Tis the season for gifts, right? The older I get, the more I value the gifts of other people. It wasn’t that long ago that I thought, “If everyone thought like me and made decisions like me, everything might be easier and better.” To be honest, there are still days I think like this. I cringe at how naive and prideful that thought is. How vanilla would this world be filled with a bunch of people who really were like me?
I’m futuristically oriented, with a mind for analyzing and strategy. I live in the future, which is a wonderful gift, if you need to think about the future, but if you want to discuss the here and now, well, I’m not that much help. Or if you want to know how decisions will affect people, I’m not your guy either.
I’ve quickly realized that God has given me gifts as a part of the body of Christ, but I’ve also realized as I have gotten older how we need all gifts within the body to have a holistic ministry that looks like Jesus. We also need to value all gifts the same. No one gift is better than another; all are essential for the world to see a robust expression of the church.
Having a mono expression of leadership can be a trap. As a leader, if you’re not careful, you’ll try to reach people with people who look and act just like you. We wonder why we can’t reach more people, or connect with people who are different, and it’s likely because everyone who is leading looks the same, is gifted the same, or is at least culturally the same.
In Ephesians 4:11-16, Paul explains the various gifts in the church and how those gifts enable the church to grow in the likeness of Christ, protect its doctrine, and advance the gospel.
We all have various gifts
Paul says there are apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. I won’t go in depth into APEST, but you can check out Alan Hirsch’s article on it here. Broadly speaking, Paul says there are gifts we each have and not all are the same. However, we need all the gifts working together in unity to flourish as a church.
You’re going to have natural people leaders. You’re going to have relational connectors. You’re going to have creatives. You’re going to have teachers. You’re going to have people who love to care for others. The list goes on and on. Your ministry will always be full of various gifts, but will you have the awareness to see them and draw them out of those you lead?
Every leader needs to embrace the diversity of people and gifts that are present in their ministry and look for ways to draw out those gifts.
Draw out the gifts
Drawing out others’ gifts means you quit doing the ministry all by yourself and “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12, ESV). Have you created space for your leaders to lead, to teach, to care, or to create? To draw out someone’s gift means you must first call it out of them because they may not recognize it. Second, give them the space to use their gifts.
If someone is a natural people leader, have them lead a team of people who bring food to a group meeting or lead a group of students to greet at church. If someone is a relational connector, free them up to mingle with students. They will make the natural connections that help people stick to your ministry. Look for easy places to allow people to use their gifts.
Delegate, don’t abdicate
Sometimes the pendulum swings heavily in two directions for leaders. They either want to control all aspects of the ministry or they completely abdicate areas of the ministry. Here’s what I mean:
Everything has to run through them and by them. All decisions are made by the leader, so while student leaders might offer insight or thoughts, they are not given any real ownership of the ministry or say so.
Leaders hand over responsibility to students but they provide little direction, guidance, or coaching along the way.
If you’re a leader who is either controlling or abdicating, you’ll quickly suck the life out of your ministry and lose some of your best student leaders. If you control them, they feel like you don’t trust them. If you abdicate, they feel like you don’t care about them. Rather, learn how to delegate so they can use their gifts and your ministry can look like the ministry of Jesus.
If you are going to delegate ministry to your student leaders, you must first direct them. Show them what they are assigned to do and how to do it. Depending on the person and how well they pick something up, you may need to direct them for a short season or a long season. It really depends on the person.
Once they learn how to do something, coach them. Allow them to do it and offer feedback critical to their development. Encourage them. Most people go through a season believing they can’t accomplish their assignments, so coach them and encourage them through it. Whatever you do, don’t just send them off and say, “good luck!” Be present.
Next, unleash student leaders to do the ministry and make sure they know you are an open door for any consulting they need in the area they are leading. Be willing to be a voice of guidance to them, but let them determine direction and decisions regarding the area of ministry they are leading, as long as it aligns with the mission and values of your ministry.
The Greatest Gift You Can Give the World and Your Student Leaders
Paul makes a point that when we equip our student leaders, we build up the body of Christ and bring them into maturity. This maturity manifests itself in unity and love for all the world to see because what the world sees are people different from each other yet on a common mission to make Jesus known.
So, next time you meet with your students, one of the greatest gifts you can give them is to take the time to identify their gifts and think of easy ways to unleash those gifts.