Editors Note; This is a four part series initially titled “Supporting the Equippers” by Loren Rosser. It is a prophetic now word to the church outside the walls. In it Loren does an outstanding job explaining the present predicament. Now that the church is free of financial manipulation, quilt and control from positional leadership in this area lets not forget to support those whom the Lord has called to lead us.
Part 1: The Standoff
Those of you who are fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit certainly recall the riddle standoff between Bilbo and Gollum. Well here’s a riddle for you. (I promise I won’t eat you if you get it wrong.) It weighs very little but weighs much on hearts and minds. It is silent but also speaks volumes. You carry it with you but you can’t take it with you. And the mere mention of it to believers immediately sparks strong reactions and flashbacks associated with words like manipulation, corruption, and control. Give up? It’s money!
It has come to my attention that as was the case with Bilbo and Gollum, there is currently a standoff of sorts taking place within in the body of Christ among those who are moving away from systems of religious obligation towards liberty and genuine relational connections regarding the support of those who function as equippers. I think this is an extremely important issue that needs to be addressed, and Lord willing, resolved. As we’ve been moving towards greater liberty in Christ many of His followers have been discovering the pure joy of having their burdens lifted. There is currently a growing conversation about helping the poor and the oppressed. However, it is my concern that we are willingly or ignorantly oppressing some of our own brothers and sisters by withholding from them their due and the resources necessary for them to function at the level Father desires.
Before I go any further let me flat out tell you I am not after a dime of your money. I don’t need it nor do I want it. I’m blessed to have a very good job that more than meets my needs. This article isn’t about me, which is the exact reason I wanted to write it. So often the only people who speak up for the equippers are the equippers themselves. Due to past hurts, wounds, and abuses in the body of Christ, people immediately view them as being self-serving and place them in the same category as the manipulators they encountered in the past. So these men and women go on pouring out their lives for us (because that’s the kind of people they are) and we gladly receive from them or have received from them in the past. But why is it we will gladly receive from them that which is eternal but are often not even willing to reciprocate with that which is temporary (money)?
I can hear many saying, “But aren’t we all equal in the church? We are all brethren! I don’t get paid for functioning in my gifts!” First of all let me say, neither do I! I podcast regularly, have written numerous articles, produced videos, have spoken to congregations, and have even volunteered my time to feed the poor. And guess what? I didn’t get paid a cent. But you are correct; no part of the body is superior to another. We are all brethren in the body of Christ. We are a family with one Father. This isn’t about equality; it’s about function and necessity. Although I’m very active in encouraging and building up the body of Christ I don’t have invitations to go to places like Uganda, or people asking me to come equip their groups all over the U.S. as one brother I know who is a prophet currently does. He manages to scrape up enough to go to a few places, but he is unable to function anywhere near the capacity needed to meet the demand simply because the resources aren’t there. The ox has been muzzled. And he’s not alone. I know of a handful of these people who are genuine equippers in the body who bless and have blessed numerous people and are helping and have helped many come to maturity who are obscenely underfunded to accomplish the work to which they’ve been called. And just so there is no misunderstanding, these equippers aren’t building buildings, trying to start “ministries”, or make names for themselves. They are doing nothing but helping individuals become grounded in Christ.
I can hear some asking, “Well, if God wants them doing these things, like travel and all, why doesn’t He provide for them?” That question actually reminds me of what I call “magical thinking” that I often encountered in my years in charismatic circles. It’s waiting for that check from out of nowhere to appear in the mail box. It’s waiting for God to make money magically appear in your bank account. It’s waiting for God to become our personal genie. It’s waiting for God to do Himself what we’re too darn lazy and selfish to do for others.
Allow me to show you the ridiculousness of that mindset. Do you think Father wanted the African Americans in the United States to be oppressed and excluded from the rest of society? If you know anything about the heart of God then you know the answer is a resounding “No!” Then why didn’t God just make it stop? You know, just magically make a law pass congress ending the oppression. We all know that’s just not reality. He works through people, especially His body. It took a man after His heart, Martin Luther King Jr., to do something about it, God’s way. God doesn’t move magically, He moves through people, His body.
I remember back when I was first moving away from organized religious Christianity hearing believers make statements like, “Just think of all the good we could do without having to pay for all this overhead!” There were ongoing conversations about how shedding all the religious trappings would free up so many resources that could be poured into furthering the gospel around the world, feeding the poor, and so forth. Now I sit outside the walls of organized religion and I’m scratching my head. I ponder whether those conversations were really about furthering the gospel and helping the poor or if we were really looking for an excuse to close our pocket books. I guess my question is how long are we going to stew in our old wounds and hold back our resources from the kingdom needed to release these equippers? How long are we going to keep justifying muzzling the ox? Do we truly want to see the body of Christ come to maturity and the kingdom advance or is that merely Christian correct terminology?
Part 2: Establishing Us in Christ
When I was at the ripe age of 19 two men came into my life whose influence would prove to be invaluable. These two men laid the firm foundation of Christ in me. Their names were Jim and Rob. They were true equippers. Jim was a prophet who spoke a truly life changing word from God to me that sealed the reality of my heavenly Father in my heart for the rest of my life. He also birthed in me a genuine hunger to hear my Father’s voice. Through Jim I came to understand that hearing God is everything in our walk with Him. Man truly does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
Rob was a married man who had a pastor’s heart. He took me under his wing as a younger brother and began teaching me through our one on one conversation how to hear Father and live in Him in the practical realities of life. He fine-tuned my ability to hear God and through the home fellowship to which we belonged, Rob helped me learn how to bring what God was currently speaking to a group of people. He actually trained me to teach prophetically. Then when Lilly and I started dating, Rob prepared me to be a good husband, not only through his example, but also by sitting down with me regularly to chat about my relationship with Lilly. If one were to ask me to place a monetary value on the equipping I received it would be impossible to come up with a number. What price do I place on hearing Father’s voice? What value does one place on being grounded in Him? How much should one pay for a marriage that has successfully weathered some of life’s most difficult storms and still remains strong? Coming up with a monetary value is impossible because the things of the Spirit are worth far more than those of the temporal. But when I look at the fruit that is in my life because of the labor of these two men, there is not a doubt in my mind that these men deserved “double honor” (monetary compensation) for their labors. How much did these men receive? Not a dime. Jim was the associate pastor of the church we attended and later became the pastor. It was one of three congregations in the area that were headed by a board of elders. Jim never received a salary. He always had to support himself and his family by holding down a fulltime job. Rob was the worship leader who not only spent his time counseling, teaching, and pouring into the lives of others, he also spent his days mowing lawns for his landscape business to support his growing family. That may seem all well and good, but here is the real problem. The church we attended taught the necessity of tithing. Lilly and I were faithful tithers. But out of all of that money that went to the church, how much of what we gave actually went to Jim and Rob? Not a cent. Kind of strange being that they were the ones who actually did the work in my life that remains to this day.
Let me straight out say I am a firm believer that tithing is over. It’s just as much a part of the old covenant as sacrificing animals and not eating pork. But I don’t have the time or the energy to unpack that here. Let me just say that even though I don’t believe in tithing, I am a firm believer that if you choose to attend gatherings in a building and enjoy being served by a salaried staff it is only right that you contribute reasonable amounts to cover the cost of those things.
Tithing may be dead but giving to those who are true equippers is very much alive and well in the New Covenant. One only has to look at the life of Paul to see that. The problem is so many have been damaged by controlling religion and false equippers that they have closed their hearts and wallets to those who pour into others that which is invaluable. Just as I showed you from my past experience, we approached equipping from an institutional mindset instead of a relational reality.
The institutional church was viewed as being the storehouse. We gave to that because it gave us access to all the goods. I think of it like paying the monthly membership fee at an athletic club. You pay the fee because you gain access to all the amenities, equipment, and classes the club has to offer. So it doesn’t matter if you’re actually being equipped by your friend the plumber or the pastor, your check still goes to the Christian organization you attend. Writing out those checks becomes as robotic as paying bills.
In a relational reality we live aware of the needs of those around us and are actually mindful of giving financial support to those who are genuinely equipping the body. We are still giving to the storehouse but we recognize the storehouse is not a manmade organization but the person in our lives who is laying the foundation of Christ in us. And we don’t only give to the equippers while we’re receiving from them. The fact of the matter is very few are in the place of maturity in Christ to be asked to give while they’re being equipped. Paul recognized this when he wrote to the immature Corinthians and stated that although he had the right to ask of them for support he refused to do it. Instead he received from others to support him while he equipped the Corinthians. It is crucial that those of us who have been equipped don’t just take the foundation we’ve received and go our merry way. Rather, as mature believers it is our turn to recognize what we have received and identify those who are equippers in the body and support their work in the lives of others so they don’t have to be a burden on the weak and immature. The world has a term for this, “Pay it forward.”
As I stated in my last article, yes we are all equal in the body of Christ, we are all brethren. One does not have more value than another. (In truth, the equippers are actually the LEAST among us. But more on that in my next few articles.) Yet, don’t tell me nineteen year old Loren who was just sorting out this journey was functioning in the kingdom at the same level of effectiveness as seasoned Jim and Rob. You can’t tell me I didn’t need what they had. Nor can you tell me any other Joe or Jane Christian could have laid the foundation in Christ that these men did. It took two mature brothers in Christ functioning as a prophet and a pastor, loving me enough to lay their lives down for me at their own expense for Christ to be formed in me. I don’t think the question is whether we should support equippers financially? I think the real question is what would I give to see the rest of the body of Christ equipped and grounded in Him?
In Part 3 we’ll discuss identifying the true equippers from the fakes.
Part 3: Identifying the Real Deal
I work with an interesting man named Charlie (not his real name). There was an opossum that was continually coming around Charlie’s house so he began feeding it. The opossum became a regular visitor so Charlie named him Jasper and built a really cool cage for him. He’d feed him fruit every day, gave him a play area, and even taught him to use a litter box. Every so often Charlie would let Jasper go outside to be with his opossum buddies. Jasper would typically disappear for a day or two and then return. Well, one day Charlie released Jasper to go on one of his excursions and he was gone longer than usual. When he finally returned to his cage he wasn’t acting like himself. He was constantly hissing at Charlie, he was crapping all over the place, and he was shredding everything. Charlie couldn’t figure out what on Earth was wrong with Jasper. Two days later the real Jasper showed up on his porch.
I think most the folks who have angst about supporting equippers have been stuck with “the wrong Jasper.” They’ve encountered the charlatans; the big shot, power hungry, greedy, selfish, know-it-all, wannabes. Some who have encountered the genuine article didn’t even recognize them as such because all of their religious training had taught them to look for a completely different animal. Thus the reason the charlatans keep showing up.
So first, let’s look at what an equipper is not. (Although I’ll be referring to them in the masculine, they can be women as well.) An equipper is not somebody who is going to use you to build his ministry or try to organize you into a “church.” He is not going to try to get you on board with his vision. He’s not going to be looking to control or manage you. He’s not going to be attempting to place himself above you nor will he allow you to place him over you. He’s not going to be after your money, your affirmation, or your recognition. Basically, an equipper is free from pursuing the three “C’s” that Wayne Jacobsen discussed in his bookFinding Church: cash, credit (recognition), and control.
The heart of an equipper is entirely set on seeing Christ formed in you, period. Want to see what an equipper looks like? I know of somebody who is a pretty good example. His name is Jesus. I’m sure you’re familiar with Him. How big a congregation did Jesus have? How much money did he raise to build that dynamic facility? How much money was He seeking from those around Him? Think about it. What did Jesus spend His time doing? He walked around connecting with people and pouring into their lives everywhere He went. There were those He briefly encountered and greatly impacted and there were those with whom He had close relationships that He spent a great deal of time investing in. This is the very example the apostles followed, including Paul. It is we who have attached our institutional religious baggage onto these men and completely missed the simplicity in which they lived. Paul didn’t run around planting churches. He lived planting Christ in people’s lives. Where Christ is, there is the church (His people). It’s that simple.
But here’s the part many who aspire to be equippers really don’t like to talk about. One doesn’t get free from the hunger for cash, credit, and control just by waking up one morning and deciding not to pursue those things. The fact of the matter is we’re freed from those things through suffering. I remember years ago an older woman telling me “Apostles aren’t born, they’re made.” I think that goes for prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers as well. One may have the gifts necessary to be an equipper, but that’s not enough. The problem is many think it is and choose the easy road that requires no death to self. This is the reason why the church has been so damaged by people claiming to be equippers. They are full of themselves but know how to talk “Jesus talk.”
There is a mystery that occurs in suffering. It doesn’t make sense to the natural mind, but somehow we gain Christ. And I’m not even talking about God throwing you in the fire to teach you a thing or two. I’m also not talking about suffering that you’re able in any way to maintain any form of polished composure or dismount from with the grace of an Olympic gymnast. I’m talking about real, raw, brutal, “Where the hell are you God?” suffering that you exit from with all the grace of a fat man landing a belly flop on a hard wood floor. Those who’ve endured such suffering know exactly what I’m talking about. They stand up afterwards and say, “What was that all about?” It was so ugly, so painful, so messy, they couldn’t see what good could possibly come from it. This is the kind of suffering the true equippers have been through. Yet, somehow, because of what they gained in Christ while they were flopping around in agony like fish dying on the seashore, they now impart life. What they didn’t realize was when they were being crucified, so to speak, they died to the selfish desires of the flesh. They died to the three “C’s.” The Pharisee in them also died while they were meeting themselves in the fire. And when they emerged from their personal grave Christ was formed in them because it was He who became their resurrection.
This is why when Paul defends his ministry as an apostle he points directly to his suffering. The path to becoming a genuine equipper is not one for which people are lining up. There aren’t a whole lot of tickets sold for the bus trip to hell and back. But this is the required route for preparation. This is how Jesus prepares a people who He knows He can trust with His bride. Those others are imposters, placing their filthy hands all over her. These genuine equippers have been broken and He trusts them with what is of greatest value to Him, His bride, because they have His heart and therefore shutter at the very thought of the slightest hint impropriety towards her.
I’ve heard of people making comments like, “Why should I give anything to that equipper just for meeting with us for a few hours? I didn’t pay sister-so-and so for having lunch with me.” It obviously doesn’t occur to them that the immense blessing they received in that short time spent with the equipper didn’t just spring forth on the spot. It came from a well that was painfully dug deep inside the equipper through years of suffering. They went into the pit to get that message for you. They paid a high price to help Christ be formed in you. And we’re squabbling over giving them a few bucks to help them continue doing what they’re doing?
I had an experience at work today that illustrated this quite well. A guy at work who is an accomplished musician wants to create a video of himself playing his guitar. I’ve seen that this guy has real talent and since I’d love to see his music bless others, I told him I’d create one for him for free. He immediately saw the value in what I’d be doing for him because I’m not just a chump with a video camera, but have years of professional video experience having even won a few awards for my work. He began gladly offering to pay me. It’s so sad that in the temporal we can see the value in what somebody is doing for us but when it comes to the eternal we’re either blind to it, selfish, or we just plain don’t view the eternal as being worth more than the temporal.
In Part 4 we’ll further examine the genuine equippers. I think some will be surprised to discover they look little like what they’ve been taught in the past.
Part 4: Profile of an Equipper
A couple of weeks ago my family along with my daughter’s boyfriend had a nice lunch with some old and new friends. The folks who joined us were David, a good friend for over eleven years, and Bryon and Misty, new friends we met through David. We had a fantastic time joking around while gorging ourselves on some amazing barbequed briquette and sharing stories from our journey with Christ. To the outsider looking in, there was nothing special taking place. It was just seven regular people eating out together. But inwardly tons was happening. Just being around these folks made me hunger for more of God. I found a new zeal for God emerging in my heart and a passion to be all that Father created me to be. But there were no sermons being preached. Nobody was pointing at me and saying, “Loren, here’s what you need to do.” Or “Here’s a word from God for you.” This wasn’t the “after glow” from a powerful meeting either. It was just seven friends having lunch. (Actually it was eight, because wherever two or more are gathered…) Yet, over the next few days it was apparent I gained something very real during my time with these folks.
Most looking on (including Christians) also wouldn’t have recognized that we were enjoying the company of two apostles and a prophetess. To the religious minded that last sentence sounds arrogant, pious, and boastful. (And to others it sounds like heresy because they don’t believe people function that way anymore – but I’m not going to get into that here.) The reason it sounds that way to them is because they’ve been falsely taught by religion what people who function in those ways are like. See, in their minds apostles and prophets (as well as other equippers) are intangible super stars who build huge ministries and “churches.” One is super fortunate to be around them, let alone have a meal with them. And lunches like this only occur in their down time, between big events. “You should see them when they’re REALLY in action!” Allow me just to say, “BARF!”
This is the exact OPPOSITE of what an equipper is like. Like my friends, equippers are the most down to earth, real, tangible, and approachable people you’ll ever meet. And as much as it may shock some to hear, it is the times like the lunch we shared together when they are in action. That’s because they actually live the words of Jesus to love one another. Because of this, they live for genuine friendships and real connections with others. I’ve heard one equipper who is a well-known author and speaker say multiple times that his least favorite venues are the ones where he’s the public speaker. He found that the most effective equipping actually occurs when he’s one on one with others or in small groups where people can be themselves, ask questions, and share their hearts. It is in those environments (such as sharing a meal together) he’s able to give to the person what that person needs and receive from that person as well. Boy that sounds familiar! Why does some guy who hung around twelve guys and sat down with a woman at a well come to mind? Doesn’t it only make sense that real equippers function like that guy?
True equippers make themselves of no reputation. And I can’t emphasize enough that they do not desire to be over you or to control you. Like Christ, they desire most to be able to enter into your world. They gladly will shed any baggage that keeps them from being able to do so. In fact, one couple who are equippers I spoke with recently shared how a group of believers to whom they had ministered came to them and said, “We want to come under you!” They responded, “No! We will walk beside you as friends, but we will not be over you.” As Wayne Jacobsen stated in one of the videos I co-produced, “I’ve found that I have greater influence in the lives of people I don’t control than I ever did over those I thought I did.” Do you know the brokenness it takes to be able to refuse such a temptation? Few are able, even among those who mean well. And it doesn’t help that modern day Christians are constantly looking for human kings to follow. (Only they give them titles like “Pastor, Apostle, Bishop, and so forth.)
Genuine equippers are ordinary and humble. And they truly live to serve. They see themselves as being less than their brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, years of lip service has been given to equippers being servants but few actually lived it. Most were kings and controllers calling themselves servants. But that is simply not the case with the true equippers. They are gifts to the body of Christ. That’s right! Ephesians chapter 4 straight out says that the equippers (apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers) are gifts straight from Jesus to His church to bring His people to maturity. How should we treat the gifts from God’s hand? Do we cherish them? Do we make sure they lack for nothing? Or do we toss them aside and forget about them like a kid with his toys a few weeks after Christmas?
I firmly believe that one of the reasons why we often overlook supporting the equippers is due to the very fact that they are so down to Earth, humble, approachable, authentic, and familiar. We see them as one of us. Yet, we also recognize that they continually stir up our hearts for Christ. But when the thought of supporting them enters our minds we counter it with, “That’s just my friend Joe.” That’s also the direct result of our institutional religious training. Many still believe in their hearts that equippers are somewhat distant. They’re spiritual heavy-weights that are intangible. This is made evident by the fact they’ll give to some guy they don’t even know who preaches nice messages or writes good books and articles, but completely neglect the person they actually know who is pouring into them, loving them, and looking out for them. And here’s an odd thing; if believers were asked, “Out of everybody you know, who would you most trust with your money?” I guarantee you, those who know a genuine equipper would mention that person. I know that would be the case with me. There’s a reason why Paul said, “Know those who labor among you.” Yet many keep sending their checks to strangers.
There are some very sound reasons why Jesus set up his church so that equippers are supported by the body. One is that it keeps them completely dependent on Father. See, I’m not talking about putting equippers on a monthly salary like institutional churches do with their staff. That’s not how God set it up. Where’s the trust in that? That’s no different than how I receive a check from my job. Equippers are not hirelings. We aren’t hiring them to do a job. Rather, we give directly to the equipper the amount we purpose in our hearts to give for their support. They are servants. Actually they are lower than that. They are slaves. Slaves live on whatever support their masters determine to give them. Those they serve can make their lives easy or difficult, based on how much support they choose to give them for their labors.
Let me tell you, that is not an easy way to live! I do not envy the equippers who Father has living that way. I have it pretty easy. As a “working Joe,” I know when my pay check will show up, how much it will be, and can pretty much plan out all the trips I’ll be taking a year in advance. These equippers, on the other hand, have no idea how much support they’ll be receiving month to month and have to completely lean on Father to meet their most basic needs (like rent and food). They have to hear from Him about where they’ll be traveling in the months to come. Having had seasons like that, I know what a challenge it is to tell somebody you’ll be flying out to minister when your bank account is empty and you’ve got nothing but lint in your pockets. Folks, they aren’t the old, greedy charlatans of the past. They’re the real deal, living in complete dependence on Father.
Another reason Jesus has the equippers rely on support from His people is seen in a statement Dr. Stephen Crosby made:
19th/20th century missions missed a critical element of the gospel. In that era, the empowered and informed went to the unempowered and uninformed: “You don’t have what we have, and you need it.” Jesus sent His “missionaries”, with nothing for their own sustenance. Why? TO FORCE EQUALITY AND MUTUALITY OF NEED, rather than “empire-lite.” They were to go in need of the people to whom they were sent. This has been woefully historically absent, and is the source of untold resentment and troubles toward western Christianity. Jesus’ way deals with the cycle of pride in the giver and humiliation of the receiver, thereby, making peace. Western values are not Jesus’ kingdom.
In the past few centuries religious Christian leaders came to the people from a place of superiority. But Father desires that His equippers are indeed the least among us and therefore come from a place of complete dependence. Think about it. In the business world, which is greater, the one who writes and signs the checks or the one who receives them? And who is greater, the one who sits at the table or the waiter who serves them? Through dependence on support from those whom they serve, equippers are kept humble through constant reminder that they are merely waiters bringing food to those seated at the table.
Financial Support for Ministers
Will we as the body of Christ make it easier or more difficult for them to serve us? How much value do we place on their service? Those questions are answered with our pocketbooks.