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Equipping For Life, Ministry, And Leadership

By Rob Burkhart

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

Preamble: Second Fiddle

He was a 53-year-old, balding, and thoroughly unimpressive career military officer. He lacked the imperial stature of MacArthur, the bearing of Omar Bradley, and the flair of Patton.

He graduated 61st in a class of 164 from the u.s. Military Academy. It took him 25 years to move through the ranks from second lieutenant to lieutenant general. During those long years he held many posts. He served as an assistant executive in the office of the Assistant Secretary of War and on the staff of several other more prominent officers. It seemed he would always be somebody’s assistant, always helping make others more successful. But during those years he faithfully carried out his duties, took advantage of every opportunity, and learned from every man he worked for.

He was about to make history. One day he opened a car door, got in, and faced the president of the United States who was seated in the back. “Well, Ike,” Roosevelt said, “you are going to command Overlord.” With that statement, Dwight David Eisenhower went from second fiddle to first chair. He would plan and direct Operation Overlord, the Allied plan to invade Nazi-dominated Europe on the beaches of Normandy, drive across France, and defeat Germany.

Eisenhower would later become president of Columbia University, the first Supreme Commander of nato, and president of the United States from 1952–60.

Eisenhower ultimately eclipsed the men he had served. He commanded Omar Bradley who had graduated ahead of him at West Point. Eisenhower, not Douglas MacArthur or George Marshall, was elected president though he had assisted both.

Some say leaders are born. Others believe that leaders are made. In Eisenhower’s case, both are right and both are wrong. Eisenhower’s innate gifts and abilities were sharpened through many years of training and dedicated service. But the training and experiences would have been wasted on a man with lesser gifts.

A similar question has perplexed the church. Is gifted ministry a product of nature or nurture? Are believers born to it? Or, does gifted ministry grow in the soil of careful training, service, and preparation? Both are right, and both are wrong.

A Diagnosis

Every Sunday church pews are filled with ordinary people much like Jesus’ disciples Peter and John. That is not a surprise. Most people are ordinary and rarely stand out in this world. What is surprising is that God’s plan to carry out history’s greatest mission, the redemption of humanity, is entrusted to ordinary people. The church is God’s plan — His only plan. Yet far too many do not fulfill their God-given destiny to rise above the mundane concerns of life and find their purpose in exercising their gifts.

Every church needs people who are involved in and committed to ministry. Without dedicated people, the church cannot achieve its God-given purposes. It cannot reach its community, care for its members, encourage their spiritual development, or provide dynamic corporate worship. Without them the church is handicapped, crippled, and unable to carry out its mission in the world.

Few churches have the workers they need, and often the workers they have are not adequately trained. The missing key to building a great church is mobilizing and equipping its laity.

Every believer is gifted by the Holy Spirit and called to ministry. Each one has been placed in the Body to use his gifts in concert with others. Gifts vary, but all are essential. People serve in different ways, but all are needed.

Believers want to invest their lives in meaningful and fulfilling ministries. They want their lives to matter. But few believers find such places of ministry in their local congregation. Thus, their gifts and ministries often find expression in parachurch organizations or community agencies.

God has gifted and called church leaders “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12,13).

Helping believers discover, develop, and deploy their spiritual gifts to further the cause of Christ is not an option; it is a divine mandate.

If every-member ministry is God’s will, if every church needs involved and committed people, if every believer is gifted and called to ministry, and if God has called church leaders to equip their people for ministry, why do so few believers find places of ministry in the church? Why do so many churches limp along without the help they need? Why do so many church leaders invest so little in training workers?

There are many reasons. (See sidebar Why We Fail.) But failing to effectively recruit and train workers has inevitable and predictable results. Believers will not fully develop spiritually nor will their ministry potential. Churches stop growing and do not impact their world as God intended. Churches get stuck in a revolving door. Failing to involve believers in ministry prevents them from developing friendships, developing a sense of ownership and responsibility, and seeing themselves as valued members of the church. This is not good. It is not God’s plan. It is a cycle of failure.

Prescription

If what I have described above is the disease, what is the cure? Church leaders must make preparing God’s people for works of service their first priority and the cornerstone of ministry by developing and implementing an effective recruiting, training, and placement strategy. It sounds easier than it is.

Prerequisites For Success

Establish limited ministry contracts

Ministry in a local congregation should be limited in two ways: duration and scope. Each person should commit to a ministry for no less than 1 year. Those who successfully serve should have three options at the end of their commitment. First, they may opt to continue their current service. Second, they can transfer to another ministry. Finally, they can end their service. Gracefully releasing people from ministry, when appropriate, paves the way for their return, avoids the problems burned-out and frustrated workers create, and opens the door of ministry to others.

Ministry should also be limited in scope. Believers should focus on one ministry, not three or four. One way to do this is to limit a believer’s involvement to one major and one minor ministry. While one ministry is not more important than another, some require a major time commitment and others do not. A major ministry is one that requires involvement other than scheduled service or event times (for example, a Sunday School teacher). A minor ministry is one that only requires involvement during a service or event (for example, ushers and greeters).

These limitations prevent burnout, open the door of ministry to others in the congregation, and help improve quality as believers concentrate on a ministry. It also makes recruiting easier.

Clearly stated expectations and standards

It is much easier to recruit when people know what they are getting into. Performance improves when people know what is expected. Workers are less frustrated and are more likely to stay when they have been given the truth. Do not minimize. Do not sugarcoat. Challenge them with the great opportunities of ministry.

Recruit for training, not positions

It is a mistake to recruit for a ministry position without first determining the person’s gifts, providing training, or evaluating his qualifications. Each step can be accomplished in an effective training process. People are also more likely to sign up for training than to take on a specific ministry, and those who refuse a specific ministry may willingly take on another if they are given adequate training.

Develop a church-wide recruiting system

A bane of church life is competition between ministries. They end up cross recruiting. People involved in one ministry are asked to join another ministry as well.

Church ministries and leadership should be involved in a recruiting/training process that ends cross recruiting. Participation should be a concerted effort to help believers discover, develop, and deploy their gifts in ways that benefit the church and fulfill them in ministry. (See sidebar Creating a Coordinated Recruiting Training Strategy.)

Adopt a big-circle approach

In an effort to protect the church, leaders sometimes create barriers to recruitment. They require newcomers to be a part of the Body for a specific period of time, complete a lengthy training process, or become members of the congregation. These and other safeguards may be appropriate for placement in ministry but they ought not be barriers to training. Any believer should be eligible for training that leads to ministry. In the process, he can also receive assistance to help him satisfy the church’s other requirements for ministry.

Consistent recruiting and training

Recruiting and training for ministry should be consistent in the life of the church. Crisis recruiting communicates failure and disorganization, not success and effective ministry. Depending on the size of the congregation, a recruiting/training cycle may be implemented quarterly, two or three times a year, or annually.

A consistent strategy recruits and trains people before they are needed, making it possible for the church to add ministries and new units in an orderly and predictable way. Thoroughly trained new workers are more effective than people who are rushed into service without adequate training.

Every-member ministry goal

The Bible is clear. Every believer is gifted, called to ministry, and is accountable for the stewardship of his ministry gifts. Church leaders are responsible to help believers prepare for ministry. Their goal should be nothing less than recruiting, training, and placing every qualified believer in a ministry consistent with his gifts and callings and the needs of the church.

High expectations

Service to God and His church is the highest calling. It is important that believers find their place in ministry. Establishing and maintaining high standards and striving for excellence are critical to long-term success. High standards help, not hinder, recruiting. Expecting excellence and holding workers accountable clearly communicate the importance of ministry, build a culture of success, and boost worker morale.

Some, however, will not serve successfully. Others will experience moral or spiritual failure or will fail to work successfully with leadership. In these cases, leaders should lovingly confront these workers, carefully explain their concerns, develop a strategy for success, and give them opportunity to grow into the ministry. Removal from ministry may be the only option for those who fail to resolve leadership concerns.

An Effective Recruiting Strategy

Church leaders need to create and implement an effective recruiting strategy. The first five of the following elements precede participation in preministry training. The second five are incorporated into the training.

Prayer

Jesus taught us “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” We must “ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:37,38). Recruiting for ministry is ultimately a spiritual battle that can only be won with prayer.

Consistent ministry promotion

The vision and purpose of church ministries should be clearly stated and their successes celebrated. Too often the only reference to church ministries members hear comes from overwhelmed and frustrated lay leaders or pastors. Negative comments do not promote ministry.

Written job descriptions

Job descriptions should include a clear statement outlining the responsibilities, qualifications, and other expectations of the job. These include spiritual and doctrinal agreement, clearly articulated lifestyle expectations consistent with the church’s standards of holiness, and a detailed explanation of what is expected of those who serve in ministry.

People search

Leadership should identify all eligible participants. Any individual who is a believer, is not currently involved in ministry, who identifies with the church, and meets the other qualifications is a candidate for preministry training.

Prospect approval

The list of potential workers should be reviewed and approved by the pastor. This step prevents those not qualified from serving and avoids the hurt feelings and disappointment of those who believe a ministry is open to them when it is not.

Present ministry clearly

Prospects need an opportunity to examine the ministries of the church and understand the responsibilities, opportunities, and purposes of each.

Observation

Prospects should experience the ministry firsthand before being asked to commit. The opportunity to ride a Sunday School bus, visit a class, join a visitation team, or experience the other ministries of the church is critical to helping prospective workers find a ministry and making a long-term commitment to it.

Allow time for prayer and thought

People are often rushed into ministry. Encouraging prospects to pray and seriously consider their commitment is in their interest and the church’s. Workers who join a ministry after serious thought and prayer see their ministry as a response to God’s call on their lives and are more likely to serve long and well.

Call for a decision

Leaders then call for a decision and ask for a commitment. Formalizing the decision with a ministry covenant and/or a commissioning service solidifies their commitment.

Provide preservice and in-service training

Because effective training helps people succeed, it is critical to successful recruiting. Practical, hands-on, skill-oriented training helps workers be more effective. Success and satisfaction are inextricably linked. Workers who feel they are making a significant contribution are more likely to perform well and serve consistently.

An Effective Preministry Training And Placement Strategy

An effective preministry training and placement strategyis the next step and should incorporate the following three phases: (See sidebar Leveraging the Sunday School.)

Phase I: Introduction to ministry

Prospects should spend significant time being introduced to ministry in the local church. Addressing the following issues is at the foundation for future effectiveness.

Every-member ministry. The biblical and theological foundations of every-member ministry are presented and discussed.

Spiritual gifts. An overview of spiritual gifts is combined with an evaluation tool to help prospective workers identify their gifts.

The church and your ministry. The proper relationship of the gifted member and church leadership is presented and discussed.

Outreach and evangelism. Reaching unbelievers is the objective of ministry. New workers are shown how each ministry fits into the big picture of outreach, evangelism, assimilation, and discipleship.

Qualifications and responsibilities. The theological, lifestyle, and ministry standards are presented. A survey tool is used to help prospective workers determine whether or not they currently meet those standards.

Ministry organization and structure. The organizational structure of the church and its ministry are presented.

Our church in ministry: an overview. Leaders briefly present their ministry and answer questions. Workers are encouraged to sign up to visit and observe as many ministries as they wish.

Our church in ministry: observation. The class does not meet. Prospective workers observe various ministries and utilize an observation worksheet to enhance their experience.

Committing to ministry. Prospective workers are given opportunity to commit to more training and placement, or withdraw from the process. Those who do not meet ministry qualifications, are unwilling to commit to ministry expectations, or feel they are not ready for ministry should be allowed to gracefully withdraw. But do not give up on them. Ask permission to contact them later, and encourage them to continue their training in the future.

Those who successfully complete the training and are qualified for ministry have opportunity to choose an area of ministry consistent with their gifts, calling, and the needs of the church. The next step, however, is not placement but training designed to equip them for service in their chosen ministry. That training has both in-class and on-the-job components.

Phase 2: Ministry preparation

Once a prospective member, in concert with church leaders, has determined an area of ministry for which he is qualified, gifted, and called, the church needs to give specific, practical training. Training will vary in content and format depending on the ministry, its needs, and requirements.

Phase 3: Internship

An essential and overlooked aspect of much church training is on-the-job training. Doing ministry is the best way to learn. On-the-job training should provide three distinct experiences.

Observation. For a time (two sessions), the trainee should observe his mentor doing the ministry. Following this observation the mentor should explain the process, answer questions, and discuss concerns.

Partial participation. Next, trainees should carry out certain parts of the ministry while the mentor coaches and observes. This participation should escalate over a specific period of time (four sessions) until the trainee takes over. Again, ample time for reflection and interaction with the mentor is critical.

Full participation. The trainee then switches roles with his mentor and does the ministry while the mentor observes (two sessions). Feedback, constructive criticism, and encouragement from the mentor should follow each experience.

Two other components are essential for a successful internship. First is the selection and preparation of the mentor. He should be the best at what he does and be able to effectively instruct others. Second, on-the-job training takes time. A minimum of 8 weeks or eight experiences is needed. Pressing prospective workers into service before they are ready is risky.

Effective placement. Everything else rises and falls on this final step of the recruiting/training process. The following criteria should be met before anyone is placed in a specific ministry:

Sometimes, even when all has been done, people discover they are not well suited for a specific ministry only after they have been placed. These workers should not be forced or even encouraged to stay no matter how much they are needed. To do so would only lead to frustration and failure. They should be given another opportunity. If that does not work, then there should be another placement and another until the worker finds his niche. It is more important for workers to find their right place in ministry than to fill a hole in the church’s organizational flowchart.

Timing is everything. If training takes too long, prospective workers grow discouraged. If the training is too brief, they will not be adequately prepared and may fail. As described, this strategy takes 6 months from recruitment to placement. That is long enough to provide adequate training and gauge faithfulness, qualifications, and abilities of prospective workers and to pray for God’s leading. But it is not so long that people get discouraged with the process.

Can a new worker be taught everything he will need in 6 months? Obviously not. The key is to provide quality preministry training so he can start well, and then provide ongoing training of equally high quality so he can further develop his gifts and skills.

Implementing An Effective Recruiting/Training Strategy

This approach allows the church to create an ongoing recruiting/training strategy that produces trained and qualified workers every 3 months.

Begin with a recruiting month when prospective workers are identified, screened, contacted, and invited to participate. Coordinate personal contact with consistent promotion of the class in the church bulletin, newsletter, website, and pulpit announcements.

The first two phases of the training are in-class. The last 13 weeks are designed to coordinate with Sunday School quarters. Conduct the first nine sessions (Phase 1) of the class. Designate the last 4 weeks (Phase 2) of the first class as the recruiting month for the next class. When Class A completes its in-class training, it moves to its internship (Phase 3). That frees the classroom and instructor to start training the next class.

It takes 6 months for the first class to progress from recruitment to placement. Once implemented, however, this strategy creates a steady flow of qualified and trained new workers every 3 months. Table A illustrates 1 year utilizing this approach.

Table A: The Preministry Recruiting/Training Cycle

Month

Recruitment

Phase 1

Phase 2

Phase 3

August

Class A

     

September

 

Class A

   

October

 

Class A

   

November

Class B

 

Class A

 

December

 

Class B

 

Class A

January

 

Class B

 

Class A

February

Class C

 

Class B

 

March

 

Class C

 

Class B

April

 

Class C

 

Class B

May

Class D

 

Class C

 

June

 

Class D

   

July

 

Class D

   

August

Class E

 

Class D

 

September

 

Class E

 

Class D

October

 

Class E

 

Class D

Smaller churches can easily adapt this schedule by offering preministry training once or twice a year.

This strategy fits easily into the adult track of an existing Sunday School or into the midweek study options some churches offer. Churches using small-group ministry can easily adopt this strategy. Recruits attend the ministry-training group for 13 weeks and then return to their own group.

While the information contained in the first 13 sessions could be presented in a weekend seminar or retreat format, it is not recommended. This process spread out over several weeks allows time for careful consideration by both the prospective workers and leadership. It provides an opportunity for people to prove they can be faithful. It allows time for leadership to develop healthy relationships with new workers, answer their questions, and gauge the seriousness of their commitment.

Once believers are placed in ministry ongoing in-service training should support them. Preministry training is not designed to give new workers every skill they need. Those involved in ministry need a process to improve their skills and maintain excellence. (See sidebar Ongoing Training.)

God has blessed the church with gifted and called people, and it has the resources it needs to build the Body and reach the world. But without an intentional and effective way to help people discover, develop, and use their gifts, they cannot fulfill God’s will for their lives or His purposes for the local church. With training and experience, however, believers can develop powerful ministries and rich spiritual lives.

The tragedy of many churches is their greatest treasure — the ministry potential of believers — is not discovered or developed. It is also tragic for individual believers. They cannot become all that God intended and will not have the ministry or the fulfillment of faithful service they could have enjoyed. The need is there. The people and gifts are there. Leadership must not fail to challenge, motivate, and equip.

Unschooled, ordinary men led a small, persecuted sect of an obscure religion in a backwater province on the edge of a great empire. They were derisively dismissed as ordinary by the power brokers of their day. But they had been with Jesus. He had called them. He had trained them. His Spirit gifted and empowered them, and they changed the world, the future, and the eternal destiny of mankind.

Every Sunday church pews arefilled with ordinary people like Peter and John. Thank God.

Epilogue

They said he was an empty suit. They said he lacked gravitas. They said he was not smart enough to do the job; he was not qualified. To many, he was a thoroughly unimpressive middle-aged man who lacked the personality and charm of his predecessor and the intelligence and seriousness of his opponent. He often stumbled over his own words and seemed ill at ease in public. He lost the popular vote and was elected president by the narrowest of margins in the electoral college. It took a decision by the United States Supreme Court to end the controversy and place him in the White House.

On September 14, 2001, just days after terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City, George W. Bush walked the ruins shaking hands and thanking the police and firefighters for their courageous service. He climbed on a pile of rubble. With a bullhorn in one hand and his other arm draped around the shoulder of a weary firefighter, he addressed the crowd.

Someone in the back of the crowd called out, “We can’t hear you, George.”

His impromptu response, “I can hear you, and soon those who brought down these buildings will hear from all of us,” spoke of his defiance and determination and brought wild applause from the crowd. It was a moment everyone watching will remember.

In the eyes of many, George W. Bush suddenly became their president that day. He was no longer an empty suit. He became a world leader worthy of their respect, while standing in the rubble of the World Trade Center.

In the weeks and months that followed, the question was repeatedly asked. Did the tragedy of September 11, 2001, suddenly make George W. Bush a leader and a president? Some thought so. Others argued those events gave the nation the opportunity to see the real man.

Both were right, and both were wrong.

This article is based on Chapter 8, “The Sunday School: Equipping for Life, Ministry, and Leadership,” of his book.

Earl Creps

ROB BURKHART is director of adult and children’s ministries, Michigan District Assemblies of God. He is author of Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Maximizing Your Sunday School.

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