"It was He who gave some to prepare God's people..."
I take it as my basic working assumption that this is one of the essential functions of leadership.
(I hesitate to say the essential function because I know I will get pushed back on that, but in my regular daily life, I operate on the assumption that it is in fact the essential function of Christian leadership.)
THE PROCESS OF EQUIPPING
"...so that the body of Christ may be built up..."
We must learn a lesson from Barnabas. He stood up for Saul, vouched for him and his faith, invited him along to see what God was doing in Antioch, included him in his own apostolic ministry. It was Barnabas' invitation to Antioch in Acts 11 that leads to Paul's vocation in Acts 13. Barnabas' influence on the life of the Church was never more indispensable, never more valuable, than when he was less concerned with his own influence on the Church and more concerned with Paul's.
This is the relational investment of one disciple to another; a master carpenter once said to an apprentice, "the goal is for you to be a better carpenter than I am."
THE CONTENT OF EQUIPPING
"...attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."
We are to equip and empower others to participate in the Divine Nature, connecting to God in prayer and scripture, worship and sacraments.
"...the whole body, joined and held together..."
We are to equip and empower others to share in the common life of the People of God, connecting to each other in service, fellowship, and pastoral care.
" ...as each part does its work."
We are to equip and empower others to personify the Mission of God, connecting to the world in service, justice, and evangelism.
This is the basic day-to-day life of the people of God in terms of spiritual practices, essential character, and overarching purpose.
THE RE-IMAGINING OF EQUIPPING
In my estimation there are two critiques we must take to heart in our praxis as equipping leaders. 1) We are equipping people to lead our church instead of equipping people to be like Christ. 2) Our focus on leadership development leads us to ignore the very people who need to be equipped and empowered for those who can 'get the job done' already.
1) Church or Kingdom
We must declare that we are not merely equipping for church work, but equipping for Kingdom work (of course these should be identical, but anyone who has read even a paragraph of church history is not so naive). I often fall into the ubiquitous temptation to treat the Church like my project, and so equipping leaders becomes myopically focused solely on those tasks and responsibilities that build my church organization.
I recently met with a local Christian business man, John, who is five years into a housing initiative in our neighborhood; he is the head of a para-church organization. I brought along a woman from our church, Lavern, who is an urban planner for a secular organization in the city. It was great to have all three perspectives at the same table, and we conversed for some time on the need for all three to work together. In reality, the Church already is all three, I just did't get that immediately because I am too used to thinking organizationally instead of organically.
Too few of us would be willing to get behind John's parachurch initiative, or Lavern's occupation in a secular organization, but it is exactly this that we must do! We must learn from them, and more pointedly, equip them, and others like them, to do their Kingdom work. We still label everything 'sacred or secular,' and 'ministry or regular life;' their should be no distinction, and we should equip for Urban Planning, just as we do for Church Planting or Worship Leading.
To be an equipping leader is to get behind people, instead of getting behind projects. The temptation is to get the person in front of me to leverage everything on behalf of my project, fitting the right people into the right slots in my church, instead I need to leverage everything to help the person in front of me grow into Christ; they need to be the end, not the means.
2) The Importance of Disaster
We are fearful of failure. We bore easy at mediocre performance. We abhor ugliness. This is a major impediment to the equipping process!
The discipleship process employed by Jesus looks a lot more like little kids being tossed into the deep end of the pool! Sure the life guard is there to resuscitate them, but there is a lot of yelling and splashing, coughing and hacking. But they have to splash and cough if they are going to learn to swim! Learning is a lot like doing... actually, learning is exactly like doing, except its uglier.
An individual was asked to be the worship leader of a medium sized church. This person was a talented musician, but struggled vocally. On occasions this person opened songs in one key instrumentally, and a different key vocally. Ouch! Why would the pastor do such a thing? People probably left the church over the decision!
My own sending pastor routinely gave me opportunities to 're-create' his church. Not because I had expertise, but precisely because I lacked it! Failure is necessary. If there is no failure, then we are not equipping and empowering those who need it. My pastor was keenly aware of the consumer itch that Christians have; he knew all too well that allowing myself and others to play games with his church would probably have adverse effects on the size of the congregation. He was even more keenly aware that his calling was to his fledgling disciples, even though that meant leaving that itch unscratched...