When I was in college my mentor and boss told me something I will never forget. He said, “A good manager is always training his replacement, working himself out of a job.” This mentor was also one of the fellows who discipled me in the faith.
This little saying has held true in so many areas of my life from parenting to teaching to ministry. In Ephesians 4:11-13, the apostle Paul explains this concept in the role of leadership in the body of Christ:
11 And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.
So much time, energy, money, and effort is spent trying to teach pastors and leaders how to grow their church, be better communicators, be more effective leaders by earthly standards, or maximize budgetary balance. All of these are great and wonderful things, but they aren’t primary to the role of a leader in the church, whether we are talking about a pastor, elder, Sunday School teacher, or lay leader. Look again at Paul’s admonition.
God Himself gave us leaders and teachers. In this passage he specifically refers to the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. These are the people handling the Word, teaching others the unsearchable glory and mysteries of the Holy Word.
In verse 12, he identifies the primary goal of those in these positions: “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.” The purpose for this goal is also given and that is to “build up the body of Christ.”
There have been more books, blogs, podcasts, and articles produced than one can count regarding church growth strategies, but most of them I have read miss the main goal as their focus: equipping the saints.
A leader’s role, especially one who teaches the Word, is not to build the church in the sense we normally mean it, but to teach and by the Word to equip others to do the actual work of the ministry. To visit the widows and sick, to care for the orphans, to help the needy, to counsel the downhearted, to love the unlovely, to pass on the heritage of the Word, and multiply by making disciples. This is the primary mission which brings the ultimate reward, knowing Him and making Him known, for our good and His glory.
Additionally, according to 2 Timothy 2:2, we all are given the commandment to take what we have learned and pass it on to others. As our slogan states, we are to Learn, Teach, Repeat so the Kingdom of God may be built up and unified in faith and knowledge, becoming mature believers.
In short, just like my mentor told me years ago, the job of the one teaching the Word is to give their ministry away to others, to raise them up so they may do the same. Our job is to work ourselves out of a job.
That same mentor also told me one of the greatest joys of being a disciplemaker is looking up and seeing the tail lights of one of your disciples as they blast past you on their journey, accomplishing bigger and better things than you could ever imagine. He was right.