Mentor Monday: Giftedness
I am not a fan of mass production when it comes to making disciples. I think public education is realizing its own mistake in turning public schools into a factory that takes in kids and spits out graduates. Mentoring is a highly personal endeavor and a Mentor helps his disciples FIND and UTILIZE their giftedness. Of all the roles of a mentor and mentee relationship this is perhaps the most specialized and unique. As Dallas Willard says in The Spirit of the Disciplines: “Everyone who has a pastoral role to others, whether as an official minister or not, must strive for a specific understanding of what is happening to those who come regularly under his or her influence and must pay individual attention to their development.” (247) Giftedness comes in two somewhat overlapping areas, the first of which we will explore today.
Spiritual gifts are the “manifestations” phanerosis [1 Cor.12.7; 2 Cor. 4.2]) of the Holy Spirit’s work and power in the life of a Christian in order to build up the people of God. (1 Cor. 12.7; Eph. 4.11-12) They are the evidence, the talents, and the abilities given by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling within the life of a Christian. Every Christian has one, some have multiple, but only Jesus had them all. These abilities are “gifts” (in the sense that they were not earned or achieved) from the Holy Spirit with the express purpose to meet needs. It turns people from an inward focus, to an outward focus, from consumers to distributors.*
The first step is finding their Spiritual Gifts. There are three theories to finding your giftedness: 1) Testing for them is a common way to find and reveal your gifts. Most tests are arranged as a series of questions, which are assigned a numerical value based on how well they describe the person taking the test. There are multiple tests and evaluations that are out there. Most range from 50-100 questions. This method assumes that you are honest with yourself and know yourself well. 2) Another method of finding gifts is what Nike has made its slogan for years: “Just Do it!” The best way to discover something is to try it out and see what fits. If we continually just try the things that we feel gifted at, we may never discover a gift or a passion that has been dormant and unknown. This can at times become frustrating as the pains of trial and error can wear on. This is the “grip it and rip it school” of thought. 3) Or you can point them out! At some point, someone may need to point out a gift that has gone unnoticed. There are times when we are the last one to see the truth. I have a student whom I constantly remind that his gifting is leadership. This student can influence those in her class to do anything. She would and still does argue that she is not a leader, but everybody in the church can see what God has given her. This is where you as a mentor may be able to provide direction, counsel, and illumination for your protégé.
Now that it is understood what spiritual gifts are in the student, it is imperative that they utilizing them. One of the best presents I have ever received was a 20 gauge Remington 870 shot gun. My parents got me the gun for my 12th birthday. The next step was learning how to shoot it. The Spirit freely gives gifts to God’s people, but learning how to utilize those gifts is often overlooked. Dennis Bickers, in his book The Healthy Pastor, make this observation about the Church: “The church seems to be the only institution in the world that still believes it can ask someone to do a job without requiring training for that job…This training should include both theological education and training in practical ministry skills.”^ Training people to use their gifts more efficiently and effectively should take a higher precedent in churches across the nation. If we are to take Paul’s words in Ephesians seriously “It was [God] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” then as leaders and churches need to make it a priority to train, to prepare, people for service. Peter reminds his readers, “Each one of you should use whatever gift he has received to serve others faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4.10) Mark Moore, my Acts professor at Ozark Christian College, had a tradition of bestowing the name of a character from the book of Acts on every one of his students in class. He would say your name and then tell you what character that he sees you as. With each character he would give background and how they used their giftedness to further God’s kingdom in the book of Acts. If only we as the leaders in the church would follow his lead in challenging our people to use their giftedness.
In order to utilize giftedness, the first thing is that we must know the opportunities. Often times our inability to help people utilize their gifts comes from our own disconnection from the body. Mentors need to keep their ear to ground in order to know the needs opportunities within the body. I have found that high school students are either: a) too busy to find their own ways to use their gifting; or b) not motivated enough to find ways. Not being willing to use their gifts is not the issue, but my job is to disassemble all the barriers that stand in the way of using their gifts. Make an effort to talk to the leaders in the church and know where the needs are. Check with ministry heads and ask them where people have vacant positions. Ask questions, make a volunteer opportunity board in the fellowship hall of your church, post them online, send them out via Facebook. There are many ways to inform your congregation (and your students) off places to utilize their gifts. One creative way I have seen this done is after having taken the giftedness test, a bulletin board full of note cards with their giftedness was posted. Written on the visible side was the gift that was needed to accomplish the task on the backside. For example, one side might read “service” and the other side might read “clean the restrooms once a month at the church”. One might read “encouragement” the other side might read “send a note to each person from your congregation in the hospital”. Knowing the opportunities for implementation of gifts really comes down to communication and organization.
Secondly we can create our own. If your search for vacancies has proved fruitless, get creative in thinking and find an outlet. “Our cultural hero is not the artist or reformer, not the saint or scientist, but the entrepreneur.”** This is the generation that gave us Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook; David Karp and Tumblr; and the Instagram creators Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. All entrepreneurs and all under the age of 30. Most were under the age of 23 when they started their ventures. This generation believes in creating the place where they fit. Creating a place (and helping them create a place) for their giftedness to be developed and used takes a venture and vision, which the next generation of leaders can rally around. Start with the gift and rule out nothing.
Finally, connect your disciple with those like-gifted. After exhausting leaders, finding vacancies, and racking the brain to create and outlet for gifting, find someone who is gifted in a like manner and arrange a time for your mentee and them to get together. When I first got to the church where I serve, most of our students were musically inclined. I am very much not. I didn’t know how to relate to them, how to lead them, of to implement their giftedness. The church didn’t really have a great place for them to use their gifts at that time, but our worship leader assembled a youth band. It was his leadership that showed me the necessity of connecting people with similar giftedness to create and to find a place to use the gifts that God has given.
Mentors make it a priority to help their disciples discover their gifts and to put them into practice. Paul reminds Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Timothy 1.6). A simple reminder for Timothy to exercise, to take care of, protect, and implement the gift that God had given him. Paul had called Timothy out in his previous letter, making sure that his gift would not be neglected (1 Timothy 4.14). When is the last time that a leader stepped in a held someone accountable for not using their gifts to the fullest extent? I can’t think of the last conversation I have had as a youth minister, with a student, confronting them on a neglecting of the gifts that God had given them? At a birthday party recently, I watched two young girls (3 and 5) open up every one of their presents. They did not find excitement in the $50 Barbie’s or the $70 All American girl dolls, but it was the 50 cent tissue paper that they enjoyed throwing around the room. If I had brought one of those presents I would have been frustrated knowing that I could saved a ton of money and went with just the tissue paper. How much more does God feel seeing a gifting that he has placed in us go dormant and atrophied from lack of exercise? The role of a Mentor is to help their student to discover their giftedness, by testing, opportunity, and telling them. The next role of the Mentor is to find opportunities for the student to use and implement the Gifts that God has given them. When I coached, I always told the athletes that my job as a coach was to put them in a position to succeed. I’m not going to play the shortest kid on the team as a center, or the slowest person on the soccer team at forward. As a mentor, it is my responsibility to help our students to find areas to serve where their gifts are used and their passions are fed.
*Keller, Tim. “Discerning and Exercising Spiritual Gifts” redeemercitytocity.com
^Bickers, Dennis. The Healthy Pastor (Beacon Hill: Kansas City, 2010) 138.
**Deresiewicz, William. “Generation Sell” Nov. 12, 2011 <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/opinion/sunday/the-entrepreneurial-generation.html>