the shape of leadership

Called to Equip

Helping people discover and use their spiritual gifts

Aaron Burke on May 24, 2023

Growing up in church, I noticed ministry often seemed to be more about the person on the platform than the Christians in the pews. When I became a pastor, I was determined to do things differently.

My wife, Katie, and I moved to Tampa, Florida, in 2013 with a dream of starting a lifegiving, Spirit-empowered church that would reach lost people throughout the region.

A 2015 Barna Group report identified Tampa as one of the least-churched cities in America. The population was soaring, but most congregations in the area were dying. We wanted to be faithful to God and co-labor with others to make a difference.

One passage of Scripture in particular shaped my pastoral philosophy. In Ephesians 4:11–13, Paul clarified the function of church leaders:

Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining
to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ
(emphasis added).

I realized congregants aren’t there to serve pastors. Rather, pastors are there to serve their congregations. Our God-given assignment is equipping people for Kingdom work.

When we answer the call to ministry, we essentially step out of ministry. We’re no longer doing the work; we’re preparing others for the work.

This turns top-down church structures on their head. A church’s health and growth don’t depend on how eloquently the pastor speaks. The bigger issue is how committed he or she is to the task of building up the body of Christ.

The goal of the Ephesians 4 model is spiritual maturity — congregants growing to attain “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” This is the kind of church I want to experience!

Living this out requires letting go of many of the things I thought I knew about leadership. It’s not about my talent. It’s about what I do with the spiritual gifts God gives the members of the Body.

To use a sports analogy, a pastor is not the star player. In fact, the pastor isn’t on the field at all. He or she is more like a coach on the sidelines, striving to help the team achieve a victory. To be sure, it can be a difficult job — and a winning strategy is crucial.

To help my congregation achieve its potential, there are four leadership principles I keep front and center.


1. Build Teams

Celebrating hard work is important, but we also need to elevate team builders. If your goal is equipping people in their spiritual gifts, identify and empower leaders who can do this well.

When making hiring decisions, church leaders often look for doers, but the biblical model calls for equippers.

Finding a leader who
can call out the gifts
in others means more
and more people will
soon be serving and
fulfilling their God-
given purposes.

For this reason, I am always on the lookout for team builders. When I see someone with a gift for equipping other people, I am delighted. Finding a leader who can call out the gifts in others means more and more people will soon be serving and fulfilling their God-given purposes.

We have designed our staffing structure so that everyone’s job involves building a team. Even our administrators lead teams of people who are using their gifts to serve the church.


2. Give Away Ministry

There is a temptation to direct people toward the most conspicuous needs rather than helping them find the best places to pursue their callings.

If you recruit people to stack chairs without taking the time to discover God’s design for their lives, they will grow weary of volunteering and your church will miss out on their gifts.

Simple tasks are important, of course, and we all have moments in ministry when we need to roll up our sleeves and do whatever it takes to fill a need. However, if you intend to equip people for ministry, you eventually have to help them move past stacking chairs to find their unique places of service.

Our staff intentionally does most of the maintenance during the week so ministry can be the focus of the weekends. This frees us up not to keep more fulfilling work for ourselves, but to give it away. With a solid delegation strategy, we make sure people are using their spiritual gifts to make a difference.


3. Demystify the Gifts

Spiritual gifts aren’t just for ministers. God fashioned each person with a purpose in mind.

Many people are surprised to learn their abilities and passions may point to their spiritual gifts. They may already be using these gifts in mundane ways without considering their Kingdom potential.

We help people in our church discover their gifts by giving each member a spiritual gifts test. Whether they excel at hosting, teaching, listening, encouraging, or showing compassion, there is a place for them to exercise their gifts. And when they do so, the entire church benefits.

I see spiritual gifts as tools God provides for building His Church. There are some gifts He has deposited within the congregation to meet needs we didn’t even know we had. We must not neglect, dismiss, or overlook them (1 Corinthians 12:21–23).

Some gifts manifest in specific moments, such as the gift of prophecy during a worship service. The Bible encourages us to desire and pray for these special gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1,13).


4. Honor Diversity

At our church, we often say, “Everyone is a 10 at something.”

Each Christian has an important contribution to make to the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:12–13). Therefore, we should all celebrate the diverse gifts among us.

The most public expressions, such as preaching and leading worship, get a lot of earthly attention. But I believe heaven celebrates those behind-the-scenes, faithful servants who are quietly using their gifts for God’s glory.

Everyone is a minister when using their unique gifts for the building of the Church.

Your greatest achievements as a church leader will not be the ministry tasks you perform, but the people you equip for ministry. Your most outstanding successes will be your successors.

When you make it your mission to help others win, God will help you win. When you show people how to reach their potential, you will realize your potential.

God has given us one another and brought us together as one Body. So serve your congregation, equip the saints, and celebrate all God is doing in the lives of His people.


This article appears in the Spring 2023 issue of Influence magazine.

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