Dale Johnson: I am delighted to have with me one of our board members and a certified ACBC member, Andrew Rogers. Andrew has taught at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky for a couple of years, and he now serves as the executive director for OIC, the Overseas Instruction in Counseling. He’s married to Jenny and has four children. I’m super glad that you’re here, I’m really glad about your new role as executive director of OIC, and I’m looking forward to the topic that we’re going to talk about today, equipping churches.
I talk a lot about church and the necessity of thinking about the churches that we minister to as having a culture of care. That’s something that we need to consistently revisit as we think about how we’re equipping churches. I want more churches to think in terms of biblical counseling and of equipping and offering legitimate care. But sometimes we have to be cautious and offer a warning to churches in the way in which they think about counseling, ministry, and the care that they offer. Historically, churches have fluctuated back and forth in so many ways. Talk about what we should be warned against in some of our churches as we pursue the idea of caring well and the thoughts of counseling ministry.
Andrew Rogers: For the most part, many of us get very excited about the idea of having a counseling ministry in our church. What we need to be aware of is if we are looking at that counseling ministry as the true test of whether our church has a culture of biblical counseling or culture of discipleship. Are the people of the church taking responsibility to speak the truth in love to one another? Paul talks about the church in Ephesians 4, that it is building itself up as every part is being equipped and every part is doing its part. If we have a formal counseling ministry, we should be excited about that, but we need to be cautious of whether we are looking at that and saying that’s it. Because we have a formal counseling ministry, our people are counseling and equipping and discipling one another.
As you look over history, Jay Adams came on the scene because pastors were abdicating their responsibility and he called the pastors back to shepherding personally. A number of churches did that, but there were some that were outsourcing that counseling to secular organizations. When they were convicted of that, they outsourced to Christian counseling. When they realized outsourcing to Christian counseling wasn’t so good, they began outsourcing to biblical counseling. But they were still outsourcing and sending them outside the church. So they brought biblical counseling ministry into the church thinking, “Now we’ve taken care of it,” but were effectively outsourcing in-house. In some cases, as much good as our counseling ministries are doing, they can actually hinder the church from creating a culture of disciple-making and counseling within the church.
Dale Johnson: We unintentionally get the cart before the horse and we allow that ministry to be the driver. Counseling ministry is best thought of as an overflow of the natural disposition of the church. We want to be a church who cares normally and organically through the Scriptures, and counseling is for those moments of acute care. That’s a really helpful warning as we think about what categorizes churches as being true caring churches.
As we lay that distinction out and give the warnings that are necessary, we see some of the error that we could potentially move into especially as we’re passionate about seeing people cared for well. What should churches do to communicate, facilitate, and equip their people to care for one another well?
Andrew Rogers: It starts with conviction from the leadership of the church that this is absolutely necessary for the church. Paul says in Ephesians 4 that leaders have a specific purpose of equipping, of sufficiently supplying the people of the church for the works of ministry. The work of ministry, fundamentally, is speaking the truth in love to another person. Am I convinced that every person in my church knows how to open their copy of God’s Word and minister to a particular person on varying issues?
If it’s a non-believer who doesn’t know the gospel, can the people in my church open up their copy of God’s Word and minister the gospel to them? If it’s a new believer and they need to understand the fundamentals of the faith, can they open up their Scriptures and explain them? Or it could be a believer who’s struggling and is not exactly sure how to live righteously. One of the things that happens as a consequence of becoming a believer is that you see your sin like you’ve never seen it before. You begin to see habits that you’ve developed over time that are absolutely wrong and unrighteous. How do you deal with that? Can our people come alongside one another, open their copy of God’s Word, and help a fellow believer walk through those issues to the glory of God?
Dale Johnson: At ACBC, we want to see the church become a legitimate place that people who have issues would go to for care. What we have to think about is if churches are equipped to accomplish this. Naturally, when God starts moving in a person’s heart, they start reading the Word exactly as you’ve just said. They’re going to need somebody to care for them well, and we certainly don’t want to set up a situation where the church is not ready or prepared when people go to them for help and hope. ACBC can’t accomplish that work. Our job is to help encourage churches to accomplish that. It’s necessary to make sure churches understand their responsibility in equipping their people to accomplish this. Having it ideologically is one thing, having the desire to equip people is another. It’s a whole different issue altogether to think through the practicality of how to give people in the church the confidence and competence to do this to type of face-to-face ministry?
Andrew Rogers: That’s the question every leader should be posing to themselves and every member of a church should be posing to their leaders. As a leader, when I recognize my responsibility to equip, I must answer the question, “What am I doing to sufficiently fashion and resource the people in my church to be able to minister the Word of God to one another?” As a member of a church, I should be asking my leadership, “What are you offering to equip me to speak the truth in love?” That can happen in a few different ways. We could spend a lot of time talking about all the nuts and bolts of how to make this happen, but first of all there’s an understanding within the church that everyone is responsible at some level to be involved in biblical counseling. When we talk about counseling, discipling, and teaching others, we should talk about it not as an “If you do it,” but as a, “When you do it,” and, “When you do it, keep this in mind.” There’s a sense that everything that’s coming from the church, whether it’s from the pulpit or wherever it’s coming from, there’s this ongoing expectation in the way we talk that everyone is involved at some level.
Another aspect of that is if you practice membership, is it in the membership covenant? Is it explained that every person is expected to care for one another and to know how to minister the Word to one another? Is that lived out in the sense that the church offers training on a regular basis? At one point, our church offered evangelism training and I had a lady come up very distraught. I asked, “Why are you so distraught?” She answered, “Because I can’t be there.” I responded, “Well, that’s all right, another one will come around.” She said, “Really? We’re going to do another training?” I was glad that she was excited, but on the other side I was a little sad, because I think she was picking up on the fact that as churches, we tend to look at the equipping of people in ministry as an addendum to our church ministry and not necessarily a supreme and important part of it.
Are you offering regular opportunities to train and equip your people in the ministry of the Word in evangelism, discipling new believers, and counseling the believers that are struggling with particular issues? Is it regular and ongoing? If that means sometimes only one or two people show up, that’s fine. We train the one or two and we do it again, and again, and again. It’s part and parcel of who we are as a church.
Dale Johnson: If you take a snapshot of any one point in the life of a church, you’re certainly not going to get everybody at one training. This has to be a part of the natural flow of the way churches are doing things. For we who do training all the time, it’s easy for us to miss this aspect of what we are communicating relative to expectations. Are we really giving people the expectations at every level in church life that they should be engaged in this type of ministry? The things that you’ve described are attempts at trying to give expectation of all people to what normal Christianity looks like. It should be others focused in the way that we serve and care for one another. Say you’re having a personal conversation over coffee with a pastor and you’re describing some helpful ways he can raise the level of expectation for his people. What are some ways that you would tell him might help his people raise the level of expectation of what their duty is to engage in this type of ministry of care?
Andrew Rogers: Ezra 7:10 says that he set his heart to study, to do it, and to teach it. You and I know as professors, if you tell a student to read a book, that might be all they do and that might involve skimming it one hour before the class. If you tell him, “Read it, and write out a four- to six-page paper on the impacts of the truths of that book on your life and ministry and how you’re specifically going to apply it,” they’re going to read differently. If you told them, “At the next class, you’re going to teach three main points from that book,” that changes the way they approach their study. One of the most fundamental things a pastor can do is to create that kind of a culture with his people. Whenever they’re reading the Scripture or hear it preached or taught, they are expected to know what it means, how to apply it, and be able to explain and proclaim it to someone else.
Another way is to provide opportunities to practice ministry. If the pastor is going to offer training and equipping, are there also opportunities for them to actually go and practice it? Pastor, are you meeting with people by yourself, or is there somebody watching you? One of the practices I’ve always had is if I’m visiting somebody at a state hospital, somebody’s with me. If I’m being called into a crisis situation, somebody’s with me. If I’m counseling someone, if I’m sharing the gospel, if there’s one-on-one, life-on-life, face-to-face ministry, I want to make certain that there’s somebody else with me. There’s always opportunity for the people in my congregation to be exposed to and experience the face-to-face ministry of the Word. Sometimes that means we have to actually go out and create ministries to give people an opportunity.
When I started as a youth pastor, we started doing evangelism training and I had a number of homeschooled students in my evangelism training. They could not do the very first assignment from the first lesson, which was to talk to a non-believer about the gospel. They didn’t have any non-believers in their lives. We began to recognize that we needed to provide a ministry opportunity. We joined forces with Young Life and hosted or oversaw Wildlife, which is their middle school ministry, and we did a coffee house right across the street from one of the local high schools. We had 70-90 mostly non-believers at lunch every single day of the week, and our homeschoolers worked it. They could be there 30 minutes early to set up they could stay 30 minutes late to clean up, and they intermingled, met with, and talked to a majority of non-believers every time. That was the creation of ministry to provide the opportunity for the people that we we’re equipping to be exposed and to experience it on a regular basis.
Dale Johnson: Andrew, this has been so helpful to think through some of the ways we can equip, some of the expectations that we should have, and what qualifies us as a true discipling and caring church. Thank you so much for being here.
Andrew Rogers: You’re welcome, thank you.