Equipping in the Smaller Church
“Preach and visit.” Does that sound familiar to you? That’s not only the framework of ministry in thousands of smaller churches, it is the expectation. Teaching the Word of God and shepherding the congregation is obviously a good thing. How that gets done is another thing entirely.
In many smaller church settings the pastors come and go every few years and the board and key leaders “run” the church. There is an obvious expectation for the pastor to teach on Sunday morning, visit the sick and provide pastoral care for the members. I’ve actually seen this in job descriptions, including “the board will take care of the direction and business of the church.”
I’m not writing with an edge. My reference to good volunteer leaders who love their pastor(s) and are fully dedicated to their church. They love God and work hard in their church. These are good churches, doing good things, but they remain small. Even that isn’t bad or wrong by itself, but if we are honest about it, God does intend for churches to grow.
One of the primary ways to help a church grow is to equip (train) the people to serve in the church and release the pastor to get other things done, including partnering with the board in the real “running” (leadership) of the church. This process increases the “muscle” of the church, making the church stronger and increasing its capacity to reach more people. The picture is simple. One person can pick up 50 pounds, one hundred people can pick up 5,000 pounds.
Change your thinking
Your church is on the right track if more than just the faithful few begin to serve. But here’s the big test. If you hear people say “I’m helping Pastor with his ministry” (or statements like that), the congregation doesn’t yet have the right idea and equipping will never find it’s true place in your church.
Ephesians 4:11-13 makes it clear that the Pastor is the one to help the people accomplish their work in ministry!
“11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
As the pastor, your job is to build up the people and train them for meaningful ministry. It’s not about getting people to “get stuff done”. The big idea is about building up the body of Christ and developing spiritual maturity. When you, the staff, and key leaders believe this biblical principle, it can then be taught to the congregation. And more than taught, it needs to become part of the DNA of your church, meaning literally, part of who you are.
Change your approach
Don’t be the hero, be the coach. As you saw in Ephesians 4, the pastor functions more like the coach who is responsible to train his team to win, rather than being the star of the team. It’s very tempting to listen to the people tell you how good your sermon was, and tell you that they don’t know what they would have done without your presence in the last crisis they experienced. If that sounds like your experience, I’m glad you love your people, but your ministry will grow exponentially if you stop trying to do everything, and train others to serve.
Don’t ask the people to help, instead, invite them to participate in what God has planned for them. If, for example, you print in the bulletin that you are desperate for helpers in the nursery, the congregation will experience that in a negative way. (You don’t have to use the word desperate for the people to feel it that way.) Some churches force people to “work” in the nursery, if they want to use the nursery. I have a better suggestion. Invite people to participate in the big vision that God has in mind through the personal expression He has planned for each person. Ephesians 2:8-10 makes it clear.
“8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
When you invite people to ministry, invite big. If you see people through the eyes of God you will see more potential, believe in them and empower them for greater responsibility. It’s usually wise to give a little responsibility at a time, but don’t hold back if someone is doing well. Make the people the hero’s. Brag on them from the platform on Sundays. Tell stories of how lives are being changed because the people are rising up and serving!
Change your practice
Start with the big picture in mind. Work yourself out of a job. That’s not literal, but almost. Working yourself out of a job doesn’t mean that you surrender overall spiritual leadership, communication on Sunday mornings, responsibility for raising money in the church (stewardship), and responsibility as primary evangelist. But there are dozens of other things you can give away, and should!
You can do some of this by one on one coaching. Take people with you when you do ministry and show them how. From printing the bulletin to visiting people in the hospital, they can do it! Candidly, there is very little the people in your church can’t do. It starts with you seeing them differently. They may not all be “10” leaders. Start with what you have. This is what God has given you. Grow them up and train them! You might be surprised how well the people you have can serve and lead!
You can also do this in groups (large and small). Help people in your congregation discover their spiritual gifts. There are many spiritual gifts tests available today. I’ve written one that you can get from www.INJOY.com. Pick one that you like and get it in the hands of your people. Let your congregation know the opportunities available. Don‘t “beg” for someone to assume the student ministry. Cast vision for someone to make a difference in the next generation! If you need several ushers, let them know how vital this role is to the preparation of a moment that God will speak to the people during a Sunday service. You get the idea!
Let people experiment with different ministries. If they know they are not locked-in for life, they are more apt to try more options and find the one they truly love. Make sure they get the training they need, encourage them much and thank them often for all they do.
This process doesn’t take place overnight, especially if your congregation 20 years old or more. It requires an intentional approach that might take you a good 12-18 months before you begin to see real change in the congregation. So, don’t look for quick and easy results. One sermon won’t do it. Stay in the game. Get the key leaders on board with you and begin the incredible ride of multiplying your leadership by equipping the church to serve.
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