Equipping On The Go!
Jesus-style equipping was purposeful, practical, and portable. Immediately after He challenged the disciples to become “fishers of people,” He took them on people-fishing expeditions. They were learning in the laboratory of real life how to bring the good news to both the religious and irreligious, to people with varying backgrounds with a multitude of needs in diverse contexts. When they were initially learning to fish, they were watching while Jesus modeled ministry for them. This is the first step in the equipping process. The simple five step process looks like this:
STEP 1: I DO, YOU WATCH
STEP 2: I DO, YOU HELP
STEP 3: YOU DO, I HELP
STEP 4: YOU DO, I WATCH
STEP 5: YOU TEACH OTHERS
We can see this process at work as Jesus began to take His disciples on ministry tours throughout Galilee and the surrounding areas. In the first two tours, the disciples were most likely watching and beginning to help, steps one and two. By the third tour, when Jesus sent out the Twelve two by two, they were in steps three and four of the equipping process. Then, when Jesus sent out the Seventy-Two in the fourth tour, the Twelve were likely in steps four and five of the process. Though we’re not told specifically that the Twelve were involved in discipling and training the Seventy-Two, it would represent a natural progression in their development as leaders for the movement.
Let’s take a closer look at these four ministry tours.
FIRST MINISTRY TOUR
“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.”Matthew 4:23-24
Jesus’ first tour with the disciples happened shortly after He challenged them to be fishers of people. Traveling throughout the towns and villages of Galilee by foot, this first tour could have easily taken a few months. After returning to Capernaum, their home base, Peter and the others went back to fishing, so Jesus issued His second challenge for them to be fishers of people (Luke 5:1-11). On this tour, we’re only told that Jesus was doing the ministry, so it appears that His disciples were still in the “I DO, YOU WATCH’ step of equipping. Notice the ministry He was modeling for them: 1) Teaching 2) Preaching 3) Healing 4) Deliverance from demons. Large numbers came to Him, and news about Jesus spread far and wide. As His ministry influence grew, Jesus was setting the table for His disciples to have ready-made opportunities to minister to others. The demand was great.
SECOND MINISTRY TOUR
“After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.”Luke 8:1-3
By the time Jesus’ second tour came, He had already appointed the Twelve as His Apostles. In the first tour, we can assume that the Twelve were with Him and being equipped by Him, but we can’t say that it was only the Twelve. Acts 1:22-23 indicates that the Apostles were with Jesus from the time of His baptism in one form or another. Matthew was invited by Jesus to “Follow Me” after the disciples returned from the first tour (Luke 5:27-28), but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t in the crowd following Jesus from town to town throughout Galilee to see His ministry. It’s important to note that by the second tour, several women joined Jesus’ growing group of disciples. Because women are identified as being with Jesus at the cross, there’s no reason to think that they weren’t with Jesus from this time forward. Yes, Jesus had women disciples!
THIRD MINISTRY TOUR
“When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick… So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.”Luke 9:1-2,6
Throughout Jesus’ first two tours, as word of the miracle working preacher who might just be the Messiah spread throughout Israel and its neighboring nations, the opportunities for ministry grew substantially. The harvest was great! The Twelve had been identified and equipped. They were now sent out two by two throughout the towns and villages of Galilee. Were they making return visits to the places Jesus had visited earlier? How did Jesus pair them up? Were the brothers together, or separated? Peter with Andrew? James with John? I wonder who was paired with Judas Iscariot? It seems possible that as the two were sent to a village to minister, other disciples, including the women, might have joined them in the ministry efforts they were leading. When you look at the specific ministry Jesus’ modeled on the first tour, it was the exact ministry He was expecting them to replicate on this third tour.
“As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”Matthew 10:7-8
FOURTH MINISTRY TOUR
“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.”Luke 10:1-3
Jesus’ final ministry tour comes after several significant events. John the Baptist had been beheaded. Jesus fed the 5,000. Jesus ministered in the Decapolis and fed the 4,000. Jesus traveled to Caesarea Philippi with the Twelve, telling them He would build His church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Jesus took Peter, James and John up on a mountain where He was transfigured before them. Jesus began to tell His disciples that He would go to Jerusalem and die. The Twelve had a successful ministry tour when they were sent out two by two, and the harvest continued to increase, prompting Jesus to send out seventy-two other disciples two by two. They were sent into the towns and villages between Galilee and Jerusalem ahead of Jesus before He made His way to Jerusalem for Passover. Were each pair among the Twelve that were sent out two by two given their own twelve to disciple and prepare for this final tour? Were the Seventy-Two made up of people the Twelve had reached and discipled from their earlier tours with Jesus, demonstrating the fruit that Jesus was calling them to produce? We’re not told specifically what the Twelve were doing while the Seventy-Two were sent out, or what happened with the Seventy-Two after this ministry tour, but I would imagine that Judas’ replacement as well as the Seven Deacons selected in Acts 6 were among the Seventy-Two that had been trained for ministry on this fourth tour.
Jesus effectively equipped His disciples for ministry and leadership because He not only prepared them but also gave them opportunities where their preparation could be proven. These opportunities were every bit as real and consequential as the ministry they’d seen Jesus do earlier. He was not giving them the junior varsity experience. Equipping on the go means our disciples are both seeing us engage in real life ministry as well as being given the opportunity to participate in real life ministry.
To be more intentional and effective in equipping disciple-makers, we need to continually look for opportunities to bring others into the ministry assignments God has given us and learn to give ministry away even when it might be easier for us to do it ourselves. Equipping and unleashing proven harvest workers is absolutely essential for leadership multiplication and disciple-making movement building.