Healthy churches tend to be led by pastors who work to equip their people for ministry.
Jesus calls all of his people to do ministry, not just the professional leaders. What, then, is the role of a pastor in the church?
In this article, we will explain the role of the pastor as a “leader-equipper” and explore 3 common views of this role in the church today. This approach will help us better understand the work and role of a pastor.
This article is an excerpt from the book, The Intentional Church, by Randy Pope. You can check out the book to learn more about the role of pastors and building a healthy church. You can also watch the video at the top of this page to learn more about the role of a pastor directly from Randy Pope.
Equipping Christian leaders for ministry is an important task with eternal impact, so let’s jump right in.
The Pastor as a Leader-Equipper
Scripture uses the title “pastor-teacher” to refer to those gifted to shepherd God’s people with a primary emphasis on teaching. This person is admonished in Scripture to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12 NRSV).
With this responsibility in mind, I like to refer to the role of a pastor as a leader-equipper. If the health of the local church is going to be measured by the degree to which believers become mature and equipped followers of Jesus Christ, then someone has to be responsible to ensure that the objective is accomplished – equipping and leading them.
There are three common views of the role of a pastor and how to equip church leaders.
View 1: The Traditional View
The traditional view sees the role of the pastor and staff as paid professionals who do whatever jobs are needed. If the church needs teaching, hire a teacher. If the church needs evangelism to be accomplished, hire an evangelist. And if the church needs pastoring, hire a pastor.
Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with this less-than-biblical, pastor-as-hired-gun perspective.
This view of pastoral leadership often causes burn out for pastors and prevents God’s people from using their gifts to glorify God through ministry.
View 2: The Evangelical View
The evangelical view sees three aspects to the role of the pastor and staff:
First, to help the church members discover their spiritual gifts (special abilities given by God’s grace to enhance the work of God’s kingdom).
Second, to start needed ministries within the church and community.
Lastly, the role of a pastor is to recruit the appropriately gifted people to the appropriate ministry. The evangelical view sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
Not from my perspective! Most who have actually tried to put this view into practice agree with me.
This approach reminds me of the circus act where the performer comes out with a stack of plates and begins spinning them on sticks stationed on the floor. By the time the tenth plate is up and spinning, the first is beginning to wobble.
The performer races back to the first and revs up every stick until all are safely in motion again, allowing him to set plates eleven through twenty spinning. From that point on he frantically runs from plate to plate giving each stick just enough attention to keep the whole precarious arrangement spinning.
So goes the life of a pastor who lives out this second approach. A vacation could be disastrous.
There is a second issue with this approach: Years ago a couple moved to Atlanta and began attending our church. He had been a successful pastor, and she had experienced a full life as the first lady of their church. He had now taken a position with a parachurch organization in Atlanta.
The wife was a very gifted woman—as well equipped for ministry as any woman in our congregation at that time. I assumed they were happy campers in our church until the day I got a stinging letter from her, filled with expressions of hurt, disappointment, and anger.
She explained that the past two years of her life in Atlanta had been the first in her adult life that she had no ministry. She went on to reveal the cause of her plight by pointing a finger at me.
According to her, I was guilty of gross negligence because I, as the senior pastor, had never personally given her a ministry.
She apparently embraced this “evangelical view” of equipping, and I had offended and disappointed her. She had waited two years for the “spin” that never came. As a result, she explained, she and her husband had decided to leave our church.
I wrote her a gracious letter (as I do to all people who choose to express directly to me their disappointment with me or with the church). Since she had mentioned in her letter the church they would begin attending, I asked her to do herself and her new pastor (a personal friend of mine) a favor—to realize that she didn’t need her pastor’s permission to do ministry.
God had already given her His permission.
I encouraged her to go to her pastor if she needed equipping or help in doing ministry, but never to think that God must speak through her pastor in order to legitimize her ministry.
View 3: The Biblical View
I call the third approach to pastoral ministry the biblical view of equipping. Those who hold this perspective believe that the role of the pastor and the church staff is to help the church’s members discover their spiritual gifts, but then to simply create an environment where God’s voice can be heard.
Since we embrace this view, we encourage the people of our church to seek God for His leading in ministry and then, if they need help discerning that leading or need equipping to perform that ministry, to call upon us.
The Greek word translated “to equip” is katartizo and carries the idea of coming alongside as one seeks to arrive at his destiny—not to pull “sitters” off the bench.
The perspective that members have regarding equipping will dictate their expectations and shape their involvement in the church. Only God knows accurately what ministry is best for each of His children.
Conclusion: How to Equip Church Leaders
2 Corinthians 5:17-18 says,
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;”
God does not simply ask pastors to do ministry, he calls everyone who has been reconciled in Christ to carry on the ministry of reconciliation.
Pastors who want to understand how to equip church leaders should embrace the biblical model of equipping. Rather than doing all the ministry themselves or holding everyone’s hand through ministry, the role of a pastor is to equip and encourage as needed, but ultimately give their people the freedom to do ministry in the place God has called them.
For many, including pastors and church members, discipleship can be their primary form of ministry. At Life on Life, we help local churches around the world follow Jesus’ model of discipleship. If you want to equip your church and build a discipleship movement, then consider joining one of our Info Calls to learn more about our training and coaching process.