Rev. John Steitz
Our focus today is on the Biblical imperative of equipping ministry. Equipping is about empowering Jesus’ disciples to engage in the acts and work of ministry.
Ephesians 4:11 defines the primary task of church leaders.
“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers…
Preparing God’s people for works of service is the bottom-line purpose of what church leaders are to do. The primary passage that describes the essential call of what church leaders are to do is Ephesians 4:12.
“… to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,”
Ephesians 4:12 is the mission statement for church leaders. Again and again we can go to this passage to ask, “Do our programs and activities ‘equip the saints’?” “Are we expressing our core values in ways that ‘build up the body of Christ’?”
If the answer is yes, we are on track. If the answer is no, we need to go back to basics, refocus our leadership, and our church on this priority.
Ephesians 4:12 is not the mission statement for the Church, but rather for church leaders. It is a reminder that the work of ministry belongs to all the saints, which means all members of the church. The primary role of a pastor and teacher is to equip the saints for this work.
One of the primary responsibilities of an intentional interim minister is to help new church leaders emerge and develop. As Norman Bendroth states in his book, Interim Ministry in Action, “genuine leaders are those who seek to serve others, build up the body of Christ, and do not self-aggrandize.”
The end goal is not activity but maturity. The goal of equipping the saints is not individual growth but group growth. This is whole-church, community discipleship as described in Ephesians 4:13.
“until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”
It would be a mistake to define equipping by the activities we do rather than by the results that occur. Equipping is more than being an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, or teacher. When we misunderstand equipping we might get an overabundance of programs.
We know we have equipped others when each person does her or his part so that the whole body grows and loves. It would be so much easier if we could simply view equipping by the activities we do. The Biblical imperative for equipping sets a much higher standard than the number of sermons, plans, or programs we produce.
Equipping is not one more program we add to the other programs of the church. Equipping is a “North Star” by which we measure and redirect all of our programs.
Equipping is a return to the Biblical priority established for church leaders. This allows for simplifying the work around the essential tasks God has defined for us. Ephesians 4:15 – 16 focuses on the goal of equipping ministry:
“But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”
Equipping ministry sounds very simple. We build an internal process that values gift-based service, then create paths to help people move from where they are now to where their gifts can fully bloom.
One problem is where we start. Our culture socializes us with a strong consumer mindset. We live in a consumer culture where we are used to constant advertising, and to shopping at large box–stores or online with both highly specialized vendors and mega- websites where we can find almost everything we want.
We take these choices and options as normal and expected. This consumer mindset impacts churches. Many choose a church based on which one gives the best “religious goods and services,” where the church is just one more consumer venue. Many people have been so thoroughly trained to view everything from a consumer framework that the church becomes the go-to place to consume religious goods and services.
It is very hard to move people from a consumer mind-set to a servant mindset. So much of our consumer culture resists this transition. Yet it is this transition to a servant mindset and the equipping for the work of ministry that this makes possible that will provide us with the greatest joy and maturity.
To build an equipping culture in a sea of opposing cultural forces requires deep prayer, careful strategizing, and persistent work. It is here that today’s Gospel passage is very helpful.
In Mark 8: 31 – 38 Jesus informs the disciples that his mission and ministry will result in his great suffering, rejection, being killed, and rising again. This is just too much for Peter to hear and he rebukes Jesus.
Jesus then points out that anyone who wants to be his disciple much be humble, take up their cross, and follow him. Jesus doesn’t face a consumer culture but the mindset that a powerful leader will bring about inevitable success is strong. That the powerful leader will do all the heavy lifting.
Jesus affirms that discipleship comes with both joys and costs. This is very different than seeing discipleship as just another religious good or service.
An equipping church is about helping people embrace the joys and costs of discipleship. Equipping ministry mobilizes us in service to other. Equipping ministry empowers both clergy and laity to use their gifts, encouraging every member to do the work of ministry. Equipping ministry prepares people for whole-life ministry in their churches, communities, families, and workplaces.
Let us move from religious goods and services to equipping people for the work of ministry. Let us embrace the cost and joy of discipleship.