So far we have discussed the relational, transformational, accountability, and self-sacrificing principles that I have observed in healthy disciple-making churches. This article will focus on the equipping principle. In an effort to communicate my meaning, I have also used the terms expanding, multiplying, and reproducing to describe this principle. In essence, it is correctly understanding and applying Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 4:11-12:
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.
Too often we over emphasize the unique calling and gifting of Christian leaders and minimize our responsibility to equip AND to release every believer that God has uniquely called and gifted “for the work of ministry” and sent our way. We can let our “need to be needed” or our “fear” that if we equip others then we will lose our job keep us from equipping others. Sometimes we are limited by our shortsighted idea that “it is faster if I just do it by myself.” If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. At other times, we are limited by our need to have others do it exactly as we do it. After all, we know exactly how it needs to be done.
A biggie that is hard for all of us to see is that every Sunday Christian leaders are faced with the “need to fill critical positions.” This pressure creates tension with the Biblical mandate to equip those God has sent our way so that they can fulfill their unique calling. We cry out, “God why don’t you send us who WE want and who WE need when WE need them! If we were really honest with ourselves, we would admit that we’re upset that other churches aren’t doing a better job of equipping the saints for the work of OUR ministry! If you are a pastor, let me ask you, “How well are you balancing the responsibility of equipping the saints found in Ephesians 4:11-12 with the responsibility to give yourself to prayer and the ministry of the word found in Acts 6:4?”
Leaders in effective disciple-making churches are aware that II Timothy 2:2 doesn’t just automatically happen. Paul exhorts young Timothy, “The things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Almost every Christian leader can quote this verse, but few of us are living it out on a daily basis. We have taught the concepts, but we also need to be caught up in the process of investing in others at an intensely relational level (remember the first principle) and expecting them to invest in others (principle three: accountability). Because discipleship is more caught than it is taught, equipping and releasing others needs to be so engrained in our day-to-day process that we wouldn’t think about doing anything on our own.
This strategic principle also speaks to the reality that healthy mature organisms reproduce. We know that if reproduction is not taking place then a problem exists. The long-term viability of that living organism is in jeopardy. It also touches on the need for a discipleship process to be reproducible or sustainable within a given cultural context (we will discuss this principle later). Throughout scripture, we see the failure of one generation to pass along the lessons they learned about God to the next. This is particularly evident in the book of Judges. Immediately after we are told, “Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died;” we are told: “And all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord.” Judges 2:10-11.
To counteract this reality, Jesus intentionally modeled the equipping principle with His disciples. In Luke 6:12-13, we read, “Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles.” Luke 8:1 tells us that Jesus “went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him.” Having equipped them for the work of ministry, Luke tells us that Jesus sent them out, “Then He called His twelve disciples together and...He sent them to preach the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:1-2). After they returned, they helped Him equip 72 others who were then sent out: “After these things the Lord appointed seventy-two others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go” (Luke 10:1).
I was reminded recently that modeling (doing something over and over in front of others) isn’t enough. We also have to tell them why we are doing what we are doing, and we must patiently continue to tell them why we are doing what we are doing. Even Jesus had days when He became frustrated by His disciples:
He left them, and getting into the boat again, departed to the other side. Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat. Then He charged them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have no bread.” But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?” They said to Him, “Twelve.” “Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?” And they said, “Seven.” So He said to them, “How is it you do not understand?”
Having modeled and explained multiplication to them, the early disciples (including Paul) imitated Jesus. Paul stated it this way, “Therefore I urge you, imitate me. For this reason, I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church” (I Corinthians 4:16-17). The model of multiplication was so engrained in the early church that only a few decades after Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, a mob in Thessalonica (a city almost 1000 miles from Jerusalem) shouted, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also” Acts 17:6.
How did a handful of early disciples achieve that level of impact? They “equipped the saints for the work of ministry.” They understood the principle of expanding, multiplying, and reproducing was a necessary part of an effective disciple-making process. The BIG QUESTION is, “How effective is your church as it seeks to make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples in your Jerusalem?”
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.