by Paul Vallee.

Charles Simeon was only 23 years old and had not yet finished his degree when he put his name forward in 1782 to be pastor of Cambridge’s Holy Trinity Church. Amazingly, he was given the parish.

The congregation, however, was less than pleased in the beginning to receive this blustering minister, who insisted that “Christians” be truly saved by grace and live lives more closely conformed to Christ. They distrusted his ivory tower background, as they were largely working-class families, or more bluntly, in Simeon’s words, “very poor church folks.” They were wary of his fervor.

Opponents harassed Simeon by locking the family owned pews, forcing those who wished to hear the new minister to find standing room as best they could. When Simeon brought in benches to accommodate them, church council members tossed them out into the churchyard. This kind of open opposition went on for 12 years.

Simeon, however, was undeterred. He determined to provide the Cambridge undergraduates with decent training in theology and pastoral ministry. In 1790, he began holding informal seminars for ministerial students on Sunday evenings. In 1812, he instituted weekly “conversation parties” in his room, essentially theological and pastoral Q&A sessions. By 1823, some 40 students were attending. By 1827, the number was closer to 60, straining the room’s capacity and keeping two servants busy distributing tea. Along the way, the eager participants acquired the labels “Simeonite” and “Sim,” which they wore as badges of honor.

Of the undergraduates Simeon trained during his 54 years at Holy Trinity (his entire ministry career), some 1,100 became effective as distinguished parish ministers, chaplains and missionaries. (To read more, see “Simeon’s Brigade” by Chris Armstrong in the Summer 2003 issue of Leadership Journal.)

Simeon proved to be an example of what D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones pointed out in his book Christian Unity: “It is only as we who are in the Church have a right view of the Church that she will begin to function truly [properly].” (Published by Baker, 1980; see p. 197.)

What Is Ministry All About?
Like Charles Simeon, we in Christian leadership must not see ourselves as responsible for doing the ministry as much as preparing God’s people to do the ministry. It’s our responsibility as leaders to identify those whom God is calling and develop them into mature and trained workers in the work.

Getting people to serve in ministry is a means to a greater end, not the end in itself. The real goal is to build the people into the image of Christ. Anything less is failure, regardless of how many people are attending or how much money is being generated. The end result is that people come to a place of spiritual maturity.

The familiar text of Ephesians 4:11-16 spells this out in accurate terms. It is the essence of building a servant culture in a church.

“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, [gifted leadership from Christ] to prepare [other translations use the word equip] God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until 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. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

Five key concepts emerge from this text:

1. The PERSONNEL that Christ Employs
God has always chosen to use people to accomplish his purposes. That is his contribution to the equation. As Christian leaders we need to see ourselves as God sees us. We are God’s gift to the sphere of ministry we are currently serving. It’s not just what we do, but who we are as a person that is critical to the health of the ministry.

“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers…”

Notice that only “some” were given as one kind of leader, and “some” were another. Not all of us are apostolic, nor prophetic, nor evangelistic, nor pastoral, nor have a teaching ministry. We are not all things to all people. We need others to fulfill the ministry.

Church ministry, I’ve come to believe, is a lot like parenting. And it’s getting harder all the time, because more and more people are coming into our churches in a more broken state. This calls for great leadership.

2. The PREPARATION that Christ Employs
What did Jesus have in mind for us leaders to be doing? What does he expect of us? In other words, what constitutes a biblical ministry?

Verse 12 puts it clearly: “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

This is a lot more than just giving people skills. It goes far deeper. Paul Stevens writes: “There are actually four Greek words which are used in the New Testament to describe the equipping task: The first is artios, a noun which means complete or sound. The second is katartismos, a noun used once in Ephesians 4:12 where it means preparation. This most closely resembles the dictionary meaning of equipping – “make ready or competent for service or action. Third is katartisis, a noun which means being made complete. Finally there is katartizo, a verb, which means to put to order, to restore, and to prepare. Equipping is first repairing something and then preparing it for something even better” (Liberating the Laity, IVP, 1985, pp. 111-113).

What a picture-the Good Shepherd drawing in the broken, the maimed, the bruised, the lost. The initial need is to be repaired, restored to the created purpose of God-to be in his image. Yet God not only restores, he prepares us for a new sphere of service. Katartismos had its history as a medical term in classical Greek. A Greek doctor would “equip” a body by putting a broken or dislocated bone back into its correct relationship with the other members of the body.

The equipper is also like a fisherman mending his nets in preparation for another night’s work. This literal use of the verb katartizo has the double meaning of undoing the harm and damage done by previous service and preparing the nets for future service. Equipping is putting believers in proper relationship to their service. This preparedness refers to disposition and heart readiness as much as to training and information.

We find in the Septuagint the following usage of katartizo: “They are restoring the walls and repairing the foundations”(Ezra 4:12). This is but one of several places where katartizo is used to describe the work of picking up fallen stones and putting them back into an ordered state. Thus, equipping is putting believers into their correct order. It is harmonizing them with what they once were, what they were created by God to be.

Another meaning of katartizo is to create or to form. It suggests the image of a potter fashioning clay. Equipping is building into people what they need to function effectively as servants of God in the church and in the world.

Jesus said once that “everyone who is fully trained [katartismenos] will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). Jesus did not train the Twelve in school; he lived with them. Equipping is an imitation process in which we fashion people into the image of Christ.

Equipping Steps
How do we go about equipping God’s people?

a. The first step is prayer. You cannot read the book of Acts without seeing the correlation between what was occurring and the prayers of the church, its leaders and its people. Threatened by the tremendous growth and demand of ministry, the apostles said they simply had to “give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). The right priority in ministry caused the church to flourish.

b. The second element in equipping is the need to use the Word of God. We need to be in the Word, preaching the Word, and developing a biblical worldview. Listen to the apostle Paul’s instruction to Timothy, whom he had sent to address some incredible difficulties in the church at Ephesus. “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13). Today, what are we devoting ourselves to?

He repeated this urgency again in 2 Timothy 4:1-5. “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

c. We need to call individual people to service. How many churches make general requests for help, either through written or verbal announcements, and then wonder why it’s so ineffective. Most of the people we want don’t respond-and those who do respond end up creating more problems than bringing solutions to the ministries!

Jesus gives us a picture of how important it is to select the right people for ministry. Before he made the critical decision of who would be his apostles, he spent an entire night in prayer (Luke 6:12-13). He then “called to him those he wanted, and they came to him” (Mark 3:13). We must be more selective in those we ask to serve with us.

d. Then we must be willing to train them. Too often we send underdeveloped people to do the work of the ministry. This leads to dissatisfaction all around.

Possibly the most critical and far-reaching element of Jesus’ ministry occurred with twelve men. A. B. Bruce, in his classic book The Training of the Twelve, says that if we were to look through the gospels, we could distill it all down to just 33 or 34 different days of activity. So what was Jesus doing the rest of the time? One answer might be that he was engaged in ministry to other multitudes and individuals not mentioned here. But Bruce contents that Jesus’ primary focus was on training his disciples. Knowing that his time was short, Jesus was about to entrust the leadership of the ministry to them. They in turn were going to have to multiply the ministry by training others.

Paul spoke about this powerful principle in 2 Timothy 2:2: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” This one short verse contains four generations of leaders: Paul – Timothy – reliable men – others. This is the key to an enduring ministry that reaches beyond our lifetime. This is what allows us to grow beyond our own present limitations. Most ministry today is limited by what we ourselves can do, because we have never discovered the principle of working in and through the lives of others.

e. We must have a biblical conviction that training people is the core of our calling as Christian leaders. Training people requires much time, patience, devotion and perseverance. It takes time to develop others. Often the church today lacks patience on the part of both leaders and followers. We’re like little children who plant seeds in a garden today and want vegetables tomorrow. It doesn’t work that way.

In our impatient, pragmatically driven ministries today, we have to stick with the work of training, even though it is difficult. I’ve made it clear to all our staff at our church that if they are not willing to do the long, involved work for training others for ministry, then this is probably not the place for them, and they need to look for another church. We cannot avoid this work.

f. We must model serving before others. We only produce what we are. People rarely rise above their leaders. As Jesus pointed out, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).

3. The PURPOSE that Christ Expects
What is the reason for all this attention to equipping the people of God? Ephesians 4:13 spells it out: to “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.”

Our goal is to bring God’s people to spiritual maturity. This is the “why” of ministry. It helps us keep the bigger picture before us. We want to create a serving culture because ultimately that’s the means of helping God’s people mature.

It’s not about building our organization, our ministries. Folks, it’s not about us. If our goal is simply doing “the ministry” as a profession, it becomes an idol. True ministry is about developing the people.

It is possible to grow a church but not grow the people. You can have all kinds of great programs, but the people themselves are really unaffected. The church is not an administrative structure, a building, a ministry: it’s the people. What are we doing about the people?

Eric Swanson, in an article in Leadership Journal (Spring 2003) tells about surveying his church to see if people saw a relationship between ministering to others and spiritual growth. When he asked, “To what extent has your ministry or service to others affected your spiritual growth?” 92 percent answered positively. None responded that ministry had a negative effect on their spiritual growth.

Sixty three percent indicated that service was equally significant in their spiritual growth compared to other spiritual disciplines, such as Bible study and prayer. In fact, 24 percent said ministry to others had been “a more significant factor” to their spiritual growth than Bible study or prayer.

Meanwhile, more than half (58 percent) of those who were not actively ministering to others felt either “not satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their level of spiritual growth.”

People who are being equipped to serve will grow up.

4. What Is PRODUCED as a Result of Equipping for Service
When people are brought to spiritual maturity, one of the results is stability in the congregation. “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14).

We are living in a time of great instability. Part of it is simply the tremendous rate of change in our world. But the other reason for the growing instability in our society is the immaturity of people. This unfortunately is also true in the church. Here in North America the church today is a mile wide and an inch deep. We lack depth of character and development.

And that explains our constant struggle to find people to serve. We live in a consumer culture. People expect service rather than being willing to serve. This is a sign of spiritual immaturity. Christians have a cultural worldview rather than a biblical worldview. Is it any wonder that our churches have so much carnality, compartmentalization, selfishness and sinfulness? The enemy has worked at destroying the foundation of biblical truth, and as a result all kinds of false teachings come to banter God’s people about.

Have you ever thought about the Day of Pentecost and how “seeker-UNfriendly” it was?! The observers scratched their heads and wondered what in the world was going on. They even made up their own erroneous explanations (drunkenness). Peter had to explain the phenomena before he could evangelize. Yet what was begun on that day was right in line with the Spirit of God. It ended up changing the world.

In D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s book The Christian Warfare, he analyzes the nature of a cult or counterfeit in contrast to Christianity:

–A cult has no direct relationship to Scripture. It appeals to other authorities beside the Bible, or to the interpretation of the Bible in light of other authorities.

–Cults appeal to the practical and subjective, whereas Christianity begins by declaring truth, followed by explanation and practical application. Here is where we must pay close attention. In a sincere desire to build churches today, we can easily move to the pragmatic (what works) and to the subjective (what we experience). But once we do that, we lose sight of the objective standards of Scripture. We trade short-term gains for biblical truth. And when the storms of life hit, that which we have spent so much time building comes crashing down.

–Cults negate the work of the Holy Spirit.

–There is a lack of humility as the end product in the recipients’ lives.

–The teaching is in reality a rather simplistic formula that will address all kinds of problems (a form of reductionism).

–Cults promote answers that are instantaneous. They are nothing more than a shortcut toward spiritual growth (a false premise).

–They start with a person’s needs, rather the knowledge of God.

–Finally, the cults communicate a distorted Christology (they deny the person and work of Jesus Christ).

Equipping people for biblical ministry, on the other hand, leads to long-term stability and health.

5. The PROCESS that Christ Employs
We are not left to our devices to come up with human strategies for equipping God’s people. “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4: 15-16).

God’s Word is the instrument for bringing God’s grace, truth and wisdom to God’s people, so they will develop and mature. I appreciate what John MacArthur has written in his Ephesians commentary regarding these verses:

“The power for being equipped and matured into lovingly authentic proclaimers is not in believers themselves, in their leaders, or in church structure. The Body receives its authority, direction, and power as it grows up in all aspects into Christ. This does not negate the efforts of believers, as proved by the phrase ‘by that which every joint supplies.’ That is to say, the joints are points of contrast, the joining together or union where the spiritual supply, resources, and gifts of the Holy Spirit pass from one member to another, providing the flow of ministry that produces growth.

“…The growth of the church is not a result of clever methods but of every member of the Body fully using his spiritual gift in close contact with other believers. Where His people have close relationships of genuine spiritual ministry, God works; and where they are not intimate with each other and faithful with their gifts, He cannot work. He does not look for creativity, ingenuity, or cleverness but for willing and loving obedience.”

Too often we think that what we need in our churches are just “more volunteers.” What we truly need–and must build–are mature servants of Christ who are equipped to do the work of ministry.

Paul Vallee is senior pastor of Living Stones Church, Red Deer, Alberta.

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