A missionary who pastors a church is like a grandparent who raises his grandchildren. It is not an ideal situation.
Parents raise children with the hope that they will be ready for adult life, that they will be ready to raise children of their own. Parents don’t expect to raise their grandchildren. The same is true in the church. Missionaries, myself included, shouldn't be Pastors but should instead invest in those who will become pastors. Let us now apply this principle to disciple making in general: the longer we hold onto the baton of leadership, the more difficult it becomes for our successor to step into our shoes.
Now the principle:
Principle 1: God’s work requires multigenerational focus
Ephesians 4, Verse 11 says
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints (Ephesians 4:11).
Apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor/teachers sound like some pretty serious roles. They were necessary to get the church started but they were neither immortal nor indispensable. Rather, they were to prepare others to take their place.
Another way to say this is that God’s work requires us to pass the baton of leadership to those who we have prepared.
it won’t be easy
Content, on the other hand, is easy to find
but leaders do the harder work and make mature disciples through the process
Let us take preaching as an example. I have a preaching lab and Danilo is a result of that. As we began to discuss Danilo as our future Pastor, the first comment of many church members was “but we have never heard him preach.” In fact, he hadn’t preached. Now I’m neither his first nor only homiletics teacher, but I took the initiative to work with him. At first he was enthusiastic but needed direction.
Then he gained some experience and realizing how challenging it can be to prepare good messages, he became discouraged. Even after 1.5 years, I continue to receive Danilo’s messages. That is a testament to his teachability because he is a good preacher. Often my response is simply, “Good message. Praying for you!”.
That’s what it looks to develop others:
I do. You watch.
I do. You help.
You do. I help.
You do. I watch.
That’s how Jesus prepared the apostles, then they prepared others. This is also known as situational leadership. It’s our model.
As we discuss preparing someone to preach, the bar may appear to be set high. In sharing my own story I realize that there is that risk. I have been talking about a missionary who is preparing a Pastor. But the same idea extends to every role in the local church.
Each of us may come to Christ ready to serve but not competent to make an impact, so the church is a training ground. As followers of Jesus are maturing and becoming more effective in service, they can get discouraged and give up. So leaders are ladders, helping people towards competency. That’s multigenerational focus!
Passing the baton is part of the ethos of a disciple making church.
That leads to the second observation and a second principle.
Every disciple is called to be a “disciple maker.” Just consider your leaders as the "Lead disciple makers."
In the church, we don’t want to create the elite, leaving the rest. We don’t want the 10% who do 90% of the work as we so often hear is the case. That is the issue that Paul addresses here in verse 12, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
If the role of leaders is to equip the saints, then who are the saints? And who builds up the body of Christ? I think according to these verses the answers are evident. In many churches, we expect our leaders to do the ministry. They’re the hired guns, right? They are the ones who we think should build up the church. But what Paul teaches us is that in reality we should see our leaders as equippers rather than doers, because everyone participates in the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
Principle 2: God’s work requires widespread participation
If you are not engaged somehow in the Mission and ministries of this church, then something is wrong. The church is not benefitting from the way in which God wants to use your works of service to edify the church. And you are missing out on a chance to let God work in you.
Let me use this tool [4:19] to illustrate how you can participate. It is a simple way to evaluate yourself or others. It is a simple definition of a disciple.
Follow Me (the head, a conscious decision to join Jesus)
And I will make you (the heart, being changed by Jesus)
Fishers of men (the hands, on mission with Jesus)
God’s work requires multi-generational focus in order to have widespread participation.
God’s work requires passing the baton. There is equipping to do in order to engage everyone.
Bottom line: God's work will always outlast us but never overlook us.
Those who lead God’s work know that they are there temporarily. Whether for five, ten, fifteen or more years. It eventually comes to an end. That’s why we are wise when we prepare our successors for effective influence and impact. In addition to our own mortality, why would we want to hold others back from the same opportunity that someone gave to us?
That applies whether God calls you to be a missionary to start a new church or whether he calls you to be a disciple maker who makes Jesus known in his or her spheres of influence. We must keep a multi-generational focus to allow for widespread participation.
That’s what it means to be an equipping church.
God’s work always outlasts us, it never overlooks us. Let’s be faithful to do our part and God will do His part.
Now that we have considered the “what” and “how” of God’s plan for equipping churches, let’s consider the “why”— why all of this is so important.
There are many countries of the world that still have nominal or no gospel witness. (See the colored map of the progress of the gospel by people group here)
I recently read, I believe by Neil Cole, that “if we want to create a movement of disciples, there will never be enough churches making disciples. Rather, we need disciples making churches.”
Because in “modern disciple making” we think of gathering, growing, giving, and a few who go. But “Jesus-style disciple” making is the inverse of that. He invested in a few who then invested in others who then invested in others resulting in exponential growth. (See here)
While all of this may seem overwhelming and intimidating, we need to consider God’s part, their part, my part (video). We have no control over someone else’s part. God will always do His part. The invitation is to do your part!
Finally, to borrow from an approach used in the transient community of the military, you don’t need to immediately start running. Begin by crawling. Then start to walk. And eventually you’ll be able to run. In the meantime, others will have begun crawling, walking and running.
That’s what it means to be an equipping church — a church where leaders are equippers because we’re all responsible for the growth of the church.