makes a big difference—especially for grandpa!
Here is another example from the animal lovers magazine, Tails. The front cover story about Rachel Ray reads: “Rachel Ray finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog.” I believe what they wanted to say was: “Rachel Ray finds inspiration in cooking, her family, and her dog.”
Finally, Goodwill posted this sign outside their building: “Thank you! Your donation just helped someone. Get a job.” The insertion of the first period makes all the difference. What they meant to communicate was: “Thank you! Your donation just helped someone get a job.”
One punctuation mark, by either its insertion or exclusion, has the potential to change the meaning of a sentence. The comma we will examine this morning may be the culprit for the lack of discipleship in the world today. My goal this message is to continue to build a case to motivate you to begin Investing your life in the lived others.
We have misunderstood the mandate to make disciples.
One comma has paralyzed believers for around three hundred years. The chasm between the clergy and the laity has widened since the completion of the King James version of the Bible.
If you examine the KJV translation of Ephesians 4:11–13, you will find two commas in verse 12.
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 fullness of Christ.”
Based on this rendering, what is the job of the Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers? It is three-fold:
- To perfect the saints;
- To do the work of the ministry
- To edify the body of Christ.
The ministers, pastors, and trained professionals, according to this rendering, are expected to carry out all the ministerial duties.
For those who learned greek in school, you know that the original documents were devoid of punctuation marks, particularly commas. The insertion of punctuation is based on the judgment of the translator. I would submit to you that this comma is part of the reason the church has been in a sustained discipleship coma for three hundred years.
In order for this to take place, we have to move our people beyond what Steve Murrell calls the 3 myths in church life.
Mentoring Myth – the ministers do all the work.
Larry Osborne in Sticky Church said,
the Holy man myth is the idea that pastors and clergy somehow have a more direct line to God. It cripples a church because it overburdens pastors and underutilizes the gifts and anointing of everyone else. It mistakenly equates leadership gifts with superior spirituality.
Mr. Jimmy went into the hospital for surgery. I visited him after the procedure. 2 weeks went by and I got word that noone had visited him. I knew this wasn’t true because my associate pastor went earlier in the week. I found out that 2 different deacons went as well. So I went to Mr. Jimmy’s house. “how have you been, Mr. Jimmy?” not good. No one from the church has visited me. Really. Well that’s not true. I heard Jonathon my associate came this week and Ted and Todd, two of our deacons came last week. No pastor, “you didn’t visit me.”
- Ministry Myth – I am not ready to be used by God. Because of my past sins, or my introverted personality, or because I don’t read the Bible enough, or pray enough, or know enough, I am not ready for ministry.
- Maturity myth – this myth suggests that in order for someone to minister, they must be mature. This paralyzes most believers into thinking they are never equipped for ministry. They need another class, another seminar, or a degree on the wall. Fearful that someone might ask them a question they cant answer, they never participate in ministry.
Paul outlines the process for discipleship in eph. 4:11,
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,
If you get nothing else, get this. Ministry is the pathway to maturity. You grow through making disciples.
So here’s the pop quiz for the leaders. If you are not seeing ministry carried out in your church by believers: do you spend time executing ministry or equipping believers to do ministry?
Follow the progression of the text:
Verse 11 can be labeled mentors
Verse 12 can be labeled ministry
Verse 13 can be labeled maturity
The mentoring myth: a pastors job is not to do all the ministry, but to equip others to do ministry. When he raises up other preachers, pastors, Godly fathers, and Christ honoring students, he is effective (eph. 4:11).
The ministry myth: whether a person is extraverted or shy, God can use them. Even if a person doesn’t pray enough, read the Bible enough, or isn’t mature enough, they can still minister in certain areas (eph. 4:12).
The maturity myth: ministry cannot wait until every believer feels mature enough to ministry because maturity happens through ministry (eph. 4:13). You will never feel mature enough to lead another person.
Here is what most think maturity looks like in a church? Teach a sunday school class or become a deacon. Both are crucial ministries in the church. But what about the other 95% of the church? Is there nowhere to serve and use your gifts? You don’t need another Bible study. You can learn how to exegete every passage in the Bible, but if you aren’t living it and applying it, you aren’t being obedient to the great commission.
We Mature By Making Disciples.
This was the emphasis of the protestant reformation. At a time when the trained, unconnected clergy performed the duties of the ministry, the reformers championed the cause of the priesthood of all believers. Any age, any race, any status, any education, and any gender had the ability to approach God through the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe discipleship is the Reformation of the 21st century.
We don’t need to go out and find people to take the gospel to our neighborhoods and nations. We already have them. We see them everyweek. They come to our sunday school classes, and sing in our choirs, and sit in our pews. We already have the gospel workers. We just need to equip and train them for service. The problem is that you have never been equipped and expected to serve the Lord.
Steve Murrell, accidental missionary, disciple-maker, and author, shared his philosophy of discipleship over sushi in nashville a few years ago. After reading his book wikichurch in a day—I couldn’t put it down—I sent him a tweet asking if he visited the states often. This opened the door for a lunch meeting.
Steve shared that in 1984 he and his wife, Deborah, went to the Philippines for a one-month summer mission trip, which, he jokes, has been extended for thirty years. Victory manila, the church he planted, has grown to fifteen satellite locations, with forty-eight preaching pastors ministering to almost sixty thousand people. 8,000 discipleship groups meet in coffee shops, offices, dormitories, parks, homes, and on the steps outside the church on sunday mornings and throughout the week.
When I inquired about his system for developing leaders to facilitate that many groups, Steve chuckled, “we have a training system for those interested in discipling others. However, it’s impossible to manage. The organic nature of group formation forces us to release control. We are sometimes forced to enlist newer Christians to disciple new believers. ‘how much of the New Testament have you read?’ is a question we ask. Some have responded, ‘I just finished the book of <atthew.’ ‘good,’ one of their leaders says, ‘you can lead this man. He hasn’t read any of the Bible. You are a whole book ahead of him.’”
Many would balk at that response, but Steve causes us to rethink how we live. What if we swung the pendulum somewhere in the middle. I have a tendency to wait for believers to mature before allowing them to serve in ministry, but as Ephesians clearly states, ministry is the pathway to maturity, not vice versa.
Sunday school teachers: how many leaders have you raised up to teach others?
Small group leaders: how many home groups have you replicated?
- We have misunderstood the mandate to make disciples
- We have been misled with the wrong motivation to make disciples
If you will allow me to digress, I would like to explain how humans are inspired. By studying men like Martin Luther King Jr, or Steve Job, or even the Wright Brothers, you will uncover a pattern. I would submit to you that Jesus was the master of this, no pun intended.
Simon Sinek codified the idea in his book Start With Why. He created the golden circle of inspiration: why, how, what. Understanding this principle is why some organizations fail and others succeed. What he found out is that people are motivated by the why, more than the what or how. Why does your organization exist? Why do you do what you do? Why does the church exist? Contextually, why should you make disciples?
Unfortunately, many people start with the what and how and omit the why. Allow me to highlight 2 companies to prove this point: Apple and Dell computers. Dell has started with the what, then how.
This is how Dell communicates: We make a great computer. It’s beautifully designed, carefully engineered, easy to use computers. Would you buy one?
On the other hand, Apple communicates: Everything we do we believe is to challenge the status quo and cause people to think differently. We make beautifully designed, carefully engineered, easy to use machines. We just happen to make great computers, want to buy one?
Sirek says, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” This is why we impulsively buy iPhones, iPads, and laptops from Apple.
What does this have to do with discipleship? For years, we have been motivating people with the what. Go make disciples. Jesus said, “go make disciples.” it’s important to make disciples. We are commanded to make disciples. It’s the Christian thing to do.
What are people going to do? Nothing.
For years, we have motivated people with the how. This is how you make disciples: intentionally meet around the word of God, learn it, study it, and live it out, through accountable relationships, in a weekly meeting, for the purpose of replication.
Any questions? Still, no motivation.
Here’s the why of why we need to make disciples:
1. Jesus’ example: He made disciples.
On his way to the cross, Jesus prayed for his disciples—not only for the twelve, but also for all who would later follow him. In his prayer, Jesus made a bold statement to his father, saying, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4). God had given him a task to complete, and he confidently declared that he had finished it.
What was the work Jesus was given to do? Many would argue that Jesus was talking about dying on the Cross. This, however, cannot be true, for his prayer preceded the crucifixion, and he could not then have described his work as having been accomplished. The context of the passage provides the correct answer. The work that Jesus was given to do was to train disciples. The Lord’s prayer in John 17 is a powerful discourse on disciple-making.
In the Lost Art of Disciplemaking, Leroy Eims states, “when you read the prayer carefully, you’ll notice that he did not mention miracles or multitudes, but forty times he referred to the men whom God had given him out of the world.”5 Jesus invested in people, not programs. Yes, he spoke to the multitudes, but he spent his life with twelve men.
Eugene Peterson, author and Pastor, said, “Jesus, it must be remembered, restricted nine-tenths of his ministry to twelve jews.”
Here is something to think about. You will never find Jesus mentoring anyone in a 1 on 1 long term relationship.
2. Jesus’ exhortation: He commanded it.
Not just the Great Commission, but look at Verse 16: “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
3. Jesus’ expectation: Maturity
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
Evangelist vs. Disciple
I want to show you the difference between an addition and subtraction ministry. The evangelist hits the streets every day with the goal of sharing the gospel with as many people as needed to see God save one person. In contrast, the disciple-maker walks two people through a year of intensive discipleship.
The slow-moving discipleship process creeps forward with only four people being impacted in two years, compared to 730 converts through the solitary work of a busy evangelist. However, this radically changes with the passing of time. After sixteen years of the same activity, the evangelist would have seen almost 6,000 people come to faith in Christ, while the disciple would have impacted 65,536 people. Every person on the planet would be reached multiple times over after thirty years. It is a ministry shift from a strategy of addition, where the clergy performs the ministerial duties, to one of multiplication, where believers are expected and equipped to personally participate in the great commission.
At the end of the nineteenth century, everyone was racing to create the first airplane. It was similar to the dot-com boom a few years ago or the invasion of Silicon Valley in the 80’s. One popular inventor was Samuel Pierpont Langley. He had everything going for him. Businessmen understand that 3 factors must converge for success: capital, skilled employees, and favorable market conditions.
Langley raised his sails for the whirlwind that was forming in the area of aerodynamics.
The environment was ideal. There was never a better time to build an airplane. The whole world waited with baited breath for the man who would invent the flying maching.
Langley’s credentials were impressive. In addition to holding a degree in astronomy, he was the secretary of the Smithsonian Onstitute, he was an assistant in the Harvard College observatory, and Professor of <athematics at United States Naval Academy. His close friends were Andrew Carnegie and Alexander Graham Bell. He assembled a team of Cornell trained mechanical engineers and other superior experts in the field.
Capital was not a problem. The department of defense gave him $50,000 for the project. It would be the equivalent of $1.4 million today.Every move he made was recorded by reporters from the ny times who followed him around.
A few hundred miles away in Dayton, Ohio, Orville and Wilbur Wright were building their own flying contraption.
- Unlike langley, they received no funding for the project. Their dream was funded from sales of bicycles at their shop.
- Not a single person on the team had a college degree.
- Not one NY Times reporter knew their name.
But the brothers had something Langley didn’t: they had a dream. Why do you think Martin Luther King, JR.’s speech was so powerful. It wasn’t: I have a plan, but rather I have a dream.
On December 17, 1903, their faith became sight. At 10:35 am on Sunday morning, they achieved the impossible. But no one from the media was there to witness it. They were too busy documenting Langley. It took days before anyone reported on it. What’s the point? The Wright brothers and Langley set out to accomplish the same goal. Both were highly motivated to succeed. Langley was motivated by fame and fortune. The Wright brothers were motivated to change the world. Further proof that Langley was motivated by fame, a few days after hearing the Wright brothers had took flight, Langley threw in the towel. Instead of collaborating with them and using the resources allocated to develop their invention, he quit because he wasn’t first.
How much more important is the great commission?
We are not motivated by money or fame or fortune. We are motivated by a savior who exemplified discipleship, expected discipleship, exhorted us to discipleship, and was executed for the gospel.
We need men filled with the spirit of God, aflame with righteousness. Who are motivated by the one who gave his life for them. Not influenced by the world, but impacted by the word, men not ashamed of the gospel who will answer the call to invest their lives in other men. Let us stop making excuses and start making disciples.
Antoine de saint exupéry:
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
I long to bring God glory. That’s what motivates me to make disciples. How about you?
You are never closer to God than when you’re doing what he commanded you to do: make disciples.
The discipleship challenge will guide you through the process. Who are we targeting with the discipleship challenge?
- People who have never been discipled before but know they need to lead a group.
- People who have led groups, but are looking to grow in their faith.
The greatest tragedy inside the church is having people ready to grow and learn and no one to invest in them. I need you to prayerfully consider investing in a small group of people over the next 13 weeks. Where do I look for people?
- Sunday Bible study class
- Friends in church
New groups: official launch date is Monday, January 20th. If you are already in a Group, I want you to pause for 13 weeks.