The real strength of any church will be seen through how strong the people are, not how great the preacher or pastor is. One of the greatest weaknesses in the modern Church is that the people are rarely being equipped and released to do the work of the ministry as is mandated in Ephesians 4:11-16. We can therefore also expect its fulfillment to produce the strongest churches. Because the following Scriptures are the most concise and articulate of the purpose of true ministry in the Church and its result, let's read it again before proceeding.
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,
for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the Body of Christ;
until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;
but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole Body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the Body for the building up of itself in love.
It has proven very easy for ministries to get distracted by building programs instead of people, but when the ministry of the Church becomes a true New Testament ministry, equipping the people to do the ministry, we can then expect the Church to attain:
We will then also see a Church so strong and mature that:
- The unity of the faith
- The knowledge of the Son of God
- The measure of the stature that belongs to the fullness of Christ
- It will no longer be childish or immature
- It will not be tossed about by waves
- It will not be carried away with every wind of doctrine
- It will not be deceived by the trickery of men, their craftiness, or scheming
- It will speak the truth in love
- It will grow up in all aspects into Christ
- The whole Body will be held together by the joints, or joining of the different parts
- Every part will be functioning
- The Body will keep on growing and building itself up in love
We can go on wearing ourselves and the people out with different plans, strategies, and projects, but this is the only one that is going to work to build the Body into what it is called to be. So how do we practically equip the saints?
First, equipping is the fourth stage of the process, so this implies that the other three stages have already been accomplished, as the last one will be accomplished. These stages are:
Most churches never get far past the first stage. They may begin to teach the people, but few go on to actually train them, and there is a difference between teaching and training. As a flight instructor, I would take time to teach the student what we were going to do in a flight lesson before we actually went up in the plane and I trained them to do it. Likewise, we need to teach people about the ministries they are called to, but that alone is not enough--they need to be trained. Isn't this what Jesus did? Remember, He is the leader of the Church, and all true leaders who are following Him will do what He did. It is not enough to just teach people what to do; they must be trained, which is why Jesus went about "to do and to teach." He demonstrated everything He taught.
After the teaching and training comes the equipping. Only after my flight students had been taught and demonstrated their knowledge to me, and then demonstrated their skills to me by actually performing flight maneuvers, would I give them the airplane and let them fly solo or take off on their own. However, even this milestone was still but the beginning of their flight training. It is a noteworthy and encouraging accomplishment when an instructor trusts a flight student this way, but there is still a long way to go to becoming a proficient pilot.
This "solo flight" seems to be similar to what the Lord did in Luke 10 when He sent His disciples out without Him to preach the Gospel, heal the sick, and cast out demons. They had to be greatly encouraged by this and would come back rejoicing. We have often seen how encouraging it is for people to see the works of God in their midst, but it is not even close to the encouragement of being used by God to do His works. I have had people who were on Super Bowl winning teams say that being used by God was much better!
Ministers who constantly demonstrate miracles and other works of God will encourage their people and draw many, but it will not be nearly as encouraging as when the people themselves get released and used. Anyone who has any spiritual weight or hunger will ultimately end up going to where they will get released and used themselves.
We also need to consider this if we are afraid that if we release people they are going to mess up. Get this straight now--they are going to mess up just like we did. If we do not release them because we are afraid they will make mistakes, then we are not following the Lord's example. In fact, He gave the most authority to the one who was prone to make the most mistakes--Peter!
A world-class musician told me he could always tell when a "live" album was truly live by the mistakes, which gave it life. If your church or your ministry does not make any mistakes, then it is because there is no life in it. People make mistakes, and possibly the greatest faith that pleases God is getting up after making one and pushing through. As Proverbs 24:16 states, "For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again...." Let this sink in--a righteous man falls! A righteous man actually falls over and over! But a righteous man also keeps getting up!
If you are a leader and you do not think your people are mature or stable enough to be released in ministry yet, then consider this--the Lord sent the seventy out to preach the Gospel, heal the sick, and cast out demons in Luke 10. It was later in Luke 11 that those same disciples came to Jesus and asked Him to teach them to pray. Think about it. They were sent out by Him to do that kind of extraordinary ministry and were successful at it, and they had not even learned to pray yet!
Jesus was obviously the best, most successful ministry there ever will be. We will likewise be successful in ministry to the degree that we follow Him. One of the most extraordinary characteristics about His ministry was that He chose those who seemed the least qualified to be His leaders, turned them loose in ministry even before they knew how to pray, and used their experiences and mistakes to shape them into the most powerful force for the Gospel that has ever been released on the earth. What would happen to the Church if we started choosing our leaders the way that He did? It would rock the world again!
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