What happens during the transition?

The pastor must carefully and slowly chip away at destroying the dependent culture and establishing a growth culture. For eight years, I chipped away at changing the culture to one of equipping. I spent those 8 years filtering out whom I had to see and get fired and whom I could let someone see. I selectively visited some and let other equipped laity see the rest. Each year the list I felt I had to visit dwindled. You must keep in mind the old adage “monkey see; monkey do.” It was imperative for my growing staff to see me setting the equipping model.

You must keep in mind that you are the only curriculum there is for making this shift. You don’t need a library full of books or courses; you need role models, and you must be THE role model. One of the questions I get the most is, “What is the best curriculum on equipping?” When I give them my stock answer, “You are the curriculum,” I get a blank stare that says, “Sure, now where do I find the curriculum?”

Westerners are so strongly held hostage to a passion for teaching content that we have a hard time understanding that modeling behavior is far more productive. We confuse teaching with modeling. The best way to equip people is by modeling what you want them to become. That’s the basic meaning of the word “disciple.” A disciple is one who is being mentored to learn a trade. The trade is becoming like Jesus.

A lot of books have been written on equipping. A few of them are excellent, but none of them are as good a curriculum as you are.

I see a lot of pastors trying to equip their people in a classroom setting, and 95% of the time it fails. Discipleship isn’t something that can be done in a classroom. Most of it must be done on-the-job in the midst of actual ministry.

Keep in mind that the early Christians were called “followers of the way,” not “people of the book.” Our focus should be on developing a relationship with Christ more than on learning Scripture. Don’t take this the wrong way. We need to know Scripture, but more importantly, we need to demonstrate a personal relationship with Jesus.

Again, I say, “You are the curriculum.” The next time you want to equip your leaders, don’t reach for a copy of the latest program of the day. Instead, look in the mirror. That’s where you’ll find your best curriculum. And as the curriculum, you must:

  • Focus on multiplication principles instead of addition.
  • Love them and pray for them.
  • Believe in them and see them as God’s gifts to you. Set the example of living ministry in daily life.
  • Ask a lot of questions, listen between the lines, and hold your staff accountable to do the same.

I had to train my staff to equip people to do the hospital visitation. If you’re going to make this shift, you have to have trained, competent, and caring people to take your and the staff’s place. You can’t just ignore people or expect them to equip themselves.

Focus your attention on core leaders, not the entire church. Make sure a culture of equipping is burned into their DNA so they will go and infect others. So who are your twelve disciples, and do you have the courage to make them the focus of your attention?

I taught the staff to focus more on a “to be” list than a “to do” list. A “to be” list contains the names of people whom you think have potential to be a leader and are open to coaching. This “to be” list normally should include around ten people. Every staff has a “to do” list that often gets larger by the minute. Instead, they need a small “to be” list, and their “to do” list will get smaller.

We found that making this shift usually went something like this:

  • From “I’m involved in everything” to “I like what I see.”
  • From transmitting information to modeling Christ
  • From courses and programs to intensive on-the-job training
  • From the congregation thinking the pastor needs help to the realization that all of us are ministers
  • From “What must I do today?” to “Who will I mentor today?”

Next, we had to develop a caring system so that people felt loved and cared for. We choose the small group system as our system of choice. If you have a good small group system that emphasizes leadership and community, you have the makings of a good care system. Congregational care doesn’t just happen in a church. Congregational care must be managed. That’s why I refer to this system as a farm system, as in a baseball farm where scouts go to find players who are ready to move up to the next level of the game.

In the early years of the transition, I preached frequently from Ephesians 4:11-12 and its implications for the pastor, staff, and congregation. Anyone who understands these texts doesn’t have a choice but the change. This conviction assures they will do their best to change.

One of the metaphors I used over and over was that of a spiritual midwife. Just as a midwife assists the parents in the birth of their child, a spiritual midwife assists people in birthing their God-given gifts. And like literal childbirth, birthing one’s spiritual gift is a life-and-death issue. To live one’s life without finding your place in God’s universe is like never having lived in the first place.

Baseball is another metaphor I use to train people, especially staff. I ask them to think of themselves as scouts and coaches. I taught that everyone on the staff needs to be a scout. Scouts go to a game not to watch the game, but to zero in on a particular player to see if they are ready for their team. You get what you look for. If you look for people to mentor, you will find them. However if you think of yourself as a player, then you shouldn’t try to be lead a pastor.

Over time I made it clear to the staff that keeping their job was dependent on them raising up new leaders every year. The only way this goal is achieved is by learning how to equip people instead of burying our heads in work.

My next post will be on how equippers think. You won’t want to miss it.

Question: How have you modeled behavior instead of  teaching content? Or if you haven’t, how have you seen others do this well? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.