How to Equip Spiritual Leaders

This entry is part 12 of 24 in the series 30 Days on the Chinese Church

Yesterday I wrote about the central importance of equipping spiritual leaders. Today I want to share a few thoughts about the process of preparing people for leadership in the church.

Shortly after I arrived at CFC in 1994 I began a Discipleship Training program designed to equip leaders to serve in the different ministries. At that time I wrote a vision paper to outline the approach that I would take to the training and the form that it would take. Reading over that document today, I still think that the basic approach is right on. So here is a summary:

Components of Leadership Training

There are three basic elements necessary to prepare someone for spiritual leadership.

  1. Biblical Foundations
  2. “until we all attain to the unity of the faith. . . no longer children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine. . .” (Eph. 4:13-14)

    One of the characteristics of a person who is spiritually mature is that he or she has a solid foundation in biblical truth. Our ministry is based on God’s revelation in Scripture, so certainly anyone in a leadership position should solid grasp of Christian beliefs an be able to think biblically about ministry issues.

    This aspect of training can be done through classes or directed reading. I teach a number of training courses in areas such as Christian Beliefs, Worldviews, and Bible Interpretation to help meet this need. Many people today disparage “head knowledge,” but the Bible does not make a dichotomy between “head” and “heart” knowledge. (In fact the dichotomy between “head knowledge” and “heart knowledge,” with an emphasis on the latter, comes out of existentialist philosophy. If you had taken my Worldviews course you would know that.) God’s transformation process begins with our exposure to His revealed truth. Christian maturity is impossible without a foundation in biblical truth.

  3. Ministry Training
  4. “. . . for the equipping of the saints for the work of service. . .” (Eph. 4:12)

    The Greek word translated “equipping” means to set in order or to outfit completely. It can also mean “restore,” and is used for the mending of fishing nets. It brings to mind an athlete completely prepared for competition or a soldier ready for battle.

    Equipping can begin in classroom training, but it is not complete without some on the job training. We have an apprenticeship program for worship ministry and Bible study leaders in which interns serve along side more experienced leaders and gradually take on more responsibility as they are ready. It is also helpful for people to serve as part of a ministry team so that they can learn how to work as a team.

    I like a simple training model I first heard from one of my seminary professors (the final point is my addition):

    • You watch me do it.
    • We do it together.
    • I watch you do it (and provide feedback).
    • You do it.
    • You train someone else to do it.

    Who says that you don’t learn anything useful in seminary!

  5. Spiritual Formation
  6. “until we all attain unity. . . of the knowledge of the Son of God. . .” (Eph. 4:13)

    The Greek word translated “knowledge” here refers to something more than theoretical knowledge. It indicates knowledge based on experience, and is often used in the context of personal relationships. Think of the difference between “I know physics” and “I know Bob.” Greek has different words for these two very different types of “knowledge.” Christian maturity is not merely knowing things about God–it is knowing God in a personal way.

    “Spiritual Formation” refers to the way that God “forms” (shapes) us spiritually in order to make us more like Jesus in our inclinations, attitudes, and actions. Formation is founded on God’s Word, but it goes beyond mere intellectual understanding. We must allow the truth to impact our hearts and shape our character. The practice of spiritual disciplines is an important means of formation, but not if they are approached in a rote, legalistic way. (For a good discussion of this process, see Dallas Willard, The Renovation of the Heart.)

    While transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit, there are some things that we can do to encourage young leaders to desire and embrace God’s transformative work in themselves. Through one-on-one discipleship and spiritual mentoring we can challenge and guide them to pay attention to the matters of the heart, and not just focus on the outward ministry task. My personal relationship with young leaders is just as important as what I teach them in a class. Ultimately who you are will have a much greater impact than what you do.

    This component is listed last because it is not something that we usually think of as part of equipping leaders, but logically it should be second. Exposure to God’s truth comes first, because that is the foundation. Then comes our personal response to the truth and transformation by it. After that we learn to minister to others. A person who is well prepared in all three areas can have a big impact on others for the Kingdom.

Now it’s your turn. . .

  • If you are a lay leader in a church, what sort of preparation did you have? What did you find especially valuable? What preparation do you wish that you had been provided?
  • What suggestions do you have to those who are training young leaders in a Chinese church?
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2 Responses to How to Equip Spiritual Leaders

  • NKL says:

    I like the three target goals. I am interested though in why you left Spiritual Formation last when it is to be step two. It makes me think of what is missing in my church: We stress Biblical Foundations in our Sunday teaching and then jump to Ministry Training to meet the needs of the church–all without time for Spiritual Formation.

  • PK says:

    I left spiritual formation last in that document because my focus was on a discipleship training class, and I recognized that spiritual formation cannot really be done in a class. But logically it should come earlier. I think that another reason is that since I wrote that in 1994 I have become more aware of how essential it is to work on spiritual formation of new leaders at the beginning. If I was writing it today, I would not put spiritual formation last on the list.

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"True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less." -- C. S. Lewis