I once heard of a woman who wanted her son to be a pastor. When asked for her reasoning, she said that he was lazy and not very talented and she thought pastoral ministry would be an easy career for him.
If you’re a pastor, that true story may make you laugh or make you angry. Most pastors aren’t lacking for things to do. There is never a shortage of people to shepherd, duties to perform, systems to improve or operate, and teaching that requires study and practice.
There are probably several good things you do each week that need to be minimized or cut from your routine. This may include things some members of your church view as top priority items. What do we do with the ministry functions that need to happen but threaten to distract us from the more important aspects of ministry leadership?
Equipping and developing others is one of the most important activities a leader can pursue. It is also the most underemphasized aspect of the average pastor’s weekly routine. While it could be argued that everything a pastor does has some equipping element, much of it is not intentionally geared toward developing leaders. That deficiency is showing in many churches today.
Here’s a critical truth every believer needs to understand: God did not give the church leaders to do the work of the ministry. God gave church leaders to equip others to do the work of the ministry.
His game plan isn’t maintenance, it’s multiplication. This means believers should seek to be equipped for ministry and leaders should prioritize developing others in this way.
One of the primary jobs of church leadership is to equip the believers for service to build up the body of Christ. In the past, many have misunderstood this verse to mean the leaders should do the work of the ministry. But pay close attention to the phrasing. The role of the leader is to equip the saints for ministry.
What does that equipping look like? Paul explains in the verses that follow:
- Equipping means joining others on a journey toward maturity.
If your view of ministry leadership is a short-term investment, you will be easily disappointed. We’re in this for the long-haul, seeking to bring every believer to maturity in Christ. We will never reach that goal on earth, but we will keep striving for it as long as we live.
- Equipping means training them to depart from old ways.
Leaders should not be abrasive or arrogant, but they should gently correct those who still act like children. This is the hardest to do with believers who are much older, but Scripture provides a process for that as well (1 Timothy 5:1).
- Equipping means teaching them sound doctrine, discernment, and integrity.
We are not just to teach right behavior but right belief and right thinking that leads to right behavior. Understanding why you believe what you believe will help you discern beliefs and actions to avoid.
- Equipping means engaging in honest and loving correction.
Speaking the truth can be very uncomfortable at times but it’s an essential part of growth as a believer in Christ. Note that the admonition is to speak corrective truth, not personal preferences. To speak this in love means caring for the person being corrected more than reveling in the act of correction. Some people enjoy correcting others because it makes them feel better about themselves. This is not speaking the truth in love.
- Equipping means coaching them to become like Christ.
Leaders should always point people toward Christ, not themselves, as the goal of maturity. For leaders that struggle with an inflated ego or a touch of personality, this is especially challenging. As a pastor, I should be able to say follow me as I follow Christ, but that ultimately means to follow Christ and only follow me when I am following Christ.
- Equipping means living in community.
Believers are meant to function in community tightly joined together like different parts of one body. Paul loved this analogy with good reason. No one expects every part of their body to serve the same function. No one in their right mind wants to see a part of their body cut off. This is the way we must look at the body of Christ. We are all different. We serve in different roles and have different giftings. But none of us should be isolated. Everyone should be tightly joined with some others in the body.
Notice also that not all parts are connected to each other equally. The hand is connected to fingers and an arm but not to toes. We cannot expect every believer to connect with every other believer. We can expect every believer to expect with some other believers.
- Equipping means challenging them to be engaged and actively serving.
Many churches exist in a state of paralysis. For churches where the Pareto principle holds true, 20% of the believers do 80% of the work and 80% of the people do 20% of the work. If 80% of a body can barely function, it’s called a quadriplegic. Every believer has a role to play. Every part should function and engage in what God is doing in the church. To not get involved in the body of Christ is to disobey God’s design for the church.
- Equipping means growing them and growing the church.
When believers are equipped, they grow. When people grow, they grow the church. The key to growing a church that has deep biblical roots has less to do with your attractions and your preaching and more to do with your people development.
When Thom Rainer asked hundreds of people who left the church and came back what kept them in the church now, they listed ministry involvement, groups, obedience, and fellowship all above preaching and worship services. Preaching and music often get a lot of attention in churches, and rightly so. But place too little emphasis on equipping the believers and you’ll either have a large shallow church or a slowly dying one.