My last column ended with the question, “What does equipping look like?” In a word, it looks like, relationship.
I wrote that a cure for pastor burnout was to equip more “ministers” to do the main work. What I’m talking about here are church members who are fully capable of helping each other with the deep work of transformation. Transformation is greater conformity to the image of Jesus Christ which enables one to live more and more to the glory of God (Rom. 12:2; 1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Cor. 3:18). While it is the Holy Spirit Who does the actual transformation, God’s plan is to use us in each other’s lives as a vital part of the process. We are all to speak the truth to one another in love (Eph. 4:15), we are all to teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16), we are all to restore brothers and sisters who are out of fellowship with God (Gal. 6:1-2). All of this simply is another way of saying, “discipleship”!
Discipleship of this nature necessitates relationship because the truth that we speak to one another is to be integrated into life so that we are transformed and God is glorified (Eph. 4:1, 16-17; Col. 2:6-7). Classroom training can help, but it is limited and too often stands alone without any designed connection to relationship. People rarely learn how to apply truth to life by sitting in a classroom. Information (while important) is, by itself, not transformation. And Jesus was after transformation. Are we reminding our congregants of this?
Jesus’ model for equipping the disciples was relationship. His disciples learned by watching him minister to others. (In similar fashion, Paul exhorts us to imitate him and to follow his example in Phil 3:17; 2 Thess. 3:7,9; 1 Tim. 4:16, 1:12; and 2 Tim. 2:2). It’s like the Law of Biogenesis at work spiritually.
A few weeks ago, my son Jared changed the oil in one of my vans for the first time (see picture). It was a proud moment for him and for me. He had learned a lot about how to change the oil just by watching me do it over the years and I was impressed with the skill and care he demonstrated. When I began to give instruction he said, “Dad, I know how to do this, I’ve seen you do it a thousand times.” Are our relationships with one another strong enough to command that kind of response?
Imagine a church where the following (or something similar) is normally heard: “Fred, my wife and I are struggling but I’ve observed how you relate to your wife. I’ve seen how you work through conflict and I know what I need to do.”
People need to be able to see what you are equipping them to do, especially when it comes to heart transformation.
The main work is the soul work and the soul work is not “turn-key”. It is not simply a matter of telling people what is true and expecting that they will be able to translate that into life. Soul work: discipleship, focuses on the heart where deceitful desires are at war within us (Eph. 4:22; James 4:1-2). So, watching someone have a discussion with another person (or them telling you about it) that plumbs the depths of the heart is very helpful to learning how to do the work yourself.
I’ll never forget learning how to share my faith. My friend, Eric, taught me how to share my faith through a combination of classroom teaching and weekly meetings where we would pray, talk about life, and then go out and actually witness together. Normally, we would go to George Mason University to engage students in spiritual discussions. Eric modeled how to share his faith even with the many antagonists that we providentially encountered. There have been a number of times that I have consciously thought back to those experiences and drawn from what I learned by watching Eric.
So how do we get equipping like this going? Here are several meaty ideas.
First, this will take time. So, it begins with a commitment. Church leaders must see this as mission-critical and not allow tyranny of the urgent, or various fears, to consume it.
Second, it involves the leadership of the church rolling up their sleeves and doing it themselves. Church leaders can begin to regularly meet with people one-on-one. This may require some level of freeing them up to have the time to do this. When small groups are led by elders it provides a natural way for elders to know who they are responsible to equip which also ensures that everyone in the church is actually equipped. This simple connection also helps to establish relationships in a much more natural way.
Third, consider the strategic importance of church leaders developing a primary, not exclusive, but primary focus on discipling the heads of household. I believe this honors the biblical role and responsibility of the head of household and leverages the time and effort of the church leader by focusing on one person who already has the express responsibility of equipping other people, namely and primarily those in their homes, including wives and children.
Fourth, consider giving the Sunday and Wednesday night youth and adult activities a rest for 12 weeks. Gather everyone to go through Paul Tripp and David Powlison’s Changing Hearts, Changing Lives curriculum available from CCEF.org. This curriculum features twelve videos and individual workbooks. This would be a great way to emphasize the necessity of everyone seeing and learning how to be a minister.
Fifth, consider having the Institute come and present a weekend, church-wide seminar! Building Church Communities of Gospel Transformation is for everyone: youth, singles, couples, and families in the church. When trying to emphasize/re-emphasize something important, it sometimes helps as part of the effort for people to hear it from a different person. We also have a simple and fun 12-week curriculum for families to use in the home after the seminar.
Now, perhaps all of this still sounds impractical? You might object, “This will never work at my church!” Or you may question, “Who has time to equip someone this way?” I will answer these and other objections next.