This article considers the work of the office-bearers in the equipping of the church, with special focus on the calling and task of the minister. It reflects on the tools to be used by the office-bearers, who exactly does the equipping, and how it happens. Then, with attention to the minister, it describes the development where he is increasingly being taken away from the study, and offers some thoughts on how to create room for quiet meditation in his work.

8 pages. Translated by Wim Kanis.

Equipping the Church

Our theme is almost endless. That is why there is a need to limit it. We restrict ourselves to give attention strictly to the work of office bearers in the service of the congregation, and then specifically we will focus in on the calling and the task of the minister. Not because the preacher as a person would need any special attention but for this reason: on the one hand because his office has a pivotal function in the life of the church, and on the other hand because it is in particular his official identity that is increasingly threatened in our time by activities that are in themselves necessary and useful, but that can be done just as well or even better by an elder or deacon. That is why we present this matter to you as brothers who serve as office-bearers. After all, together with the ministers you have the responsibility to equip the congregation in a sound manner. Left to his own resources a minister cannot achieve all that much to combat the earlier identified threat. It is the congregation as a whole, and the office-bearers in particular, who can fight the disease. Remedies do exist. They simply need to be utilized and administered!

With these introductory words you will sense the gist of our argument. For the sake of clarity, we will subdivide our theme in four main parts as we attempt to answer these questions:

  • what is being equipped?
  • what tools are used?
  • who performs the equipping? and
  • how does it take place?

Our emphasis will be on the final question!

What Is Meant by Equipping the Congregation?🔗

When Jesus called his first disciples, they were mending their fishing nets. By restoring these they made them again suitable for catching fish.

Well, the apostle Paul uses the same word when he wants to indicate how office-bearers have to build up the church. In the KJV, Ephesians 4:12 describes it as “for the perfecting of the saints.” And in the same translation it reads in 2 Corinthians 13:11, “Be perfect.” This translation may give the impression that perfectionism comes into play here, as if the church on earth would be able to achieve a state of perfect spotlessness. However, the Greek text rather indicates the realization that perfection has not been achieved. That is why the congregation always needs to be rectified and corrected! That is now what the equipping of the congregation implies: that it is being repaired like a ship in the docks, and thus prepared to continue its navigation. In this dispensation, the congregation always consists of people who are not healthy. The church is a large home for cripples, the lame, and all sorts of flawed people. God’s kingdom “resembles a large hospital and an alms-house…. Christ’s office appears to be more of a physician than a King. All who live under his sceptre, all his subjects, are considered in themselves to be in the most terrible state” (Kohlbrugge). In this convalescent home of the church we, office-bearers, may be the nursing staff to rehabilitate the patients. We are all given the task to equip the congregation, in a sense, as hospital chaplains, elders, and deacons! Thus, it pleases King Jesus to equip his people by being built on the foundation of his mercy, to be shaped into genuine Christian people who know him in the depths of their heart, in the breadth of love; in the commitment of devotion and on the heights of hope.

What Tools Are Used for It?🔗

The fishermen on the Sea of ​​Galilee had equipment and tools to mend the torn and frayed nets…. So do we! What does our set of instruments consist of? The Word of God. That is not only the sword of the Spirit, but also the Spirit’s tool that we may handle appropriately.

Essentially, we have not been given any other tool. Every office is in service to the Word and the administration of it. Anything less remains below par; anything more will prove to be redundant.

The elder rules with the Word. That is his source and standard. The speaking God is his spokesman. In God’s Word lies his authority and credibility. That is his stay and his support. With the Word he examines and regulates life in marriage and family, in work and church. The deacon gives shape to the serving character of Christ’s Word: observing, uplifting, helping, and inspiring people.

And also the minister leads and pastures the congregation in nothing other than the Word.

What is the key for all those who are called and motivated to equip the congregation? That they are familiar with the questions of our present times, that they are aware of the tensions between the generations, that they have some insight into the psychological structure of the people, that to some extent they are aware of the great traditions of the church and the achievements of our culture? All of these definitely play a role, yet the Word is ultimately decisive. In the end, this question is crucial: do we have knowledge of the Word, and that in the Spiritual sense? That we are interested in the truth is not worth nothing, but also does not mean everything. Knowing the truth—being fully immersed in it and living from it—only that produces fruit.

What is required for this? That we let ourselves be nourished with the Word! It is, as Luther acknowledged, “sitting at Jesus’ feet to listen to God’s Word. Thus the soul that depends on the Word becomes like the Word itself: pure, wise, and holy. When iron is put into the fire it turns red and takes on the properties of the fire. A black piece of coal will also turn red in the fire. Likewise, faith now makes the soul fully united with the Word. It enflames and moulds the soul, so that altogether it takes on the nature of the Word…. Therefore there is nothing better than to hang on to God’s Word.” We hope to address this a bit further.

Who Performs the Equipping?🔗

We have to begin with this: the Word itself equips. We do well to realize this. The Word, the mouthpiece of the Lord, is the actual enabler. And the Word is fully capable to do this: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching…(so) that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17).

The situation is such that it pleases the God of the Word to employ people in his service, especially office-bearers, and pre-eminently the ministers, to proclaim and declare his Word. Thus, the offices and the office-bearers are an essential moment in the great gift of the Spirit by the exalted Christ. “He who ascended on high gave gifts to men (the congregation)” (Eph. 4:8). All these gifts can undoubtedly be summarized in the one great, unparalleled gift of the Holy Spirit. But now this is the special aspect of Christ’s ministry of the Spirit, that he does not exercise it in an “overly spiritual” manner. He makes use of means, namely the Word. And in doing so he employs people in his service.

Let us understand well what Paul means in Ephesians 4 when he says: Christ has given gifts and apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers. We should not take this to mean as though Christ on the one hand sent his Spirit and on the other hand — separate from it — gave the offices. No, it is all one gift, in one gesture of charity, in one generous move. In the gift and mission of the Holy Spirit, the gift of the offices is comprehended. In the offices the Holy Spirit takes on a visible, audible, and ecclesiastical form.

Based on the design of this introduction, we home in on the office of pastor-and-teacher, and ask ourselves the question: how does equipping of the congregation take place through the service of the minister?

How Does It Take Place?🔗

With these three points discussed we have orientated ourselves and defined the matter, we now arrive at the actual question: how will a minister “improve” and prepare his congregation, to be mature in faith, hope, and love?

He is entrusted with a key position in the work of equipping. Let us immediately establish as our basis the unassailable proposition that no preacher can use the instrument of the Word if he does not allow himself to be moved by Word and Spirit. Kohlbrugge says very aptly, “Administering the Word rightly is not an easy affair. It is, however, administered correctly where the minister relies fully on God.” In ourselves we are all useless and fruitless, like an instrument that is not used. There are many monumental organs in our country. But if the wind supply is lacking and there are no artistic fingers playing the keys, they do not produce the slightest sound, however magisterial they may be. In the same way — and this holds true for everyone else and also for the minister– we do not have a word to say if we are not moved and inspired. What does a sailing ship accomplish when it does not have the wind in its sails? Brothers, is it your deepest care and desire that Christ’s breath will motivate you and us to bring our dead heart to life and to give a new song to our lips? Here we have arrived at the basic attitude and the hidden source of nourishment for the life and ministry of the office bearer! The secret of the office is much more passive in nature than that it is active: unceasingly we have to let ourselves be fuelled and energized by God’s Word. Office-bearers are first and foremost people who pray, and only then do they become workers. There must be at least as much time for study and meditation as there is for the actual meeting. After all, it is not about what we perform and produce, but what Christ brings about in his Spirit through us. Calvin expressed it in powerful terms: “No one is fit for the office and is able to handle it unless he is created and shaped by Christ.” Without him we can do nothing else but spoil it!

The Minister🔗

The condition that applies to all offices, namely, that they will be permeated by Christ’s Spirit, is especially true for the minister.

The fact is that it is precisely his person and position that become more and more entangled in concerns that smother him and alienate him from the breath of the Spirit. Many things may worry and concern him — albeit often in good faith, and in good conscience — but all of this plurality often leads him to breathlessness, for it leads him away from the simplicity that is needed: ​​to be filled with the Holy Spirit, to reflect on the Holy Word!

How did this unholy evil come about? I believe there are at least three factors that play a role in this development.

In the first place it is because of an entirely changed cultural atmosphere. In the living and working climate of earlier centuries, the minister generally operated much more in the privacy and security of his actual work as office-bearer: preaching, catechism, and pastoral care (in that order!). That was his domain, his “castle.” Admittedly sometimes he would go outside through the gate, but he was, so to speak, back inside by nighttime.

I hardly have to tell you that these walls have fallen down. Only with the greatest discipline does the minister manage to keep the gates of his study and prayer room closed for a short time. Life is much more open and dynamic, more complex and rushed. The agenda dictates us without mercy and the telephone disturbs us like a ruthless and brutal burglar who breaches the peace in the home like no other.

A second factor is that not only do the many meetings and the full agendas claim and haunt us, but the spirit and the mentality of this modern age also take hold of us. So it’s not only the quantity but also the quality of modern life that asserts itself. Things not only have to be done quickly, but also fleetingly.

There is much more behind this than we usually realize. A secularized perspective on life and lifestyle is at the background of this. Such a view no longer recognizes dimensions of depth and height, but only knows of length and width!

In this situation, life misses out on the experiential grounding of the soul, being deeply rooted in the Word of God, and it no longer reckons with the upward direction of the awareness of eternity. As a result, people no longer practice the silence needed for meditation and concentration, but only the urge toward performance and production; hence, one no longer prays, but works; no longer listens, but talks, even though one has nothing to say.

And it is in this regard that the church becomes world-like to a very serious degree. Church and congregation become as two peas in a pod when compared to a modern business where its servants look like company managers. To illustrate: it happened to me several years ago that an office-bearer of a calling church calmly informed me, “What we are looking for in our congregation is a manager!” This is shameful as it is revealing!

The third factor is the most distressing. It is our guilty and almost deliberate blindness in all of this. Why do we so easily adapt to the schemes of the world and why does its spirit so easily affect us? I refuse to believe that this is a case of ascendancy. Rather, I fear that we are not vigilant and resilient toward the spirit of the times, because it lays claim to our sympathy in a cunning way. Let us not forget that our entire natural existence has been characterized by the desire for emancipation: “Come on, let us build our city and our name!” The name of that city is Babylon, possibly a Babylon where Christian principles still apply, with even a statue for Calvin. And behind the parade of our Reformed activism we hide our guilty and meagre hollowness. We cannot qualify the fullness and multiplicity of our Reformed business in any other way. Our busy existence is empty unless our roots are fed and receive life-blood from the Word, and where our hearts are is where our treasure is, namely, with Christ in heaven.

Which Way?🔗

These three factors assert themselves and are in danger of putting us on the wrong track. And now I ask you, where does it lead to if we were to follow this track? Faith is through hearing and hearing through the Word that is proclaimed. But how will the church be equipped by the Word when the preachers are no longer inspired and energized by that Word? And how could they be, as long as they keep stirring in the complexity of the “business,” and no longer practice in the singularity (the true simplicity!) of the one thing that is needed? Do we, as ministers, actually have reason to complain about the backsliding or impoverishment of the spiritual life of the congregation, when we feed (or rather: when we starve) them with such a diet?

Judge for yourself: how can a minister, who each week needs to deliver not only one or two sermons, take responsibility for six catechism classes and a bible study group, visit a good number of people who are sick, mourning and celebrating as well as families in connection with birth and baptism, but also to prepare for and preside over a meeting of the ward church council or the committee of administration, who has duties in regard to the school, social work, youth and evangelism work, who has contacts with doctors and councillors, officials, consistory and classis, who has his activities outside the congregation for the whole of the church, has to keep records and correspondence, has to make telephone calls and receive visitors and look after all the demanding issues of marital bliss and marital crises, difficulties with nurturing children, and deaths..., how could such a person, for whom also the fourth commandment (six! days you shall labour, and not seven) have its validity, also function as a husband for his wife, a father for his children, a shepherd for his flock, a Bible scholar for his church, a theologian in the church? How can he find the outer and inner peace to remain a minister of the Word? Yes, how can he too be saved by the faith of the poor sinner? After all, such faith is not a simple speech, not even a short sermon, but a faith that is experienced and lived!

Daily Exercise🔗

Is it any surprise that ministers somehow run for cover (either inside or outside of their office) or that they run dry, or run around in circles? And is it not amazing, then, that this category of clergymen who seems to be still managing to carry on in any case, eventually has little more to offer in the pulpit and in the houses than just orthodox doctrine, righteous duty, and edifying axioms? A minister who does not study, who no longer dedicates himself to the Word (in the original sense of the word), can still be skilled, fluent, and likeable, but he is no longer what he should be: a V.D.M. (Verbi Divini Minister), servant of the divine Word. Because that is primarily what he ought to be, based on God’s calling. It is not a case where he should be a homebound academic scholar, but he needs to be a theologian who plows the Word of his Master in prayer. As Rev. C. den Boer stated, “He is the man who shares in the deepest needs of his fellow men. But he is especially also the person who stands on the border of time and eternity. And how can he mediate between the living God and the congregation, if he himself does not speak privately with God?”

Of Rubinstein it is told that he daily practiced playing his musical instruments. If he skipped these practices even for one day, he would notice that something was wrong. If he skipped it for two days, his friends would notice it. And if he had not looked at his musical instruments for three days, it was noticeable to outsiders listening to him. I believe that a servant of the Word is threatened by a great danger, namely, that by rushing and being involved in all sorts of committees, he is actually building up the congregation in the best possible way.

God founded his church on his Son. That is enough. And we only need to be like the reeds, of which Jacqueline van der Waals sang, “A reed, through which the breath of the Spirit passes.” One time, when Martin Luther saw the overflowing agenda of Melanchthon, he said, “You are killing yourself, because you don’t know how to practice holy relaxation before God.” How necessary it is to seek the silence. When our spiritual life is reduced to the prayer of the tax collector, “Oh God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” only then is the pastor in a great place, because there he may learn to experience the miracle of the extension of mercy for sinners.

What then needs to happen to create room for quiet meditation? Does it require a thorough overhaul of the practice of the ministerial office? What the Lord said to Baruch is also what a church council should expressly tell its minister, “Do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not!” (Jer. 45:5). So what is there to look for? The “small things.” It is the service to the Word of the kingdom of God. A grain of sand, at first glance, may appear to be totally insignificant. You simply blow it off your hand. But look carefully, through the magnifying glass of faith! Then we see that it is not a grain of sand, but (with one letter of difference — Dutch: zand/zaad) a grain of seed. It’s only so small, yet in the earth (when there is nothing left to see, it dies!) it germinates, bears fruit, and grows into a mighty tree. This is the Word we need to hear. Hearing is more than accomplishments. Hearing means more than all this busyness running from one place to the next in the church and the congregation. Hearing bears more nutritious fruit than all those meetings. We meet so many here and there that it may happen that Jesus will soon say, “How many times have I wanted to gather you, but you did not have time, because you were just sitting in a meeting.” And now one must not only say this to the minister, but also act accordingly, which may imply that certain tasks are taken over by others. After all, the argument does not hold water that the minister is exempt and he gets paid for it, while for the church council it means that they have to give up some of their leisure time. For then I ask you: what is the minister exempt from? He is exempt from being a manager so that he can be a pastor and teacher. It is time for us to remember that this is the work he was called to do: the study, explanation, proclamation, and application of the Word of God in preaching, catechesis, work in small groups, and real pastoral care. This implies that every day, from the morning until mid-afternoon (about the same time as you are at work!), he listens to what is written: on Mondays in connection with catechism classes and small group activities; on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with a view to the preaching; and now we skip one day in obedience to the fourth commandment; on Fridays in the context of theology in general but with an indirect line to the equipping of the congregation; on Saturdays in the meditation and reflection on the Word to be preached; and on Sundays in the delivery of it.


Of course, we may consider this as alien and idealistic, and I do not yet know how it ought to be realized. But I am more and more convinced that it needs to be reality. When we consider what it means to state that the minister stands on the dividing line of time and eternity, and that souls for eternity are entrusted to him, and that the operation of reconciliation carries decisive meaning for eternity, then we can do nothing else but make the highest demands on those who have received the Word of reconciliation. Who dares to take anything away from this and to weaken it?

No, this does not mean that the minister does not do anything else. The second half of a number of afternoons he can make some visits where pastoral care is needed (and need is related to trouble!). Some evenings are available to be (with a view to his family, his physical and spiritual wellbeing, there should be no more than four) dedicated to catechesis, small group activities, and meetings. And if the latter is limited to a minimum, there may be an evening available for an “ordinary” home visit; what a blessing it would be!


You will understand: all of this is only possible if you, as a church council, take upon yourself certain tasks that are wrongly perceived as belonging exclusively to the minister (the church council may require expansion). May I ask several questions? Why should a minister be on the board of the school society, or the seniors’ home? Why should a minister be involved in a building committee? Why can’t the district elder visit people with long-term illnesses?

In my opinion, the time is ripe to have the deacon’s office much more closely intertwined with the pastorate. With this I have in mind the healing of broken relationships between husband and wife, parents and children, employer and employee, etc.

Furthermore, we as office bearers would do well to look much more attentively to gifted church members who can assist us in visiting work, special purpose groups, youth work, as well as diaconal and administrative church labour.

Financial Sacrifices🔗

These and similar suggestions deserve our further reflection and to put them into practice. This aspect especially deserves consideration: would it not be worth the expense and financial sacrifice of all of us (let the minister contribute as well) to expand the number of ministerial positions, with the understanding that a minister will not have more than 1,000 souls under his care? With emphasis I would first like to point out the very unknown but ecclesiastically legitimate position of the preaching evangelist, connected to a classis, a congregation, or a combination of congregations. In the second place I’d like to point out the necessity and possibility of recruiting spiritual counsellors for senior centres and other care homes. And let us not forget in all of this that the catechetical course, under God’s blessing, will have a broadening and deepening of the ecclesiastical context. And let’s not forget: there are a good number of young men available who have studied theology. There is plenty of potential. We have been praying for years to the Lord of the harvest for workers, and now that they have been given to us, would we keep them away from the actual harvest work? Whom are we selling short? I believe the answer is: we are failing God, the church, ourselves, and all who are gifted and available, but are standing around idly.

Not Just Reorganization🔗

Finally, the church does not depend on our efforts at reorganization. What belongs to God does not depend on people. He can do without us! But the issue at stake is not what God can or cannot do, but: what pleases him. It pleases him that all things are done decently and in good order, that together we are a good instrument in the hand of Christ and for the message of the Spirit. What we advocate therefore is that a beneficial division of tasks will create the space in which the Word of the Lord is not muzzled and suffocated, but where it breathes and can thrive. The progress and entrance of that Word means the equipping of Christ’s body.

With Calvin we believe: “What is more excellent than to produce the true and complete perfection of the church? And yet this work, so admirable and divine, is here declared by the apostle to be accomplished by the external ministry of the word. If the edification of the church proceeds from Christ alone, he has surely a right to prescribe in what manner it shall be edified.”

Well, it is his ordinance that God’s children are born, fed, and guided by nothing but the proclaimed Word for “coming to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God,” as the apostle says. That is the great goal, the only thing necessary: ​​that Christ is known! “To the Son of God alone faith ought to look; on him it relies; in him it rests and terminates. And if it proceeds further, it will disappear, and will no longer be faith, but a delusion. Let us remember that true faith confines its view so entirely to Christ, that it neither knows, nor desires to know, anything else” (Calvin in his commentary on Ephesians 4:12,13).

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