The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.
Harvey S. Firestone
[He] has always believed in me. Even when I didn’t believe in myself. Even when I was at my worst, he saw only the best in me, and he was determined for me to see it too. …There’s nothing in the world like having someone love you for who you really are. Looking at your heavy baggage and leaning down to whisper in your ear, “You’re perfect.”
Julie Cantrell, Christian author
The landscape of human communities, including churches, is littered with undiscovered, undeveloped or underutilized talent and the ensuing broken hearts, demoralized spirits, and waning communities.
However, this is not how God intended. He created each person for a mission and equipped every one of us with the necessary skills to be used for the betterment of humanity. Yet, the gifts of many remain “buried in the sand.” People want their lives to matter; to serve their communities and make a difference. Nevertheless, those with inadequate marketing skills remain in the shadows, unnoticed or passed over. The unaffordable cost of this wasted talent is paid by the entire community – each one of us and our children.
It is important to search our souls and identify the root causes of this painful reality.
The causes of unutilized talent vary. Some gifted individuals push people away by their unfriendliness, egocentricity, and other sharp edges in their demeanor. In other cases, the exceptional abilities of some community members threaten the egos of their leaders, who fear looking pale in comparison.
However, the most common cause is indifference. Community members and leaders are too preoccupied with other priorities or are not cognizant of the urgency of the need.
Regardless of the causes, the cost of unrealized human potential, though hard to measure, is staggering, especially in view of the debilitating shortage of competent and morally astute volunteers, staff and leaders.
Due to years of young talent neglect, many churches are experiencing membership indifference, disheartened volunteers, and dwindling worship attendance.
Our failure to act will further weaken and shrink our communities, gradually making them unattractive for our children, who will eventually leave the churches, losing the desperately needed spiritual nourishment, sense of belonging, security, and stability churches provide.
Tormenting questions emerge. Having left the church, how will our young people satisfy their needs for spirituality and community? What new identities will they take on? Will they dispense with the Christian values instilled in them? What kind of friends will they find? Who will they marry?
The looming danger obliges us to seek remedies.
Businesses generously spend resources to recruit talent; build their capacities; coach, manage and put their skills to maximum use. They do this to maximize profit.
How about Christian communities?
We first need to bring the issue to our communities’ collective consciousness through sermons, training and dialogue.
The corporate world discovered the value of investing in people fairly recently. Yet we have known Jesus’s commission to “Make Disciples,” and its critical importance for a thriving Kingdom community for over two millennia.
The responsibility to identify, encourage and push individuals forward lies with community members. Yet, the leadership of the church, especially pastors, are most qualified to initiate and lead the effort, which needs to be intentional, professionally planned, executed and lavishly supported by funds and human resources.
Jesus’ strategy is intriguing. He selected 12 men of poor credentials whom most denominations or seminaries would deny admission. Jesus noticed their untapped potential and believed in them. For three years, he taught them using words and role-modeling in real-life situations. Jesus gave them assignments, equipped and empowered them. All along, he endured their idiosyncrasies, egos, internal squabbles, cowardice, and disheartening failure to grasp basic Kingdom principles. Jesus even took a chance on the man who would later betray him.
Jesus’ strategy made Him most vulnerable. Yet, the fruits of His labor were both surprising and delightful. Jesus’ disciples transformed the world and ushered countless souls into the Kingdom.
Community leaders need to emulate Jesus to allocate time and effort to coach, teach, equip, and empower; to win the protégé’s admiration and cooperation through selfless love; to patiently endure the emotional wounds inflicted by the mentees; tolerate their idiosyncrasies and empower them.
Yet, this is easier said than done.
Too many responsibilities, tasks and challenges compete for the leaders’ attention, time and energy. Furthermore, in this era of instant pleasure and gratification, we tend to invest in dopamine producing pursuits. Investing in people does qualify.
The mission is further complicated by the fact that the remedy is wrapped in undesirable consequences.
The task of investing in people is often thankless and unappreciated. There is no standing ovation for this unnoticed task. The best that one can hope for is a solo applause.
Wisdom invites us to take the narrow path of investing in people. This leads to dividends of eternal value, as opposed to the wide road of physical and emotional comfort, where our efforts produce short lived results that decay long before we set foot in eternity.
Our churches will thrive; wounded souls will be healed and community members will blossom in Christ when we make Jesus’ commandment to “make disciples” our top priority, sparing no effort and cost to fulfill it.
Let’s mobilize, discuss, strategize, plan, and get down to work.
This article was published in the Summer 2022 issue of the FORUM, page 14.