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Developing a Culture of Growth, Part I
By: Bill Easum

(I’ve written on the issue of equipping before but I want to focus our attention on it again and expand what I’ve written.)

In the majority of established churches in the U. S., the paid staff does most ministry. Staff is expected to do the entire ministry, care for the entire congregation, fix all the problems, and do anything else that comes along under the rubric of pastoral care. As such, the congregation lies heavily on how much staff can do, how many hours they can put in, and how many people they can care for. And when the staff takes a breather, they are either fired or the people are left uncared for. This creates a “dependent” environment that is far removed from the kind of environment displayed and written about in Scriptures. All one has to do is read passages like Ephesians 4:11-12 and I Peter 2:9 to see that God never intended for people to live in the kind of environment. Yet most congregations are totally dependent on paid staff. This environment is deadly to Christianity’s challenge by Jesus to make disciples.
What Christianity needs today is a fresh view of the church where:
• Every person is a minister of the Gospel
• Everyone is to care for one another
• No one is indispensable
• Paid staff exist primarily to help people grow into what God intended them to be
• Paid staff offer on-the-job training and mentoring
• Every leader has and intern learning the trade of how to be a disciple of Jesus
• All leaders and many of the congregation live and breathe for every one to actively serve in God’s mission by equipping others to serve

This view of the church is at the heart of a “culture of equipping” and should be the goal of every church.

But for such a culture to be developed and nurtured, paid staff and church leaders must have a different understanding of ministry and the roles played by paid staff and congregation. In short, paid staff has to cease being “doers of ministry” and become “equippers of ministry,” and the congregation has to quit relying on paid staff for everything and become the “doers of ministry.”

There are two huge barriers to developing a culture of equipping: the pastor and the congregation. Pastors have to be willing to give up doing ministry and laity needs to take responsibility for the ministry. Both of these changes go against our grain. Many pastors like to be needed, and many laity thinks of their pastors as spiritual “hit men.” Neither of these attitudes is healthy.

Making the transition from a dependent environment to a growth culture where paid staff equips the congregation for ministry is one of the hardest challenges for paid staff.  Let me share an observation from my years of consulting. My experience has been if a church has a staff of 10 full-time people, two of the staff will already be equipping people, two do not believe it’s possible to do in their church, two or three are open to coaching, and the rest just don’t get it and never will. That means that in the average staff only 20% are equipping people for ministry and 80% are running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to do all ministry. So one of Christianity’s biggest challenges if it wants the Kingdom to come on earth is turn doers into equippers. So, what do I tell church leaders they must do to make this change?

Steps to Making the Transition from Doer to Equipper
Step One begins with the pastor. The pastor can’t demonstrate this change or no one else will. Why is this change so hard for pastors? Because it’s easier and takes less time to do ministry than it is to equip. So if pastors are going to make this change, their value system must change. Instead of basing their effectiveness on what they can accomplish, they have to learn to value getting ministry doing through others.

This sounds easier than it is. After personally working on making this shift for 10 years, I still had to wrestle with my feelings.  I remember when one of my good friends died and I went to his home. His wife met me at the door and surprisingly said, “Bill, thanks for coming, but you’re really not needed.  My small group is here and they have surrounded me with love.” I went home dejected. My wife saw my dejection, and, as a wise spouse who had struggled with me over this shift, said to me, “You idiot! You’ve worked for this day for 10 years, and now that it has happened, you don’t know how to deal with it. Get over your need to be needed.” I told you this shift isn’t easy.

Step Two begins when the pastor begins refusing to be the spiritual hit man. I remember the first time I was called on to pray and I refused to do so. I was at a family dinner, and, when they asked me to pray, I responded, “I’m not going to pray in your place anymore.” You could have heard a pin drop. People waited for someone to pray, but no one stepped up. The next day, we began a prayer ministry and began training people how to pray.

I also remember when the time came for me to tell my staff I would no longer be sharing the hospital visitation unless it was a life and death issue, one of them, or one of my family.  They were afraid I would be fired.  But guess what?  When people are schooled in the Gospel, they can’t help but understand why such would be to betray the Gospel.  Why? Because it robs the laity of the joy of serving based on their gifts instead of sitting on a committee.

So, whatever has to happen to move from a doer to equipper, the starting points are always the pastor and the Gospel.

Step Three is to realize this change may take longer than you like, especially if you’re in an established church that is used to the pastor serving their every wish. How long it takes depends on what kind of church you’re in. If it is a new church and you’re the founder, it’s immediate. If you’re in an established church, it will take years. It took me 8 years to reach the point where I told my staff that I would not go to the hospitals anymore. But my friend Bil Cornelius didn't have to go through this transition since he founded the church.

So, what does one do while waiting for the culture to transform? I can only tell you what worked for me. Keep in mind even though my church was a re-start, I was saddled at the start mostly with long time established mainline Christians.

Next month, we will examine what has to happen in the transition from “doer” to “equipper.”

Bill Easum is the founder and president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc. a full-service church consulting group since 1987 whose mission is to equip Christians for global impact, www.effectivechurch.com.  

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