One of the most discouraging things that a pastor or staff minister can hear is this: “I just don’t belong here. I can’t find a place to plug in at this church.”
This may be the last conversation that the minister will have with this person and it may be said as the person walks out the door of the church on Sunday morning.
The person’s perception may be true. Because of the direction that a particular congregation has chosen to pursue, the gifts and talents of this individual may fall outside the opportunities for service and fellowship offered there.
However, it is more likely that the failure to connect has more to do with the way that a church empowers its members than with the lack of opportunities available.
A model for equipping and empowering believers is found in Ephesians 4:11-13:
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his 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.”
There are believers who are set aside for the purpose of equipping God’s people for the “works of service” so that everyone can find his or her place in the body of Christ and grow in Christ-likeness.
This does not mean that we have two levels of giftedness – the clergy and the laity, for example – but different functions in the body of Christ.
Those that we usually refer to as “clergy” are ministers and those we call “laity” are also ministers. Those gifted as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (the last two may be one function) are specifically charged to equip and empower others for ministry.
So, how do those with the responsibility to equip and empower other believers do their work?
They do it by developing a culture in the church that fulfills the goals of equipping and empowering. Here are some specific actions that contribute to this type of culture:
1. The church must recognize all gifts without respect to gender, age or ethnicity.
This means that women, older adults, median adults, younger adults, youth, children and people of various races all have a part to play in the church. We must remove the prejudices and ingrained habits that are barriers to their service.
2. We must encourage people to discover how God has “wired them up.”
Each person is a unique mixture of spiritual gifts, talents, experiences and passions. When we understand who we are, we are better prepared to find the right place of service.
3. The church must organize for equipping and empowerment.
What are the structures – discernment, counseling, assessment, training, placement – that we can put in place to help people use what they have to further the ministry of the church?
4. Finding ways to measure our progress in equipping and empowerment is not easy, but we must find the methodology to determine how effective we are in the process.
As someone said, “What gets measured gets done.”
5. We must train both “clergy” and “laity” to mentor and coach each other to use their giftedness and find the right placement in the body of Christ.
There are many examples of this in Scripture, especially in the work of Barnabas and Paul.
God continues to call gifted and talented men and women for “works of service.” We must be more intentional about helping them find how to perform that service.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is associate professor of ministry praxis at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, BarnabasFile, and is used with permission. His Twitter feed is @ircel.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is supplemental associate professor of missional theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.