I will never forget this crazy situation I experienced in middle school. I was in the 7th grade and attending an American School while living in Germany. My father was in the Army, and I was a military brat. The school was pretty small, so we only had a few classes for each grade. For reasons never explained to us students, the faculty decided to reconfigure each class based upon learning need criteria. More simply put, the three classes would be set up based on how students performed. “A“ students would be in one class, “B” students in another, and “C“ students in the final group. It was the eighties, so no one really pushed back on this. We were told that we would all take tests and the results would place us in our new classes. On the day of the test, the teacher of my class looked over the results as we were handing them in and frowned.
“No,” he yelled, “this is not going to work!” He handed our tests back and, holding the answer key, told us to erase any wrong answers and replace them with the correct solution. We were dumbfounded but also pretty excited to be experiencing this wholesale upheaval of the rules in our favor. It was like we had won the lottery. I was especially thrilled because if my past grades were to be the actual indicator, I would have been a shoo-in for the “C” class. As it turned out, every single one of us got into the “A” class. I’d like to say something happened and the teacher was ratted out, and everything was returned to a fair and just teaching system. But that never happened, and I spent my 7th and 8th-grade years in a class with students who had been given the answers. We will never know who “belonged” in the class because our circumstances delivered the answers. I want to think this situation drove some of us to achieve at a higher rate but who knows. When it came to this critical crossroads of our learning, we were simply given the answers. We passed the test and did well on it because we were told what to write. But few of us could actually apply or reiterate what we had learned. This whole experience shortchanged us as students, even though it felt great at the time, there was a long-term impact on my progress. You can’t just skip learning fundamental basics and expect to excel. We were not equipped, we were handed the answers and told what to do with them
While this is an atypical story (I hope), I feel like I have experienced it again and again in the church. Rather than equipping the Saints, too often we tell those we lead what to think, what to do, and how to do it. I typically hate it when someone makes me work through whatever question I have rather than just giving me the answer, but the truth is that until I have struggled through it, I really don’t know how it connects.
We teach our people in Sunday school/small groups. We teach them in our worship services. When they ask questions, we most often hand them the right answer. But in order to equip, we must go farther than teaching information and press into showing them how to apply it. Matthew 28 is clear, “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you,” says Jesus. Notice He doesn’t say, “teach them to understand everything I have commanded you,” or “teach them to know everything thing I have commanded you.”
No, He says, “teach them to obey…” That means we have to put it into action. That means we have to help people connect the truth of Christ’s words with the actions that go with that understanding. That is what equipping is. So, is your church healthy when it comes to equipping the Saints? Here are a few questions to mull over:
- How many environments in your ministry are focused on student/learner?
- Are your people aware of what their next step is in their journey as a believer no matter where they currently are?
- Are your staff or key leaders doing the majority of the work of the ministry?
These basic diagnostic questions, if answered honestly, will help you determine if you need to take a deep dive on implementing more equipping and transition away from mere teaching. Healthy churches equip the Saints to do the work of the ministry. How healthy is your church in this area?