For some reason, we think the body of Christ should function fine on just one leg. It doesn’t. It would be hard for a person with one leg and no arms to accomplish much, but this is how most church leaders and even church plants fail.
You know the scripture that Jesus gave apostles (missionaries), prophets, evangelists, and shepherd-teachers (Ephesians 4:11). When someone “feels the call” or “gets a burden” to go do a work, it is often the person with the apostle or missionary gift that hears this call. For our purposes, we will just refer to this person as the “missionary” to a city or community (apostle comes from the Greek word “to send” and missionary comes from the Latin word also for “to send”).
There should be a team of people responding to the call to do ministry. Often you will not have all four. The missionary must be able to train up the others into their full ministry capacity. Too often, if one does not realize his or her ministry gift, he or she will wear out trying to be all the limbs of the body.
Let’s talk about that famous role we call “pastor.” I have been called pastor for over 14 years. However, I think we have placed that title on a different role than in which it was biblically used. Typically if someone is going to plant a church, that individual becomes the pastor. However, it would be more faithful to the Bible to call this one who is sent to the community the “missionary” (since that means more to most people than “apostle”).
Instead of getting stuck in western traditions, maybe we could get away from the term “pastor” a little. Since “pastor” means ‘shepherd,’ it might help us conceptualize the role better. (Sometimes a person says “pastor” but means “master” and that is NOT how this is supposed to work.)
A shepherd-teacher is not new to the ministry. This is the other reason many church plants fail. They see it as an internship for new ministers. No, train your new ministers with the old saints—they will straighten out any false doctrine or foolish initiatives quickly. My family has raised sheep for the past 8 years. We always worry about the new mothers. The mature sheep handle their babies well. It is often the new ones who have complications.
Teachers must prepare themselves
Ezra was a teacher who had spent his life preparing to teach the Word of God. If a person feels called to pastor or teach, he or she should spend long hours becoming conversant with the text. Such a person must be aware of the challenges and needs of a local area as well as have a thorough knowledge of God’s Word. This cannot be on-the-job training. When I was just 13-years-old, the Lord put in my heart to deeply study the Scriptures. I use the foundation built during my teen years every day of my ministry now.
Not everyone started preparing in their youth. However, it is dangerous to be a teacher who is unprepared. We will receive greater damnation if we mislead people or cause them to stumble by wrong teaching. People should not rush into being teachers and speakers in the congregation because we will “receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1).
I recommend that such a person with the gift of teaching not focus on teaching at all for a while but focus on studying. Study how to study. Learn about intertextuality. If you do not understand intertextuality, your efforts at understanding the Word of God will be guesses and emotional inspiration. The Bible is an intertext. Each book is woven into the fabric of other books. Every time a scripture quotes or alludes to another scripture, you should be aware of the whole story behind the quoted passaged. Its meaning will flavor the meaning of the passage which references it. (I will teach more on this later.)
Also, you must understand that the Bible was not written within the 21st century. The New Testament, for example, was written in the 1st century. Therefore, we must seek to understand how the first readers understood it. Once we know what they got out of it, then we can see how it applies to our present situations. One easy illustration of this is the book of Revelation. When the author wrote about flying locusts, the readers did not assume this meant Apache helicopters. While we can debate whether that is what it refers to, we must realize that this was written to people in that day who were to understand it in that time. What did the symbolism mean to them? That will help us understand how to interpret it ourselves.
I will be creating a video teaching series on how to study God’s Word correctly and faithfully to how it was written. I highly recommend getting an education at Urshan Graduate School of Theology if you can. If you cannot go that route, find an excellent teacher who can mentor you and train you how to study and teach well.
Many times a successful church plant does not begin with an evangelist. Now, you would think that this role would be vital to reaching a community for Christ. How can you have a harvest without a harvester? Well, yes, you have to have an evangelist. What I said was that the work often does not begin with an evangelist.
Many church leaders will tell you that it only takes one person to grow a large congregation. That one person often comes from the local community. The missionary comes into an area, finds this person and wins him or her to the Lord. The woman at the well is a good example. Jesus did not evangelize her community; she did. All He had to do was win her. The evangelist often can begin with little training other than a testimony of “Jesus changed my life; come and meet Him for yourself.” If I had to go into a community to start a new work without an evangelist-type person, I would set to find and convert that person right away. Each situation is different. You need evangelists. Notice that this is the first work the disciples did after Jesus called them His apostles: they went out evangelizing the communities with the good news of the Kingdom!
Team leadership is not a new thing.
This balanced ministry is not just a New Testament concept. Under the old covenant, the people had a king/judge, prophet, captain (of the army), and priest/teacher. Examples: Moses (leader and prophet), Joshua (captain), and Aaron (priest/teacher); Deborah (leader , prophet, and teacher), and Barak (captain); Josiah (king/captain), Huldah (prophet), and Hilkiah the priest (side note: Zephaniah was prophesying during this time, but the young king went to Huldah for the vision from God; sadly, it appears Josiah later died trying to be the army captain too). Many times leaders had to do double duty because people were not responding to the call of God. When all four of these individuals were living to the glory of God, the kingdom thrived. How much more so in the eternal Kingdom!
So, could we say we are only ready to plant a church when we have a team of people united with a call of God to work in a certain area? The missionary will be the administrator who organizes and oversees the launch of this work. Essential to this mission is the prophet/prayer-leader/person-with-the-clear-vision-for-the-work. They need a good preacher who can reach the lost souls (or train one up quickly). And the team needs a teacher who can shepherd those new believers in a steady diet of God’s Word.
What is the difference between an apostle/missionary and a pastor? Many times the person we call “pastor” in a church is actually the “sent one” or missionary to that region. The missionary role is to care for the work as a whole. The shepherding role is to care for each individual directly. The missionary has less personal contact with the sheep and often comes across as more harsh or insensitive (think of the Apostle Paul). The shepherd-teacher is on the personal level, caring, tending, correcting gently, and feeding well.
Which of these roles is the Lord preparing you for? It might be many years coming, but you are called to serve. Develop that gift now so you are ready when the time comes.