Equipping: Why do I need it? How do I get it?
I wrote a chapter for an Every Nation e-book publication in 2015 to compliment a student conference called "Change the Campus, Change the World". Below is the full chapter I wrote, it's all about how we can be equipped for ministry.
I have a confession to make; I’m an equipment addict. Every year I pick up a new hobby, learn as much as I can about that field, then pull the trigger and buy equipment. Over time the equipment accumulates. This year it was bicycle mechanics; the year before that, brewing coffee, before that, rock climbing, and the list goes on and on. My tiny Edinburgh flat is bursting at the seams with the equipment of past hobbies. Whether it’s photography, cycling, skiing, cooking, or music, all my hobbies need equipment to be enjoyed. It’s the same for my passion. Growing people, making disciples and watching God growing His church.
Just like hobbies require equipment, the need for equipment is intrinsic to making disciples. The difficulty is there is no shop to buy the equipment needed, nor is there a comprehensive equipment list for ministry and discipleship. Nonetheless, if we are going to make disciples there are particular skills all Christians need to accomplish Christ’s universal call to, “go and make disciples.” At very least, a Christian must be equipped to reproduce the first two E’s of the discipleship loop, engage the lost and establish others in biblical foundations.
The process of becoming equipped in these skills is one primarily of action, it is where theory becomes practice. For the twelve apostles this happens in Matthew 10. Jesus calls them together and “gave them authority over unclean spirits… and to heal every affliction.” He then sends them out to do exactly what he had just taught them about. He says, “Go… Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleans lepers, and cast out demons.”
While there are no boundary lines surrounding where the skills necessary for discipleship begin and end, there are hard tools that can help us along the way. Some examples of these tools are The God Test, the One2One book, Purple Book, and of course the Sword of the Spirit the Bible. These tools are part of the equipping process but they as much equip you to make disciples as having a guitar equips me to lead worship. My guitar allows me to make noise but it is through practice that equipping really begins. The athlete, musician, and disciple must all put the tools of their trade to consistent use if they are to become proficient in their discipline.
In essence, being equipped for ministry is putting tools of our trade to use by engaging the lost and establishing others in biblical foundations. The equipping process primarily happens in practice, it is a process of action not merely passive receiving.
There are many myths that slip into our minds and hearts that slow or stop us from making disciples. It can be easy to take them as truth unless we expose them for what they are: myths, standing in opposition to the truth of Christ’s call for every Christian to make disciples.
1) Equipping is a long process.
Just because the equipping process happens through practice, it does not have to be a long and arduous process. Like learning an instrument there are levels of proficiency that can take a lifetime to achieve, but your first solo could be closer than ever expected.
This past summer a young woman named Lisa from our campus ministry signed up to go on a missions trip to serve our latest European church plant in Belfast. In the run up we held three brief training sessions to learn to engage the lost and share the Gospel. In our first training we went around our small circle praying for the upcoming trip. When it came to Lisa’s turn, she squeaked out a short, stumbley prayer. I thought little of it until she later approached me apologising, “I’ve never prayed in front of people before, I’m sorry I’m no good at it.” I assured her not to worry and that God and our group is in no way judging her on how eloquently she prays.
Through the training we continued to pray together and Lisa grew in prayer and the skills needed for evangelism. On the missions trip an older man who had lost faith in God and grown bitter towards people asked her to pray for him. Thanks to the training she had received in sharing her faith and the practice of praying with other people she was able to pray with this man on the street in the middle of Belfast.
In that moment Lisa was equipped to pray for people. Before then, ministering in that way was only theory. It was in the doing, putting the tools and training into practice, that she became more fully equipped to minister in this way.
Equipping does not have to take a long time. It takes tools, training, and often a step of faith, but these can happen quickly. Since returning from Belfast, Lisa has had the opportunity to share her faith many times on her campus. She has also been praying with young women on her hall who are in need of God’s healing. Lisa has become equipped to share her faith and minister to people. The process was not clean and easy, but it was quick.
2) I am not ready to try until I am confident. (I’ll be confident before I start)
I’ve left so many seminars and training sessions on discipleship or evangelism disappointed and bewildered, feeling no more confident or clear on what it actually looks like to reach the lost and make disciples. I fear that I’m not alone.
Often we attend these sorts of classes hoping that through them we’ll becoming confident, fully equipped, lost reaching, disciple making, machines. In fact, what most of them are doing is simply introducing us to a tool, giving us the piece of equipment necessary to make a start. What we need to do next is put it into practice, take a step of faith and see God use us in that moment. The equipping process is not an academic endeavour and cannot be completed in the safety of a seminar or classroom. It is a discipline. Equipping happens in practice.
Confidence comes with practice. We must take a step of faith and find God’s faithfulness outside our own comfort. There, our confidence is given opportunity to grow. If however, we wait to be fully confident before making a start, that day will never come and we will sit the sidelines of Christ’s call until He returns.
3) Maturity comes before ministry.
An older couple recently stopped me in my church and said, “Nathan, we mean this in the best way possible: You’re a 50 year old trapped in a 30 year old’s body.” I laughed and with discussion found that what they were saying is that I carry a weight of authority and maturity that far surpasses my actual age.
I was set in as the lead pastor of our Edinburgh church when I was 26 years old. At that time, I’d never lead a campus ministry, or a church and it reflected in my maturity. Nonetheless, I was chosen by God and the elders of the church for the job. My personal maturity fallowed me picking up weight in ministry.
Many want to see maturity before ministry weight is given out but this is not the biblical pattern we see in Ephesians 4:11-13, “And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
This passage makes it clear, it is regular folks (saints) being equipped for ministry that brings about maturity.
Often when selecting people for ministry roles we want complete maturity. This reflects on not only our lack of faith in people’s God given talents but also in the ability for the Holy Spirit to use ordinary people for ministry. This is my story: I’m an ordinary person, filled by the Holy Spirit, and used in ministry until I became mature.
How do I know if I’m equipped?
Many Christians would believe they are not yet ready to start making disciples. I believe by the power of the Holy Spirit many people who do not feel ready in fact already are. I’ve assembled a quick diagnostic test below to find if you’re equipped and ready to make a start in disciplining others.
1) Do you have a tool?
Between our God given tools and those developed by Every Nation, we are set up for some serious disciple making. We are wonderfully blessed to have an abundance of God’s word translated in many different approachable and deep translations. As Christians we are also equipped with the powerful tool of prayer. God is faithful to answer our prayers for wisdom, He is also ultimately responsible people’s salvation. We can call upon the Lord for He is our very present help in time of need.
There are also a load of great resources developed by Every Nation (and beyond) to help us make disciples. The God Test is by far the best tool I’ve used to speak with people about my faith and to tell the story of my salvation and the Gospel. The One2One along with the Purple Book provides great blueprint to help establish someone in biblical foundations.
These tools are not the answers in themselves. A Bible covered in dust on a book shelf has never done anyone any good. These tools must be put to proper use. When experts and novices alike use these tools, they provide a powerful transferable pattern for making disciples.
2) Do you know how to use it?
“I’ve got a spiritual sword and I’m not afraid to use it!” I hope that this is the cry of every Christian. We are not only equipped with God’s word, prayer and modern discipleship tools but we know how to put them to use. This is where training and study are useful. Knowing the flow of The God Test or having worked though the Purple Book are very important in knowing how to use these tools.
If you know how to use the tool then you're probably ready to make a start. You don’t have to know everything, just enough to get going. In the words of Steve Murrell, “just stay one chapter ahead.”
3) Can you muster the courage to make a start?
Daniel had only been a Christian for a year when we went on our missions trip to Belfast. Daniel was concerned by the thought of sharing his faith. Not only was it a brand new concept to him but he also struggled with a stammer which was exasperated when speaking with new people. I was greatly surprised when on our second day of sharing The God Test, Daniel volunteered to go off by himself.
Daniel did not have all the right answers and was not always able to perfectly share his faith but he had the courage to make a start. From there the Holy Sprit was able to use him to reach out to people and share the Gospel on the streets of a notoriously rough city.
You don’t have to be an expert or have all the right answers by wrote. All you need is enough courage to make a start. It is in that moment of faith that God will answer and your equipping really begins.
How do I equip others?
1) Help build confidence.
Often the difference between someone sitting the sidelines and getting in the game of making disciples and is not a matter of knowledge, but a matter of confidence. It is for us to not only let someone know they have what it takes, but that they can deliver when it matters most. One powerful way we can build confidence in our disciples is to show them a practical example of what they need to do.
Any time I do practical ministry I try to have someone else in the room or on the street with me. The other day I was asked to step in to help settle an issue that had arisen in a community group. The community group leader, offending party and I all sat down and worked the problem out using scripture and prayer. At the end I turned to the leader and asked, “do you think you could do that on your own next time?” Almost every ministry experience is an opportunity to build confidence and knowhow into those around you.
2) Build in opportunities to use the equipment.
I was given a pocket knife for my fifth birthday. Naturally, all I wanted to do was cut stuff. Unfortunately, there was a pesky, “no cutting things in the house” rule, so I’d go outside and find literally anything I could to cut, stab, and slice. When we give disciples tools, knowhow, and confidence, they are naturally going to want to put them to use. With every equipping similar or training it is vital for there to be a natural outlet for their newfound skills.
Earlier this year a team from Seattle came to Edinburgh to take our students and church members through a course called Life of Freedom. Everyone who attended was told that the next time we run it they would be the ones doing the ministry. Just a few months later we are about to repeat Life of Freedom without a single full time minister leading it. By giving them an opportunity to use what they learned my church is becoming equipped to lead people into freedom.
We need to give people opportunities for ministry quickly so that everything learned quickly finds application. This terns the high calorie Christian diet into lean muscle, ready to be used for the advance of the Gospel in our campuses cities.
3) Create room for failure
I love rock climbing. It’s an absolute thrill to climb higher and harder than ever before. When I push the boundaries though, eventually my grip fails and I fall. Thanks to all the climbing gear I use, my momentary failure is not final. To be a good climber, you have to know deep down that when you fall, you will not die. This gives you confidence to push hard. In the same way, disciples need to know that it is not the end if they fail in some way.
A few times every year our church takes to the street with flyers, The God Test, and other evangelism tools. When we go out I try to take the pressure off by calling it “practice evangelism.” Yes, we hope to see people come to faith, but its practice for sharing their faith with friends, family, classmates and coworkers. If you offend some one or say something entirely stupid on the street, you never have to see that person again, It’s practice evangelism. If you fail, it’s OK.
The more space we can create where it’s safe to fail the harder and higher we will be able to climb in the future.