Alan Nelson has discovered one of the greatest hurdles to spiritual growth in the Church today. In his book, Me to We, his goal is simple—expose the hurdle and tear it down. The demolition process is painfully honest, while at the same time refreshingly helpful. Bookstores are lined with volumes suggesting changes the Church should consider, but this one takes on the source of the issue—the mind and heart of the pastor and the leaders who surround him.
For a church to reach its God-given potential, it must become an “equipping church.” This is a church that empowers and trains all members for ministry. The equipping mentality begins with the pastor, who embraces a new model for ministry. This model describes the pastor as one whose primary job is “preparing others to serve each other.” Encased in a wonderfully crafted story, Me to We offers the testimony of a seasoned pastor as he mentors a younger, but willing, minister. The mentor unveils a plan fulfilling the purpose of church leadership found in Ephesians 4:12: “…the training of the saints in the work of ministry…”
Many pastors have preached from the Ephesians 4 passage on gifts, but few have deviated from a pastor-centered leadership model. Yet, the closer one moves toward the equipping mentality, the greater the involvement of members in joyful and effective ministry.
Nelson describes the potential for ministry involvement with five progressive stages of pastoral leadership. If the pastor is the primary provider of ministry, fewer than twenty percent of the members will join his efforts. That percentage can rise as high as forty percent if the pastor engages a committed core and shares ministry with this select group. The pastor who promotes the concepts of spiritual gifts and biblical stewardship may see up to sixty percent involved in ministry. Yet, the “equipping” pastor can see four out of five members actively engaged. This pastor establishes a system that trains believers in discovering, developing, and deploying their gifts. To reach a phenomenal level of ministry participation (80-100%), the church would focus on the community and living out their faith in Christ beyond the walls of the church building.
In the last four years, I have read at least one hundred books on the topic of leadership. Many of these books offer practical suggestions for increasing pastoral influence and effectiveness. None has challenged my thoughts about the ministry in a greater way that Me to We. This is a complete paradigm shift—one that is desperately needed to revive the Church.
An equipping church is one that has placed the potential development of ministry leaders and participants as a defining value. Empowering believers is more than a momentary emphasis; it is a part of the DNA of the congregation. Nelson states, “As long as equipping is a program, an appendage of the church instead of a value, it’ll never be enough to significantly change the church.” The equipping attitude must permeate every aspect of the church and must be embraced by every leader.
Instead of the CEO model for pastoral leadership, Nelson illustrates his view as the “player coach.” Successful college and professional sports teams have more coaches than those who stand on the sideline. Team captains and leaders should act as “coaches” on the field, helping fellow players adjust to the circumstances on the field or court. The “player coach” becomes a mentor in the midst of the action. Nelson concludes, “Pastor-centric ministry uses people to support clergy, while teams tend to be strategic, sharing involvement and ownership.”
How can a pastor begin this transition? Nelson has a simple suggestion: “Never do ministry alone.” Power and control are no longer a part of the equation. In fact, “The best way to enhance your power is to empower others.” Investment in people will consume the pastor’s time and energy. The pastor’s goal will be to enlist ministry partners while developing an effective discipleship process.
The greatest achievement of this book is also its greatest challenge to church leadership. A leader’s perception of people will affect his or her investment into their lives. Nelson concludes, “There are no wrong people, just wrong roles.” Every person who has trusted Christ for salvation has a purpose and place in the Body of Christ. There could be no ministry more important that equipping believers for the work of the Kingdom, edifying the Body and reaching people with the life-changing message of hope in Jesus.
As a P.S.- I spent this past week under the instruction of Vernon Armitage. He is the pastor that is featured in Me to We. Vernon is the real deal. For over 40 years he practiced this ministry philosophy at a church in Kansas City, MO. He was honest about the challenges of this model and gave our Equipping Institute class at the LifeServe 2011 a truck load of gold nuggets to consider in our own ministry settings. Vernon now works with Willow Creek, helping this association incorporate an equipping mentality.