One of the most discouraging things a pastor or staff minister can hear is this: “I just don’t belong here. I can’t find a place to plug in at this church.” This may be the last conversation the minister will have with this person, and the person may say it as he or she walks out the door of the church on Sunday morning.
The person’s perception may be true. Because of the direction a congregation has chosen to pursue, the gifts and talents of this individual may fall outside the opportunities for service and fellowship offered there. However, it is more likely that the failure to connect has more to do with the way a church empowers its members than with the lack of opportunities available.
Ephesians 4:11-13 offers a model for equipping and empowering believers: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his 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.”
Some believers are set aside for the purpose of equipping God’s people for the “works of service” so that everyone can find his or her place in the Body of Christ and grow in Christlikeness. This does not mean that we have two levels of giftedness—the clergy and the laity, for example—but different functions in the body of Christ. Those we usually refer to as “clergy” are ministers and those we call “laity” are also ministers. Those gifted as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (the last two may be one function) are specifically charged to equip and empower others for ministry.
So how do those with the responsibility to equip and empower other believers do their work? They do it by developing a culture in the church that fulfills the goals of equipping and empowering. Here are some specific actions that contribute to this type of culture.
- The church must recognize all gifts without respect to gender, age, or ethnicity. This means that women, older adults, median adults, younger adults, youth, children, and people of various races all have a part to play in the church. We must remove the prejudices and ingrained habits that are barriers to their service.
- We must encourage people to discover how God has “wired them up.” Each person is a unique mixture of spiritual gifts, talents, experiences and passions. When we understand who we are, we are better prepared to find the right place of service.
- The church must organize for equipping and empowerment. What are the structures—discernment, counseling, assessment, training, placement—that we can put in place to help people use what they have to further the ministry of the church?
- We must find the methodology to measure our progress and determine how effective we are in the process of equipping and empowerment, although this is not easy. As someone said, “What gets measured gets done.”
- We must train both “clergy” and “laity” to mentor and coach each other to use their giftedness and find the right placement in the Body of Christ. Scripture offers many examples, especially in the work of Barnabas and Paul.
God continues to call gifted and talented men and women for “works of service.” We must be more intentional about helping them find how to perform that service.
(Excerpted from For Such a Time as This: Aligning Church and Leadership for Missional Ministry by Ircel Harrison available on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon)