[E]quip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”Ephesians 4:12
If you ask my two pre-teen daughters what my most frequent “Dadism” is, they’d probably tell you it’s, “You need to learn to cut your own pancakes.” This is my go-to line whenever they expect mom or dad to do something for them that I think they should be learning to do for themselves.
This phrase took root in our house one morning several years ago while my wife was cutting up pancakes for our girls when I thought they were old enough to be doing it themselves. I joked with her that if they didn’t learn how to do it themselves now it would eventually get awkward when she showed up at college with them to cut their pancakes.
Maturity Comes Through Equipping
There’s a sense in which Christians likewise need to learn to “cut their own pancakes.” For the Christian, learning to “cut their own pancakes” is the equivalent of moving up from spiritual milk to solid food. As the author of Hebrews writes, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:12-14)
I was at a retreat recently with directors from other ATLAS ministries where our speaker walked us through the book of Ephesians. As he came to Ephesians 4, he reminded us that our primary role as the director of an ATLAS is not to do all the ministry work ourselves, but to instead prioritize equipping other believers to do ministry. Ephesians 4:11-12 says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
Equipping others can often be a difficult mindset to maintain because training and equipping others to do something effectively is often more challenging and takes much longer than just doing it yourself. But the reality is doing it yourself may be quicker and more efficient for you, but rarely will it edify anyone else. Failing to equip others will significantly limit your potential reach and impact in ministry. Failing to equip others will lead to you hoarding the blessings of ministry for yourself instead of sharing them with others.
The Danger of Dependence
There’s a powerful temptation toward depending on the faith of others instead of fostering your own relationship with God. It’s more comfortable and easier than doing it yourself. At ATLAS, we’ve connected with many people who are newer in their faith and therefore unsure how to grow in their faith. They are unsure how to engage with the Bible, how to pray, or how to think through life situations with a spiritual lens. This isn’t wrong or bad. This is to be expected from anyone newer in the faith. We don’t expect toddlers to know how to cut their own pancakes.
But as they grow, they need to be equipped to do these things themselves. Mentors don’t serve their mentees well if they allow this dependence to grow unchecked. As Carey Nieuwhof writes, “Disciples who know how to follow Jesus endure much better than disciples who have church leaders (priestly, pastoral, or celebrity) who do it for them.” In other words, Christians who remain dependent on the faith of others rarely learn how to depend on God.
This is why Paul’s personal vision of ministry was to equip believers to grow into maturity in Christ. In Colossians 1:28, Paul writes, “[Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”
An example of this is how the church often approaches the Bible. Too often we rely on resources other than the Bible itself. For example, many devotionals and book studies about the Bible feed believers what someone else thinks about Scripture instead of equipping and challenging them to think through Scripture themselves.
I remember a meeting I was in several years ago where a group was deciding what book study we would do together next. When I suggested that the most transformative studies I had been a part of were those where I just studied the Bible directly together with other men, a pastor in the room rejected this idea because of the difficulty many people have with reading the Bible. He was right in that reading the Bible is difficult for many people, but isn’t that exactly why we need to equip believers to read the Bible? A hard thing will never become easier simply by avoiding it. So avoiding reading the Bible now won’t make it easier to read later.
Now, other resources like book studies and devotionals can be helpful supplements. I’ve read many good books and devotionals that have helped me go deeper in God’s Word. But these resources can’t become the main meal of a believer. God’s Word itself enlightened by the Holy Spirit is where transformative power lies and therefore where we must feast.
Everyone Mature In Christ
A renewed Christ-centered vision of equipping believers to both grow and serve in faith is sorely needed today. The consumerism of “country-club Christianity” has been too long tolerated and has utterly failed to equip believers to grow into maturity in Christ. A consumerist mindset says my purpose of belonging to the church is so I can form the church into my image (i.e., make sure it accommodates all my preferences). This has been allowed to take precedence over belonging to the church in order to be transformed both individually and corporately into the image of Jesus.
If the goal is “everyone mature in Christ,” then unchecked dependence is a hindrance that needs to be challenged. Dependence on the faith of others, while helpful at first, will keep us from growing in dependence on God if we’re not careful. And where there’s no dependence on God, trials and suffering will always pull us away from God instead of drawing us further into him. This is the danger of not equipping believers to “cut their own pancakes.”
Pastors and church/ministry leaders, for the sake of raising up mature followers of Jesus, let’s rekindle a focus on equipping.