By Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck
Kevin and I have five daughters, and no sons, between us, so we are adept at executing ponytails, discussing princesses, and painting pottery.
We have vacationed together several times, meaning we have waited in lines together for hours at Disney World to secure a signature from a princess.
And our wives have scolded us, “Slow down, they are little girls” when driving a boat with our daughters trailing behind on a big tube. Fathering girls is different than anything we have ever done, and we both love it.
On our best days, we embrace the enormity of the responsibility with eyes toward the future. We are helping prepare our girls for life outside our homes.
Our role is not to help them live out the Christian faith only when they are safe in our presence, but also in our absence.
Our role is to equip them, not to feverishly attempt to live their lives for them.
Leading people in a local church is very similar. Leaders, when embracing the enormity of the responsibility, keep an eye on the future. They develop others, not just for the comfort of life in the church, but also for life as a whole.
They equip God’s people to serve, not feverishly attempting to do all the ministry themselves. Both parenting and pastoring must focus on equipping.
Two major problems are plaguing many churches: (1) many churches are not healthy, and (2) churches, in general, struggle to equip people for ministry.
Many churches are not healthy. A plethora of symptoms are lamented, from a lack of generosity to low ministry engagement to the scarcity of God’s people living on mission.
Symptoms are often addressed, but the symptoms point to an overarching sickness. For example, a lack of generosity reveals a loss of awe for His generosity, that He who was rich became poor for us.
The scant number of people, in most churches, who view their neighborhoods and professions as God-given mission opportunities, reveals an incomplete view of or lack of passion for the mission of God.
The examples of symptoms could continue, and they painfully remind us that many local churches are not as healthy as they could and should be.
Churches, in general, struggle to equip people for ministry. In a recent research project, pastors were surveyed about their church’s plan for developing and training people for ministry.
Fewer than 25 percent of church leaders said they had any semblance of a plan. Essentially the vast majority of churches admit they have absolutely no strategy for developing the people in their churches for ministry.
Clearly, equipping others is a missing conviction in churches. Yet the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus:
And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness (Ephesians 4:11–13).
Paul’s exhortation is clear. When pastors/teachers train and prepare God’s people for ministry, the result is the body of Christ is built up.
The scarcity of healthy churches and the lack of passion and plan to train people for ministry are not unrelated problems. In fact—according to the apostle Paul—one is the result of the other.
Quite simply, a failure to equip people for ministry results in an unhealthy church. A lack of conviction for equipping results in an immature body of believers.
Holy cause and effect
Our lives are filled with the principle of “cause and effect.” Doctors remind us if we eat healthy, the effect will be a more healthy body. Dermatologists scold us that if we fail to use sunscreen, the effect will be damaging to our skin.
Children are taught the principle of cause and effect early in elementary school because it is so critical to learning to make wise choices throughout life.
But somehow many church leaders have missed the holy cause and the glorious effect clearly prescribed in Scripture.
There is a holy cause and effect in ministry. If we will make the training of the saints our holy cause, the effect is a healthy church.
A healthy church is not a perfect church, but she is a church that is being collectively formed more and more into the image of Christ.
Paul writes that as the training of the saints in the work of the ministry occurs, a church will be growing “into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.”
We are joining the apostle Paul in making the statement: to have a healthy church, a church must equip believers. We are not hedging. We are not merely suggesting that equipping people is important.
We are not merely suggesting there is a relationship between equipping and health. We are declaring that equipping causes health. Equipping is the work of leadership.
Equipping must not be something that is seen as optional, something seen as for “other churches.” It must be a deeply held conviction. Equipping is for every single church.
Equipping must be for your church. Equipping must be viewed as foundational, as fundamental to what it means to actually be called a church.
A biblical approach to ministry
Pastors, and churches, with a biblical approach to ministry possess a deep-seated conviction that all believers are gifted for ministry, not just the “professionals.”
Scripture never uses the term “minister” to set aside a special class of people who serve other Christians. All believers are ministers.
Thus those selected by the Lord to be pastors are to invite all believers to engage in ministry and view themselves as equippers of all the ministers, all of God’s people, within the Church.
God is deeply passionate for His Church, for His bride, and ferociously committed to maturing her. For this reason, “He personally gave some to be … pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11).
He personally involves Himself in the process of setting apart pastors, not to do the ministry, but to prepare God’s people.
When pastors do for the people in a church what the people should be doing for themselves and one another, everyone loses. The body suffers.
People are not discipled and developed for ministry. The local community is not served and impacted as it could be.
Churches and church leaders are wise to long for both unity and maturity. And the Scripture teaches that as people are developed for ministry, growth occurs in unity and maturity—maturity even measured by Christ’s fullness.
When equipping is a value that permeates the culture of the church, those in the church see the opportunities to pursue maturity and be developed.
As opportunities to be developed are shared with the church body, people are able to move toward Christlikeness within the church.
Preparing our girls (and people)
Parenting girls is one of the best experiences either of us could have hoped for. It is also intensely sacred. Over about 18 years, we will help our respective daughters prepare for life outside our homes.
There are so many hurdles, barriers, and dangers implicit in preparing them for life. Inevitably, many days and nights will be spent worrying and wondering if our investment, wisdom, and love are bearing fruit.
Still, no matter how hard or dangerous the road gets, there are no shortcuts, and there is no way to live our children’s lives for them. They will have to honor God with their lives for themselves. Our job is to train them, not do it for them. It’s the nature of leading our families.
In the same way, the nature of leading a church is to prepare the people of the congregation to live a life of worship for Jesus.
Equipping is the call of every pastor. There is no other job description, no matter what is on file with the personnel committee or board of directors.
This should be the understanding of every church member, no matter what ministry model is printed on the posters in the foyer. We are a people ruled by God’s Word.
He has shown us how His Church is to work according to His power. We cannot improve on the plan of the Master, and we must not try.
Do you really want a church that is growing in unity and toward maturity? Then make your cause, your holy cause, the equipping and preparing of God’s people.
The epidemic of unhealthy churches is the result of churches and church leaders being woefully under committed to equipping people for the ministry and the mission of God.
Without a deep-seated conviction to develop leaders, without a passion for equipping—a church will not enjoy the beautiful effect of unity and maturity.
- Leadership: A Calling for Every Christian
- Shaping Future Leaders
- Add Leaders, Multiply Ministry: Q&A With Eric Geiger
- Training the Next Generation of Leaders
ERIC GEIGER (@EricGeiger) is vice president of Lifeway’s Resources Division and senior pastor of ClearView Baptist Church in Franklin, Tennessee.