In the majority of established churches in the U. S. the paid staff does most ministry. Staff is expected to do the entire ministry, care for the entire congregation, fix all the problems, and anything else that comes along under the rubric of pastoral care. As such, the congregation lies heavily on how much staff can do, how many hours they can put in, and how many people they can care for. And when the staff takes a breather they are either fired or the people are left uncared for. This creates a “dependent” environment that is far removed from the kind of environment displayed and written about in Scriptures. All one has to do is read passages like Ephesians 4:11-12 and I Peter 2:9 to see that God never intended for people to live in the kind of environment. Yet most congregations are totally dependent on paid staff. This environment is deadly to Christianity’s challenge by Jesus to make disciples.
What Christianity needs today is a fresh view of the church where;
- Every person is a minister of the Gospel;
- Everyone is to care for one another;
- No one is indispensable;
- Paid staff exist primarily to help people grow into what God intended them to be;
- Paid staff offer on-the-job training and mentoring;
- Every leader has and intern learning the trade of how to be a disciple of Jesus;
- All leaders and many of the congregation live and breathe for every one to actively serve in God’s mission by equipping others to serve.
This view of the church is at the heart of a “culture of equipping” and should be the goal of every church.
But for such a culture to be developed and nurtured paid staff and church leaders must have a different understanding of ministry and the roles played by paid staff and congregation. In short, paid staff has to cease being “doers of ministry” and become “equippers of ministry” and the congregation has to quit relying on paid staff for everything and become the “doers of ministry.”
There are two huge barriers to developing a culture of equipping: the pastor and the congregation. Pastors have to be willing to give up doing ministry and laity needs to take responsibility for the ministry. Both of these changes go against our grain. Many pastors like to be needed and many laity thinks of their pastors as spiritual “hit men.” Neither of these attitudes is healthy.
Making the transition from a dependent environment to a growth culture where paid staff equips the congregation for ministry is one of the hardest challenges for paid staff. Let me share an observation from my years of consulting. My experience has been if a church has a staff of ten full time people, two of the staff will already be equipping people, two do not believe it’s possible to do in their church, two or three are open to coaching, and the rest just don’t get it and never will. That means that in the average staff only 20% are equipping people for ministry and 80% are running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to do all ministry. So one of Christianity’s biggest challenges if it wants the Kingdom to come on earth is do turn doers into equippers. So what do I tell church leaders they must do to make this change?
Steps to Making the Transition from Doer to Equipper
Step One begins with the pastor. The pastor can’t demonstrate this change or no one else will. Why is this change so hard for pastors? Because it’s easier and takes less time to do ministry than it is to equip. So pastors are going to make this change their value system must change. Instead of basing their effectiveness on what they can accomplish they have to learn to value getting ministry doing through others.
This sounds easier than it is. After personally working on making this shift for ten years I still had to wrestle with my feelings. I remember when one of my good friends died and I went to his home. His wife met me at the door and surprisingly said, “Bill, thanks for coming but you’re really not needed. My small group is here and they have surrounded me with love. I went home dejected. My wife saw my dejection and as a wise spouse who had struggled with me over this shift said to me “You idiot! You’ve worked for this day for ten years and now that it has happened you don’t know how to deal with it. Get over your need to be needed.” I told you this shift isn’t easy.
Step Two begins when the pastor begins refusing to be the spiritual hit man. I remember the first time I was called on to pray and I refused to do so. I was at a family dinner and when they asked me to pray I responded “I’m not going to pray in your place anymore. You could have heard a pin drop. People waited for someone to pray, but no one stepped up. The next day we began a prayer ministry and began training people how to pray.
I also remember when the time came for me to tell my staff I would no longer be sharing the hospital visitation unless it was a life and death issue, one of them, or one of my family. They were afraid I would be fired. But guess what? When people are schooled in the Gospel they can’t help but understand why such would be to betray the Gospel. Why? Because it robs the laity of the joy of serving based on their gifts instead of sitting on a committee.
So whatever has to happen to move from a doer to equipper the starting point are always the pastor and the Gospel.
Step Three is to realize this change may take longer than you like, especially if you’re in an established church that is used to the pastor serving their every wish. How long it takes depends on what kind of church you’re in. If it is a new church and you’re the founder, it’s immediate. If you’re in an established church it will take years. It took me 8 years to reach the point where I told my staff that I would not go to the hospitals anymore. But my friend Bil Cornelius didn’t have to go through this transition since he founded the church.
So what does one do while waiting for the culture to transform? I can only tell you what worked for me. Keep in mind even though my church was a re-start, I was saddled at the start mostly with long time established mainline Christians.
What Happens During the Transition
The pastor must carefully and slowly chip away at destroying the dependent culture and establishing a growth culture. For eight years, I chipped away at changing the culture to one of equipping. I spent those 8 years filtering out whom I had to see and get fired and whom I could let someone see. I selectively visited some and let other equipped laity see the rest. Each year the list I felt I had to visit dwindled. You must keep in mind the old adage “Monkey see; Monkey do.” It was imperative for my growing staff to see me setting the equipping model.
You must keep in mind that you are the only curriculum there is for making this shift. You don’t need a library full of books or courses; you need role models and you must be THE role model. One of the questions I get the most is “what is the best curriculum on equipping?” When I give them my stock answer – “You are the curriculum” – I get this blank stare like, “Sure, now where do I find the curriculum?”
Westerners are so hostage to a passion for teaching content that we have a hard time understanding that modeling behavior is far more productive. We confuse teaching with modeling. The best way to equip people is by modeling what you want them to become. That’s the basic meaning of the word “disciple.” A disciple is one who is being mentored to learn a trade. The trade is becoming like Jesus.
A lot of books have been written on equipping. A few of them are excellent but none of them can be considered as good a curriculum as you are.
I see a lot of pastors trying to equip their people in a classroom setting and 95% of the time it fails. Discipleship isn’t something that can be done in a classroom. Most of it must be done on-the-job in the midst of actual ministry.
Keep in mind that the early Christians were called “followers of the way,” not “people of the book.” Our focus should be on developing a relationship with Christ more than learning Scripture. Don’t take this wrong. We need to know Scripture but more importantly we need to demonstrate a personal relationship with Jesus.
Again, I say “You are the curriculum.” The next time you want to equip your leaders, don’t reach for a copy of the latest program of the day. Instead, look in the mirror. That’s where you’ll find your best curriculum. And as the curriculum you must:
- Focus on multiplication principles instead of addition.
- Love them and pray for them.
- Believe in them and see them as God’s gifts to you. Set the example of living ministry in daily life.
- Ask a lot of questions, listen between the lines, and hold your staff accountable to do the same.
I had to train my staff to equip people to do the hospital visitation. If you’re going to make this shift, you have to have trained, competent, and caring people to take yours and the staffs place. You can’t just ignore people or expect them to equip themselves.
Focus you attention on the core leaders, not the entire church. Make sure a culture of equipping is burned into their DNA so they will go and infect others. So who are your twelve disciples and do you have the courage to make them the focus of your attention?
I taught the staff to focus more on a “to be” list rather than a “to do” list. A “to be” contains the names of people whom you think have potential to be a leader and are open to coaching. This “to be” list normally should be around ten people. Every staff has a “to do” list that usually gets larger by the minute. Instead they need a small “to be” list and their “to do” list will get smaller.
We found that making this shift usually went something like this:
- From I’m involved in everything – to I like what I see
- From transmitting information – to modeling Christ
- From courses and programs – to intensive on-the-job-training
- From the congregation thinking the pastor needs help – to the realization that all of us are ministers
- From “What must I do today” to “Who will I mentor today.”
Next we had to develop a caring system so that people felt loved and cared for. We choose the small group system as our system of choice. If you have a good small group system that emphasis leadership and community, you have the makings of a good care system (you can purchase a complete manual for establishing a small group system at https://effectivechurch.net/store/missional-small-groups . Congregational care doesn’t just happen in a church. Congregational care must be managed. That’s why I refer to this system as a farm system as in a Baseball farm where scouts go to find players who are ready to move up to the next level of baseball.
In the early years of the transition I preached frequently from Ephesians 4:11-12 and its implications for the pastor, staff, and congregation. Anyone who understands these texts doesn’t have a choice but the change. This conviction assures they will do their best to change
One of the metaphors I used over and over was that of a spiritual midwife. Just as a midwife assists the parents in the birth of their child, a spiritual midwife assists people to birth their God-given gifts. And like literal childbirth, birthing one’s spiritual gift is a life and death issue. To live one’s life without finding your place in God’s universe is like never having lived in the first place.
Baseball is another metaphor I used to train people, especially the staff. I ask them to think of themselves as a scout and a coach. I taught that everyone on the staff needs to be a scout. Scouts go to a game not to watch the game but to zero in on a particular player to see if they are ready for their team. You get what you look for. If you look for people to mentor, you will find them. However if you think of yourself as a Player, then you shouldn’t try to be lead a pastor.
Over time I made it clear to the staff that keeping their job was dependent on them raising up new leaders every year. The only way this goal is achieved is by learning how to equip people instead of burying our heads in work.
How Equippers Think
- What is primarily on your mind when you go to worship? Preaching your sermon or seeing whose eyes light up? When I finally made the transition (notice I had to work on this), preaching took on a new dimension. Conversion was still my primary goal but a close second was developing a culture of equipping and seeing people’s eyes light when they first understood.
- What is primarily on your mind as you teach? Doing a good job or intuiting who might in time be able to take your place? When I would see an eye light up I would make a mental note and try to find the name of the person so I could invite them to lunch
- When you see a new person at church do you think a new member or a potential servant? New members seldom make disciples; servants always do.
- When you get up in the morning, do you reach first for your “to do” list or a “to be” list? Everyone has a “to do” list; leaders need a “to be” containing the names of people they are mentoring.
- When you pray, do you pray for God to send more servants your way? I’ve learned that the more I pray for servants to emerge the more likely they are to do. Prayer has a way of causing you to focus on what is important.
- How do you think of yourself – a preacher or an equipper? In the early to mid part of the 20 century you could grow a church through great preaching. Today great preaching isn’t the primary driver of church or personal growth. Today it’s more important to be a mentor than great preacher. Why? Because in the past more people had some relationship with the church and their parents mentored them in the faith. Today most of the people who do arrive at church are blank slates that must be written upon.
- “How much time do I spend mentoring future leaders and holding our present leaders accountable?” You might do well to have your staff keep a record each month of how much time they spend mentoring future leaders and how much time they spend doing ministry. The comparison might shock you. Then have individual personal conversations about how you can help them become better mentors.
Role of the Pastor in Equipping
By now it should be crystal clear that pastoral care is not the responsibility of a pastor in any size church. Your role is to help them grow into mature Christians and that happens best when people are serving one another rather than being taught a course at the church. No matter how small your church is your role as lead pastor is never centered on going to the hospital or visiting shut-ins. That was settled in Acts 6 where Paul said pastoral care isn’t the role of leadership so they asked Stephen to care for the widows and orphans. The only reason you would do either is to equip someone to do it instead of you.
Does this mean pastors shouldn’t care about their congregation? Of course not! It is precisely because the pastor does care for the congregation that the pastor focuses on equipping the church to effectively live in this world. The more ministry the congregation does the stronger the congregation becomes.
Role of the Staff in Equipping
In an equipping environment the role of the staff is to multiply themselves and their ministries. The only way to accomplish this is by training the laity to take responsibility for caring out most of the ministry.
Role of the Congregation in Equipping
In an equipping environment the congregation assumes the role of caring for one another. This care is accomplished through a variety of ministries such as small groups, Stephen Ministries, and locally produced care systems. The staff may recruit and train but the laity does the bulk of ministry.
By now you’ve realized that the only reason you need paid pastoral/program staff is for them to reproduce themselves by recruiting, equipping, deploying, and coaching the congregation into mission. The measurement of success is not how big the church becomes or how many staff it has, but how many people a year the staff actually prepare for and involve in mission. If staff can’t equip, you don’t need them. Bite the bullet and train or replace them. Too much is at stake to allow any paid staff to be content with any thing less than multiplication.
This conclusion means that one of the major metrics you should use in determining the effectiveness of your church is the number of people intentionally being mentored. I recommend that you monitor this list every week in your staff meeting. It’s very simple to do. Just ask how many have a “to be” list of ten people, how their mentoring is going, the number of people they have equipped and put into ministry growing, and how many new converts have they had. The more affirmative responses you get the better able your church is to make disciples.