While coalescing people, their gifts, and ideas in a defined network to equip churches is a new approach for Encompass, the practice of church equipping itself isn’t new—for Encompass or for the Church.
The Apostle Paul outlines the biblical model for it in 1 Corinthians 3, especially verse 10: According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it.
Throughout history, it’s been a continual cycle of creating and constructing: church planters lay the foundation while church equippers build upon it.
A shift in the thinking about church equipping took shape in the mid-19th century. Missionaries were forming and leading churches in the style they were most familiar with, which didn’t necessarily fit with the culture they served. This resulted in local churches that weren’t properly built to remain healthy and growing; their foundations would crumble once the support of Western leadership and practice was removed. In order to stay strong, leadership and growth needed to come from within.
Eventually, this thinking came to be known as the Three-Self Formula: self-propagating, self-governing, and self-supporting.
While this formula has been outlined and practiced for many years, there’s no blueprint to follow for equipping. “It’s completely dependent on the needs of the church,” notes Executive Director Dave Guiles. “We’ll only go where we’re invited. There’s no hierarchy—we’re brothers and sisters at a round table.”
There’s one important addition to the formula: self-theologizing when a church develops its own understanding and application of God’s truth. Director of Church Equipping Florent Varak explains: “It’s important to empower church leaders with the ability to think about the cultural issues of their day and know how to look into Scripture for answers and how to frame a biblical response to those issues.”
For more than 25 years, Florent has discipled, mentored, and trained emerging church leaders in the hard spiritual soil of France. God has grown the church he pastored from 30 people—mostly missionaries—to about 300 members. This has allowed them to raise up strong, maturing believers, birth four daughter churches, and begin a Bible school to equip people to make disciples.
“I want to make sure that every church thinks about ‘How can I multiply leaders? How can I make sure those leaders multiply?’ I want a passion for the multiplication process. I’m excited about that because God is passionate about reaching those for whom He has died.“
So whether it was Paul and Apollos in the first century, an expanding church in France, or an Encompass worker training leaders in Cameroon, the goal is still the same: building on a foundation of faith so a church is growing and fruitful.
Adapted from Within Reach magazine April/May 2015.