Equipping and Developing, Part 1

In my travels to churches I continuously look for specific skills in the leaders that have a direct impact on the church's strength and health - resulting in stable growth. It's a great study, and sometime I'll share with you the top things that I believe hinder or even prevent churches from health and growth. But let's focus on the positive this time!

The skills I look for are separate from personality and leadership style. They are skills that any church leader must master. In previous editions of "The Pastor's Coach" I wrote about two such skills, using the topics of gathering and recruiting.

If we were to draw an imaginary line in the sand that separates churches with modest potential and churches with significant potential (as subjective as that may sound), two leadership skills jump to the top of the list - they are equipping and developing people.

At first glance they may appear to be similar, but they aren't. The two skills are related and can overlap, but they are not the same. You may also be tempted to think that it's semantics...but it's far more than mere word choice when it comes to measurable outcomes. The two particular words I've chosen aren't as important themselves as the difference between the two concepts. After you're confident your staff and key leaders know the difference, and practice both, then feel free to change the words to anything you wish!

One more opening thought...equipping and developing often overlap in practice, but it's wise to know the difference between the two before you combine the efforts in order to ensure you accomplish both.

These are the core differences between equipping and developing within the context of the local church:

+ Equipping is preparing someone for a specific ministry task.
+ Developing is investing in someone for their personal growth.
+ Equipping is transactional - it's an exchange.
+ Developing is transformational - it's a gift.
+ Equipping is based largely on the church's agenda.
+ Developing is based largely on the person's agenda.

This edition will focus on equipping; the next edition of "The Pastor's Coach" will cover developing. Equipping is preparing someone for a specific ministry task. The equipping skill is as clear-cut as preparing a Sunday School teacher, for example, to leading a child to Christ, to training the teacher to tell stories in a captivating way, to teaching how to communicate love to each child. These equipping skills are especially important when you have a room full of wide-eyed, squirmy little kids with short attention spans!

Equipping is transactional - it's an exchange. When my kids go to their favorite fast food restaurant, they give the cashier a few dollars and in exchange they get chicken fingers (that resemble and taste like particle board covered with fried brown spackle), fries and a soft drink. It's an exchange. There is nothing wrong with the exchange system; most of life is based upon it. In the next edition of "The Pastor's Coach" we'll see that though transaction is good, development is still needed and is extremely important. For now, we'll focus on the value of exchange. It looks like this. I'll train you to be a great Sunday School teacher, if you'll teach Sunday School. It's a productive win-win.

Equipping is based largely on the church's agenda. That's Ok! If it's a Great Commission Church - it's God's agenda too! But we must be careful not to allow equipping to become so inward focused that the church becomes institutionalized and concentrates on protecting its turf, rather than taking new territory for Christ.

Equipping is non-negotiable for any church to be healthy, biblical, and realize solid growth. Ephesians 4:11-12 is clear. God never intended the pastor(s) and a few key leaders to do all the work. The following guidelines will assist you in becoming better at equipping your people. They are written with the assumption that you understand the important pre-requisite of getting the right people in the right ministries, according to their gifts and passions.

Before we go through the guidelines, I want to acknowledge that the well known Ephesians 4:11-16 passage communicates a larger idea than merely training for ministry. I believe that it deals with the wholeness of the person, their maturity as a believer, and how they connect within a unified body of Christ. This deeper level is part of the developing process. But for the sake of practicality, and to avoid writing an online book, let's just hit the practical aspects.

* Determine the specific ministry objectives for each ministry.

Effective equipping begins by having the end results in mind. Let's continue to use our illustration of the Sunday School teacher. It's important to know what values you want the children to embrace in order to properly equip the teacher. If you just want the kids to behave, to not destroy the room or wound each other until church is over, that would shape the training one way. But if you want the kids to embrace specific biblical principles that result in life change, that would head the equipping process in a completely different direction. Every ministry works the same way. Let's look at one more - small group leaders, for example. If you want them to host a light Bible study with the emphasis on a "cozy community," that process would look very different from equipping that is designed for a small group to reach their community, develop an apprentice, and multiply in 18 months. Far too many churches use generic equipping processes. Generic equipping is better than no equipping, but beginning with the end in mind is light years ahead of the generic approach.

* Identify the required skills and basic competencies.

Back to the Sunday School teacher. You've determined, for example, that you want the kids to trust Jesus as their Savior. The next question is: What skills and core competencies are needed so a teacher can lead a child to Christ? Child evangelism then becomes part of the training. Or, for example, you want the kids to fall in love with the Word of God. Engaging and captivating storytelling then becomes part of the equipping process. In contrast, in the earlier example of keeping the kids quiet until church is over, you would equip the teachers for crowd control and guerilla warfare.

* Recognize the cultural and philosophical biases.

Let's change the example from children's Sunday School to evangelism. The cultural and philosophical biases of your community or church make a significant difference in your equipping approach. There are some churches and communities where a more direct approach is positive, acceptable, and productive - such as Evangelism Explosion (and new variations). In other environments it would be a complete turn off to both the church members and those you witness to. In contrast, the softer, more indirect and relational approach of "Contagious Christianity" would be powerful in some churches and too watered down in others. Don't just jump on the newest training program available. The differences between a Charismatic church in New York and a Baptist church in Alabama are substantial. Know your cultural and philosophical biases and design your training accordingly.

* Provide the appropriate training material.

The training material should be selected according to what we have covered so far. Your end objectives, the skills and competencies, and the cultural and philosophical biases will determine your training material.

Let me be blunt and to the point here. Buy the best material available - don't cheap out! Don't focus on saving money - invest in world class training.

* Use only the most qualified personnel to do the training.

In taking guitar lessons I've learned that there are gifted musicians and gifted teachers, and rarely are they the same person. The gifted musician loves to show you how good he is. The gifted teacher loves to show you how good you are. Be careful of this syndrome in the church.

We often "promote" our best children's teachers to be a department leader. They were incredible teachers but terrible directors. Let the teachers teach! We promote our best small group leaders to be small group coaches and directors, and they struggle and lose motivation. Let the small group leaders lead small groups. We promote the best usher in the church (and I mean can he/she ever ush!) to be the usher captain and they soon burn out from the organizational responsibilities and quit. Let 'em ush!

There are people in your church who are gifted teachers and trainers. Find them and let them do what God has designed them to do! As long as they have a passion for that ministry - you're good to go.

* Include on the job training.

Classroom training is important and necessary, but insufficient on its own. Be sure to include some "O.J.T." under the mentorship of someone experienced and gifted in the ministry area they are preparing for. A small group leader, for example, needs to apprentice under a good small group leader and "practice" leading the group while the mentor leader is present to guide and coach.

* Provide the necessary tools and resources for each person to accomplish their particular ministry.

Some things are obvious and taken for granted, such as the worship team needing microphones and sound equipment - stuff that actually works and doesn't squeal and squawk with a sound that's a cross between a wounded pig and an angry sea lion. But other ministries are less obvious and suffer because of the lack of needed tools, equipment, and resources. It's one thing to "make due" in a pinch; we've all have to do that. It's quite another to adopt substandard as a way of ministry. One church tried to save money by reusing old crafts and sharing curriculum. Over 70% of the teachers quit every year! Some of your best volunteers will quit too if you don't get them the stuff they need.

* Give generous amounts of communication, praise and appreciation.

One pastor asked me what appreciation had to do with the equipping process! Everything! From how long they'll stay in that ministry (which affects the depth of your key leaders) to morale and ultimate measurable outcomes. As I travel to churches one of the common complaints I hear is one of lack of communication. And church leader, you may feel like you communicate 'til you're blue in the face, but if your team perceives that you don't - you don't. If they feel out of the loop, that is often translated as you don't really care about them and you only care about getting "your" ministry done. This is lethal and poisons the process. Make things such as expectations, dates, new programs, changes, etc., simple and clear. Let the people know how much you appreciate them. And like our Moms taught us when we were about 3 years old...say "thank you." Say it often and say it with an enthusiastic heart.

This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter 'The Pastor's Coach' available at www.injoy.com.