What most effectively disciples and equips believers for ministry? For more than two decades my equipping focus in ministry was Sunday school. Virtually perfected by the Baptists, Sunday school put a fellowship grouping of homogeneous laity through a series of quarterly topics usually focused on biblical content and interspersed with life-skill electives.
With the emergence of cell groups, many churches discovered that cell ministries often diminished a church's interest in Sunday school. Cell ministries often focused on fellowship while rarely being effective in areas of discipleship. Some church leaders began to develop church-based Bible schools with either homegrown curriculum or imported modular materials.
Do these content-based courses really equip our people or simply leave them in a gluttonous knowledge stupor that renders them paralyzed when it comes to doing the work of ministry?
A pastor needs to assess the end purpose for any equipping ministry and determine how to evaluate the real fruit produced by such equipping. Let me propose a checklist of some areas of discipleship critically needed by a congregation. Does your church cover these areas adequately?
1. Christian life foundations. New and rededicated believers need basic equipping in living the Christian life. This includes understanding basic biblical doctrine and practice of the spiritual disciplines of Bible study, prayer, witnessing, church membership, stewardship, servanthood, the ministry of the Holy Spirit and worship.
2. Christian life skills. These include marriage and parenting training, financial management, workplace and marketplace ministry, communication skills, deliverance from addictions and strongholds, setting life goals and objectives, and making right decisions.
3. Christian leadership/ministry skills. Pastors and church leaders are seeking and developing ways to equip people for ministry following the direction of Ephesians 4:12-13, "for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (NKJV). This equipping must include the following dynamics:
Instruction in the Word. A clear knowledge and understanding of the biblical foundations of leadership and ministry rooted in the Word.
Inspiration of the Holy Spirit. A flow of the anointing and power of the Holy Spirit so that ministry leadership is not simply done by human effort but through the Spirit's power.
Intimacy with God. The person being equipped needs to develop an ongoing lifestyle of worship and service continually in God's presence.
Impartation. Such equipping requires a personal involvement of the ministry leader or senior pastor, so that the vision of the house and the heart of the ministry are actually imparted from shepherd to sheep. Too often, the pastor delegates this important equipping task to others in the church.
Implementation. Finally, the person being equipped needs to "do ministry" under supervision of a mentor or spiritual leader.
Equipping takes time and tenacity. As ministry leaders, we find ourselves often majoring in minors and being robbed of precious time by distractions, interruptions and "extra care needed" sheep. Nonetheless, our prime directive is equipping the saints. If we are not effectively raising up leaders, then the next generation of believers will not be able to carry on the gospel proclamation.
Equipping leadership moves us beyond addition and into multiplication in ministry. It's time we got off the carousel of ministry maintenance and became proactive and intentional in equipping leaders to do the work of ministry--not only in our churches, but also in the communities and cultures in which we live.
Larry Keefauver is on the pastoral leadership team of The Gathering Place Worship Center in Lake Mary, Florida, and the author of many books, including Inviting God's Presence (Warner Faith) and Lord, I Wish My Teenager Would Talk With Me (Charisma House).