I remember my first day on a new job I had been trying to get for a while. I was nervous, excited, young, but eager to get my fledgling career going on a big project under the oversight of my new bosses. The project manager drove me out to the nearly 1000-acre job site, at which basically a small town was being constructed. We visited what, to me, seemed like a mad frenzy of contractors, over-sized haul trucks, trackhoes, upset foremen, all scattered about with no rhyme or reason. The next day my boss said something like, “Well, we’re going to throw you in the fire. Here are some documents. Have fun!” Needless to say, as time went on, I made some costly mistakes and grew frustrated, both at myself and the lack of direction and communication from my new leadership.
Too often church leadership teams can treat dear saints this way in the local church. What can happen is people, who love Christ, will take initiative, or respond to requests, to function as a body part and be obedient to use their giftedness. They have the humility to fill a need as a ministry leader, yet existing can often say, “Great, we’re going to throw you in the fire, have fun!” without clear task definition and encouragement. Understandably, serving under this type of leadership can easily result in frustrated sheep.
But as leadership, let’s remember that these dear saints are giving of their time, gifts, skills, and resources in the name of Christ to proclaim his excellencies and contribute to disciple-making. That plus our call to equip makes clear communication and ministry definition for volunteers a non-negotiable if we’re going to be faithful.
Sometimes, we, as leadership staff, can make the excuse, “Well, those details of delegation and management; I’m not gifted in administration, plus I’m more about spiritual leadership. Besides, the Spirit can just direct them in how they should go.”
But, spiritual leadership does not rule out details and administration. It is more than people-management, but it does include that since leadership is about people. Also, delegation is about loving people such that we would help them be launched into the joy of greater usefulness for Christ. The question here is not whether one is spiritual or administrative so much as if we love people enough to be obedient to best equip them for ministry. Finally, it’s a pneumatological fallacy to assume that a “hands-off” approach is leaving someone to be guided by the Spirit. The Spirit guides through his word ministered through other people. Leaving someone to figure ministry out on their own in that sense is not Spirit lead, but presumption. It’s not Spirit-led because the Spirit has commanded leaders to equip the saints (Eph 4:11-12).
If we do not take the time to do so, the sheep can grow frustrated and discouraged. Church leaders, it is our responsibility before the Lord, as equippers of the flock, to care for them this way. What a sacred task we have. If we fail to equip through delegation, it’s possible we are failing our call to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.
Church leaders, let’s ask ourselves: Could the reason we lack, or are losing, eager volunteers be that we are not thoroughly equipping people?
In light of that, here are 10 steps towards equipping future and current ministry leaders:
1. Love people. Some of us are “blast through the task” guys. We can forget that people are not blenders or gear or a car engine, but people. People will not stick around for the joy of ministry if they’re approached like a washing machine. We ought to approach people less with a sergeant-like, “I need you to ___,” and more with the shepherd-like, “Would you be interested in _____?” Ministry and equipping exists for the good of the people, not the glory of the pastor.
2. Identify the task and need. Think clearly about what the need is. Define it and make sure it actually falls under the mission of the church: disciple-making. Be able to draw a clear line from the nitty-gritty of the task to the great, glorious mission of disciple-making.
3. Identify competency and giftedness. Pray for shepherd’s eyes to see giftedness in the local body. You might find that someone is already showing corresponding character and competency, unprodded, resulting in a great fit. Or you may find someone has the character, desire, but needs some training. It’s our responsibility as equippers to provide that. This can be tricky because, generally, we want to build ministry from and around the giftedness of people more than our predetermined tasks. The lines are not always clearly drawn. Insofar as they fall under disciple-making, sometimes the local church needs to start with a task and prayerfully find corresponding, eager servants.
4. Initiate/deepen the relationship. The existence of no less than 40 one anothers in the NT is a loud cry to the local church: “Be zealous about sincere, loving relationships!” If you don’t know a potential ministry leader, initiate a relationship. If you already have a good relationship, but they don’t know about the need, then deepen the relationship. Go to lunch and do 2 things, no matter what the task:
First, give them the big vision as it relates to the glory of God and disciple-making. If you’re equipping a guy to help with the critical task of teaching Sunday school, show him that these kids – whether 3 or 300 – each will spend eternity in one of 2 places. Tell him that their parents love them and care for them and are entrusting us to teach them the glories of Christ. No task is too small.
Second, equip them with the finer, technical details. For example, “Here are some pointers on teaching kids; here’s the material to study; here’s when you need to be where; what to do if you have problems… and I or so-and-so will be here to help you along the way with these details.” Break down expectations as clear as possible so you don’t have to surprise them later with things like, “Oh, heh, guess what, there are these 36 other things to do.. sorry.”
5. Give them time to think and pray about the ministry privilege. Follow up with them, of course. Be prepared that after you communicate everything clearly, they won’t do it. Maybe they will. It’s OK. God is sovereign. As a general rule, if we do not yet have someone ready for the task, better to wait. That community group can grow a little bigger even though you may really want to start another. Best to wait for God to raise up the right leader.
6. Launch them with clear instruction (if they embrace it). Typically, they’ll need more than an “atta boy” and “I’ll pray for you.” The presence of a dear saint’s eagerness does not preclude the necessity of clear communication about what lies ahead and who to contact when they need help. Err on the side of communicating too much, not too little. When launching them, whether they’re overseeing the Sunday meal ministry, clean-up, music, or community group leader, communicate clearly what to do if they have problems or ideas. Also, it’s the equipper’s responsibility, as much as possible, to supply them with what they need. This includes things like extra training, which is ministry-dependent. If they’re in some kind of teaching position especially – Sunday school, a small group, whatever – offer to take them to something like the Shepherds Conference, give them books, and take them on a leader’s retreat.
7. Prayer and follow up. Pray for them. They, like you, need the Lord’s enabling in their privileged place of ministry. Though their new task seems easy to you, it’s likely new for them. Especially during the beginning stages, more follow up maintenance is needed. Check in with them while attempting to not micro-manage. Let them do their ministry and ask how it’s going; what they need, etc. If we’re commenting on every little thing they do or often repeating instruction and correction to them, we’re likely micro-managing. The reason that’s bad is not because it’s micro-managing so much as it is “lording it over those allotted to your charge” (1 Pet 5:3).
8. Continue to give feedback. Leaders give feedback in a way that is with grace. One helpful way to think about this is: 1) Genuine encouragement. 2) Gentle admonishment. In most cases, both are necessary. And if we’re giving only one and not the other, we’re probably either flattering or heavy-handing.
9. Repeat the process. Paul did not merely leave his pastoral charge with Timothy, but exhorted him to teach others who would teach others (2 Tim 2:2). In that sense, the furthering of the ministry is ensured by a four-generation paradigm: Paul (1) discipled Timothy (2) to train others (3) who would train others (4). So, depending on the ministry, encourage those you’ve equipped towards the joy of doing with someone else what you did with them. And check in with them and offer your guidance as they then go and equip.
10. Love people. Keep in mind throughout that church leadership are not called to build an army, empire, or fortune 500 company, but to just be faithful to love people by making disciples. There is a really unique, God-given joy both in effectively delegating and receiving that equipping. Let them know it. Write them a card. Thank them. Bring them a coffee at work or something.
The disciple-making mission of the church is a colossal one. Yet, incredibly, it’s one with which the most wonderful Person in the universe allows us to partake. As leaders, our job is to embrace the call to equip the saints so that they experience the joy of usefulness in the kingdom for our Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s be sure we are not a hindrance to that by diligently training God’s people in the local church.