“How do we get from here to there?” is a question that I get frequently. Church leaders want to transition their church from where they are to where they would like to be. Many, many church leaders would like to transition from constantly shepherding, visiting, and “doing everything” to focusing on equipping and training. I believe there are at least 10 ways church leaders create a culture of equipping and training (You may find there are more but these should at least get you started).
Some of you would like to start small and focus on one area. If that is you, I recommend that you start by clarifying and measuring your church leadership pipeline and addressing the challenges to building a leadership pipeline in the church (more about that below). However, I think all church leaders may want to consider how they could make the shift to training more regularly by integrating one or more of the ways church leaders create a culture of equipping and training.
10 Ways Church Leaders Create a Culture of Equipping and Training
1) Identify Where You Currently Spend Your Time
Until you know where you are currently spending your time, I doubt you will have much hope of spending more time equipping and training other church leaders for ministry. Make sure you have a good handle on what activities are taking up the bulk of your time and focus. Don’t start by delegating. Start by raising your own awareness.
2) Speak With Your Break-Thru Leaders
Not every leader in your church will be on board with this shift. There, I said it. Don’t expect everyone to celebrate your recent change. Some of them would prefer the church to continue as it has been. Others don’t want their role to have to change. Some may not be big fans of your ministry in general.
But there are (hopefully) a few “break-thru” leaders who are open to seeing an organizational shift. These leaders need to know where you are heading. They need to give you input. They need to tell you where your ideas are and are not clear. They need to give you feedback to the point that they become excited about the impact this shift will have going forward. At a minimum, you need them to speak up for the process of change and stand by you as you communicate a change that could easily sound like a lazy pastor.
(Note: I don’t believe a shift from “doing it all” to “equipping and training” is a shift made by someone who is lazy at all. In my experience, it has been quite the opposite. If you want to relax, then doing try to intentionally develop leaders at all levels in your church. However, people can/could see this shift as a sign of avoiding one’s responsibilities.)
3) Seek Out Leaders For Congregational Care
Caring for people is essential in the local church. In a healthy church, it isn’t essential that the lead pastor visit everyone when they are sick or going through a hard time. If this is the case in your church, you may want to assess what model of church you are creating (i.e. a model based on American cultural assumptions or a model based on Scriptural principles).
Congregational care is critical to a church growing its impact and/or influence. Ideally existing churches would begin to rely less and less on the pastor as the primary or only conduit of pastoral care. Why not make sure there is a person (or a group of people) in each group in the church that is willing to oversee the care of its members? Why not create a sustainable model where people care for one another rather than depending on a paid staff member to visit them? My goal here is not to criticize or demean those who are faithfully serving and caring for people. I applaud your clear compassion for the sick and love for anyone who is experiencing some type of difficulty in life. But what if each church leader were to multiply their capacity to care for others by training people throughout the church to care for those they are already in contact with and/or are already in a small group, missional community, or Sunday school class with them?
You will need a point person to oversee this area of ministry in general and within each group in the church. Make sure to not only identify these leaders but to also ensure they have received sufficient training to feel confident providing care for those in their group(s).
4) Ensure You Have Support From Your Church Council, Elder Board, Administrative Council, Deacon Board, or Other Leadership Body
I’m not a fan of changing things on paper and then expecting those papers to alter behavior(s). People alter behaviors. But you will likely need the support of those in authority of your church to bring about a change as large as the one presented here (This will likely vary depending on how long the church has been around, what type of polity, how long the pastor has been in leadership, and on many other factors. For some churches that are younger, these changes may be easier due to the lack of long-held traditions and customs in the church. But for churches that have been around for many, many years, you will likely encounter more resistance and need to take a more methodical approach rather than trying to make large changes quickly.).
No matter how your church is organized or what type of governance you find yourself operating under, a pastor or any church leader should be careful to make changes within the bounds of the restrictions and decision making structure that they have submitted themselves to by taking on a leadership role in the church. Show respect to those who are leading by explaining why you’d like to make this change, how you would like to implement it, what the impact will be on the church, and especially making sure that no one sees this change as an abdication from responsibility but rather a willingness to step up and responsibly lead the church forward.
(Note: The reason I have placed this one at #4 is because it is often easier to change a culture if you have first infected the influential leaders with the new direction before you have addressed things with the positional leaders. This is not always the case and you will have to decide on a case by case basis what the best decision is for your church and its leadership. Some churches will want to move #4 up to #2 or #3.)
5) Recruit Church Leaders to Help Communicate The Change (before, during, and after it happens)
You don’t want to be the sole voice crying out. If you are, you could end up sounding more like a complainer or frustrated staff person rather than someone trying to implement culture change. Take the time necessary to find a few people that can help you get the word out.
These people have the potential of being heard more readily than you. Other church staff and church leaders often connect better with some people than you do and will naturally help increase momentum and support for the changes that are underway.
6) Prepare To Lovingly Respond To Backlash
People will get frustrated at some point with an approach like this one. After all, “You are the pastor and this is what we hired you to do.” It makes me cringe to write those words knowing how many pastors lived under the burden of having hundreds or thousands of “bosses.” Not only is the statement about “doing what we hired you to do” wrong from the standpoint of someone’s poor tone and lack of respect, it is obviously off base theologically and biblically.
Nonetheless, prepare for backlash. Some people will unknowingly question the change. Others will ask questions out of pure curiosity and it might catch you off guard (don’t get defensive). Some will ask questions because they will be wondering if you are trying to avoid your responsibilities. Some will question you because they don’t want to see the church grow larger than it currently is. In other words, they want to be a part of a church where they can depend on the paid pastor being the one who visits them. Some people have a natural bent towards smaller or larger churches and there is no problem with that (as long as their preference isn’t driven by a desire to maintain some aspect of a life that isn’t evaluated in light of Scripture). There are many different reasons that people may push back against this culture shift but you shouldn’t be surprised by their questions, concerns, or frustrations. If you are surprised then you have failed to prepare.
The one caveat I would give to this point is that often the pastor is brought in with the unsaid (I’ve also seen it in writing many times) expectation that they will be the one who does the majority of the pastoral care. With that in mind, if the pastor has signed an employment agreement, contract, or job description of some sort that explicitly goes against an equipping/training model, you may have to address this first before making changes. Keep in mind though that job descriptions don’t change ministries nor motivate people to serve. Job descriptions do provide very helpful parameters that set clear expectations. Although job descriptions don’t dictate all that most pastors do or all that people assume they will do, if you have signed a job description or other document and begin to deviate from it, you might want to address changes to it so that you don’t find yourself in legal trouble, looking for a job, or with a credibility issue that is inhibiting your leadership of the church.
7) Preach About Equipping and Leadership Development From Scripture
It is no secret that pastors are tempted to preach ideas that are convenient or to bring ideas to the text (eisegesis). Try to resist the urge to let your ideas dictate what the text means and try to let the text of Scripture dictate how your ideas are formed and what they actually are (exegesis). As you try to accomplish any type of culture change, you will want to point people to Scripture so that they are listening to God and His Word as much and ideally more than they are listening to solid arguments for efficiency, strategy, vision, etc.
I strongly believe that if you were to take time to teach Scripture faithfully on a consistent basis, you would find yourself unable to resist moving in the direction of creating a culture of equipping and training (if not, you may want to question your approach to Scripture). As you read key passages about the men of Issachar, Ephesians 4, and look at the life of Jesus, you will see a model of leadership that often stands in contrast to the pastoral leadership models that many have expected of their pastors and other church leaders.
8) Live The Culture You Want to Create
This should go without saying. But if you want to see a culture change then you will be the one who must first live it. It will require steps of faith on your part to not “do it all” and to entrust leadership to others. It will require a step of faith that you may get sharply criticized for not doing something that others may expect you to do. It may require you to stop doing something you enjoy doing in order to allow space for others to step in and serve/lead.
9) Celebrate Examples In Your Leaders of Ways Church Leaders Create a Culture of Equipping and Training
If people haven’t seen any solid examples of this type of church leadership, it is only natural that it will be hard for many to support. When someone in the church takes time out of their schedule to train a group of missional community leaders or congregational care givers, make sure to celebrate the way this church leader has engaged in an important ministry of equipping and training. I find that many churches celebrate what gets done and I have no problem with that. But the struggle I do have is when we only celebrate the accomplishment of some ministry tasks or objectives and forget about the important initiatives that trained or equipped the leaders who were necessary to lead the teams.
10) Clarify Where Equipping and Training Fit in Your Leadership Pipeline
This last point is filled with assumptions. The biggest assumption is that you have taken the time to create a leadership pipeline. If you have not, please stop what you are doing and address that head on. But equipping and training will sound like isolated ideas and helpful initiatives if they aren’t positioned as critical to the successful implementation of your leadership pipeline.
Building a leadership pipeline may take some time for you and your church but it will create a clear framework, process, and ethos within which you can develop reproducing disciples at all levels of your church. Don’t let that size of such an initiative scare you from the most important steps to building a leadership pipeline in the church. If done well, you will develop not only a leadership development framework and process but a disciple making engine that will prepare you and all your church’s leaders towards an exponential movement of discipleship multiplication.