Reading The Equipping Church by Sue Mallory has been an extremely helpful journey into the practical nitty-gritty details of guiding a church culture towards a more universal participation in the ministry of the church. Mallory’s pragmatic wisdom and openness to sharing the rough patches along the road of her journey are useful tools for me as I consider my future as a minister. In this reflection I will touch on what aspects of The Equipping Church resonated with me as most useful in my possible ministry contexts and share my thoughts about the problem of scale involved in implementing this kind of system change in a smaller congregation. Overall, Mallory’s book is a tool that I am glad to have on my bookshelf and is going into my list of seminary books to be reread after graduation.
The Key Balance
There was one insight that I felt was foundational for the success of Mallory’s process, and that is found in chapter 6: “We had enough of a plan to give everyone some direction, but not so much plan that we left anyone out.” This sense of directed openness gives a necessary flexibility in dealing with situations as they arise. I know that my weakness definitely runs to not having enough of a plan which has led to a dissipation of energy rather than a harnessing of energy in the church. I really wish I had read this book before I had become the pastor of a small struggling church. I would have had a much better understanding of what I was up against and what needed to happen in my leadership style in order for me to have been more effective. My desire for growth would have been much better realized with a more concrete plan that gave people an opportunity to plug in with their sense of calling. Of course, I may not have had the context to apply Mallory’s information without that experience behind me.
One of the things that most intrigued me about this writing is that Mallory was not the lead pastor in her context. In some ways I think she articulates that not being the lead actually gave her a better position to implement system changes as long as the leader was backing her up. This is not to say that she did not encounter conflict, even with her lead pastor, but that having a lead pastor on board with the vision gave her a buffer between those who opposed the vision and what she was implementing.
Mallory was very open in detailing what obstacles she faced in every stage of her process, and I resonated deeply with some of her experiences. People do indeed leave when you begin implementing culture changes, but sometimes they leave because the culture change marginalizes them. Mallory’s advice to give exit interviews was really helpful, and I think a necessary part of getting past false impressions of why people aren’t sticking around. There are indeed always challenges before us in every stage and state of ministry, so getting good information on what those are, and plugging people into the gaps is a huge piece of how we can be better equipping our churches for service.
Does it scale?
The big question of this book to me is that of size. A large congregation can more easily absorb passive-aggressive resistance to change than a smaller congregation. This is especially true when the people who are behaving this way are the primary funders of the church ministry. As I read Mallory’s experience with opposition, I wondered how well she would have fared in the situation that a friend of mine experienced when they implemented a change that people approved of in a congregational meeting, and suddenly the main givers in the church all stopped giving and some time went by in which the pastor did not receive a pay check. This definitely is a worst case scenario, but one that has much lower chance of success in a larger congregation. The key question here is that of trust and insecurity. Many smaller churches have higher degrees of anxiety in their systems because of their size and that anxiety can lead to a lack of trust when the time comes for necessary changes. Mallory articulates the importance of trust all through the book, so I would guess that for a smaller church, it may be a much longer process for a pastor to implement cultural and system changes because of the need to overcome anxiety and build trust. To scale this to a smaller church would then extend the timeline for significant change by at least a year, probably more.
With some changes to fit a much different polity, I can definitely use Mallory’s principles to guide my ministry in the future as I seek to build a church of ministers. When I finish seminary, I definitely plan on rereading this book with my wife as we build our vision for God’s call on us as a family. Mallory is obviously gifted in equipping others, and this book has left me feeling much better equipped to minister in a way that invites people to use their gifts in service to the world and each other.
Sue Mallory. The Equipping Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.
 Sue Mallory, The Equipping Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 88.
Reflection on Sue Mallory's The Equipping Church by Gilbert George is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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