When I was ordained, my mentor and Quaker philosopher D. Elton Trueblood preached my ordination sermon. I’ll never forget his personal message to me. I can still hear his measured voice, which has guided my entire career in ministry: “John, do not keep the ministry to yourself. Share the ministry.”
Trueblood called this the Ministry of Multiplication, which is based on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11, 12 NRSV).
The saints do not refer to canonized religious superstars but to everyday followers of Jesus. Ministry does not refer to ordained vocations, but to the vocation of service in everyday life.
Trueblood’s charge was to be a teacher and equipper to motivate, prepare and train God’s people to go out into the world to serve. The Message translation puts it this way: “…to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son…” This is the call, whether we are ordained or lay, to equip others for work in God’s service. In so doing, we multiply what can be accomplished.
Whether we are ordained or lay, we are called to equip others for work in God’s service. In so doing, we multiply what can be accomplished.
Equipping others to multiply what can be achieved is not unique to ministry, but is a hallmark of the heights of leadership in every endeavor. The foundation of inspired business leadership recognizes that it’s not all about the leader. Rather, the great leader equips others on the team.
“Good leaders organize and align people around what the team needs to do. Great leaders motivate and inspire people with why they’re doing it. That’s purpose. And that’s the key to achieving something truly transformational,” says Marillyn Hewson, the chairman, president and chief executive officer of Lockheed Martin.
Great minister leaders are mentors, teachers, equippers, motivators and cheerleaders to their people “to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work.” Consider, for example, the ministry of social action. Rev. Tina is a passionate advocate for causes. One parishioner described her: “She’s always out on the picket line by herself waving a sign.” She does important work, solo, but could multiply the ministry of social activism by equipping others. Or Rev. Dr. John, a judicatory leader who spends more than half his time lobbying for his urgent cause. He often finds himself in the spotlight, but could multiply the ministry if he taught others how to lobby effectively for the cause. Or Rev. Bob, the “I’ll do it all” pastor who avoids involving laity in the worship, governance or educational programs of the church. He even changes the light bulbs when they burn out. His letter came as no surprise to the congregation when he told them he was burned out and leaving the ministry. By Marillyn Hewson’s definition, these may be good leaders, but great leaders involve as many others as possible to multiply “achieving something truly transformational.” Social justice leaders recognize that the Latin root of the word “educate” is “to lead.” And so, they begin not by doing it all themselves but by educating others to minister with them. To lead is to educate, and to educate is to lead.
In the parish, Rev. Jane lived fully into her ordination vows as a pastor and teacher. She looked for every opportunity to share the ministry with others, teaching them how to do the work. As a pastor who visited her members frequently, she realized that she could equip others to visit by offering training workshops for deacons, care team members and anyone else who wanted to attend. Then she assigned a volunteer visiting coordinator to act as a sort of air traffic controller to coordinate visits to shut-ins, nursing home residents, rehabilitation and non-urgent hospital visits. Instead of Jane now doing it all, she equipped others to share the ministry of visitation – which became a vibrant personal ministry for those who participated. Volunteer visitors spoke about how their responsibility added purpose to their lives. Jane endured a few side and snide comments about how visiting is supposed to be the pastor’s job, but that is the nature of great leadership – to grasp a vision for the ministry of multiplication, even if it means suffering the slings and arrows.
Rev. Sally saw every job as an opportunity to recruit, train and involve others, especially youth. Never did a worship service occur without lay members serving to offer liturgical parts. She made sure youth signed up to read, greet and usher regularly. Imagine the impact on a visiting family with teens seeing a teen up front leading the worship. Sally turned over one entire worship service to her church’s Green Team, to link the worship of God with our stewardship of God’s creation. She turned over another worship service to be led by the congregation’s Open and Affirming task force, which centered on the theme of an Extravagant Welcome in God’s Name. On Thanksgiving Sunday, a high-attendance service, instead of preaching the sermon Sally recruited three members of the congregation to talk about their thankfulness and gratitude to God. Instead of the usual voices with which people were familiar, Rev. Sally selected people that others seldom heard from or knew about to tell their own story. The worship service was one of the high points of the year. Look for ways to share your ministry with others and your gracious inclusion will be noticed and appreciated.
Then, of course, there is the legendary figure of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who frequently led up front, but also led behind the scenes to equip others to become leaders too. Both he and his wife Coretta traveled coast-to-coast to teach about the Six Principles of Nonviolence and the Six Steps for Nonviolent Social Change. Step #2 for Nonviolent Social Change is “EDUCATION: It is essential to inform others, including your opposition, about your issue. This minimizes misunderstandings and gains you support and sympathy.” King grasped fully that to educate is to lead, and to lead is to educate.
We are not all a King, but we can make a difference because we can share the ministry and equip others for work in God’s service. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, said “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” That kind of leadership applies to ministry. Microsoft’s Bill Gates put it this way: “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” As ministry leaders, whether ordained or lay, we can do that. We can grow others. We can empower others. We can equip others for work in God’s service. Working together as a team, we can accomplish far more than we can as individuals.
One of the classic books written by my mentor Elton Trueblood is “Your Other Vocation,” in which he envisions Christian vocation as applied to everyday work. He saw every occupation as a form of Christian ministry, a way to be a co-worker with God in building the kind of world which is in accord with God’s will. That vision requires minister leaders to educate, inspire, motivate, equip, train and supervise God’s people for their ministry in everyday life, which occurs when we share the ministry.
The Rev. John Zehring has served United Church of Christ congregations for 22 years as a pastor in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine. He is the author of more than 30 books and e-books. His most recent book from Judson Press is “Get Your Church Ready to Grow: A Guide to Building Attendance and Participation.”