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The Church is an Equipping Community

24 Jan

If you were appointed to the planning commission for a brand new city, where would you start? Would you lay out the roads? Plan the neighborhoods? Determine the infrastructure and utilities? Identify where the schools, library, town hall would be?

While all of these elements are important, I would also want to ensure that there was a hardware store in the town. A hardware store transforms a bedroom community into a place where people truly live. When the hardware store comes to town, people paint their homes, plant their gardens, build their decks, and invite their neighborhoods over for a barbecue.

A good hardware store will do more than sell paint, lumber, potted plants, and barbecues. A good hardware store will offer classes and teach you how to do-it-yourself.

In a very real sense, the church is to function as a hardware store. The church is to be a place where gifted leaders focus on equipping the saints to carry out the ministry of God. It is a place where the members are the ministers and the pastors are the equippers. This is the principle taught by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:11-16.

Paul starts by explaining that God gave gifts and gifted leaders to the church. In particular, God gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers to help establish and build the church. The chart below helps me to understand the unique functions and role of each one.

Apostles

Prophets Evangelists

Pastors & Teachers

“One sent”

Reveal Scripture Share good news

Lead the church

First century

Every century

Laid the foundation

Build the church

Obstetricians

Pediatricians

Some people have the idea that pastors only work one day a week and play golf the rest of the time. Others think the pastor should do all the ministry since he is the professional and we pay him to be the minister. In the average church, the pastor burns out while the people rust out. The sad truth is they are both “out.”

However, Paul explains in verse 12 that the leaders—evangelists, pastors and teachers—are NOT to do all the work. Instead, their task is to equip others to carry out the work of ministry.

The word used for “prepare” or “equip” is a fascinating one. It has a wide range of meaning including setting a bone (classical Greek), mending a net (Matthew 4:21), supplying what is lacking (1 Thessalonians 3:10), correcting a fault (2 Corinthians 13:11), and restoring the fallen (Galatians 6:1). If you weave them together, you get a definition that says, “To prepare or equip is to bring into an orderly spiritual state and frame those who had been as it were dislocated and disjoined by sin, and then to strengthen, confirm, and advance them, so that each, in his proper place and function, might contribute to the good of the whole.”

Going back to verse 7, Paul indicates that each one of us has received a spiritual gift. Rather than put it in a storage container and preserve it, we are to put them into service. The role of the pastor and leaders is to train and equip people to use their gifts in the best way possible.

Paul goes on to explain that when equipping takes place, maturity is possible (12-16). Growth is possible and the body can be built up and reach maturity. Paul lists seven evidences of a mature body:

  • Unity (13). Unity does mean uniformity, but rather that we are all focused on the same faith.
  • Knowledge (13). Knowledge is more than intellectual content. It is growth that comes from experience. We discover that God’s promises are true and he can be trusted.
  • Spiritual maturity (13). Maturity involves becoming more like Jesus Christ.
  • Stability (14). Instead of chasing the latest fad, trend, or book, and being caught up in error, our faith gives us stability.
  • Loving testimony (15). We can bludgeon people with truth or love them so much we never confront sin in their lives. We speak the truth, but it is balanced with love.
  • Service (16). Each one does their part as they put their gifts into service.
  • Growth (16). Rather than one person or group burning out, the body grows as it builds itself up in love.

I take away three lessons from this passage. One is that church leaders need to change our standards of evaluation. Success is not based on how many people attend an event. It is not based on what happens in the building. Success is based on what people do with what they learn. A second lesson is “No ministry = no maturity.” If equipping doesn’t take place, if people aren’t using their gifts in service, the body of Christ is doomed to perpetual adolescence. The third lesson is that leaders must focus on training. As my friend Tim Jack used to ask, “Are we really equipping people, or are we just keeping them busy?”

This is the synopsis of a sermon preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 24, 2016. It is part of a three-part series on The Church. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

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