First of two parts

Bob and his family would soon be moving, and I had invited him to my Office for a farewell chat. “Bob,” I began, “I can not begin to teil you how God has used you in my Iife.”

After I had expressed my appreciation, he replied, “Well, Pastor, every other place I’ve been I’ve always had a man—someone I’ve endeavored to disciple. But when the Lord brought us here he impressed upon me that instead of ‘having a man’ I should make myself available to you.” Bob didn’t realize that I, an ordained clergyman, had been “his man”!

For the past four years my life and ministry have been revolutionized by the training of and ministry by lay people. I have seen laymen win souls, follow them up, nurture them, counsel, administer, lead meetings, plant churches, train others, practice church discipline, minister to pastors.

I offer no miraculous formulas: at best we have only taken the first steps in moving from a traditionally pastor-centered, program-oriented assembly into the fresh air of spiritual multiplication through the Body. But I do want to share some of the practical principles the Chief Shepherd has taught me. If you as a pastor are going to see what laymen can do, you must:

1. Know your responsibilities.

When I was first called to Barcroft, no one handed me a job description. I had been called as “pastor,” and it was time to start being one. What is a pastor to do?

During my first several years I tried to answer that question from the Word, and came up with four basics under which all the specifics have to be categorized. A pastor is to be: (1) a teacher of the Word, (2) a shepherd of the flock, (3) an overseer of the ministry, and (4) an equipper (outfitter) of the saints. If we do not concentrate on these God-given obligations, we will not see the fruit he intends.

2. Restructure your tbinking.

God has given gifts to men and given gifted men to the Church (Eph. 4:7 ff.). Clearly, not all have the same spiritual abilities. But if we pastor-teachers are to fulfill our calling, we must brush away the long-standing convention that some members of the Body are “clergy” and the others are “laity.” Although it has some descriptive value, this distinction is simply not found in the Bible.

Of course there are differences. But we’ve gone to extremes of separation. We deny in practice what we profess in our doctrinal statements. “Every Christian is a believer-priest!” we argue, but we seldom structure our ministries so that every Christian can exercise his God-given Privileges and abilities as such. One of the greatest hindrances to the work of laymen is fuzzy thinking by many in “full-time Christian work.” Seeing them do their God-given thing depends, to a large degree, on restructuring our thinking.

Article continues below

3. Create a different atmosphere.

One of the reasons more laymen don’t get involved in work of service is the attitudes we convey—jealousy over “our ministry,” insisting that certain positions and duties are reserved for “Professional Christian workers.”

Not long ago I experienced one of the greatest joys of my life when I turned over certain aspects of our work to fellow believers who obviously have been equipped by the Holy Spirit to do them, thus freeing myself for other matters. Once laymen realize that pastors genuinely believe God has made them capable of ministry, they’ll enter in. But such a realization is based on relationships, not on pious phrases exchanged in vestibules. Do you really believe that those other parts of the Body have the potential of ministry for Jesus Christ? Then create an atmosphere in which fellow believers know they are at liberty to minister without being seen as a threat.

4. Be alert to gifted believers.

The Word declares that all believers are gifted by the Spirit for the common good of the Body (1 Cor. 12:7; 1 Pet. 4:10). Frankly, some of us act as if we don’t believe it. Be familiar with spiritual gifts; make your flock aware of them; look for them in your sheep. God has dispensed them (1 Cor. 12:11); we assist in developing them.

5. Revamp your own schedule.

Outfitting saints for work of Service presupposes that our emphasis is on people, not programs. Our people are Iearning that my presence at every meeting is not essential to the ongoing of our ministry. Furthermore, no one can minister effectively to others if his own home is not in order; quality time must be set aside for our own families.

6. Be willing to pay the price.

It will cost you something to pour yourself into others through whom you can multiply. You and these biblical concepts will probably travel through three stages: (1) rejection, (2) tolerance, (3) acceptance. How long the transition will take cannot be known in advance.

7. Make a careful selection.

If we are to fulfill the ministries God has given us, it is imperative that we gather around us a group of people into whom we pour a part of ourselves and through whom our ministries expand. Do we grab just anyone? Of course not; neither did Jesus. Let others call it favoritism, but if we are to follow the biblical pattem, we must look for faithful, available, teachable people (2 Tim. 2:2). These are the types through whom God multiplies. “But I don’t have anyone like that,” you say. Then Start building some! Pray for and be alert to the right person for the right Position; trust the Holy Spirit to do the matching.

Article continues below

8. Provide the necessary training.

Zeal without knowledge will never get the job done. A person who wants to minister must have “training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16), and that means the Scriptures! But it involves the Word within a particular context, one that combines the theoretical and the practical. In other words, the training must go beyond what the Scriptures say in the classroom and be plugged into the practical experience of everyday ministry. There are five basic biblical Steps in teaching people to do anything.

a. Teil them what and why. But, you may reply, pastors are telling people what to do until it’s coming out their ears, and they don’t respond. But what do we do then? We tell them what and why again. Result: little, if any, involvement at the practical level of ministry. The primary reason is that we do not take the second step:

b. Show them how. The work of the ministry is not a theoretical subject. If believers are to be involved in work of Service they must break loose from the classroom and get out where the action is! Shortly after I began training sorae of my people this way, an elder and I had the privilege of seeing a young couple make professions of faith in Christ. Later he said, “Pastor, I think I could have led them to Christ tonight.” What he was telling me was ‘I’m ready for the next step.”

c. Get them started. When is the last time you had an elder with you as you talked with a couple regarding the public dedication of their children? Have you ever taken someone with you to make a hospital visit? On a church discipline call?

With someone along who can bail them out, if necessary, our people must get started. It is then that things begin to happen! The man to whom I referred earlier testified after such training, “I used to be the kind of Christian who was afraid he’d have an opportunity to witness. Now I look for it.” But without the next aspect of training the procedure won’t last long. So one must:

d. Keep them going. At the beginning of almost any proiect there is enthusiasm. Something new is going on and everyone’s interested. But most people sooner or later get discouraged and need something to keep them going. This means letting them know they are appreciated, praying for them, dropping them a line occasionally, telephoning an encouraging word. In other words: lead them, shepherd them.

Article continues below

One indispensable step remains:

e. Make sure they pass it on. We must leam spiritual mathematics. Mere addition to the Body will never keep up with population explosion and the needs of fellow believers. The only hope is: spiritual multiplication.

Working with individuals doesn’t appeal to some of us. “Take all that time for one or two other people? Give me forty or fifty and I’ll consider it.” When we share our lives and ministries with our people, the spiritual pipeline is not to stop there. They are to pass the message on. I have found that when they are adequately trained this is precisely what they want to do.

9. Lead by example.

Peter counsels us as elders not only to “shepherd” but “to be examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:1–4). Equipping saints for work of Service is something that cannot be done by exhortation alone. Be out there leading the way, and when you’ve selected the right ones, they’ll follow.

10. Wait patiently for results.

When do we want to see fruit from our labors? Yesterday! Outfitting fellow believers for work of service is not something that can be rushed. It takes time and lots of it. Decide to invest not days and weeks, but years. Learn not only to wait but to wait patiently while you rest in the Lord (Psa. 37:7a).

Peter reminds us that “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in his Steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). What kind of example did our Lord leave at this point? In Mark 3:14 we read, “And he appointed twelve, that they might be with him, and that he might send them out to preach.” Note the Order: “with him” precedes “send them out.” When it comes to outfitting spiritual soldiers for the work of service, the one place most of our people are not is “with us.” They are with us in committee meetings, Services, board meetings, and social events, but not when they ought to be with us in Order to be equipped.

What can a layman do? With proper training the right person in the right Position can fulfill what God has called him to do. Next month I will give some illustrations of how God has used laymen in my life and in our ministry.—The Rev. C. MARLIN HARDMAN, pastor, Barcroft Bible Church, Arlington, Virginia.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.