Preaching to Equip: The True Calling of Every Pastor
I recently listened to a podcast where the pastor being interviewed was talking about his love of preaching. He said that as a young ministerial student, he couldn’t wait to get his first church because he was so excited to get to preach 3 or 4 times a week. For him, the fulfillment of the call to ministry was to have the opportunity to preach God’s Word.
This is obviously a noble calling.
But today I want to examine the role of preaching as a means for equipping our congregations.
According to Ephesians 4:10-11, there is a specific goal expected from our pastoral communication:
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (NKJV)
The word equipping in the Greek comes from katartismos, (kar-ar-tis-moss) which means; a making fit, preparing, training, perfecting, making fully qualified for service. At the core, the local church pastor must realize that our primary function as the leader is to prepare, train, and help fit our people for ministry. In other words, we must be equippers!
Let me state from the outset that I am not being critical of preaching, nor am I in any way challenging the validity of it in today’s culture. There is nothing in all of ministry quite like preaching God’s Word under the presence of His Spirit and anointing. Sensing the Holy Spirit flowing through you as you teach the Word is as good as it gets for anyone who has accepted His calling.
What I do want to address is the need in the local church to make sure that our preaching motivates people to do more than just sit in a pew on a weekly basis listening to our well-crafted sermons.
On the night before a VisionDay a few years ago, I was having dinner with the pastor and their spouse to talk through the process. I asked this particular pastor what his mission was at the church. He looked puzzled at me and asked me to explain what I meant. I asked, “Why do you exist as a church? What do you believe is your calling to accomplish in your community at this particular time?” He answered, “Well, I just need a crowd that I can preach to. That’s why I wanted you to come so that I can get a larger congregation to hear me preach.”
I didn’t have much to say...
In fact, back in the day, when I grew up in the 70s, it was normal to refer to a person surrendering to the call of the ministry as “the call to preach.” To be completely transparent with you, I don’t ever remember anyone who surrendered to the call to ministry mentioning the word “equip.” Not once did someone respond in an altar call to announce, “I’ve been called to equip!”
The problem with this mindset is that we aren’t called to “preach to” the congregation. We are called to equip. While preaching is certainly a means used to equip people, just having people observing our preaching in and of itself isn’t the ultimate goal.
Equipping has at its basic function an ability to help people take a next step in their walk with Jesus.
"I don’t ever remember anyone who surrendered to the call to ministry mentioning the word 'equip.'"
As a Southern Baptist kid growing up, I saw first-hand the results of our preaching emphasis. The pastor of my home church focused every sermon on salvation. As you can imagine, we therefore saw many people come to Jesus. (Which is awesome by the way!)
But when I really stopped to think about it, the majority of our church growth in those years actually came from people “transferring the membership” from another similar church to ours. It appeared that the desire of the new people joining our church was to find a preacher to their liking. It was hardly ever about the need to be equipped for ministry service.
Here is where the problem arises. There is a basic observation that I’ve been able to make over the last 40 years. Any church that is focused on a particular preacher or even preaching style will eventually plateau and stall. They tend to move towards the unhealthy phase of maintenance. Then comes preservation, which leads to life-support, and finally death.
There are two reasons for their end:
1 – The personality (preacher) either leaves, is let go, or retires. A congregation built on the personality of a single leader, and leadership style, will eventually run out of momentum because its growth has been built on the personality or way that personality operates.
2 – The church refused to be an equipping church. Therefore, it failed to raise up the next generation in lieu of having a steady diet of great preaching each week.
This is why I believe many of our churches are stagnant. We become too narrowly-focused on how our mission is accomplished. For example, if your preaching emphasis is specifically on salvation, then you will eventually develop a room full of saved people. And over time, the lack of intentionality in discipleship and defining clearly what the next steps should be will result in an inward-focused church where everyone is “amening” your incredible messages about salvation that are preached to a room full of saved people.
Preaching intellectual messages that attract people who agree with what we are preaching isn’t what we are called to do. According to Ephesians 4, we are called to equip saints for the work of the ministry. This is why I believe there is a direct correlation to this focus on preaching versus equipping.
The gathering of the church, or ecclesia, was never intended to solely be a place where we congregate to listen to the preacher “feed” us. Yes, being fed is important. But our gatherings are also intended to be an instructional time of equipping in order to enable the Body of Christ to do the work of the ministry.
The very word used in the Greek for preach, kerusso, (kay-roos-oh), means to herald, tell abroad, publish, propagate, publicly proclaim, exhort, call out with a clear voice, communicate. The herald is to give a public announcement of an official message and to issue whatever demands the message entails. The official message we must herald is the calling on every believer to discover their gifts, find their function, and impact the world by helping to expand the Kingdom of God.
Failing to do so will result in a church that expects its “hired staff” to do the work of the ministry.
Providing Clarity: 5 Preaching-to-Equip Principles
So what’s the point? Simply this: I want to encourage you to make sure you add to your preaching the equipping process of providing clarity for what your listeners are to do next. Make it your aim to include these 5 Preaching-to-Equip Principles:
1) Define clearly what the next steps are.
Have you ever been in a service where the message really convicted you? I know I have. God used the speaker to shine the spotlight on something in your life that needed correcting. However, as the service comes to a close, the speaker doesn’t give you any instructions of what to do now that you want to deal with the issue. No direction is given of what to do or where to go next. This can be so frustrating.
Not providing the clear next step to take can often leave someone in worse shape than they were before they heard the message.
The inability to define clear next steps will limit your ability to be an effective equipper. Continuing in the pattern for a season and you’ll discover that you are only attracting consumers instead of contributors.
2) Address issues pertaining to the needs of your congregation and community.
I believe that God’s Word either directly or indirectly addresses every issue known to man. Therefore, it’s so important that we make sure our preaching brings to light just how up-to-date the Scriptures really are. Your preaching style may be expository, going book-by-book and verse-by-verse. That’s awesome. Just make sure you share current examples of situations that people are dealing with in your application.
It’s been somewhat disconcerting to me to see several pastors who are preaching through the series they had planned before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. It is so critical that we speak to the issues our congregation and community are going through. So please make sure you are addressing issues like job loss, family dynamics, dysfunction, hopelessness, death, loss of family members, depression, and other real issues that the vast majority of people are dealing with everyday.
3) Teach your congregation the importance of using their gifts to build the church.
We don’t have the option of failing to equip if we want to build a healthy, sustainable, and lasting church. Understanding the need of building teams and sharing the ministry load is at the foundation of preaching to equip. Our preaching needs to help people understand they have gifts, that God expects them to use their gifts, and instructs them on opportunities to engage these gifts in the surrounding community.
Pastor, you’ve got to make sure the inspirational aspects of your anointed preaching inspires your congregation to make a difference! I often share at our One-Day Conferences that we aren’t down here on earth trying to get Jesus to help us reach people. He has made His desire abundantly clear that He wants to reach everyone. He’s simply looking for some men and women of God who will dare to trust Him to work through them to impact the world.
As preachers of God’s Word, we must help our people discover their purpose and then provide opportunities for them to develop their gifts.
4) Through your equipping, pursue the “Big 4 Results” taught in Ephesians 4.
According to Ephesians 4:11-16, the ministry gifts equipping the saints will produce four distinctive results:
Result #1 - Maturity. Verse 13 - “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect [or mature] man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
Result #2 - Stability. Verse 14 - “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.”
Result #3 - Integrity. Verse 15 - “but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head--Christ.”
Result #4 - Community. Verse 16 - “from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
I’ve heard it argued that Jesus doesn’t expect small-church pastors to be equippers due to the lack of potential candidates to be equipped. This just isn’t true. There is no “size of the church” qualification for equipping. In fact, I found it was easier for me to be an equipping pastor during the earlier years of pastoral ministry in a small church. Things were just more simple and organic in the small beginnings stage. It became more complicated to implement change and new ideas as the church grew larger.
5) Remind yourself that it’s not about you.
Most of us are familiar with James 1:22: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (NKJV) But did you know that the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel dealt with the same issue? Look at what the Bible says in Ezekiel 33:30-33,
"As for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking about you beside the walls and in the doors of the houses; and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, 'Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.' So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them. And when this comes to pass--surely it will come--then they will know that a prophet has been among them."
People affirming your preaching while not taking their next steps or experiencing forward movement is not unique to the modern-day preacher. It is far too common that the expectation of the normal church is to hire someone to tell them what the Bible says. However, there really is no intention of the membership being motivated to actually take their place in ministry service.
As a leader, there comes a point when you have to step back and analyze the fruit your ministry is producing. Are you equipping people to fulfill their calling through effective leadership, preaching, instruction, and guidance? Or is the movement of your ministry stalled out from a lack of application of clearly defined next steps?
If your assessment reveals that your ministry is stalled, I encourage you to change the emphasis of your preaching from educating to equipping. At first, you will be met with resistance. But over time, you will begin seeing fulfillment and fruit being displayed within those you lead. I can tell you from experience that nothing in ministry, other than personally leading someone into a relationship with Jesus, is more rewarding than this!
It's not about us. We are called to serve, lead, and equip the Church. If you find yourself needing the affirmation that comes from the “high fives” and “pats on the back” for the great message you preached, trouble is waiting. While affirmation is great, relying on it can be devastating when we fail to receive it.
And if you're not sure if your sermon hits the equipping mark, you may find it helpful to run it by a trusted friend, staff member, or even your spouse before you preach it.
But as your friend, I beg you to become an equipping preacher. Make it your aim to see those you lead develop maturity, stability, integrity, and community. Your community and culture need to experience Jesus in a healthy ministry.
You can do this, pastor. You can be an equipper!