“Training Wheels Ministry”: How To Equip Your People For Spiritual Independence

Training WheelsIn a few years, my daughter will learn to ride a bike. There will be an extra set of wheels on her bike (called “training wheels”) to keep it balanced while she learns to steer. I’ll take them off when she’s ready to balance on her own. Learning to ride a bike without training wheels is a painful process. It requires lots of falls, failures, and Band-Aids. She’ll want to quit and I’ll be tempted to put her training wheels back on – but I won’t. Although she’ll wobble, crash, and probably need skin grafts, she must learn to ride her bike without their help.

Training wheels are meant to equip a child to ride a bike independently, not to enable a child to depend on them their entire life. Wouldn’t you be concerned if you saw a teenager or an adult riding a bike that had training wheels on it? That’s because training wheels are supposed to be removed. And once you take them off, you won’t have to put them back on. You may strap your helmet on more tightly, pump the brakes more frequently, and use hand signals more generously, but you’ll never forget how to ride a bike.

The ministry of the church functions like training wheels. It keeps people steady and balanced as they begin to trust in Jesus for a relationship with God. It keeps them balanced as the Holy Spirit begins to change every area of their life. But at some point the training wheels must come off. At some point the church must expect its members to steady themselves and grow in their relationship with God on their own. It must equip its members for spiritual independence rather than enable them for spiritual dependence.

“The church must equip its members for spiritual independence rather than enable them for spiritual dependence.” (Click to Tweet)

Many ministers do more enabling than equipping. That’s because it’s easier to enable than to equip. Without realizing it, we can enable our people to depend on our intimacy with God and knowledge of His Word. Our task as ministers is to equip our people with knowledge, skills, and habits to mature spiritually. We must expect them to grow without our help and hold them to that expectation. And we should constantly push them to rely more on the Holy Spirit’s activity in their life than us or our ministry.

This conviction must underlie all of our efforts in ministry. We should always ask, “How can I train my people to do this on their own?” And we must refuse to let our people depend on us anymore. Like a father who watches his child fall off their bike, we must give our people room to fail rather than reach out and steady them every time they wobble. Only then will we share the joy of a father who watches his child finally ride their bike without falling.

A good father knows when to take the training wheels of his child’s bike. A good contractor knows when to take the braces off a house under construction. A good doctor knows when to take the cast off a broken bone. And the church must know when to stop allowing its members to depend upon it and start expecting them to be independent in their faith. If we can learn to do this, then just like a child who balances on their bike, just like a house that holds itself together, just like a bone that supports weight, so our people will grow closer to God as the Holy Spirit changes them to be more like Jesus.

Question for Comments:

For pastors: In what ways do you tend to enable instead of equip your people?

For non-pastors: In what ways would you like your pastor to equip instead of enable you?

2 thoughts on ““Training Wheels Ministry”: How To Equip Your People For Spiritual Independence

  1. I like that you mention enabling. It helps to show the negative side of Bible teaching. If you enable your congregation their faith will become dependent on the preacher. I think the contrast between equipping and enabling is the heart of this paper. To make this contrast more apparent. I think you should expand upon the illustration of a cast on a broken bone. I like the training wheels, and I think it should remain the main metaphor in the post. However a cast on a broken bone adds the element of muscle atrophy. The longer you leave a cast on, the weaker the muscle gets. Training wheels do no harm the longer you leave them on. It is just socially unacceptable to use them as an adult. However if you leave a cast on too long it actually harms the body by weakening the muscle. In other words, the training wheel metaphor works best for the equipping section of the paper. The cast on a broken bone metaphor works best for the enabling section of the paper.

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