By: Rev. Dr. Clark Armstrong
God’s plan for the Church is given in Ephesians 4:1-16. The Church is the body of Christ, and we are all one in His body with Him as the head. His body should reflect unity (v. 3) even though he has designed it with diversity (v. 7). Above all, it should reflect charity, which is agape (selfless, Christlike) love for one another (v. 15). It was St. Augustine who said, “Necessariis unitas, Dubias libertas, Omnibus caritas,” meaning “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”
Other characteristics that Christ’s body should reflect would be humility (v. 2) and responsibility (v. 12). Each person should be responsible to use their spiritual gifts to serve others, and those who have leadership gifts should be the ones to equip the saints to do the work of ministry.
The apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers listed in Ephesians 4 are the God-called and gifted leaders of His Church who are set apart by the Lord and the Church in ministry for ordination (v. 11). They have the expressed purpose to equip the whole body to do the work of the ministry (v. 12). The goal is for everyone to reach Christlike maturity (v. 13) and, of course, for all of the work of Christ to be accomplished on earth as each person in the body does his or her part (v. 16).
This is all well and good, except that I have found as pastor and seminary professor that very few pastors know how to “equip” the people. I know that I did not. Furthermore, there is no one really explaining to pastors what it means or how to fulfill this biblical calling. This required some research and discovery on my part in order to be able to equip those under my care and share what I learned with others.
There are two Greek words in the New Testament for “equipping.” Both come with military overtones in their meaning. The first one refers to the training both in knowledge and skill for engaging in warfare. The second has to do with the resourcing needed for initial and ongoing deployment—weapons, armament, rations, maps, strategies, etc. The word “equip” is only used three times in the N.T. The first two times use the word for training and the last one uses the word for resourcing.
The first way that pastors equip the saints is in the Word. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Every Christian needs to be discipled in the Word. This type of equipping will be ongoing as long as we are alive.
The second way of equipping is according to giftings, as Ephesians 4:11-12 highlights. There is a difference between talents, skills and gifts. Talents are natural abilities. Skills are learned abilities. Gifts are Spirit-ignited abilities. These may overlap, but pastors are specifically called to help Christians to discover, develop and deploy their spiritual gifts.
The third way of equipping is mentioned in Hebrews 13:20-21. It switches to the word for resourcing. This is equipping through shepherding in the way of Jesus, our Chief Shepherd: “Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will…”
The NLT translates it very accurately by saying, “equip you with all you need.” I have found there are three things which Christian workers need as a part of our ongoing shepherding-type equipping ministry. These are guidance, resources and encouragement. In some cases, a personal mentoring relationship such as Paul had with Timothy (2 Timothy 2:1-2) will develop. This, too, is equipping through a ministry of shepherding as Jesus did with His disciples.
By sticking to the simple plan of the New Testament, a pastor will be able to know what equipping is and how to do it in each ministry or relationship in which she or he is placed. Pastors and leaders, may we go forth boldly and train and resource the saints for the battle at hand.