When you think about a pastor or priest what do you think? Maybe someone with a collar or a suit or someone who is passive. You might even picture a gender, age bracket, or appearance when you think of the term. One distinction when it comes to a pastor or priest is probably someone who does the work of the church. Not that other people don’t have areas to serve, but when it comes to things like visiting the elderly, caring for the sick, or reaching out to a member making bad life decisions, most people believe that’s the job of the clergy.
Apostle Paul addresses this concern in Ephesians 4:11 beginning by listing leaders within the church. While he mentions their skills and gift sets, he gives the leaders of the church their first job. What is it? In verse 12 it is “to equip the saints.” Some of you may think that when Paul uses the word “saints,”, he is referring to some of the people and angels that the Catholic church has canonized. However, because of the context, we understand that Paul is referring to “saints” as all followers of Jesus.
The next word that we need to look at is the word “equip.” A simple definition of equip is giving people the tools they need to complete a task. Before we talk about how to do that, let’s look at the goal or task. We find out in verse 12 that equipping is for “ministry.” In other words, the goal is for all Christians to be working as if they were a minister or a pastor, or the stereotype pastor or priest. We are not talking about the leadership of a pastor per se, but what people typically think of when they think of a pastor. Someone who ministers to people within a church and a community.
This seems odd that Paul would say this, does it not? Why would he ask regular congregants to minister to each other? I believe one reason is that the pastor only has so much time. The reality is, the pastor can only minister individually to so many people. Let’s also consider the emotional toll that ministry sometimes takes. There are times when, if you are ministering to someone else, it can be taxing on you mentally and emotionally, which can even lead to physical exhaustion. If you are really taking on the burdens of someone else, and helping them through something painful, it can be taxing on your emotions, mind and soul. One person can only bear so much of that. So God calls everyone in the church to minister to each other.
Another reason that God may want God’s people to do the ministry is that they may know the person they are ministering to better than the pastor. Think of someone you are close to who is going through a rough time right now. Who knows them better, you or the pastor. If you were going through that same problem in life, wouldn’t you rather someone you were close to to help you with that?
There are people who don’t like this idea: “What do we pay a pastor for if the people are doing most of the ministry in the church?” Usually people who have these ideas don’t want to follow what God has called them to – minister to others. This doesn’t give the pastor a pass though. It doesn’t allow him to “work one day a week” as is often thought. His job is to do equip the saints.
How should a pastor equip the people of the church? There are a variety of ways, but let me list some of the things I find helpful. First, the preaching of the Word during what is typically known as the church service is an opportunity to equip. This is sometimes done specifically by giving practical ideas of how to minister to others and encourage them in God’s Word. It can also be done in more subtle ways. As the pastor preaches how Scripture teaches of God’s grace, mercy, peace, forgiveness etc., the saints should be able to speak those things into other’ lives.
A second way we have found to equip members at our church is to train them through conferences. We have attended the Gospel Coalition Conference, Together for the Gospel Conference, Foundations Christian Counseling Conference, Acts 16:5 Conference, Project Jerusalem Retreat, and The Sound and Media Conference. Several of these conferences we have attended more than once, and some of them have been attended by up to 20 people. If my math is correct, since 2011 the people of Cornerstone have attended 188 days of training between these conferences. Why do we spend so much time and money doing this? Because we understand the mandate for every Christian to be a minister.
A third way is to guide people spiritually outside of the Sunday sermon. There are several ways that I do this. One is to make sure that our church library is stocked with information on how people relate to God through a variety of problems, pains and wins in life. Another way is simply through this blog.
A fourth way I like to equip people is to stand side-by-side with them as we minister to others in our church. When someone needs help with a problem that can’t be solved in five minutes, he needs someone to encourage him, pray with and teach God’s Word, he also needs someone to keep him accountable. Many times I coach from the back seat while someone else helps another in need. Maybe I give them a book to work through together. Perhaps I sit in on the first meeting, and then do so again within a couple months. While people change, problems do not. As people in our church minister to each other, they pick up wisdom and skill to be able to help someone else with that problem. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
What happens if a church doesn’t take this seriously? We can point to a variety of reasons that a church grows or declines. If your church is declining or not growing, I would suggest that you look at the expectations of the pastor and congregants. If the church is just floating along, are the congregants helping in ministering to each other? Some pastors feel that their hands are tied in equipping people, because many people think it is the pastor’s job to do all the work of ministry. These churches will not grow because the pastor only has so much time in a day.
I hope that if you attend Cornerstone you will seek to get equipped and then serve others at our church. If you attend another church, be part of the solution, not the problem. Get involved. Ask your pastor how you can help minister to other people in the church. My hope for you is that at the end of your life you will be able to look back and see a spiritual legacy that you were able to leave behind in your family, church and community.
Thanks for taking time to read this Maddening Theology post. If you enjoyed this content you can find Pastor Tim’s sermons at www.cornerstoneforestcity.org. You can also join us at 520 Marion St. Browndale, PA 18421 on Sundays at 10:45 AM. To make following the blog easier you can also register. You can also join us on Facebook at Cornerstone Forest City. Also, don’t forget to download our APP on iTunes or Googleplay.