The Perfectly Unified Church

I like to have fun with my own denomination and the churches affiliated with it. I often joke that where there are two Baptists gathered in His name, there are at least three opinions.

But the lack of unity in many churches is a serious manner. Church splits, congregational infighting, and church divisiveness are more common than we often like to admit. Not too long ago, I heard my co-worker at LifeWay, Eric Geiger, make a presentation on church unity. Actually, he largely dealt with training and equipping the saints to do the work of ministry in his presentation, but he beautifully tied that issue with church unity.

Training Results in Unity

Eric simply demonstrated the obvious truths from Scripture. Unfortunately, I don’t always see the obvious, so his presentation was both enlightening and encouraging to me. His thesis was straightforward: If pastors equip or train others to do ministry, there will be unity in the church. How do we know this reality? It’s clearly stated in Scripture:

“And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness” (Ephesians 4: 11-13, HCSB).

For the sake of brevity, let’s deal only with the role of pastors/teachers. Note these truths from the text:

  • Christ (He) personally gave this role. It was important to Him, so it has to be important to us.
  • The role of pastors is not so much to do ministry, as it is to train or equip others to do ministry.
  • If pastors fulfill this role, the body of Christ is built up.
  • As the body of Christ is built up, the believers become unified in the faith.

The passage is clear. As pastors are more involved in training others to do ministry, there will be greater unity in the church.

The Problem 

As we began to research this issue in local congregations today, we uncovered some sobering statistics. Almost all pastors we surveyed affirmed their critical role in training others to do ministry. But almost three fourths of these pastors had no plans to do so. For most pastors, the reasons behind this gap were simple: they either didn’t know how to take the next steps, or they didn’t feel like they had the time to do so.

The Opportunity

At LifeWay, we began to make this issue a major priority. We saw a great opportunity to provide almost unlimited training in this digital age that could not be done in earlier years. So we created something that will be convenient for the church leaders and those being equipped at an affordable cost for all churches. In May of this year, we will launch Ministry Grid, an incredible tool for developing leaders in your church. We are excited to work alongside church pastors, staff, and lay leaders in this way, and I will share with you more about this resource later.

Let me hear from you. How is your church equipping and training others to do ministry? What are some stories you can share to help other churches? What are some lessons we can learn from you?

The text is clear. As pastors/teachers do more equipping and training, the church will become more unified. It’s just that important.


  1. says

    Thom, I love your ministry and it has been EXTREMELY helpful to me, thank you! Yet, I confess I struggle with the direction of your article. Yes, the pastoral / teaching role in the church should center on equipping saints (through preaching, teaching, discipling, training) for actually doing the work of ministry, and most leaders can improve in this area, for sure. But, I sense you’re arguing or at least implying that a major cause of disunity is that pastors are deficient in training their people, but as I survey the instances of disunity in the NT it was laid at the feet of carnality, e.g. Corinthians over their teachers and giftedness along with a disrespect for Paul, those Ephesian elders who would draw away men after them, and of course many other examples and exhortations to unity which don’t place the cause on training deficiency. That unity is forged when the saints lovingly serve one another and sacrifice for one another (Phil 2:1-4) is a gracious work of the Holy Spirit, but I don’t see its absence as being a function of training deficiency, as important as training is to ministry effectiveness. Love and selflessness will go a long way in the creation of brotherly unity even when ministry service is not as prepared as it should be. Anyhow, I would love your help on clarifying here, and further more I will be in Nashville preaching the first weekend of Feb and I could think of few greater privileges than to share a convo with you over a cup of coffee!

    • Thom Rainer says

      Darryl –

      Equipping and training leads to “ownership” in ministry and to more fulfilled members because they are making a difference in the church and the world. These members are more likely to focus on major matters in the church rather than minutiae that can lead to disunity. I am not suggesting that unity is solely connected to the equipping function, but it is important.

      Thanks for your comments and your good spirit

  2. says

    This describes exactly what I am trying to accomplish in our church. We are trying to turn over more personal/pastoral ministry to deacons. I am focusing on teaching (how to share your faith, how to read and understand your Bible, systematic theology, etc. This looks as if it will be a great help.

  3. says

    The goal of training others to -do- minister is so that they will -love-. If anything a saint does is not done in love, it is not ministry. If a person is loving, they are ministering. Warm fuzzy feelings without disciplined compassion is lust or carnality. Love in action (patient & kind, etc) is ministry. When ministry is not patient & kind it neither ministers nor is loving. Pastors help the flock do all that they do in love … including their work. This way, everyone is in ministry, whether a secretary of a dental clinic or a secretary of state. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit has a ministry to the Interior of the heart that enables active ministry & love to happen.

  4. Jason says

    I often joke that where there are two Baptists gathered in His name, there are at least three opinions.

    OK.. Had to explain why I was laughing out loud!!!! I’m a baptist.

  5. says

    I think that there is often pressure on some pastors for doing the work of the ministry primarily themselves, particularly in churches where the pastor was hired as an employee by a board. Boards are often not looking for someone to equip others to do the work of ministry, but that the pastor would do it himself so the people don’t have to do it. Other pastors put this burden upon themselves for various reasons. Could it be that still other pastors may not even be called to the 5 fold ministry and which is the reason equipping others makes no sense to them? It is also important to note that the five fold ministry also consists of people who are not paid church staff. Thanks for bringing this issue to the forefront. Otherwise, pastors will continue to be paralyzed and their impact will be greatly limited.

  6. says

    Spiritual gifts are given to the believer by the Holy Spirit… The problem with many churches is the lack of interest in getting involved, because there is no urge by the Holy Spirit… While it might be beneficial for the church leaders to recruit members to build a unified body…I believe Christians must first be walking with the Lord as Spirit filled Christians… God will position His children where He thinks best…

    I spent a day writing about this in my daily blog… Here is the link for those interested in my 2 cents…
    Blessings in Christ,

  7. says

    Dr. Rainer,
    I recently read your article on “The Perfectly Unified Church” in the Christian Post. As one of the Western Religions Examiners for Examiner.com, an Internet publication, I was inspired to post a commentary on your article along with comments from Eric Warren, the founder of Equip U Ministries, the ministry that I am affiliated with in Columbus, Ohio. One of the emphases of the ministry is upon “equipping ” believers, as reflected in our name, as it relates to Ephesians 4:11-13, the passage that you discussed in your article. I added some of his comments on this passage to the discussion. I thought you might be interested in reading the article. Here is the link:


    I thank God for your insightful comments on a topic continued importance—Unity in the Christian Church

    Lonnell E. Johnson

  8. Pete Barker says

    After our discussion yesterday on another post I found this one. My affinity for this subject is what drove my response to that post. I think that you have only scratched the surface here. I am an architect and so I default to seeing design as I look at subjects. I see a unified Body is a wonderful part of God’s design. When we read Christ’s prayer for us in John 17 we see that this was central to his heart’s desire. His purpose in that was so that the Body would be irresistible to a watching world in projecting the Messiah. Something that you might consider is a discipleship study called “The Five Principles of Unity” by Blake Coffee. Call me a proud board member, but this tool has been used by Christian Unity Ministries to help foster unity and church health in many parts of the world. http://www.christianunityministries.org/

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