Throughout scripture, God’s leaders equip others for ministry. Moses prepared Joshua to lead the Israelites into the Promise Land. Jesus trained his disciples. Paul mentored young Timothy. If we want congregations filled with disciples who live into their calling, church leaders need to focus on equipping lay people for the work of ministry! What are the foundations church leaders should lay in order to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4)?
The greatest foundation for equipping ministry is Christ-like humility. Scripture clearly lays this foundation throughout the New Testament, and Paul continually uses humility as the one of the primary expectation of Christian living. He writes, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 4:3-4).
It is almost always easier (in the short-term) for us to complete a task on our own. We know how we want a job done, and we don’t have to expend energy teaching others how to do it. Unfortunately, this approach places the emphasis on us individually and leads others to believe that we are the only ones who can work for God’s kingdom. This is not the model that Jesus set forth at all. In fact, it runs entirely contrary to the tone and instruction of the early church.
As a paid staff member in my congregation, it is easy to think of myself as a seminary-trained, ministry expert. But this is not what God desires. Instead, God wants me to consider the gifts that others bring to ministry. Rather than looking for ways to accomplish a task quickly by myself, I need to seek ways to include others in my work. As a church leader, I should equip laity to do the work of ministry. In this way, Christ-like humility draws the attention away from me. It points my work to others and ultimately to God.
All Christians are called to be ministers. This second foundation is woven throughout Paul’s writings. Notice that more of Paul’s letters are addressed to entire congregations than are written to individuals. Second Corinthians 5:20 states, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” First Peter 2:9 refers to all Christ-followers as part of the royal priesthood. Paul is not just talking to pastors here! The role of church leaders is to equip all Christians to live into their callings.
To to understand ministry in its fullness, we need to truly embrace the fullness of the body of Christ. Ministry that is built around individual gifts does not represent God’s desires for the church. Romans 12:4-8 reminds us that there are a variety of gifts that God has given us. Individually, no one possesses all of the gifts. Therefore, lasting ministry cannot be built around a single personality. If the church is to reflect the body of Christ, we need to let others use their gifts for ministry. Ministry that is built around one person’s efforts will eventually fail. In the 1700s, John Wesley equipped lay people to expand the work of the Methodists. However, George Whitfield kept most of the responsibilities of ministry to himself. Wesley’s efforts have been sustained until today, but Whitfield followers disbanded not long after he departed. In his book Transforming Discipleship, Greg Ogden says that effective leadership is proven by “what happens after the leader moves on to his or her next ministry” assignment (p. 134).
As a ministry leader, I need to delegate responsibility. I’ve found that I often must give up some of my preferred ministry tasks in order to allow others to fill those roles. Consider what forms of ministry you can give away. The staff person in charge of the youth ministry at our church has the opportunity to teach our students three times a month. He loves teaching, but he has chosen to hand one of those weeks of teaching over to students, thereby equipping them to lead. While he misses the opportunity to teach on those weeks, he is constantly reminded of the good work God is doing as he leads beyond himself.
The third foundation for an equipping ministry is to invest in people. Christ-like humility coupled with the belief that all are ministers needs to be expressed in discipling others. Discipleship happens best in relationship. Jesus invested in his disciples. He gathered with them in relationship in order to teach, restore them, and encourage them. Discipleship has a lot less to do with the transfer of information, and more to do with the formation of Christian relationships for accountability and encouragement. I often find myself creating short-term programs in hopes that they will produce immediate results. However, genuine relationships take time to form. Discipleship occurs slowly. People might not even be aware of the growth in their own lives. But when they are released for ministry as they grow, the kingdom of heaven notices. God notices, and God rejoices over his people living into the reality that they are the church.
Finally, we must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:19-20 reminds us that the same power which raised Christ from the dead lives in those of us who believe. Nothing is possible in our own strength, but all things are possible for us as we draw from the power of the Spirit. When people are equipped for ministry through the power of the Holy Spirit, God will move in miraculous ways. We must not act in ways that reserve his calling and power for only those of us who are paid staff, but rather, seek to find ways to release his power in equipping every disciple in our churches!