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Forming (in) Community: The Practice of Equipping

For the audio teaching of these notes, click on:

Intro: Equipping is the fourth priority and practice in forming – and being formed in – Christ’s covenant community. The practices follow on from each other: relationship leads to healing, and healing leads to discovering and practicing servant gifts in the Body, which leads to ongoing equipping and training for life and ministry in Christ. We look at what is ‘equipping’ and then how we practice it.

WHAT is the practice of equipping?

John Wimber made Paul’s words, “Equipping the Saints” (Eph 4:12, King James Version), a ‘mantra’ in Vineyard Churches. This is what he wanted to be known – the phrase is on his tombstone! It’s meaning was reduced to ‘equipping the saints’ for healing ministry: that all believers can lay hands on the sick, not just leaders. But Paul meant that the gift ministries of Christ are to equip the saints for LIFE and ALL kinds of ministry. This priority & practice of equipping/preparation for life and ministry is part of spiritual warfare: God’s Church is his ARMY that enforces evil’s defeat, already suffered at the hands of Jesus.

What does this equipping mean? Paul’s word katartizo in Eph 4:12 is used in Mark 1:19, to “prepare” fishing nets as in knotting the strands. To equip means to prepare people by joining them in right relationships – God’s big fishing net – that the saints can serve in their gifts, to “do works of ministry so that the Body of Christ may be built up.” So, this equipping for all kinds of ministry is about developing one’s gifting, lifting the level of skill and excellence in doing ministry, to best serve God’s people – for his glory!

Secondly, Jesus speaks of the priority and practice of equipping in The Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20). We are sent to make disciplined learners, apprentices, of Jesus. How? By a) immersing people into the life and love of the Trinitarian God and b) “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

This latter instruction is what Dallas Willard called The Great Omission in The Great Commission. We omit to teach our people to end up obeying all Jesus commanded. Jesus refers to the rabbinical practice of teaching God’s people his written and oral Torah (the Word and Will of God), in a committed apprenticeship, or student relationship between rabbi and disciple. “Teaching them to obey” included both information and formation. It is BOTH teaching as in informing the mind: imparting the knowledge needed for life and service of God (John 8:31-32); AND it is training as in forming the will/heart: imparting the character and skills needed for shared-life with God. This raises the critical importance of both knowledge (of the truth, what you choose to believe and live by) and spirituality (transformation of who you are). See Hosea 4:6, Rom 12:2, 2 Pet 1:3-8, 3:18. The purpose of BOTH these aspects of equipping is that, by progressive (trans)formation, we end up naturally and easily doing all that Jesus commanded. And ALL he commanded is fully summarised in the two love commandments (Matt 22:34-40): to live a life of love.

Thirdly, the practice of equipping in the above New Testament sense is the practice of discipling from leaders to followers, from generation to generation. Paul instructs Timothy (a young pastor in Ephesus): “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable people, who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim 2:2). Note there are four generations of pass-on: from Paul to Timothy, to “reliable people”, to “others”. What did Paul teach/entrust to others via a process of intentional discipleship? Both “the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 2:24-25) and the formation of Christlikeness (to the extent he himself followed Jesus, 2 Tim 3:10-17, 1 Cor 11:1).

HOW do we do this practice of equipping? 

  1. Through the public teaching and preaching of the Word of God on Sunday mornings.
  2. Through the rub of relationships in community – especially in home groups and ministry and mission teams – through which we discover and function in our gifts and ministries. We are adjusted, grow and are equipped, by resolving differences and conflict in relationships as we seek to work well together in common ministry.
  3. Through relational one-on-one discipling, as in spending regular time with a leader for them to teach, train and mentor you. Be careful of exclusive one-on-one relationships where power-play and control can develop. It’s safer to have a few such discipling relationships and mentors, and more so, to be discipled in and through community (home groups and ministry teams) where credible and respected leadership operates. Leaders who are accountable (by being answerable to other senior leaders) are safe, while unaccountable leaders are dangerous… avoid them!
  4. Through modeling spiritual formation and particular ministry skills – what we in the Vineyard call the ‘show and tell’ method of training/equipping. Jesus trained his disciples to pray, to minister Kingdom healing, etc, through ‘show and tell’. It’s what today is called coaching… it’s apprenticing or ‘on the job training’:- You do (model) the particular ministry while others watch you
    – Then you talk with them about what they observed and learnt
    – Then you get them to do it – to do what you did the way you did it, while you watch
    – Then you ‘debrief’, talk with them about it, giving feedback and coaching
    – You repeat the above steps till you happy they’ve ‘caught it’, then leave them doing it!
  5. Through course work. We equip our people via specific teaching and training courses that we do from time to time, both biblical-theological and ministry-discipleship courses. We use Vineyard Institute (an international internet based institute) and other training courses that we’ve developed for various ministries.
  6. Through mentoring by the elders – the true spiritual fathers and mothers in the community of faith, who are called to impart their wisdom and compassion onto the younger generation. Elders can teach and train the next generation in marriage and family relationships, in ministry, in finances and business, and in life in general.

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