The role of the church is to equip believers for ministry (Eph. 4:11-16), providing the biblical context for discipleship.
Because relatively few churches were fulfilling this role, discipleship became identified with the ministry of parachurch ministries, such as Navigators and Campus Crusade. These organizations performed an indispensable role in bringing the responsibilities of discipleship to individual believers, but this discipleship often lacked the dimension of the church.
The local church is indispensable for biblical discipleship. It is the focal point of the plan of God, which is to bring all things together under one head, Christ (Ephesians 1:10). God has appointed Christ to be the Head over everything for the church, which is His body.
The local church is an expression of the Body of Christ and must strive to become an equipping church.
Every church is to grow up into Him who is the Head. “From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16 NIV).
Marks of an Equipping Church
In an equipping church, the leaders do not merely do ministry but equip others to do ministry.
Doing ministry is not the same as equipping others to do ministry. Equipping is involving others personally in ministry. Of course, you cannot equip for ministry without doing ministry, but you can do ministry without equipping others. An equipping church is a church where empowering people takes precedence over directing activities.
An equipping church unleashes the mid-level leadership of the church, the “joints and ligaments” that allow the church to function as a unified body in which every part does its work (Ephesians 4:16).
The mid-level leaders of the church are its joints and ligaments, joining the members to the Head. They are gifted by the Spirit and given by the Lord to the Church. Their task is not primarily to assume ownership for the ministry, but to prepare God’s people for involvement in works of service. When the leaders take this seriously, leadership development occurs on two levels. First, the leaders themselves develop their leadership abilities. There is no better way to learn than to train others. Second, by being equipped, everyone within the church is able to discover their giftedness and ministry skills, allowing the church to fulfill its five ministry functions: outreach, proclamation, evangelism, shepherding, and training. There is probably no deeper fellowship than fellowship in shared ministry.
An equipping church is a church committed to helping everyone within the church rise to his full potential for Christ. It is a local church committed to helping all become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ by seeking to involve every believer into a meaningful ministry. Leaders in equipping churches focus on potential rather than problems.
Values of an Equipping Church
An equipping church values people above programs. Members realize that they are participants in the ministry and not mere consumers. As members of a ministry team, they participate in the planning process and assume ownership of the team’s plan and goals. This produces teamwork, motivation, a satisfaction in experiencing spiritual progress, and a sense of identity.
An equipping church values people’s potential above their position. They do not diminish the importance of vocational ministry. Rather, they elevate the importance of non-vocational ministry, breaking down the distinction between clergy and laity with respect to ministry functions. Equipping churches focus on the potential of each member, believing that each member has been gifted by the Spirit to fulfill a role in the church. This means, as we will see later, that the church is prepared not only to connect people with each other, but also with defined ministries, providing the coaching and training necessary to enable these people to serve at the maximum of their giftedness.
An equipping church values purpose and performance above organizational structures.
Most churches work through commissions and committees, often elected by the church for specific areas of the life of the church. Though some committees function as teams, many of them are composed of members who come to meetings merely to listen and to react to the planning and programs of the leader. Becoming an equipping church means transforming committees into teams. In a team, each member has specific responsibility for an area of the ministry. He or she is given the privilege of showing creativity in developing a ministry.
Ephesians 4:11-16 is a foundational passage for the church:
- The Church is the body of Christ
- Christ is the Head
- Leaders are the joints and ligaments
- Every member is essential for the functioning of the body.
The Lord gives leaders to the church to fulfill the five functions of the church’s ministry:
- Apostolic: reaching out to the world
- Prophetic: proclaiming the Word of God with authority
- Evangelistic: calling people from the world into the body of Christ
- Shepherding: caring for those who are in the body
- Teaching: providing a foundation of truth for the members of the body
The role of these leaders (the joints and ligaments) is to involve believers into ministries.
The term katartizo, which is often translated equip or prepare, means literally to connect. It is on-the-job training. It designates the function, not a result; in Ephesians 4:12 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17 the emphasis is not on perfecting but preparing.
Therefore, to equip is more than to train, though training is a necessary component. To equip is to connect, and this means involvement in ministry. This is most effectively done through the creation of ministry teams.
Why become an Equipping Church?
Picture a local church where the vast majority of Christ-followers are growing spiritually and ministering effectively to each other and to lost individuals within their spheres of influence:
- Where the ministry is not program or staff driven but people driven;
- Where the ministry is not owned only by the ministry leaders but by the people;
- Where people are actively involved in ministry teams based upon their ministry passion and spiritual gifts;
- Where people intentionally minister to those within their neighborhoods and workplaces, and lost people are becoming Christ-followers on a regular basis; and
- Where ministry leaders are not burning out from carrying the ministry on their shoulders.
Yet, equipping others is a neglected ministry
For many who are in ministry, becoming an equipper rather than a doer represents a radical transformation. Ministry leaders are usually trained to do ministry. This is where they find their identity and fulfillment. Further, their training allows them to do it faster and more efficiently than to delegate it to others. If they are paid staff members, they sometimes feel guilty when someone else does what they consider to be their job. They find it easy to assign tasks but are less comfortable in delegating responsibilities and often have little time to personally coach those who are getting involved in significant ministries.
Because of this, many ministry leaders define equipping simply as preaching, discipling, or teaching, rather than involving people in meaningful ministry. Though it is true that these ministries play a role in equipping, they represent only certain aspects of equipping and not the essence.
The neglect of equipping is one of the principal reasons for the decline of a local church. Unless people are motivated to rise to their spiritual potential, they will simply be consumers of the ministry and stagnate spiritually. If new people are not challenged for ministry, they will be less likely to stay in the church. People will find their interests elsewhere than the church.
Unless equipping is the underlying culture for the entire scope of ministry, the church is falling short of the plain pattern of Ephesians 4:11-16, no matter how many discipleship and training programs it might have.
Becoming an Equipping Church
Becoming an equipping church does not mean implementing a new program. Equipping is an organic approach to ministry. It must be implemented relationally. It is a commitment to intentionally making Ephesians 4:11-16 the DNA of the church and its ministries. Because equipping is not a program, the focus of an equipping church is to individually develop its equipping culture in a way that is suitable to its unique needs and distinctiveness.
The first step in becoming an equipping church is an intentional commitment of the leadership of the church to apply Ephesians 4:11-16 in the ministry of the church. Since being an equipping church is not a program, but an approach to ministry, it does not necessarily mean changing the organizational structures of the church.
This will require the designation of a coordinator who will assume the responsibility for the oversight of the equipping ministries in his church. This can be the pastor or someone the pastor designates. He will create an equipping team to oversee the equipping ministries.
Every effort must be made to seek to infuse an equipping culture into all aspects of the church, which will encourage all the members to rise to their full potential for the Lord. This will involve communicating an equipping mindset. The equipping approach must be implanted into the church as a whole, through the preaching and teaching ministries. The church must be able to bring Ephesians 4:11-16 alive—a passage woefully neglected in many churches.
The following outline of a four-week sermon series could be very effective in achieving this mindset:
- The glory of the church as the body of Christ, for whom and from whom ministry exists.
- The five functions of the church: outreach, proclamation, evangelism, shepherding, training.
- The role of the “joints and ligaments,” the mid-level leaders of the church, gifted by the Spirit and given to the church to equip the saints.
- Growth and unity being the fruit of an equipping church, with members attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Guidelines for Incorporating an Equipping Culture
- Infuse dependent prayer into all aspects of the ministry.
- As leaders, get your value not by how well you perform, but by how well you equip others in effective ministry.
- Move people from being ministry consumers to ministry contributors, seeing potential in every member.
- Transform elected committees into open-ended ministry teams in which each member can exercise creativity in his responsibility.
- Equip your “mid-level” leaders; the joints and ligaments that hold the body together, by giving them the responsibility as ministry team leaders.
- Identify ministry leaders by function, not by position, making little distinction between paid staff and volunteer workers.
- Help people discover their spiritual giftedness by involving them in ministry rather than merely taking spiritual gift inventories.
- Combine ministry instruction with ministry involvement, meeting the felt training needs that grow out of ministry experience.
- Keep the focus of equipping on the people, not the process, seeking to help every member rise to his full potential.
- Remember and teach that ministry is not what we do for the Lord, but what He does through us.
Implementing an Equipping Culture
Following the guidelines above, the following are five steps toward an equipping culture. For facility of memory, each begins with the letter “I”.
Intercession We must constantly emphasize the indispensable role of prayer—not just through lip-service or routine prayers at the beginning of meetings, but prayers of genuine faith. Praying in faith means total dependence on the Lord of the church as the One from Whom and into Whom the church grows. Infusing an equipping culture requires the mobilization of people to intercede regularly for the involvement of the church’s members in ministry, for members to identify their giftedness, and for the various ministries of training.
Identification Every church must be able to identify its ministry needs. For many churches, this is difficult because most the ministries are fulfilled by the paid staff members. When ministry needs are identified, equipping churches focus on the development of open-ended ministry teams focusing on these needs. These ministry teams usually replace the committees and commissions that are elected on a yearly basis. Effective equipping churches develop ways of identifying those the Lord has sent them to involve them in ministries.
Involvement An equipping church believes that every member is gifted for ministry. Therefore, it will be focused on involving every member into a specific ministry. This will enable the members to discover their gifts, and will create a thirst for further training. Traditionally we have been led to believe that people should first be trained, then allowed to become involved in ministry. However, the best training is in ministry rather than for ministry.
Instruction We have mentioned that involvement in ministry creates a thirst for further training. Training that is disassociated with ministry can easily become theoretical. In addition to the personal mentoring and coaching provided by the ministry teams, specialized training should be offered. This training should be related to felt needs and should be holistic, targeting both the head, heart, and hands. Though creating a Bible school within the church can be an effective aspect of training, this kind of formal training is only one of many training tools for equipping.
Inspiration The success or failure of infusing an equipping culture is directly related to the ability of the church to give value to those in ministry through positive affirmation. Nothing is more motivational than a spontaneous word of sincere appreciation for ministry well-done. Problems must be dealt with, but can usually be handled in a way that will not diminish the person’s sense of value. Criticism should always be sandwiched between statements emphasizing appreciation on the one hand, and challenges to the potential of the person on the other. In addition to spontaneous affirmation, monthly equipping gatherings that foster a sense of teamwork for all who are involved in ministry are very effective for showing appreciation to those involved in ministry.
Never forget: equipping is a journey, not a destination. — by Tom Julien
Editor’s Note: Tom Julien is the equipping pastor at the Winona Lake, Ind., Grace Brethren Church, and director emeritus of Encompass World Partners. He and his late wife, Doris, served as missionaries for many years in France. He has authored several books, including The Three Princes (BMH Books, 2011).
This first appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of GraceConnect magazine, the publication for the people of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. A downloadable pdf version of this issue is available by clicking here. It also may be read online at issuu.com. If you would like to receive the magazine delivered to you at no charge via U.S. Mail, click here to subscribe.