By Donald A. Shirk

Perhaps you are different than me, but when I became a believer I did not get zapped with a spiritual gift I never had before. I realize good and godly people hold different views on the acquisition of spiritual gifts. In this area I identify more with what Paul said about the reason for His effectiveness in ministry through the utilization of his spiritual skill set. He humbly yet frankly stated it was due to his “laboring more abundantly” (1 Cor. 15:10). What does this mean and what does this look like?

It’s one thing to be engaged in ministry and to have a grasp of how God wired you with particular abilities that you have surrendered to Holy Spirit control and developed through hard work. It’s another thing to recognize potential in others and to specify what that potential is in them, even when they might not know it yet. For me, it was a dedicated Sunday School superintendent who saw “something” in me as a young person and took the initiative to challenge me in various areas of ministry involvement. God used his seemingly small acts of encouragement to powerfully give direction to my life.

Needed today are pastors who both grasp this truth and see this as an important responsibility. In people work, this turns my crank more than anything in the privilege of seeing individuals grow! Here are a few practical things I do to awaken awareness of spiritual gifts and their development in people I see as future spiritual leaders:

  1. The power of the pen. Today people rarely receive handwritten notes. A sincere statement of encouragement that contains your observation of an individual’s potential for the Lord’s work can go a long way.
  2. Get out of the office. Whether it’s for breakfast, coffee, lunch, or whenever, the face-to-face approach communicates best. It shows your personal interest in them and results in an individual giving more weight to your suggestions and observations on how they can develop themselves for the Lord to use.
  3. Be like Mike. You may or may not remember the commercial, but the question is this: “Who wants to be like you?” Who is buying into your life? Would you follow you? Pastors need to model not only authentic godliness, but the fact that they love what they do and have unlimited optimism in their great God! Excellence of character both attracts and compels others to develop similar traits in their lives. It gives a clear road map to follow.
  4. Be specific, but general. Point out the specific admirable traits of a person’s godliness and character, but then be general in how the Lord might use them. Say something like, “Because of such and such, it could be that God’s hand is on your life in a real way, and maybe He is using _______ in your life right now to point you in a new direction.” All you are doing initially is planting the seed that the Lord might grow. Give them a simple, doable first step.
  5. Just do it. Make these kinds of conversations and appointments happen. Just last week I met with a young man in our church in whom I see ministry potential. I was sharing this with a friend of mine who teaches in a seminary. His remark to me on how few pastors do this kind of thing was shocking to me, and unfortunately other Christian leaders have shared the same observation.

Behind each of these points I see the faces of people who are now active in the Lord’s work, including my two pastoral associates. They are men who years ago did not know beans in a basket about the Bible! They were not “zapped” either, but today they are my peers and partners in ministry!

Donald A. Shirk is pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Batavia, N.Y.